The Old Pueblo, as Tucson is affectionately known, is built upon a deep Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and Old West foundation. Arizona’s second-largest city is both a bustling center of business and a relaxed university and resort town. Metropolitan Tucson has more than 850,000 residents, including thousands of snowbirds who flee colder climes to enjoy the sun that shines on the city more than 340 days out of 365.
The metropolitan Tucson area covers more than 500 square mi in a valley ringed by mountains—the Santa Catalinas to the north, the Santa Ritas to the south, the Rincons to the east, and the Tucson Mountains to the west. Saguaro National Park bookends Tucson, with one section on the far east side and the other out west near the world-class Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The central portion of the city has most of the shops, restaurants, and businesses, but not many tourist sights. Downtown’s historical district and the neighboring University area are much smaller and easily navigated on foot. Up north in the Catalina Foothills, you’ll find first-class resorts, restaurants, and hiking trails, most with spectacular views of the entire valley.
Tucson Restaurant Reviews
Tucson boldly proclaims itself to be the “Mexican Food Capital of the United States” and most of the Mexican food in town is Sonoran style—native to the adjoining Mexican state of Sonora. This means prolific use of cheese, mild peppers, corn tortillas, pinto beans, and beef or chicken. If Mexican’s not your thing, there are plenty of other options: you won’t have any trouble finding sushi, Indian, Italian, Thai, and Greek food. There are some exemplary Southwestern restaurants in the area, too, for sampling innovative local cuisine.
Tucson Hotel Reviews
When it comes to places to spend the night, the options in Tucson run the gamut: there are luxurious desert resorts, bed-and-breakfasts ranging from bedrooms in modest homes to private cottages nestled on wildlife preserves, as well as small to medium-size hotels and motels. For a unique experience, you can check into a Southwestern-style “dude” ranch—some of them former cattle ranches from the 1800s—on the outskirts of town.
For a city of its size, Tucson is abuzz with cultural activity. It’s one of only 14 cities in the United States with a symphony as well as opera, theater, and ballet companies. Wintertime, when Tucson’s population swells with vacationers, is the high season, but the arts are alive and well year-round. The low cost of Tucson’s cultural events comes as a pleasant surprise to those accustomed to paying East or West Coast prices: symphony tickets are as little as $10 for some performances, and touring Broadway musicals can often be seen for $24. Parking is plentiful and frequently free.
Much of Tucson’s retail activity is focused around malls, but shops with more character and some unique wares can be found in the city’s open plazas: St. Philip’s Plaza (River Road and Campbell Avenue), Plaza Palomino (Swan and Fort Lowell roads), Casas Adobes Plaza (Oracle and Ina roads), and La Encantada (Skyline Drive and Campbell Avenue).
The 4th Avenue neighborhood near the University of Arizona—especially 4th Avenue between 2nd and 9th streets—is fertile ground for unusual items in the artsy boutiques, galleries, and secondhand-clothing stores. Be forewarned though: you may experience aggressive panhandling here.
Hard-core bargain hunters usually head south to the Mexican border town of Nogales for jewelry, liquor, home furnishings, and leather goods. For in-town deals, the outlet stores at the Foothills Mall in northwest Tucson score high marks.