15 Best Things to Do in Yuma, AZ
Only 10 miles from the border between the United States and Mexico, Yuma Arizona is a fun city with a good mix of historic places to visit, like Yuma Territorial Prison, and fun things to do, like playing on the beach or swimming in the Colorado River. If you visit Yuma during the hot summer, you can cool off at Waylon's Water World water park or by tubing down the river on a group adventure.
Be sure to take a walk through Yuma's Historic Downtown area, and while you're there, stop by the city's progressive visitor center, where you can plan your visit at a digital kiosk and then save the info to your mobile device. Also downtown, check out the Yuma Art Center where local artists' work is on display, and live performances are held in the center's historic theater.
Whether you're looking for indoor things to do or outdoor adventures, check out our list of the best things to do in Yuma, AZ.
1. Go Behind the Bars of Yuma Territorial Prison
The prison that is the core of Yuma Territorial Prison State Park opened in 1876 and was closed in 1909. Its time as a prison was before Arizona was a state, which happened in 1912.
Knowing how hot Yuma can be in the summer, with temperatures exceeding 120 degrees, it was not a place you would ever want to be. The progressive prison did have "amenities" that many locals went without, including electricity, forced ventilation, and indoor plumbing with bathtubs and showers.
Now run by the state park system, the prison is an open-air museum, and you can go inside the gates to explore it. You can explore the cell blocks, prison yard, and the guard house.
Today it's the most popular tourist attraction in Yuma. Back in the day, it was a place no one wanted to be. There is a small museum on-site, and you do a self-guided walking tour of the grounds.
The prison is open seven days a week between November and June from 9:30am to 5pm. In the summer, it closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Parking is free, and there is a large lot that can accommodate RVs and tow vehicles.
Official site: https://www.yumaprison.org/
2. Try Tubing Down the Colorado River
Perhaps the easiest and most refreshing way to explore Yuma from the river is to simply float along in an inflatable tube (while wearing a life-vest).
Yuma River Tubing provides a complete tubing adventure, including parking, tube rental, and a shuttle van ride to the starting point. Currently you can start at Gateway Park for a one-hour ride, or start at the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers for a 3- to 4.5-hour float. The end point, where you find parking and pickup, is at West Wetlands Park. There's a beach there, so it's easy to find.
Dogs and kids of all ages are welcome, so it's a great thing to do with the family. You can bring food and beverages and even rent an empty tube to carry your stuff.
The tubing season usually starts in April and runs through October. Trips happen every weekend and during the week on request and by demand (minimum of four participants). Reservations are recommended for weekend trips and required for mid-week requests.
Official site: https://www.yumarivertubing.com/
3. Visit an Old Mining Town at the Castle Dome Mining Museum
The Castle Dome Mining Museum is about an hour outside downtown Yuma, but it's well worth the drive. More than just a museum, it's a ghost town, and Castle Dome City is a restored town.
Like a giant movie set, it's a collection of more than 50 buildings that were originally here for mining operations. Most are in their original position, and all have been restored and renovated. Some have been moved and some recreated, but it's designed to look and feel like a mining town from 1878. At that time, Castle Dome was a larger town than Yuma.
All the buildings can be visited, and they are filled with period artifacts. There's a church, a bank, blacksmith shops, general stores, hotels, houses, and all kinds of businesses that existed in the 19th-century town.
Castle Dome visitors can choose from a variety of experiences, from a self-guided walking tour of the town to an extensive underground mine tour.
Address: Castle Dome Mine Road, Yuma, Arizona
Official site: http://castledomemuseum.org/
4. Explore the Colorado River State Historic Park and the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area
The Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area is an entire district of downtown Yuma that includes the Colorado River State Historic Park and the Yuma Territorial Prison State Park. It also includes several city parks along the river (East and West Wetlands Parks) and the Historic Downtown District.
Visit the Colorado River State Historic Park to learn about the Colorado River's past, present, and future, and how it was instrumental in shaping the Southwest. Before roads and before there were extensive rail networks, the river was the only way to transport goods.
The park was originally the Yuma Quartermaster Depot, an Army supply and distribution warehouse that operated in the 19th century. Through exhibits and signage, the park talks about this history and the future, a complicated subject with the severe drought and huge demand for the river's water from the surrounding states and Mexico.
Address: 201 North 4th Avenue, Yuma, Arizona
Official site: https://www.yumaheritage.com/
5. Enjoy a Date Shake at Martha's Gardens Medjool Date Farm
Originally a fruit native to Morocco, medjool dates were brought to the Southwestern US in the early 20th century and quickly thrived in the hot, dry desert climate. Yuma became one of the world's top producers of the large, sweet variety of the fruit – so sweet, they call it "the candy that grows on trees."
You can learn about that history while enjoying a date shake (a milkshake sweetened with date juice) at Martha's Gardens Medjool Date Farm.
The family-owned working date farm is in rural Yuma, near the Marine Corps base. The farm is open to visitors during the week from 9am to 4pm and is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Between November and March, they offer one-hour guided tours by golf cart Wednesday through Fridays at 10:30am. The tours show you what it takes to grow, harvest, and ship this popular fruit to customers around the world.
Address: 9747 South Avenue 9 3/4 E, Yuma, Arizona
Official site: https://www.marthasgardens.com/
6. Check Out Some Serious Ordinance at the Yuma Proving Grounds
A proving grounds is just what its name implies, an area where things are proven to be effective. Officially, the mission of the Yuma Proving Grounds is to "Plan, conduct, assess, analyze, report, and support developmental tests, production tests, and integrated developmental and operational tests to Army, sister services, Department of Defense, U.S. Government." That's a long way of saying they test everything from tanks to tents for the armed forces.
It's purposely chosen for its extreme, remote location in the middle of the desert with nothing else around, and there are also weapon and ordinance testing ranges at the YPG. Machines like tanks and trucks are tested against the harsh, hot desert environment, which is as extreme as anywhere on Earth.
The Yuma Proving Grounds is an active Army base. There is a visitor center and museum with an open-air display of some pretty cool tanks and missiles.
The public can visit but because these things are on part of the Army base, a visitor pass is required. This is only available to US and Canadian citizens, and they do a law enforcement background check on all visitors (it takes 10 minutes while you wait).
The visitor's center is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm. Before you get on-base, there are (decommissioned) M65 nuclear cannons on either side of the entrance from the highway.
Address: 301 C Street, Yuma, Arizona
7. Have a Beach Picnic at Gateway Park
Located under a bridge along the Colorado River, Gateway Park is named for Yuma being the gateway between the Arizona Territory and Spanish Mexico. That freeway bridge gives some needed shade to the beach, and that makes it a very popular swimming spot during the summer.
There are also covered picnic areas, called ramadas which can be rented and reserved online. Additional picnic amenities include BBQ grills, bathrooms, outdoor showers, and a children's play area.
The wide beach is the big draw here, but there is also green space to enjoy, along with fishing piers. Gateway Park is at the very end of Madison Avenue, right in Historic Downtown Yuma. Gateway Park is the starting point for the one-hour Yuma River Tubing adventures.
Address: 1st Street & Gila, Yuma, Arizona
8. Plan Your Trip at the Yuma Visitor Center
This informative destination is housed in a vintage storefront location along Main Street in the heart of Historic Downtown Yuma.
The VIC (Visitor Information Center) is staffed by friendly volunteers who love to talk about Yuma; they can provide up-to-date info on what's going on in the city. They can assist with itineraries and travel plans, help with lodging and camping info, and even set you out on a self-guided tour of the entire Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area or a walking tour of the downtown area.
While this visitor center does have traditional printed maps, brochures, and booklets, Yuma has embraced the digital age, and you can use the Visit Yuma app on a big-screen kiosk to plan your visit, then download the routes, directions, and info to your mobile device. You can even use their free Wi-Fi and charge your devices while visiting.
The VIC is also a souvenir shop that sells some pretty cool Yuma merch. It's open every day from 9am to 5pm. In the summer, from May through October, they close on Sundays and Mondays.
Address: 264 South Main Street, Yuma, Arizona
9. Go Birding in the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge
This vast wildlife preserve protects 30 miles of fauna along the lower Colorado River. It's interesting, as this wildlife refuge, now an essential stop for migratory birds and home to wildlife, was only created when the Imperial Dam was built in 1938. Without the dam, this would be just a dry river area.
The waters behind the dam caused backwaters and marshy areas along the edges of the swollen river, creating a welcoming environment for birds and other wildlife. The lakes and wetlands created by the dam are a green oasis in the dry, desert area.
The Imperial National Wildlife Refuge visitor center should be your first stop. You can watch an orientation video, and they can help plan your visit. There are hiking trails and an observation deck, which is great for short visits.
The visitor center is open from 8am to 4:30pm from November through May and kind of by appointment during the summer months (they ask that you call ahead to ensure a staff member is on-hand). The refuge is about a 90-minute drive from downtown Yuma.
Address: 12812 North Wildlife Way, Yuma, Arizona
10. Taste Fresh Peanut Butter at The Peanut Patch
Located a bit outside the downtown area, not far from Martha's Date Farm, The Peanut Patch is a nut, fudge, and candy store located on a working peanut farm.
The farm was started in the 1940s, when the owners inherited some land and realized the sandy soil wasn't good for growing traditional crops but was great for growing peanuts. They eventually opened a farm stand to sell their nuts and started also making candies, fudge, and other products. That farm stand has evolved into a large nut, fudge, gourmet food and candy store with a fun country roadside attraction vibe.
The quality homemade candies and fudge and peanut products have made a visit to The Peanut Patch one of the best things to do in Yuma. It's also a great place to buy gifts and souvenirs from your trip. Purchases can be shipped for free (to US addresses), so you don't have to carry them around with you.
Address: 4322 East County 13th Street, Yuma, Arizona
Official site: https://thepeanutpatch.com/
11. Yuma East Wetlands
A part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, the Yuma East Wetlands were formerly a trash dump, agricultural land, and a homeless encampment. The now 1,400 acres have been transformed into a protected wetland area dotted with hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.
The marshy wetland area, so essential in the hot desert environment, has become home to many birds and animals, including two endangered bird species. It's a very popular area for birding, and there is interpretive signage to help visitors understand the environment and its avian residents. You can also fish here.
The main East Wetlands Interpretive Trail is an easy 2.6 mile, dog-friendly, paved loop trail, with informative signage located along the route. You can also explore the dirt pathways that meander through the marsh.
12. See How a Wealthy Merchant Lived at the Sanguinetti House
The Sanguinetti House Museum and Garden, now run by the Arizona Historical Society, is called the Jewel of Historic Yuma. It's a beautiful 19th-century adobe house and garden, a mansion really, that was owned by an E.F. Sanguinetti, a very successful local merchant. After passing away in 1945, his house and garden were donated to the city and have become a museum.
A walk through the beautiful house will make you want to live there, but it will also show you what life was like at home for a successful family in late 19th-century Yuma.
Furniture, style, and design, everything inside, is recreated from the time period, so you really are stepping into history. Be sure to spend some time in Mr. Sanguinetti's favorite place, his beautiful rose garden. The Sanguinetti House Museum is open from Wednesday through Saturday from 10am to 3pm. It's in historic downtown Yuma, only a mile off the I-8 freeway.
Address: 240 South Madison Avenue, Yuma, Arizona
Official site: https://arizonahistoricalsociety.org/
13. Experience Community Art at the Yuma Art Center
Also located downtown on Main Street, the Yuma Art Center is a few doors down from the Yuma Visitor Center. The Yuma Art Center is both a community agency as well as a physical space to view and create art.
It was created as an artistic community from what was an old Vaudeville theater. Aside from showcasing art in several art galleries, the art center includes the historic Yuma Theater, and presents performing arts live shows there.
The lobby galleries always have interesting exhibitions, usually showcasing more than one local artist. There is public art around Yuma (including murals on the rear of the building), and the art center can help you with a self-guided walking tour of it. The center is also home to lectures, classes, film screenings, and other community-focused arts programming.
Address: 254 South Main Street, Yuma, Arizona
14. Splash around at Waylon's Water World Water Park
With Yuma being so hot during the summer, if you need to cool off, a trip to Waylon's Water World weekend water park is a great way to spend the day. It's Yuma only outdoor, summer-only water park. The park is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 7pm.
There are multiple covered and open waterslides; a giant funnel bowl, where you go down the drain; and a very tall mat racer flume, where you race other brave souls on a mat, down a giant wet slide. Special areas are set aside for toddlers and little kids, and a long, lazy river flows around, under, and through all of it.
Cabanas and pop-up tents are available if you're coming with a group of people. During the winter and fall months, the area is the ZFunFactory and has go-karts, batting cages, mini golf, and a big arcade.
Address: 4446 East County 10th Street, Yuma, Arizona
15. Hit the Beach at West Wetlands Park
Another part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, West Wetlands Park is a large, 110-acre open space along the river with a big lake. Within the park is Castle Park, a state-of-the-art, large, castle-themed children's play area with physical challenges, like climbing structures, ziplines, and obstacle courses.
Aside from the playpark, you can go fishing in the game fish-stocked lake; a license is required and is easily available online.
There is a boat launch (for the river not the lake) and trailer parking off the Centennial Beach area. Centennial Beach is a man-made beach area on the Colorado River. It's a wide strip of sand and perfect for wading or swimming in the warm water.
Address: 282 North 12th Avenue, Yuma, Arizona