Historic Highlights of Williams, Arizona
Williams, AZ is on Historic Route 66 - road of legends.
May 1, 2019 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do by
If you're heading to the Grand Canyon, make sure you allow time to explore Williams, AZ.
Named after William Williams (also known as “Old Bill”), and known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” the town was founded in 1881 when life was still pretty darn rough and tumbling. Although it offers all of the best amenities to visitors, including all kinds of hotels, restaurants, shops and tour services, Williams fortunately has preserved much of its Old West spirit. There’s even a Cowboy Wild West Show that takes place on main street during summer evenings. It’s good romping fun that most definitely gives you the flavor of the day. Check with the Williams Visitor Center to find out more. Go ahead and wear your cowboy hat, boots and bandana–that’s all part of the scene.
Just fifty-five miles from the Canyon, it has served as an important link to this major tourist destination largely due to the Grand Canyon Railway. Enjoy a scenic trip on the train that will bring you to Grand Canyon Village in the heart of the South Rim. Or, drive in on the Historic Route 66 (Interstate 40), leave your car in Williams, and take the train in.
Either way, it’s smart to avoid driving within the Grand Canyon National Park because depending on the season, you can encounter traffic. (Some of those are actually created by wildlife crossing the road!) There’s an excellent bus service within the Park, which provides a helpful and fun way to travel around to the different sites.
Definitely go to the Williams Visitors Center to find out what’s happening, since there’s always lots going on in these parts. Pick up the Historic Walking Tour Map while you’re there and head out and explore the Williams National Historic District where you can see many “purdy” buildings from the turn of the century. (That would be nineteenth century of course.) Buildings that once served as the General Store, Telegraph Office, bordellos, saloons and opium dens are particularly noteworthy. Make sure you look up as you walk the streets in order to take in the full splendor of this Western architecture. Note that the facades always make the buildings look bigger than they really are; such is the Western way!
For an added taste of yesteryear, take a horse-drawn carriage ride around town.
Williams and Route 66 go together like sarsaparilla and smokes. Williams is actually the last Route 66 town to be bypassed by Interstate 40. So expect to see lots of cool signage and other vintage looks on motels, restaurants and shops from a time when motoring was the way to go and people were first exploring the West. (Not that that has changed much in these parts over the years!) Look on your Discovery Map for the Historic Route 66 “Cruise the Loop” and head out and have fun. This is, of course, best done in a convertible or a big ‘ole Chevy.Be sure to stop for a cheeseburger and a malt at one of the drive–ins or (drive–throughs) along the way.
Looking to immerse yourself in a different kind of travel? Head to the Planes of Fame Air Museum where aviation history comes to life through a range of exhibitions. From WWI to the jet age, there’s much here to learn about planes and flying.
Bears are also a part of Arizona history; they populated the area long before humans. The Bearizona Wildlife Park strives to keep them as a preeminent part of the naturescape of the West and certainly as a part of Williams, Arizona. Visit/drive through here to see them in abundance. The mamas and their cubs give cuteness new meaning. Awwwww.
Have fun making your own discoveries along the way with or without your Discovery Map in hand!