Content Produced in Partnership with Visit Tucson
For a getaway that offers everything from desert heat to a snowy chill, look no further than Tucson, Arizona. The home of the University of Arizona, Tucson is about 115 miles southeast of Phoenix and has all the offerings of a big city including an active nightlife, top-shelf culinary experiences, and plenty of shopping opportunities. But don't let all the metropolitan amenities fool you — the city is surrounded by mountains, scenic vistas, and enchanting stretches of desert, too. If you come with an open mind (and an empty stomach) you might just find that this southern Arizona haven is your little slice of heaven. Here are some must-do sights, hikes and bites for the ultimate Tucson excursion.
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life for a few hours or even a few days, Colossal Cave Mountain Park just east of Tucson is the place for you. The park is 2,400 acres and has a crystal-filled cave (which is always a comfortable 70 degrees), a ranch with trail riding, camping underneath the desert stars, and places to picnic. The park is sure to capture your imagination, no matter what kind of experience you're looking for.
Fall for Tucson
A waterfall and swimming hole in the middle of the desert — need we say more? Cool off in the clear water and the shadows of the Santa Catalina Mountains at Seven Falls. The Falls are on the northern border of Tucson in the Coronado National Forest and the Sonoran Desert (the most biologically diverse desert in North America.) Before you spend some time at the falls, work up a sweat by taking a tram tour, hiking one of the numerous trails, or taking a spin down a bike path.
Travel Back in Time
Broaden your horizons during your trip to Tucson by taking in one of the numerous museums of historic locations in the area. For the most breathtaking, travel down I-19 to see Mission San Xavier del Bac. The mission was founded in 1692, but the current building was constructed between 1783 and 1797. Unlike most Spanish missions built around the same time, the architecture on San Xavier is entirely European, with a Moorish or Byzantine influence. The mission also has its original sanctuary, so you can get a look at an authentic 18th century space.
Survey the Last Frontier
For a different view of the heavens — stop by one of two premier astronomy attractions in the local area: Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Mt. Lemmon Skycenter. Kitt Peak National Observatory is about an hour south of Tucson and has been paramount in helping researchers to better understand the night sky. Tours operate daily with their nighttime tours and telescope viewing opportunities — understandably — being the most popular. Just 27 miles northeast of Tucson, Mt. Lemmon Skycenter is managed and operated by the University of Arizona, giving you a glimpse of groundbreaking scientific research being done at the University. UA researchers have worked with NASA on missions to explore every planet and ex-planet (sorry, Pluto) in our solar system, and the team is also at the forefront of a NASA mission to gather samples from an asteroid.
Get WildNo trip to Tucson is complete without a little time travel. We're talking about the Wild West experience at Old Tucson Studios, a recreation of a desert town in the Old West. The theme park has western experiences like gunfights, saloon musicals, and living history presentations. The park got its start in the movies, and numerous film and television productions have used the location to capture the look and feel of the 1800s Southwest. Some of the films shot at Old Tucson include The Three Amigos, Tombstone, and The Outlaw Josey Wales.
Grab a Bite
Whew! You've worked up an appetite. Thankfully, you're in Tucson, so you’re at the center of “the best 23 miles of Mexican food” in the country. Sonora-inspired food is the specialty around town, and El Charro Cafe is a Tucson tradition — it was established in 1922, and is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the US. The family owned and operated establishment has several locations around the city, including one downtown. The carne seca, or dried beef, is an absolute must.
If you’re looking for Mexican pastries, be sure to swing by La Estrella Bakery for a breakfast treat, or if you’d like to sample some tamales, give the aptly named Tucson Tamale Company a try. Boca Tacos + Tequila is a great dinner and drinks options with a convenient downtown location. Fantastic Mexican food for 23 miles is enough to keep you well-fed and busy during your getaway, and you can be sure to find a great option no matter where you are in town.
Whet Your Whistle
After you're filled up on traditional Mexican food, have a nightcap at one of Tucson's many breweries. Try the Bavarian Hefeweizen at the Pueblo Vida Brewing Company to beat the heat or a Mexican-stye Vienna on a chilly night at Sentinel Peak Brewing Company. Much like with Mexican food, you won’t run out of new breweries to sample. There are more than a dozen options many of them have outdoor patio spaces to help you relax and breathe in some desert air while savoring your cold drink.