pillsbury winery

A Weekend in…Cottonwood

Seeking a quick escape from the ordinary?

Hop in the car and take the I-17 north. After about 75 miles, well before Sedona or Flagstaff, take exit 287 toward AZ-260 West, which will meander along a few roundabouts for about 15 miles until you reach the opportunity to turn onto a road called Main Street.

Once you hit Main Street, altogether a less than two-hour drive, look for a hotel with hundreds of bright yellow Adirondack chairs on its balconies. You won’t miss it. Trust us. Once you see the chairs, you’ve arrived at the weekend getaway of a lifetime. You’ve arrived in Cottonwood.

Essentially halfway between Prescott and Sedona, Cottonwood is a walkable wonderland for adults and the perfect respite from the daily grind, especially for those who love culinary delights, beer and wine tastings and outdoor adventure.

Your journey will begin at the land of the yellow chairs, a boutique-yet-modern inn that also goes by the name of The Tavern Hotel. Once upon a time – in the 1920’s to be exact – the building was actually the town grocery store. Thanks to a sweeping re-imagining, and significant investment, by Verde Valley couple Eric and Michelle Jurisin, today the independent hotel is among the most charming in the Southwest. The Tavern, which just added a magnificent pool complex and fitness center, features 41 standard rooms with hardwood floors, stone-tiled bathrooms with walk-in showers, granite counter tops, vessel sinks, high-end fixtures, 50-in. flat-screen televisions, plush bedding and spa-quality hair and body products. And while the standard rooms are amazing, the hotel’s cottages and penthouses are the hottest tickets in town, especially the ultra-dog-friendly Tavern Dog House and the signature Tavern Penthouse. At 2,300 square feet and with a 180-degree panoramic view of downtown, the Tavern Penthouse is a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom slice of heaven. In addition to all of the standard room amenities, this stunning space features a gourmet kitchen, both formal dining and family rooms, two separate fireplaces – one inside and one out – and two private patios. There is also a second penthouse owned by Tavern just down the street atop Pizzeria Bocce, which is just a smidge smaller but with an epic rooftop patio.

The Tavern Hotel

A bonus: all rooms come with extra perks in the form of free breakfast and cocktail vouchers as well as wine-tasting coupons for the locally owned artisans. Another bonus: the Tavern offers free parking (and of course Wi-Fi) for all of its guests, and its parking lot is just steps from most of the best places to visit, wines to sip and brews to do in the region.

So let’s get into it.

For the Wine Lover

Currently, there are four working Arizona vineyards with wine tasting rooms along Main Street: Carlson Creek Vineyards, Pillsbury Wine Company, Arizona Stronghold Vineyards and Merkin Vineyards Osteria. Each offers wine tasting flights – some with cheese plates, small bites or even full-service kitchens – as well as locally made wines by the glass and bottle. Many also have games, live music and ample patio space. Joining them along Main Street are also Burning Tree Cellars, which offers small batch, boutique wines that aren’t mass marketed; Winey 101, which features wines from the husband-and-wife winemaker owners; State Bar, an indoor-outdoor bar with yard games and both local wines and beers; and Small Batch Wine & Spirits, a family-owned tasting room and bottle shop with both boutique wines and craft beers.

Merkin Vineyards Osteria

A few insider tips:

  • Opt to add a few a la carte homemade chocolates to your tasting a Pillsbury.
  • Ask for the Cards Against Humanity box at Burning Tree, especially if with a group or after a few tastings.
  • While the flights are sublime, splurge on a bottle of Rule of Three while at Carlson. You will not be sorry.
  • To feel like a kid again, seek out the Connect Four game boards and play a few rounds while tasting at Arizona Stronghold.
  • Try the wine on tap at State Bar.
  • Even if you are not hungry, get like six orders of the gnocchi and the mac and cheese at Merkin. Their chef will make you rethink everything you think you ever knew about delicious pasta.

For the Beer Lover

Speaking of beer, Cottonwood has you covered there, too, thanks to both Belfry Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery and Strada. Open since October, Belfry is a working brewery with its own outdoor beer garden as well as taproom and grill, offering at least eight of its own beers at any given time as well as a lengthy list of wines. (And don’t sleep on their specialty cocktails, of which there are many.) Strada, which opened in May, is an eclectic extension of the ultra-popular Pizzeria Bocce made from eight industrial-sized shipping containers. Steel beams and Edison bulbs up the ambiance, and the cocktails are updated twists on classics with locally sourced ingredients. If getting a little puckish, Strada has you covered with a menu of shareable Italian tapas and street food, many with ingredients sourced directly from Italy.

For the Foodie

Beyond Strada, there is a long list of can’t-miss spots while visiting. At the top of the list is Crèma Craft Kitchen + Bar and its cheery patio covered in vibrantly colored umbrellas. Beyond the atmosphere, Crèma has some of the best brunch dishes (and cocktails) in all of Arizona. Pizzeria Bocce, noted a few times prior, is another gem. Boasting two giant patios, one with a fire pit the size of a studio apartment, the indoor-outdoor restaurant makes everything from scratch, including its award-winning pizzas. Bocce also happens to have one of the best appetizer menus in Arizona, thanks in great part to its spinach pie, which is sautéed spinach with garlic, bocce hand-stretched mozzarella, and provolone finished in Caputo pizza dough; guaca bocce, more or less Italian-style guacamole with pizza dough chips; and the Italian meat-stuffed bread, which is stuffed with Italian sausage, salami, pepperoni, ham and provolone. For a bit more fine dining experience, don’t miss Nic’s Italian Steak & Crab House, a traditional and sexy Italian steakhouse one might find in New York or Chicago.

A fan of olive oil? Taste dozens of olive oils and vinegars at the Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders in between sips and more traditional bites.

Tavern Grill

And finally, if tired from a long day of sightseeing and sipping, opt for the Tavern Grill. Located under the Tavern Penthouse so literal steps from any room on property, it features elevated comfort foods and a massive cocktail menu, as well as local and region beer and wine.

For the Outdoorsy Type

Need to work off all that food and drink? No problem. Just about 100 yards from Tavern is the Jail Trail River Walk. Named for its proximity to a river-rock building that used to be the Cottonwood jail (and is now a lovely art gallery), this relaxing and mostly shaded hike wanders 1.5 miles along Blowout Creek. The trail traverses a rich riparian habitat, and wildlife is plentiful, especially birds. Birding, in fact, is quite popular in the area. Dead Horse Ranch State Park, which is less than two miles from Jail Trail and the Tavern Hotel, boasts over 100 species of birds as well as other wildlife including river otters, the gray fox and whitetail deer. The area is also a popular fishing spot, with both largemouth bass and rainbow trout.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park Photo credit: Arizona State Parks and Trails

Also plan a stop at the Tuzigoot National Monument, which is only three miles from Main Street on the border of Cottonwood and sister city Clarkdale. Occupied over 900 years ago by the Sinagua, these awe-inspiring ruins are perched atop a cliff 120 feet above the Verde River and were somehow built two stories high despite any modern technologies or tools.

For more on a weekend visit to Cottonwood, visit www.visitcottonwoodaz.org.

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