Turn up the heat on relaxation and fun in the sun in Tucson.
There’s nothing prickly about Tucson, AZ, except the gorgeous blooming cacti. This growing city is the perfect foray into exploring the Southwestern side of the United States, with sunny skies and friendly folks on every corner, giving it its own charm.
Studded with stately saguaro cacti, Tucson has everything from wellness retreats and outdoor adventures to a bustling downtown with 85 bars and restaurants. You’re almost guaranteed good weather with an average of 350 sunny days a year. Temps regularly exceed 100 degrees during summer, but so long as you stay hydrated and plan accordingly, you can enjoy Tucson any time of the year.
When you visit this top-notch destination, get ready for views, variety and vacay vibes.
Where to Stay
The beautiful Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort lands you in the lap of friendly luxury at the base of the Santa Catalina mountains. Built as a prestigious girls’ boarding school in the early 1900s, Hacienda Del Sol became a guest ranch in the 1940s, drawing celebrities of the time from Katharine Hepburn to John Wayne.
Several major restorations have taken place since, and today the property’s high-end spa, gorgeous pools, culinary delights and scenic landscaping create a perfect, relaxing retreat. Accommodations reflect the resort’s desert setting, and some rooms feature private outdoor showers. Low lighting throughout the property makes for relaxing evenings perfect for stargazing – even from your personal patio.
What to Do
Tucson has plenty to entertain you no matter your taste, but the city is spread out, so allow plenty of time to get around or plan your days around which of your points of interest are near each other.
Getting outside is one of the best ways to get to know Tucson, and the city offers many options for enjoying the outdoors. During the summer months, you’ll want to complete your outdoor fun as early in the day as possible when temperatures are manageable.
Saguaro, a protected species, can take 50 to 75 years to grow their first arm and adult saguaro are generally considered to be about 125 years old.
Saguaro National Park surrounds Tucson to the east and west. Make sure to get a close look at an adult saguaro during your Tucson trip. These giant cacti only grow in the Sonoran Desert, which encompasses Arizona and parts of Mexico and California.
Sabino Canyon is a centrally located natural area where you can see plenty of saguaro and take a hike at your preferred difficulty level, exploring the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains and spotting native wildlife. In addition, the park offers a tram to make your hike more accessible and faster.
The Loop offers 126 miles of paved paths and bikeways, the longest public recreation, multi-use path in the United States. More trails are still being added. If you’re looking for a less physical but still scenic route, the desert botanical garden Tohono Chul allows visitors to stroll the grounds of native plants and pick up local souvenirs at several gift shops.
To get a local art fix, visit the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, established by artist Ted DeGrazia in the 1950s. The museum features six collections of DeGrazia’s work, each grouping designed to illustrate a native culture, story or other specific aspects of the American Southwest. In addition, Tucson’s University of Arizona offers a large variety of museums for every interest, ranging from gems and minerals, photography, the history of pharmacy and more.
If you want even more nature, spend a couple of hours at the Desert Museum’s fusion of a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum and aquarium.
Where to Eat
Tucson has an extraordinary culinary scene as the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy designated in the United States and one of about 50 worldwide. The city received this distinction for its food culture that dates back at least 4,000 years and represents a tapestry of Mexican and Native-American traditions and heritage.
You don’t have to go far to find local eats in Tucson – two-thirds of the city’s more than 1,200 restaurants and bars are locally owned rather than national chains, and you’ll also find 12 times the number of locally-owned food trucks and carts per capita than in New York City. Local restaurants can apply for a City of Gastronomy local certification based on their efforts to support the local food economy, keep food heritage alive and operate under sustainability- and community-minded business practices.
Tucson has 12 times more locally-owned food trucks and carts per capita than New York City.
Certified local restaurants to add to your list include Boca Tacos Y Tequila, The Monica, Tito & Pep, Cup Cafe and Charro Steak & Del Rey, a steak and seafood restaurant holding the distinction of America’s oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family (since 1922!). Another fun culinary stop is The Boxyard, where 10 shipping containers house four restaurants, two bars and a coffee shop.
Mexico! Tucson is only about a 90-minute drive from the border, and Mexican heritage influences much of Tucson’s cuisine and culture. Rocky Point, Mexico, is a nearby resort destination, and day trips crossing the border are easy for Mexican and American citizens.
Sonoran hot dogs are a local delicacy. They are hot dogs wrapped in bacon and grilled, served in a bun or tortilla, and topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes and condiments like mayonnaise, mustard and jalapeño salsa.