Exploring Tucson: A Guide to Activities and Culinary Delights in the Sonoran Desert
Arts & Culture
Visiting Tucson is special because it's a captivating journey into a historic city, where diverse cultures have come together to create a unique blend of epicurean pleasures and rich heritage. Exploring the city's culinary scene is a treat for my taste buds, allowing me to immerse myself in its history and experience a truly one-of-a-kind adventure. Whether I'm strolling through its colorful neighborhoods or savoring its delectable street food, Tucson offers a delightful experience at every turn.
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Where to stay in Tucson
The Leo Kent Hotel, Tucson, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel
A Tribute Portfolio gem, where Southwestern charm meets contemporary luxury in the heart of the desert.
The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain
Sophisticated hotel located in the Sonoran Desert with upscale rooms and suites offering views of the Tortolita Mountains.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
The Tuxon Hotel
Where desert vibes and urban sophistication harmonize, creating an unforgettable Tucson experience.
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Things to do in Tucson
Tucson, Arizona offers a captivating blend of adventure, artistic expression, and iconic landmarks. This Southwestern city invites you to embark on a journey where natural beauty, creative culture, and historical sites converge to create a unique and enriching experience.
Tombstone, Arizona, offers an immersive experience into the Old West, famous for its 1879 silver mines and events like the O.K. Corral shootout. The town, revitalized by the 1990s movie "Tombstone," celebrates its history with museums, tours, reenactments, and annual events, making it a prime destination for Western heritage enthusiasts.
Take a horseback ride
Embark on a breathtaking horseback riding tour through the Coronado National Forest and Catalina State Park, offering stunning views of the Santa Catalina Mountains and iconic Saguaro Cacti.
Explore the Sonoran Desert and Saguaro National Park
Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park, where you'll be immersed in the region's diverse flora and fauna, including the iconic saguaro cactus. Travel through the scenic Gates Pass and to the historic San Xavier del Bac Mission, offering insights into the heritage of the Tohono O'odham Indian Tribe and Spanish missionaries.
Experience the breathtaking beauty of the Sonoran Desert from a unique perspective on a hot air balloon ride, floating gracefully 2,000 to 5,000 feet above the earth.
Climb big Rocks
Explore the world-class rock-climbing opportunities that Mount Lemmon has to offer in a stunning natural setting surrounded by pines and aspen groves.
The Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona, is one of the largest non-governments funded aerospace museums in the world. Opened in 1976, the museum boasts over 400 aircraft displayed across 80 acres, including six indoor air-cooled hangars. Notable exhibits include three hangars dedicated to WWII planes and the SR-71 Blackbird, making it a must-visit destination for aviation enthusiasts and families.
The Gaslight Theatre is renowned for its family-friendly melodic melodramas and musical comedies, complete with live music, local acting, and free popcorn. This unique dinner theater enhances its performances with table service of food and drinks, including pizza and ice cream.
Mount Lemmon, at 9,159 feet in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona, is a tranquil retreat known for its cooler climate, offering a summer oasis and snowy winter haven. Part of the Coronado National Forest and one of Arizona's "sky islands," it features rugged cliffs and unique rock formations, attracting tourists, bikers, hikers, and nature lovers with its stunning vistas.
The historic Teatro Carmen, built in 1915 in Tucson's Barrio Viejo, stands as the last known theater of its era and genre, notable for its original features like the theater space, pressed metal ceiling, and proscenium arch. Plans for its rehabilitation (reopening in 2024-25) include transforming it into a 250-300-seat performing arts space with an attached restaurant, while preserving its rich cultural history and significance in the Hispanic community.
Carly Quinn Designs is renowned for its unique, custom hand-glazed tile murals, collaborating with Southern Arizona's top designers for various installations. Artist Carly Quinn crafts these vibrant pieces on ceramic tiles, fired at 2,000 degrees for rich colors, with her studio and showroom open by appointment, displaying her innovative approach to fine art.
The Tucson Museum of Art, established in 1924 and located in downtown Tucson, spans a 74,000-square-foot area, featuring a contemporary main museum and historic 19th-century homes like the Cordova House. It showcases a diverse array of exhibitions, including Western, Latin American, modern and contemporary, Native American, American West, and Asian art, offering both artistic and historical insights.
Places to eat & drink in Tucson
Tucson's culinary scene is a vibrant tapestry of flavors, where Mexican, Native American, and Western influences come together to create a unique dining experience. From cozy neighborhood eateries to upscale dining establishments, Tucson's restaurants offer a diverse array of dishes that showcase the city's rich cultural heritage and commitment to culinary excellence.
The Parish is a distinctive fusion gastropub, reflecting the diverse culinary heritage of its owners from Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona. Celebrated for its community-oriented atmosphere, the eatery presents an eclectic menu that includes Southern and Cajun/Creole dishes.
Kingfisher Bar & Grill stands out for its award-winning American cuisine, with a focus on seafood and grilled meats, and has been a celebrated local institution for over 30 years. The restaurant offers a cozy and vibrant atmosphere, perfect for group gatherings, and features a diverse menu with fresh seafood, creative cocktails, and accommodating options for vegetarian and gluten-free diets.
El Taco Rustico specializes in genuine Mexican dishes, especially from Coahuila, serving slow-cooked meats and shrimp tacos, complemented by traditional drinks like horchata. Esteemed for its commitment to freshness and quality, this restaurant, founded by Juan Almanza, is celebrated for its rich flavors.
Zemam's, Tucson's inaugural Ethiopian restaurant since 1993, features communal dining with Ethiopian and African dishes like braised lamb and spicy beef, served on shared platters using injera like utensils. Founded by Amanuel Gebremariam, the restaurant is celebrated for its bold flavors, vegan and gluten-free options, and a cozy, romantic ambiance.
Tito and Pep in midtown Tucson is a vibrant neighborhood bistro embodying the spirit of the Southwest, known for its mesquite-fired cuisine and a relaxed, convivial atmosphere. Chef/Owner John Martinez infuses the menu with influences from the region's multicultural history and his own travels.
BOCA, a modern Mexican restaurant led by Chef Maria Mazon, a 2022 James Beard Award finalist, offers an innovative take on Mexican cuisine with 24 varieties of gourmet tacos and original salsas. Emphasizing the art of Mexican cooking, the restaurant brings a unique taste of Sonora to Tucson.
Anello stands out for its renowned sourdough pizza crust, considered the best in the city, with a focused menu emphasizing simplicity and perfection in Italian cuisine. This popular pizzeria offers a cozy dining experience, drawing acclaim for its dishes like Bianca Pizza, seasonal veggies, and focaccia.
Charro Steak is renowned for being the city's only 100% grass-fed, mesquite-grilled sustainable steakhouse, offering a fusion of Mexican, American, and Southwestern cuisines. Opened in 2016, it provides a unique farm-to-table and sea-to-table dining experience in a comfortable, homey setting, making it ideal for special occasions.
The Coronet blends classic sensibility with international cuisine. It encompasses a café and Nightjar and is particularly celebrated for its cocktails.
Exo Roast Co. offers two unique locations providing craft-roasted coffee in a historic warehouse setting and in an 1885 adobe house. It also features Crisol Bar, open Wednesday to Sunday, offering an agave spirits tasting experience and a menu of small plates, blending Exo's renowned coffee culture with a modern culinary twist.
Tucson is a destination that seamlessly combines enriching activities with delicious culinary experiences. From exploring the stunning Saguaro National Park to savoring the diverse cuisines, Tucson caters to every traveler's interests. Whether you're an adventure seeker, a history enthusiast, or a food lover, this vibrant city in the heart of the Sonoran Desert promises an unforgettable journey that will leave you with cherished memories and a taste of its unique charm. So, pack your bags and embark on a Tucson adventure where culture, cuisine, and exploration await around every corner.
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, San Diego's Top Kid-Friendly Attractions and Eateries
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Arizona.