Arizona's second city isn't just a junior partner to Phoenix. It's a beautiful, welcoming family destination in its own right, and if you want to escape to the desert sunshine, there aren't many better places to visit.
Step into another world among the cacti and animal species at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Put your hands in the cool mountain stream at Sabino Canyons and share a glass of champagne with your partner. See the Kartchner caverns or the almost as cavernous Titan missile silo on Duval Mine Road. With attractions like this, Tucson is not short of ways with which to be entertained.
It's not lacking in first-class culture, food and drink either. Mexican eateries like Hacienda del Sol are in the top-ranked nationwide. The Tucson Music Hall always has a classical or rock concert to attend, and there are even local craft breweries like Thunder Canyon to explore. All-in-all, Tucson is the perfect place to escape from the weather and worries of home.
Tucson hardly ever experiences a rainy day. Winter temperatures rarely fall below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and often rise into the 60s, providing ideal golfing and hiking conditions. Spring and fall see temperatures in the 70s and 80s - which most people will find ideal.
Tucson is a meeting point of American, Latin-American and Native American cultures (not to mention recent Asian migrations). This means that it's a great place to find unique crafts items and artworks, whether you head to boutique jewelry stores like Silver Sea, the Tucson Gem Show in winter, or the galleries and stores in Barrio Viejo. And, if you love history, a visit to the 18th-century Mission San Xavier del Bac is essential.
With such a warm, sunny climate, Tucson is one of the best places in the country to get outside. It's home to some first-rate golf courses like Dove Mountain, sublime hiking locations like Sabino Canyons and also offers family outdoor activities like horse-riding on its desert trails.
If you are the kind of person who loves fiery chili, tacos, burritos or carne asada, Tucson will be a culinary delight. The city is packed full of gourmet Mexican restaurants, including budget options like El Molinito and upmarket bistros like Hacienda del Sol.
Nature is never far away when you visit Tucson, and the Arizona desert is a truly fascinating landscape. The best place to meet the local flora and fauna is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which houses rare local species like the Mexican wolf, over 40,000 plants and has a stunning mineral collection as well.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum offers 98 acres of indoor and outdoor activities, incoluding a natural history museum and art gallery, along with a zoo, aquarium, and botanical gardens. There are two miles of pathways snaking through the Arizona desert landscape to explore. Exhibits and events focus on the local desert ecosystem, including live animals such as prairie dogs, and local vegetation such as yucca plants, with more than 230 species of animals and 1,200 types of plants on display.
The iconic sagauro cactus of the Arizona desert is protected in the national park that bears its name. The park is split into two districts on either side of the city of Tuscon, each offering a variety of desert environments to explore. To the west, the Tuscon Mountain District is home to ancient Hohokam petroglyphs along Signal Hill Trail. Cactus Forest Loop Drive winds through the Rincon Mountain District in the eastern part of the park, offering dramatic views of the desert at any time of day. Hiking, bicycling, and backcountry camping (within specified areas) are available. Strict regulations are enforced to protect the desert environment, including a ban on ATVs and firearms.
The Mission San Xavier del Bac is located within the Tohono O'odham San Xavier Indian Reservation, just south of downtown Tuscon. Founded in the late 17th century, today the active Mission includes a museum and gift shop, along with holding a regular Mass which the public can attend. The Mission is considered one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the US. In addition to touring the opulently decorated church and Mission, be sure to check out the seasonal calendar of concerts and other events. The Mission is open to the public daily, except when special services are being held.
The Sabino Canyon is a large canyon through the Santa Catalina Mountains. It is home to the Coronado National Forest and lies just north of Tuscon. The Sabino Canyon offers a variety of outdoor recreation activities, including hiking through lush landscapes that include deserts, streams, and waterfalls tumbling from the jagged cliffs. Visitors may encounter local wildlife, including deer, tortoises, and skunks. The canyon is also home to rattlesnakes and mountain lions. The Upper Sabino Canyon is accessible only by foot, bicycle, or by tram via Sabino Canyon Tours, boasting striking views of the area from above.
Operated by the University of Arizona, the Arizona State Museum focuses on the native American civilization of the region, specifically southwestern US and northern Mexico, and its ten-thousand-year history. There are historic as well as contemporary exhibits and a large photographic collection to explore. The museum holds a year-round program of talks, events, classes, and other activities.
Winter is a superb time to visit Tucson, with mild weather, sunshine, and a chance to escape from the snow and rain elsewhere. However, the cultural life of the city really gets going around March and April. High summer is too hot for many people, so consider a trip in spring or fall to enjoy the best conditions.
Flying into Tucson International Airport is the easiest way for most people to reach the city. When you get there, the cheapest ground transportation option into town is to take one of the two Sun Tran buses that serve the airport terminal (routes 11 and 25), which cost $1.50. There are also shuttle bus services to most major hotels, seven car rental outlets on-site and taxis at the arrivals terminal.
Tucson's Amtrak station can be found at 400 N. Toole Avenue, not far from the city center. It's a stop on the Sunset Limited service, which connects Tucson to Los Angeles and New Orleans.
Take I-10 if you are coming from Texas, the southeast or Los Angeles. Those driving from the Northwest should take I-5 to Los Angeles, then switch to I-10, while if you are coming from the Northeast and Midwest, take I-40 and switch to I-10 in Phoenix.
Tucson's Greyhound terminal is located at 471 W. Congress Street, and Greyhound offers by far the largest range of intercity connections. However, you might also check out the TUFESA schedule if you are coming from Mexico.
The main choices in Tucson are between luxury desert resort hotels and city center options. If you are looking for a spa escape, Tanque Verde Ranch can't be bettered. It offers massages, horse riding trails and much more. The Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa is close behind, while the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is ideal for golfing fans, with two 18-hole courses on site. In Downtown Tucson, the TownePlace Suites Tucson Williams Center is conveniently located, while the Riverpark Inn is handy for the University of Arizona.
Downtown Tucson – While many of Tucson's major attractions are a little out of town, the city center is still a great place to eat, sleep and shop. The Tucson Museum of Art is a local highlight, with its excellent collection of Native American artifacts, while shopping lovers will adore the many vintage stores like Father and Gather, and dining options like La Cocina are some of the best in town.
Sam Hughes – Sam Hughes is completely different to Downtown Tucson. Instead of markets and office buildings, you'll find charming 100-year-old Spanish-style bungalows and a prosperous neighborhood that's within walking distance of the city center. The upmarket residents have attracted some superb restaurants as well, including Zemam's (an Ethiopian eatery) and Rocco's Little Chicago, which serves traditional Chicago-style deep dish pizzas.
Dove Mountain – In the north of Tucson, Dove Mountain offers something else entirely. It's a purpose built tourism development nestled at the foot of the mountains in stunningly landscaped desert terrain. If you want to get out into the hills, it's a great place to stay, but the number one attraction here is golf. The championship standard Dove Mountain Golf Course is a beautiful and stern test of anyone's skills (which is why Tiger Woods regularly plays there).
The Sun Tran local bus network is extensive and affordable, with single fares costing just $1.50 and day passes costing $3.50. If you are in town for a while, the easiest way to pay for buses is via a SunGo card, which you can pick up from vending machines at most transit stops.
If you don't have access to a rental vehicle, using taxis is the second easiest way to get around Tucson. Local rates are typically around $3 for the meter drop and first mile, then $2.10 per mile after that. UberX charges $1 for the meter drop, then $0.95 per mile, so can be a great way to save money.
Driving around Tucson shouldn't present any major problems. The city has a regular grid network, with few major roads crossing the Downtown area. The only major traffic issues arise on I-10, which you can avoid by using other east-west roads. There are three large parking garages in the city center, with 4,000 total spaces and 1,000 additional metered spaces, so finding somewhere to park is rarely difficult.
If you want to shop for souvenirs and craft products made by local artisans, Tucson is the place to be. Head to Silver Sea on 4th for locally crafted silver jewelry, Tucson Mineral and Gem World to pick up gorgeous rocks from the desert or Old Town Artisans to discover a huge range of Native American crafts. There are also larger malls like the Tucson Mall, which features plenty of major brands like American Eagle Outfitters.
If you are intending to self-cater during your Tucson vacation, you're in luck. Tucson has some of the most affordable grocery prices around, with a gallon of milk costing around $2.20 and 12 eggs $2.50. The best places to shop for fresh produce are local branches of Whole Foods and markets like FoodInRoot at St. Philip's Plaza. There are also major supermarkets to choose from, such as Walmart, El Super and Albertsons.
Mexican food is king in Tucson. Some of the finest restaurants in town include El Molinito (which is also extremely affordable), El Charro Cafe and El Minuto, where the fresh tortillas are a highlight. But there's much more available than Mexican food. Yamato serves upscale sushi and other Japanese dishes, Angelo's is a fantastic Greek-Italian eatery, while if all you need is a meat-filled sandwich, Bison Witches is the perfect place. Dining out shouldn't be too expensive. A Mid-range meal costs around $13-15 and high-end places charge around $30.