Visiting Tucson - What to See and Do
(Tucson International Airport TUS, USA)
The Old Pueblo, as Tucson
is lovingly known, is everything that is good about Arizona
. It is funky, historic, easy-going and home to an incredible university. Surrounded by three separate mountain ranges with the magical Sonoran Desert beyond, Tucson brings the best of desert nature and cultural attractions together in an addictive cocktail.
Anyone who has spent time in this city will attest to its allure. There is a rich Hispanic heritage at work here, evident in the downtown Presidio district's buildings and the incredibly good Mexican food on every corner. The University of Arizona is also an important facet of Tucson's society. Centered around the gritty appeal of Fourth Avenue, the students provide much of the light in the city.
Drive ten minutes in any direction and you are either in the middle of America's prettiest desert or climbing up the flanks of a mountain. There is even a tiny ski hill atop Mount Lemmon. Hikes up Sabino Canyon in early spring showcase the desert beauty, and when the monsoon rains roll in every August, the entire city breathes a collective sigh of relief.
Ten things you must do in Tucson
- The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is part desert zoo and part ecological education center. It is a beautiful site right on the edge of the city, where you can learn about the unique plants, cacti and creatures that call the Sonoran Desert home. Tucson is very much a desert city and this attraction puts it all in perspective.
- Fourth Avenue is the artsy street in the city. It connects the huge university campus to the gritty but compact downtown core, and is lined with tasty cafés, quirky boutiques and a handful of legendary bars. Try and plan a visit around the twice-a-year Fourth Avenue Street Fair, the city's top festival.
- The Sabino Canyon is Tucson's most accessible swath of Sonoran Desert. It lies right at the very edge of the city, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and offers a quick and rewarding place to hike and walk. A great visitor center provides useful desert information, along with maps of the dozen or so trails that range from a 30-minute nature walk to all-day climbs up the canyon. There is even an open tram if you just want to cruise up the initial stretch of canyon from the visitor center.
- An ocean of beautiful desert has been protected in the Saguaro National Park. The 'saguaro' is that iconic cactus that looks like it has arms held aloft, and this desert sanctuary is studded with sizeable specimens. The trails that wander through this park on the edge of Tucson are fantastic, especially in winter when the weather is cool and at sunset when the sky bursts into flame every evening. There are also a few miles of paved scenic road for those who just want to drive and look.
- Tucson has been around for many centuries. Historic attractions like the San Xavier Mission offer a rare look at the Spanish element that encroached this far north from the Americas. It is a beautiful church set in a desolate environment. The contrast is striking, and the Indian fry bread sold in the parking lot is out of this world.
- The University of Arizona is one of the best in the Western United States and its campus is an ideal place for a leisurely stroll. Grassy lawns and native trees create a unique desert oasis right in the heart of the city. If you are a college sports fan, then you know that Tucsonans are crazy about their U of A Wildcat teams. Catch a football game in the stadium if you can.
- It is actually possible to play in the snow in Tucson. In the depths of winter, when the weather is perfect in the city, it is cold on top of Mount Lemmon. It often snows here, and so a small ski resort has established itself at the very top. Mount Lemmon is a marvelous place to escape the heat any time of year. Sub-Alpine trails wander through aspen groves, hoodoo rock gardens and past some outstanding vista points.
- Tucson is home to dozens of awesome Mexican restaurants, many of which have been in business for literally decades. However, if there is one place in the city to make a point of eating it is the legendary institute of La Poca Cosa. The menu changes daily and the food that comes out of this woman's kitchen, in the center of the downtown district, simply blows the mind.
- Golfers should be prepared to find a handful of absolutely gorgeous courses in the foothills. Somehow they scrounge up enough water to feed the emerald greens and narrow fairways at the Ventana Canyon, Starr Pass and El Conquistador (it is a big eco-issue in Tucson). However, in the winter and early spring, you couldn't ask for nicer golf weather, and the courses are as uniquely challenging as they are scenic.
- There are some excellent stables in the Tucson foothills, and the horseback riding here is superb. One of the best rides is the sunset dinner package at the Pusch Ridge Stables, where a guide leads you through the desert on empty trails, while a reliably inspiring sunset provides the backdrop. Then there is dinner and drinks waiting at the end of the trail as twilight sends the stars sparkling back into life.