Content Produced in Partnership with Visit Tucson
Located just over 100 miles from Phoenix in the heart of the
Sonoran Desert is Tucson, a Southwestern city with a flair and a personality all
its own. While it’s been around since 1775 (and proudly showcases several
historical gems), nearby University of Arizona helps Tucson remain young and
vibrant. It’s a city that’s not afraid of embracing its heritage or of change, and it’s just one
reason why it’s quickly garnering national attention. Tucson has history
without feeling pretentious, an outdoor adventure scene that doesn’t feel far
away and remote, and a food scene that few can compare to. At a time when
American cities are churning out the same cookie cutter cultural experiences,
Tucson is unapologetically breaking the mold. Promotional pamphlets say the city is
“having a moment,” but if we’re being honest, it’s been having a moment for a
long time. It’s time you experienced it,
Get Out There
With five mountain ranges surrounding it and a national park on either side, few cities in the United States embrace the outdoors quite as much as Tucson, Arizona. While the city is surrounded on all sides by desert, Tucson is miraculously home to seven of the world’s nine life zones, making it one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. All that protected space creates a haven not just for wildlife but also for wayward explorers of all ages and skill levels.
Saguaro National Park
When you close your eyes and picture Arizona’s desert landscape, chances are you see dozens of cacti. You know the kind — those famous tall pronged plants are called saguaros, and Tucson just happens to be full of them. Their namesake national park of Saguaro National Park is separated into two distinct sections with the city of Tucson serving as the main dividing point between the two. The Tucson Mountain District lies to the west, while the Rincon Mountain District is to the east. Although both sides are worth visiting, those with limited time to explore the park will want to consider what they want from their experience before visiting. If you’re dreaming of endless views of the saguaro cactus and epic hikes, head west. If you’d prefer a mountain views and a scenic ride (by car or by bike), head east. Either way, you’ll want to stick around for sunset so you can score the image of the tall saguaro in the foreground and the brilliant hues of a Southwestern sunset in the background.
Located just 30 miles away from downtown Tucson within Sabino Canyon, the tall rock formations of Mount Lemmon and nearby Summerhaven entice hikers, bikers, and climbers from all over the US. With temperatures consistently 30 degrees cooler than nearby Tucson, the 9,000-foot peak (the highest peak of the Santa Catalina Mountain Range) serves as a cool oasis from the desert heat year-round too. We mean that literally. Mount Lemmon is home to the southernmost ski area in the country. Whenever you choose to visit, you'll want to cruise the Catalina Highway, or Sky Island Scenic Byway. The roadway winds its way up to the top of Mount Lemmon, offering plenty of overlooks and scenic trails to explore (and photograph) along the way.
Strike a Pose
If you didn’t tweet it, snap it, or Instagram it, did you really visit? Known as a “mecca for the arts,” Tucson’s colorful arts scene will delight and inspire you, ensuring every moment of your visit is worth sharing all across the Internet. Just remember to use the hashtag #VisitTucson so others can share in your discoveries.
Warehouse Arts District
Spurred by the sudden availability of space in the 70s and 80s, The Warehouse Arts District is home to countless local art studios and galleries. For many years though, few visitors — or even residents — knew about the magic being created behind the warehouse walls. The Tucson-Pima Arts Council changed that by creating an interactive map to help visitors, locals, and even artists better enjoy and navigate the sprawling space. Of course, if you get lost, you can always just look for the street art adorning the building facades, like the Goddess of Agave mural picture above, which are telltale signs you are in the right district.
Historic 4th Avenue
With more than 100 boutiques and restaurants located within it, Historic 4th Avenue is the main shopping district of Tucson. But, because of its location between downtown and the University of Arizona, you’re just as likely to come across plenty of artistic and otherwise quirky finds as you are shopping deals. Near The Chocolate Iguana, for example, you’ll find Tucson’s rainbow crosswalk. Meanwhile, adults and children alike are sure to find an eclectic souvenir inside Pop-Cycle, where local artists make all the goods sold in the store from repurposed materials.
Dip into the Local Culture
If we’ve learned anything about Tucson, it’s that this corner of Arizona is full of surprises. Whether it’s taking flight or hitting the trails, the breadth of cultural diversity represented in Tucson will astound you. Even better, Tucson’s museums are far from stuffy and drabby. That's because the city experiences more than 350 days of sunshine a year, so nearly all of the museums in town have exhibits located outdoors. Grab your sunglasses — it's time to get cultured.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
You’d be remiss if you didn’t visit Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum while you were in Tucson. Not only is it considered the top attraction in the city, but it’s also one TripAdvisor’s Top 10 museums in the country. We can’t deny it has style. The 98-acre museum is home to a botanical garden, zoo, aquarium, and natural history museum (to name only a few) and boasts two miles of walking trails on its 21 acres. The indoor-outdoor exhibits will give you a better appreciation for the vastness of the Sonoran Desert and the diversity within it — and it'll change the way you view a day spent at a museum. Note: More than 85 percent of the museum is located outdoors. So, if you're visiting in the summer, it’s best to visit in the morning before the desert heat reaches its peak.
Pima Air and Space Museum
The days of the Wild West may be long gone, but the pioneering spirit lives on in Tucson. With the still-active Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and one of the top space programs in the country located nearby, Tucson is a leader in cutting edge technology in the air and space industries. More than 300 aircraft are on site, effectively making The Pima Air & Space Museum one of the largest aerospace museums in the world. It’s also the exclusive tour operator for the government’s main aircraft storage facility, a place better known as the “Boneyard.” The indoor and outdoor exhibits and six aircraft hangars will guide you through the history of flight, showcasing everything from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Air Force One to the 787 Dreamliner. Altogether, it’s one of the best and most well thought out museums in the American Southwest.
Wine and Dine — Tucson Style
Plenty of cities can boast about their culinary scenes, but few garner international recognition for it. Tucson has reason to brag more than most — it was the first city in the United States to be recognized as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Its dedication to preserving its culinary heritage as well as promoting the future of it earned the nomination, and it’s still one of only a handful UNESCO Creative Cities recognized for the art cooking.
Taco ‘Bout It
Tucson boldly claims its home to the best Mexican food north of the border, and by the way it peacocks around, you’d think it just about invented the taco and the tamale itself. What more do you expect from the city that gave us the chimichanga? Tucson’s Mexican food scene is so great, it’s home to the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food. Some of the restaurants on the route include El Charro Café, a Tucson tradition, and BOCA Tacos y Tequila; however, if you stick around the university and downtown area you’re virtually guaranteed an award-winning dining experience, too.
Raise a Glass
In the past few years, more than a dozen craft breweries have popped up in and around Tucson, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to slow down anytime soon. Barrio Brewing and Dragoon Brewing are hometown favorites, but, like its Mexican food scene, you’re unlikely to find a bad craft brew. While dark beers seem to be the local preference, you’ll quickly learn all the local beers are best served up with a Tucson-original Sonoran hot dog, a sinfully good bacon wrapped hot dog piled high with Mexican beans, mustard and jalapeno sauce. More than 200 restaurants or breweries serve some kind of version of the city classic, so don’t knock it until you try it.