I never imagined I would write this article about Florence, Arizona recommending that everyone take a few days away in this town. I am sure that most readers have passed through Florence on Highway #79 on their way to Phoenix or some other destination, noting the view of the prisons on the right-hand side of the road. For sure, that has been me for years, just adverting my eyes and hoping to get to Route 60 without thinking too much about the Arizona penal system!

But recently, I became inspired after watching an Arizona Highways show one morning about Florence, which really intrigued me. I was taken by surprise and took notes, telling myself I would definitely go up there and check out everything they mentioned. And, indeed, I did recently, for just an overnight trip, and was pleasantly impressed. Suddenly, all my negativity about Florence as just a prison system evaporated.

Florence was founded in 1866, long before Arizona became a state. It is considered the sixth oldest non-native town in the state. The town attracted farmers and ranchers and boomed in 1875 with the discovery of silver in the Silver King Mine. Later, Florence became the county seat of newly formed Pinal County.

Where to stay is a key decision with limited choices to say the least. You could choose Blue Mist Motel, on the corner of Butte and #79, which looks quite respectable with new outside paint. But I chose the Arizona Highways suggestion, Rancho Sonora Inn & RV Park, located about five miles outside Florence, if coming from Tucson. The entrance was respectable. The “inn” area had an interior patio where several rooms were located. I chose Fernando, maybe the largest room with a living area, a full wall kitchen, one bathroom, plus a main bedroom and another bathroom. Inside was well-appointed and very clean and neat, really spotless (not sure what I was expecting) decor that did not make one grit their teeth—it was quite tasteful, including the bed linens.

For dinner, we chose Irish Cowboy Bar right on the Main Street of town. Main Street is where there are little stores/shops, a bit like the main street of Tombstone with the over-hanging roof. Loved this place! Thought it had been a fixture for ages, but learned it was just opened by a couple from Phoenix (she is Irish and he is Scottish) in 2023. It is fun and lively with plenty of servers, lots of patrons and lots of Guinness. Even the food was good, and the patrons were friendly, easy to chat up anyone next to you!

For our second day, I laid out a specific agenda. We love a Mexican-style breakfast and headed off to Jalapenos on Main Street, though we could have chosen Old Pueblo or LB Cantina (a very popular place for rest of day, but not open until 10 a.m.). Our first stop was back to the north area of Main Street to an art gallery called Casa Baca. This, too, was surprising. While situated in the very old part of Main Street, (yes, there are spaces available for whatever entrepreneurial idea you have), you didn’t really know what you would find till after you entered, not a very impressive face to street. But once inside, I felt it was one of the most attractive and interesting galleries I have seen. Easily, it could be in SOHO, New York City! The interior resembled an old warehouse which the owners, Michael and Janelle, said was the interior when they took it over six years before. Both of the owners love landscape photography and immerse themselves in trips to find new and different sights here in the Southwest. Michael is also a portrait artist. In their gallery, they also display pieces by other artists reflecting different genres of art. The owners are skillful in creating frames for their photos too! Frames often make the piece of art! The Pinal County Historical Musuem was located a few blocks in the opposite way on Main Street. Surprisingly the county/town does not contribute anything to help maintain this vital historical collection, which is well worth a visit. Thank goodness for others who care about preserving history! So much amazing memorabilia is located there, giving you a peek into long-ago days.

But perhaps the highlight of our day was a visit to Windmill Winery, just a few blocks outside the city center. They have one of the classiest “tasting rooms” we have been in, whether in Bordeaux, Napa or wherever! We learned that all of their wines are really made in Wilcox, Arizona, so, you won’t see any vineyards there or wine production materials. The complex is quite large and within it there are several wedding venues (that day there were two weddings scheduled in different areas).

We really enjoyed our wine tasting, one flight of reds and one of whites. We opted not to eat there, but the menu looked tasty. Our most fun was had when taking a cart ride (with Jeff driving a team of spirited horse) all around the vast property. After that, it was time for a late bite of food. We chose Fudge Café, again on Main Street, situated in an old green ex-hotel. The owner makes great fudge, and every single day has a list of sumptuous sandwiches and soups. The place is quite small—luckily, most clients were coming for takeout. Be sure to try the Butte sandwich. Yummy!

Please note that I didn’t mention seeing the Greek Monastery even though that is truly a must-see and takes much more time, but for sure is worth it. I hope you will take an adventure like I did to see the real Florence in a way you never imagined!

Subscribe to stay connected to Tucson. A subscription helps you access more of the local stories that keep you connected to the community.

Linda Stack lives in SaddleBrooke, owns Travelinda, LLC and can be reached by email at LLStack9597@gmail.com.