Found in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson is an oasis of culture, mouth-watering food, and great shopping studded with giant saguaro cacti and surrounded by majestic mountain ranges. As the second largest city in the state of Arizona and a thriving college town to boot, it’s shaking off its nickname “Old Pueblo” and embracing its new identity as a bustling metropolis with a rich history. Take a look at our Tucson guide for the best things to do during your stay.
History buffs will love the Arizona State Musuem. Devoted to the area’s Native American history and culture, a visit here is a great way to get acquainted with the city. To the east of the museum, you can explore the adobe and brick buildings of the El Presidio Historic District, which was actually built on the site of the prehistoric Hohokam Indian settlement, making the area one of the oldest continually inhabited places in the country.
And while you’re in El Presidio, don’t miss the chance to visit the impressive Tucson Museum of Art or the nearby Tucson Portrait Project to take in some world-class art and portraits of local faces respectively.
To spend an afternoon walking in the footsteps of cowboys and movie stars, Old Tucson Studios, just half an hour from the city centre, is the place to go: it was the location for over 300 movies and television shows on the Wild West. And if you’re in town in February, don your cowboy hat and head over to watch the Tucson Rodeo, a city tradition for the past 90 years.
For those who yearn for vast expanses of sky and uninterrupted natural scenery, Tucson will treat you well. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo, aquarium, museum, gallery, and garden combined, beloved by locals and visitors alike. Similarly, Saguaro National Park and Sabino Canyon are both half an hour’s drive from the city centre and are great for hiking, biking, and picnicking (the Canyon offers tram rides, should physical exertion not be on the itinerary). But you don’t actually have to go outdoors to experience the great outdoors here, thanks to the so-called “mini-world” at Biosphere 2, found at the foothills of the Catalina Mountains.
Tucson also has plenty of green spaces within the city limits: Catalina Park, Christopher Columbus Park and Reid Park are lovely leafy spots to while away a sunny morning and are great for entertaining the kids, thanks to the playgrounds, lakes, splash pads and swimming pools found there.
Expect to eat and drink well while you’re here: from urban farm cuisine at Pasco Kitchen & Lounge and modern twists on American classics at 47 Scott to wholesome pizzas at Renee’s Organic Oven, there’s plenty to choose from. Don’t miss the poutine and craft cocktails at Maynard’s Market & Kitchen (it’s also a great spot to refuel on caffeine and sugar) or the delicious food from James Beard award-winning chef Janos Wilder at Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails. And craft beer lovers should make their way over to the taproom of Dragoon Brewing and keep an eye out for beers from 1055 Brewing and Borderlands while they’re in town. Tucson is also a city that prides itself on serving quality Mexican food: family-run El Charro Café and chef Suzana Davila’s Cafe Poca Cosa should feature in any Tucson guide.
Finally, shopaholic travellers should make their way to La Encantada at the foothills of the Catalina Mountains to indulge in a luxurious outdoor setting. Alternatively, explore the variety of shops on offer in the Lost Barrio District, Downtown Tucson, and on Fourth Avenue. And watch out for the two annual Street Fairs on Fourth Avenue, which light up the area with events, arts and crafts, music, food stalls, and even face painting for kids (or just the young at heart).
Header image: Take in dramatic views of Tucson, Arizona © Todd Taulman/iStock/Thinkstock
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Written by Giverny Tattersfield