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Tucson, Arizona

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • A staple of Mexican menus, the nonsensically named chimichanga was created by accident in Tucson.
  • Mount Lemmon is the southernmost ski destination in the U.S.
  • A saguaro cactus can be 40 to 60 feet tall, weigh 3,200 to 4,800 pounds and live 150 to 200 years.
  • Saguaro cacti don’t produce flowers until they are about 35 years old.
  • The Titan missile held a nuclear payload 214 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan.

Of spas and saguaro cacti

Tucson, on Arizona’s Sonoran Desert only 70 miles from the Mexican border, has obvious associations with several cultures and their varied histories. Native Americans, Spanish colonials, Mexicans and the Americans who thought they would tame the West exert influences in 21st century Tucson through architecture, festivals, rodeos and other traditions, foods and language.

At the same time, the city of more than half a million (in a metro area of about one million) enjoys the sunny desert climate that has made it a destination for visitors who look for resort living, golf courses, spa services and in-resort fine dining.

Tucson boasts of being America’s sunniest city, with 350 days of sunshine a year. Tucson’s elevation, about 2,500 feet, and low humidity provide some offset to summer’s heat. Although this is desert territory, Tucson and its surroundings get some rain in late summer and again in early winter, which supports a lush display of desert plants.

The city is something of a foodie’s haven, but one where the best offerings are Mexican and southwestern cuisines which can be a bit, or very, spicy.

Tucson also is a resort town with culture: One downtown area is named simply the Arts District in recognition of its galleries, antiques shops, crafts stores, artsy boutiques, theaters and sidewalk cafes. The largely Mexican-American South Tucson is known for its public art projects, particularly murals, tile art and other installations.

Area geography also draws tourists to the southern Arizona city, and these visitors include those who admire nature’s wonders or want to feed their fascination with unique cultures and history, as much as those who seek active vacations.

The following are on Tucson’s borders: Catalina State Park, Coronado National Forest, Saguaro National Park East, Saguaro National Park West and the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation. And not to forget Old West connections, the evocatively named Tombstone is about 70 miles to the southeast. Other sites, such as the Titan Missile Museum, are associated with U.S. military history.

In sum, Tucson and its environs offer the variety that allows travelers of all personality types to plan the trip they want.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Camp and hike at the Cochise Stronghold, the refuge west of Sunsites used by Apaches to fight the U.S. military.
  • Choose your musical event. Tucson offers an embarrassment of riches, ranging from KFMA Day for alternative rock, two electronic music events called Dub Crawl and the KLPX Fest of classic rock to an annual country music festival.
  • Join a half- or full-day hike through the Coronado National Forest with pack goats to carry your equipment and lunch.
  • Hike into Sabino Canyon after sunset, but be on the lookout for rattlesnakes if you take this walk between March and September.
  • Sample foods and drinks (such as the margarita) that feature the prickly pear, a type of cactus that produces a bright red fruit.
  • Go rock climbing on the 9,157-food Mount Lemmon, a short drive from Tucson in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Or, ski at Mount Lemmon Ski Valley.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Search out ancient rock art at Saguaro National Park West in Tucson (and get an eyeful of the cacti, too). Or go farther afield for ancient art, to the Petroglyph Discovery Trail near Millville or Honey Bee Canyon in Oro Valley. Still farther afield, find the Council Rocks in the Dragoon Mountains near St. David.
  • Sample Mexican food in restaurants and from street vendors. Indian frybread also is available from vendors.
  • See stars. Attend stargazing events at the Kitt Peak National Observatory outside of Sells or at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory near Amado. The University of Arizona also has telescopes from which visitors can view the heavens.
  • Allow time for leisurely explorations of historic neighborhoods, especially El Barrio Historico and El Presidio. The latter is the site of Tucson’s original 1775 settlement.
  • Pick up your camera and go on the hunt for some of the area’s ghost towns. Some choices, Courtland, Gleeson and Pearce, are along the Ghost Town Trail between Sunsites and Elfrida.
  • Join a multiday trail ride on cool, higher-elevation trails outside of Tucson. Or, choose a wine-tasting trail ride.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Plan a custom wine-tasting tour to several of the wineries in grape-growing areas south and east of Tucson.
  • See a lot of art at one go. Time your visit for one of the monthly art walks on Gallery Row at El Cortijo in the Tucson foothills. Or take advantage of one of the open-studio tours offered in the Downtown Warehouse District.
  • Stay at a dude ranch. Also, attend the Tucson Rodeo in February, and see the event’s parade, as well.
  • Learn about modern military might at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson and the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, home of the only surviving Titan missile (the rest were destroyed under SALT II). Near the air and space museum, see the so-called aircraft graveyard, accommodating more than 5,000 planes, some dating to World War II.
  • Play golf, then use the spa facilities at your resort.
  • Take the kids (and the kid in you) to see the hideout of Old West bandits and train robbers at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. The kids also can be cowboy for a day at Old Tucson Studios.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit Tucson at www.visittucson.org