Yuma, Arizona has evolved into quite the place to visit. This small town is unexpectedly loaded with significant and forgotten history, geographical marvels, unique restaurants, Farms, Art, Theatre, Wine, Beer and Shopping. Nearby beaches and rivers are ideal for outdoor activities and there are even some nice Casinos within driving distance.
It is a relaxed, slow paced town that has a modern Old West kind of feel with a touch of charm, comfort, and convenience. Come here to eat good food, meet good people, take scenic walks, relish in Western history, and to just relax and be real. Myself, along with other members of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), joined Big Blend Radio/Magazine in Yuma for a 5-day/4-night experience of a lifetime. In no particular order I would love to share some unforgettable ways to discover Yuma:
Yuma Landing, Sports Bar and Grill
I spent a great deal of time here and loved every minute, every meal, every drink. The wine and beer lists are short but lively, and the cocktails are definitely up to par. My favorite cocktail creation, the Yuma Landing signature “La Diablito”, is a sweet/spicy creation that keeps me thirsty for more, that dangerous “Little Devil”! Menu items include everyone’s favorites like House-made Pasta, Burgers, Sandwiches, Soups and Salads, in addition to a selection of Southwestern inspired dishes and appetizers. They offer a great breakfast selection, however my choice every morning was a “your own creation” breakfast omelet, along with hash browns doused in a fiery “Atomic Sauce”, and toast with chef-made Apple Butter and Orange Marmalade. The service is exceptional and they always have something going on like game nights, fight nights, live music, and other fun happenings.
Yuma Landing is part of the Historic Best Western Coronado Motor Hotel, owned by long-time local family and resident Yuma experts, Yvonne and John Peach, who had some great stories to share. One of, in which John Peach’s father enjoyed making wine at home and during the prohibition years was forced to bury the bottles near their property for aging, until it was time to pop the cork. Several bottles went missing and after searching dad concluded that he had simply forgotten where they were buried. The mystery baffled the Peach family for many years. After a big storm hit in the late 90’s, the bottles were finally unearthed behind the Yuma Landing restaurant more than 60 years later. John and Yvonne Peach found the wine bottles damaged, and the wine undrinkable, but kept and still have them today.
Yuma’s Main Squeeze, Custom Winery
Located conveniently on Main Street, Yuma’s Main Squeeze is South West
Arizona’s only producing winery and imports grapes from all around the world
to make their wines. This custom winery has a very cozy and relaxing ambiance
with an inviting wine bar, appetizing menu and indoor or back patio seating.
You’ll find a small range of Sparkling, White, Red, Fruit, and Dessert wines on
the wine list. I enjoyed the “Yuma Crossing Chardonnay” with its silky texture,
subtle aromas of apple and vanilla, and not too much oak. The Rat Pack Red
Blend and the Acai Raspberry Cabernet are also noteworthy and best sellers.
The Historic Yuma Theatre and Yuma Art Center
The Historic Yuma Theatre, or “The Zeller Theatre”, on Main Street was built in 1912 as the first theatre in Yuma serving as a vaudeville and movie house. I love the feel of the charming theatre and the care taken to preserve the integrity of its original beauty. The seating, light fixtures, and murals on the walls are all preserved parts of the original theatre, mostly unchanged since 1936. The fully functioning original concession stand operates during year-round events “including popular stage and variety productions, original film screenings, community theater productions, Saturday children's matinees, jazz festivals, art symposiums, education workshops, graduation ceremonies, choir concerts, and special events and presentations in connection with Downtown Mall events.” The Theatre is part of the Yuma Art Center, known as “Yuma’s Premier Art Gallery” and the big happening while we were in town was the Yuma Centennial Celebration. The artifacts, memorabilia, and photo display’s celebrating Yuma’s 100th birthday were intriguing and very moving. Many of the historic photos on display here were from the Casa de Coronado Museum, located on the property of the Best Western Coronado Motor Hotel where we stayed the duration of our 5 day visit.
Garden Café and Spice Co.
In a shady, breezy, patio garden amongst birds, trees, and flowers, a fresh and relaxed menu awaits. The peaceful setting and light menu selections are a welcome treat. They serve breakfast, lunch, and Sunday Brunch. Bestsellers are the Homemade Quiches, Breakfast Burritos, Chicken Salad Stuffed Tomato, Tri-Tip Sandwich, Taco Salad, Root Beer Floats, and the Torture cake “It’s torture to stop eating it”. Everything looked so good it was difficult to choose, so I went with “The Taco Salad” and was beyond satisfied. Grilled chicken, avocado, olives, sour cream, tomato, and salsa with a spring lettuce mix, accompanied by a plain iced tea suited the salad and warm weather wonderfully. I would order this again in a heartbeat. After eating I took a stroll to check out the mazes of aviaries and shops on the property where I found some local art, cute wine glass markers, tea cups, and local hand-made jewelry.
Back in Time Pie Shoppe
Come here for the best pie and fresh-brewed tea in town. A slice of Marion berry pie, vanilla ice cream, and a cup of Hibiscus tea is pure happiness. I also tried the Strawberry Rhubarb and Blueberry Pies which were both heavenly. The pie crust is the best I have ever had and I learned their secret: make the dough fresh then freeze it completely before filling so it doesn’t get soggy. It really works, genius. This delicious Pie Shoppe is located on the property of the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park which is home of 5 original depot buildings previously used by the U.S. Army to store and distribute supplies. 4 of those depot buildings now contain historical military exhibits of the era as well as historical exhibits of “early 1900’s Bureau of Reclamation’s construction of major irrigation works in Yuma”. The oldest standing residential house in Yuma is also on this property.
Ironwood Steakhouse at Quechan Resort Casino
This is a place you’ll want to stay awhile. The food here is magnificent, and the wine list is impressive and diverse boasting Cava’s from Spain, French Champagne, bold Italian reds, and many award winning California, Australian, and German varieties. The menu includes everything I hope for at a Steakhouse in addition to a good steak: Shrimp Cocktail, Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, French Onion Soup, Caprese Salad, Pan Seared Scallops, Lobster, and Salmon. I sampled many things here and my moment of bliss came with the combination of a Lemon Drop Martini and the Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp. The casino itself is clean, comfortable, and easy to find your way around. The resort guests I spoke with raved about the spacious rooms, the pool area, the restaurants, the hospitable casino staff, and even the room-service.
Olive Oil Tasting at Desert Olive Farms
Desert Olive Farms tasting room is another treasure located on Main Street. Their
award-winning Olive Oils are organically grown in the Southern California Imperial
Valley desert. The wide variety of oils and vinegars I tasted here were all lovely, and
the possibilities were endless when you began mixing up the variety of flavors. I
purchased the Jalapeno Olive Oil and Pomegranate Vinegar intending to use the
combination in salad dressings, marinades, and deviled eggs. I also picked up an
Olive Oil Lotion with Lavender, Olive Oil Lip Balm, and some Grape shaped dry pasta in the
tasting room store.
Despite the name, Lutes Casino isn’t really a Casino at all. The building started as a General Store in 1901 and was transformed into a Pool Hall in 1920. Between 1920- the early 1940’s it operated as a pool hall, and though gambling was common, the game had to be concealed in the basement and local authorities paid off. Lutes Casino has been “Proudly feeding Yuma since the early 1940’s” and while you can still find a couple of pool tables for a game or two, it’s all about good food. When we stopped in for lunch the place was packed and according to one regular customer, it usually is. It has a one-of-a-kind atmosphere with loads of memorabilia that teleports you back to the good ‘ol days. The fun staff, upbeat service, and tasty American/Mexican meals has kept them on the local favorite list. I loved the décor, the visible kitchen, and the very unique Potato Rolled Tacos with a classic Margarita on the Rocks.
Bard Date Shakes at Basket Creations & More
Ever had a Medjool Date Shake? I had my first at the largest gift shop in Yuma and the local retail distributor for Bard Dates, Basket Creations and More. It’s a lot like an intense vanilla bean ice cream shake but with a nice tang from the yogurt and great depth from the Bard Medjool dates. I recently ordered some of the Medjool Dates online so I can attempt to make them at home. Our group got an awesome tour of the Bard Date Farm before we headed over to sample the shakes
and we learned some intriguing details about Date farming, Male vs. Female trees, pollination, date harvesting, and flood irrigation using the Colorado. Fascinating!
The Hills Restaurant at Desert Hills Golf Course
This gorgeous golf course is open to the public and a perfect place to spend the day golfing and indulging in some outstanding food and beverage selections. We came for dinner and the breathtaking sunset view. There is something for everyone on the menu which includes items like Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Crab Cakes, a variety of Salads, Sandwiches, Steaks, Pasta, a good beer/wine menu and full-service bar. The Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail is exactly the way I like it with spicy Horseradish Cocktail Sauce, and the Wild Mushroom Bruschetta did not last long.
I am beyond amazed at all of the unforgettable treasures there are in Yuma. Before coming here I would have never guessed all the things there are to see, do, taste, experience, and learn. I adore this Western town and will be a regular visitor now that I know its secrets. Next time you are passing through Yuma, you must stay and discover this little known gem sitting right under your nose and getting better every minute.
photographs and article by Carmen Micheli