Arizona Finds: Yuma

Arizona Finds: Yuma
Unexpected Adventures

By: Linda Kissam
Seven Yuma Vintage Recipes Included

Yuma, AZ is the sunniest spot in the world. You might think that makes it a dry desolate community. Not at all. Years ago Yuma negotiated spectacular water rights for its community which now supports all sorts of river activities, parks, bird watching, gardens, produce, wild life refuges and much more.  It’s a fun place to visit with or without kids. Situated between Phoenix and San Diego, Yuma is an easy 2.5 hour drive from either city.


Yuma offers plenty of outdoor opportunities to engage with its rivers, lakes, gardens and bats. Yup. There is water everywhere in this city. Although located in the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by mountains and sand dunes, it offers tons of historic sites and water features to drop in on, birds to watch, diverse local cuisine to sample and affordable accommodations.

It was the Colorado River that put Yuma on the map, and it still plays an important part in this City’s recreational offerings. There are lots of ways to enjoy the river experiences without getting wet. Take the riverfront trail that runs from Joe Henry Memorial Park (23rd Ave. & First St.) to Pacific Avenue/Avenue 2E. The paved, lighted multipurpose pathway is perfect for walking, birding, biking and running. You can rent bikes by the hour or day (24-hour period) at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.

There is a five-mile trail extension that follows the East Main Canal all the way to 40th Street.  The extension branches off on the west side of the canal – cross over at 1st Street and continues along the canal’s east side.

If you make it to the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, take an unpaved trail about ½ mile to a dynamic overlook featuring vistas up and down the river, or circle the East Wetlands on a three-mile loop. For a bird’s-eye view of the East Wetlands, stick to the extra-smooth stretch paved path on the levee.

If you’re more of an “in/on the water” kind of person you are going to be thrilled with the adventures waiting for you. Think dipping into the Colorado River or Lake Martinez, Hidden Shores, Senator’s Wash and many other nearby areas via river tubing, canoeing, kayaking, jet skiing, paddle board or renting a Pontoon boat. They’re all an exciting way to enjoy Yuma providing hours of fun, fast relaxation. All these forms of recreation are available via classes, festivals or rentals.

Speaking of festivals, once a year there is a fabulous event called the Yuma Bird Festival. It is an inspiring and fun vacation moment.  The weather is good, lodging and food are affordable and there is something for everyone. I attended the 2022 Festival, and it literally blew my mind. I personally came for the garden tours and canoeing, but the birding and wildlife activities stole my heart. Who knew?

There were dozens of activities including outings and seminars. I was immersed in Yuma’s exquisite natural beauty. The next one will be held January 2023. Mark your calendar. Save the date!  I think you should come and explore regional wildlife refuges, the Colorado River wetlands, local gardens, museums and historic sites. There are so many activities to choose from. Go star-gazing, hiking, canoeing, bird and bat watching and wildlife viewing. The professional talks on birds, bugs, butterflies, native plants, aviation and southwest history are truly dynamic.

Here’s a rundown of the things I was inspired and delighted by.


Coronado Motor Hotel. What I like about this friendly locally owned hotel is that it is affordable and historic, with a back story that will leave you in awe. It offers spacious well maintained rooms, complimentary breakfast, plenty of parking and a killer bar and grill on property. It is centrally located which is also a plus and the staff knows absolutely everything about the area.

The Yuma Landing Bar and Grill is literally just steps from your room. It serves amazing comfort food. It offers some of the best Mexican food in the city alongside any other American style comfort dish you might be hankering for. The cocktails and beer are cool and refreshing. It seems anything you might want to order is at hand. Don’t miss their weekend music offerings in the bar. Get up and dance with the locals or just enjoy yourself with a brew and nachos.  This whole complex is a balm to the weary traveler. Highly recommend.


I love visiting gardensanywhere, anytime, anyplace. The Moody Demonstration Garden Tour was an hour of strolling native and desert adaptive plants to gain answers about what to use water –wise plants in my own garden in Arizona. I also toured the Conservation Garden. This one was larger and featured a magical wet-land section for local ducks and birds. Both gardens are just a few minutes from the hotel. My final stop was the Hummingbird Garden located in the West Wetlands Park (10 minutes from the hotel), which sits on the northwest edge of Yuma along the Colorado River. This 110-acre public park features a Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden, an Owl Habitat, equestrian trails, disc-golf courses, picnic tables, boating opportunities and more.

Museums: In prior festivals, I opted in for the tour of the Cocopah Museum and Fry Bread Tasting. I had no idea what to expect, but I am foodie and I love trying new food experiences. The ride over was 30 minutes or so through fields bursting with vegetables.

A guided tour through this museum was informative and meaningful to understanding the native Yuma culture, but it was the cooking demo that made my day. I learned how to make fry bread and I got to taste screwbean mesquite tea. Both were fabulous by the way. Rounding up the afternoon was a touching dance recital from several members of the Cocopah tribe. Moms and daughters twirled and dipped to a rhythmic beat that sang to my soul. I won’t soon forget this experience.


Bird watching has been on my “to-do” list for quite a while. I hadn’t done it before, but in 2020 something about the general idea of knowing what wildlife is in my own backyard appeals to me. There are over 400 bird species in Yuma, AZ, so when I found out that I could join a bird watching tour going to Senator’s Wash, I jumped at the chance.

Although bats are considered mammals they are included in the Bird Festival. A bat viewing tour is a special treat. Bats return to Arizona beginning in March with the full colony arriving   by June. Females give birth to a single baby in the tunnel, and the colony reaches its peak size in July and August when young begin to fly. You’ll find the evening tour fascinating.

Yuma really is something unexpected for you to discover. After all, we believe what we see.  To be inspired by a destination is to be reminded that what stirs us so deeply about a place is, in fact, a connection to its sense of beauty, abundance and distinct possibilities. Find your inspiration and connection here.

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For a real taste of Yuma, try out these Vintage Yuma Recipes

Yuma Fruit Salad
Green Corn Tamales
Little Porcupines
Succotash Chowder
Baked Celery Loaf
Booze Cake
Date Pudding

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