Where to go this weekend: Cottonwood, AZ

March 9, 2016 | By | Comments (0)
Neapolitan pizzas take shape at Bocce. (Lisa Corson / Sunset Publishing)

Neapolitan pizzas take shape at Bocce. (Lisa Corson)

Top-notch restaurants and tasting rooms bring a touch of sophistication to a historic town in the heart of the Verde Valley. Nora Burba Trulsson introduces us to Cottonwood, AZ.

The best pizza in the Verde Valley
Fourteen years ago, Michelle and Eric Jurisin fell in love with Old Town Cottonwood, a mile-long stretch of Main Street with porticoes, red-tiled roofs, and weathered wooden façades. The couple repurposed abandoned buildings to create two of the town’s biggest food draws, Nic’s Italian Steak & Crab House and the all-American Tavern Grille. Their eatery, Pizzeria Bocce, serves pizzas and panzanella in a 1920s-era auto shop. “This channels my Southern Italian roots,” Michelle says. The Neapolitan-style pizzas—topped with pomodoro or shrimp and hot peppers and fired in a woodburning stove—are legit, as are the ingredients; the Caputo flour comes direct from Italy. And the bocce court? You’ll find it right on the back patio.

Pesto makes perfect at Pizzeria Bocce. (Lisa Corson / Sunset Publishing)

Pesto makes perfect at Pizzeria Bocce. (Lisa Corson)

A tasting room crawl
“Cottonwood was full of bootleggers and speakeasies during Prohibition,” says local vintner Sam Pillsbury. The town embraces that legacy today, with a slew of Main Street tasting rooms. Burning Tree Cellars, opened in 2012, pours Rhône-style wines like The Bear, a fruity Syrah/Grenache blend. A few doors down, Arizona Stronghold lures tasters with comfy couches, live music, and flights that include such local favorites as the aromatic Tazi. At Pillsbury Wine Company, tipplers sip the winemaker’s high-desert vintages, like an intense Syrah blend.

Wine at Burning Tree Cellars. (Lisa Corson / Sunset Publishing)

Wine at Burning Tree Cellars. (Lisa Corson)

A walk on the wild side
Despite its morbid moniker, nearby Dead Horse Ranch State Park bursts with life. Great blue herons, bald eagles, and black-chinned hummingbirds inhabit grass-ringed lagoons and shaded riverbanks. Mountain bikers also come in droves—newbies love the gentle trails, while hard-core cyclists use the park to access the Coconino National Forest. Circle back April 21 to 24 for the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, featuring an owl prowl and beginning birding workshops.

A horseback ride at the park. (Lisa Corson / Sunset Publishing)

A horseback ride at the park. (Lisa Corson)

The shiniest museum in the West
Just 3 miles northwest of town, in Clarkdale, the Copper Art Museum is a labor of love for Drake Meinke. The third generation copper-antiques dealer refurbished the 1928 building himself. His 6,000-piece collection includes everything from a 1524 wine pitcher to a lobster pot that cameoed on The Martha Stewart Show. Don’t miss the intricately decorated shell casings engraved by trench-bound soldiers during World War I.

A penny for your pots? The Copper Art Museum. (Lisa Corson / Sunset Publishing)

A penny for your pots? The Copper Art Museum. (Lisa Corson)

An old-school train ride
Just around the corner, the Verde Canyon Railroad chugs out of the Clarkdale Depot. Built to haul copper, the railroad now takes riders on a 4-hour, 20-mile ramble into canyon wilderness along the Verde River. En route, the train passes sycamore and cottonwood thickets, flaming red rocks, and ancient dwellings. Bring binoculars: March is a great time to spot migrating eagles. Onboard, you’ll hear about the valley’s history, sip wine, and rock to tunes from Johnny Cash and The Monkees.

Travelers soak in the scenery on the Verde Canyon Railroad. (Lisa Corson / Sunset Publishing)

Travelers soak in the scenery on the Verde Canyon Railroad. (Lisa Corson)

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