Downtown Yuma, Arizona contains historic buildings, unique shops, and fun eateries in an easily walkable area
Yuma is a city of just over 90,000 people on the southwestern edge of the state of Arizona near the borders of California and Mexico. It is home to a number of snowbirds in the winter. And it attracts overnight guests from other parts of the state. These visitors are often en route to Los Algodones, Mexico for dental or medical work or for shopping. Many stay at hotels just off the Interstate and never explore what the Yuma area has to offer. Many miss the stories of the historic downtown area.
Yuma has been a passing-through and stopover place for centuries. Before dams were constructed up and down the Colorado River, its course was unpredictable from season to season. It ran fast and deep and stretched wide in places. At what would become Yuma, granite outcroppings squeezed the river into a narrower channel. Yuma Crossing became known as the safest and easiest place to cross the river.
The 1849 gold rush saw thousands follow the Gila Trail (present-day Main Street) to California, passing through what was then known as Colorado City. When the town was rebuilt after 1862 flooding it was renamed Arizona City. It was incorporated in 1871 and renamed once more in 1873 to its current name Yuma. With its proximity to the water, the town was prone to flooding with the last big one occurring in 1916.
Most of the buildings on Main Street date to the 1920s when the road was paved. Many buildings on the streets just west of Main Street in the Brinley Avenue Historic District date back earlier than that.
The adobe style Sanguinetti House was built in the 1870s for businessman E.F. Sanguinetti and his family. The building now houses a museum. The museum is small with minimal written information. I do not recommend spending money to visit unless you are able to have a guided tour. I came across a tour in progress given by the museum director and tagged along. The information she provided about the life of the family and the house was interesting, but I would not have learned any of it on my own. The museum director said the museum will be closing in April and new displays created in the back rooms, focusing on the life of Yuma during that time period.
After exploring the historic buildings and browsing the shops, one might be ready for food and refreshment.
We ate at Lute’s Casino. The name is misleading. There is no casino. The best way to describe the decor is with words from the restaurant’s own web site. “The decor is early eclectic, what might be called interesting junk. And it is everywhere.” Indeed, it is everywhere, on the walls, hanging from the ceilings. The building dates back to 1901 when it was a grocery store on the main level and a hotel upstairs. It opened as the Casino Billiard Parlor in 1920. Today the restaurant serves burgers, dogs, sandwiches, soups, salads, and south of the border fare. Our food was good. I was delighted to find malt vinegar among the vast array of condiments on our table. I’ve become accustomed to eating my French Fries without vinegar in the U.S. We were here on a Sunday afternoon. A talented young man, still in his teens, played the piano.
The Garden Cafe, located in a courtyard off Madison Avenue, is open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday October to May. It is a lovely garden setting with an aviary at one end. We had an excellent late breakfast here and had the restaurant to ourselves. However, our server was very busy on the phone taking lunch reservations for later in the week.
With no high-rises, angled street parking in areas and a non-busy vibe, Yuma downtown feels like a small town. It is easily walked. There are more historical buildings than I’ve showcased here. Walking tours are available, which might be a good way to learn more about the history. However, if you choose to walk on your own, there are plaques mounted on many of the buildings, providing information about the buildings and their history. Opening time for shops vary by shop – anywhere from nine to ten am. Shops generally close at five pm. Most are not open on Sundays. There is a small farmer’s market on Main Street on Tuesday mornings.
Never miss a story. Sign up for Destinations Detours and Dreams free monthly e-newsletter and receive behind-the-scenes information and sneak peeks ahead.