Tucson, AZ

Destination Location

  • 32.221743, -110.926479:primary
  • 32.11611, -110.94111:secondary

Overview

If Tucson, Arizona, inspires a picture of gun-slinging cowboys, old-west saloons and dusty tumbleweed in your mind, it sounds like you are imagining the Tucson of long ago. However, you may be pleasantly surprised and intrigued to discover that modern-day Tucson is brimming with world-class spas, championship golf courses, exciting family attractions and a thriving arts community.

Arizona’s second-largest city has an energetic population of over one million people who live immersed in the Native American, Mexican and Pioneer heritages that make up Tucson’s history. Nestled in the Sonora Desert and surrounded by five mountain ranges, visitors to the region will find no shortage of culture, magnificence and inspiration. Out-of-this-world observatories such as the Fred Lawrence Whipple and Kitt Peak National observatories are just a couple of the outstanding optical telescopes that bring the night skies to life for avid stargazers and first-timers alike. To continue an “above ground” holiday, spend a day at the Pima Air and Space Museum or the Flandrau Science Centre and Planetarium, too!

Outdoor pursuits are really the most popular activities in Tucson, due to its mild winters and glorious summers. Hike and bike some truly breathtaking trails and golf on exquisite courses, play tennis day and night or visit a local ranch for horse-back riding. Soak up nature’s wonders in Saguaro National Park, where you will find the native saguaro cactus – they grow in relative abundance and their blooms are the State Wildflower of Arizona. If you prefer something a little more compact for your nature interests, check out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a world-renowned zoo and natural history museum and botanical gardens – all in one place.

Tucson has a wide array of museums – most notably the Arizona State Museum – art galleries, performing arts venues and even a historic film location, Old Tucson. A studio that has been used in some of the most famous western movie classics is still one of the most popular choices with producers and directors for shooting today’s movies, commercials, videos and print ads. Due to the dramatic desert mountains and scenic rolling hills, this picturesque frontier town has become a film set and outdoor entertainment venue, with rides and live shows for the whole family.

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Destination basics

With an average of over 350 days of sunshine, it’s pretty safe to say that Tucson has some of the best weather in the country. Typically hot and dry, there are two short rainy seasons – one in late summer, usually for a brief spell in August, the other for a short time in December.

Winter, fall and spring are each warm and mild. Even when it is rainy it’s still quite balmy – with highs of 18 C and lows of 4 C in December and January. You can still get away with shorts and a T-shirt during the day, but pack a sweater or a waterproof jacket and umbrella for the drizzly days.

Summers are scorchers here! With daytime highs of 39 C in July and cooling only slightly to 23 C in the evenings, be sure to bring light and breathable clothing, sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and drink copious amounts of water on whatever adventure you’ve chosen that day.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Tucson, AZ

With restaurants operating today that have existed since the 1920s, Tucson's cuisine can't help but be inextricably intertwined with its history and culture.

Downtown
El Charro, opened in 1922, is the oldest family-run Mexican restaurant in the United States, and a must when visiting the Tucson area. This local landmark, in the historic El Presidio District, is now run by Carlotta Flores, grand-niece of founder and trailblazer Monica Flin. Eclectic cafe-style cuisine can be found at Cafe a la C'Art, Cafe Poca Cosa and Caffe' Milano. Dine with a view at La Cocina Restaurant and Cantina, which serves traditional Mexican in a lively atmosphere.

South Tuscon
The Scordato family emigrated from New Jersey in 1972 and opened their eponymous Evangelos Scordato's, and Vivace. Over the past quarter-of-a-century the family name has become synonymous with fine Italian dining in Tucson

In Green Valley, south of Tucson, Metro Restaurants operates San Ignacio Country Club and Coyote Grill, offering contemporary regional cuisine. Their newest addition, Old Pueblo Grill, is also sure to be a popular spot in the neighborhood just south of the University of Arizona.

Northwest
Wildflower features the culinary skill of Chef Christopher Cristiano in an attractive atmosphere. Fantastic grilled meats are abound at  Keaton's Arizona Grill, a multiple award-winner.

Northeast
A restaurant known affectionately as "The Cork" (formerly the Cork & Cleaver) has been a local tradition for more than 30 years. In 1994, Chef Jonathan Landeen took the reins of what is officially called Jonathan's Tucson Cork, bringing his gold medal-winning culinary style to the area.

The Metro Restaurant Group has created, in a sense, its own global culinary tour with its eight established restaurants (and more in the works) - Firecracker Asian-American Bistro offers an explosion of tantalizing Pacific Rim tastes and aromas—look for the flames shooting from the roof (no, not from the food, from the torches!).

And then there's McMahon's Prime Steakhouse, voted Tucson Lifestyle's Best Steak Restaurant and Best New Restaurant of 1999.

Like many other Sunbelt cities, Tucson has experienced tremendous growth over the past 20 years, expanding from a mid-size Western town into a metropolitan area of more than 800,000 people and counting. You will find plenty of historical and architectural treasures waiting to be explored.

Downtown
Of all the neighborhoods in Tucson, downtown offers the most variety. Century-old adobe homes, Victorian mansions, imposing government buildings, museums and affordable restaurants lie within easy walking distance of each other. It's a favorite destination for artists and art lovers, with numerous galleries and studios situated in and around the Old Town Artisans marketplace, just a block north of the Tucson Museum of Art.

Downtown is also the site of the city's major performing arts events, with the Tucson Convention Center and the Temple of Music and Art providing the main venues for opera, symphony and dance performances.

Renewal has already been quite successful in the Barrio Historico, the now-gentrified Hispanic historic quarter south of the Convention Center, where old Spanish-style homes have been largely restored to their original beauty. Take your time to explore this area on foot after leaving your car in one of the parking garages downtown.

South Tucson
Bordering downtown Tucson on the south, the small municipality of South Tucson has become a largely Hispanic community. For out of town visitors, its main attractions are the Mexican restaurants, which, although low profile and inexpensive, offer the best of south-of-the-border food in town. The quality at places like Michas and Mi Nidito is hard to match.

Moving further to the south, the Hispanic influence deepens, intermingling with the Native American people living in and around the Tohono O'odham Reservation in Tucson's far southwest. Many visitors get at least a glimpse of this area going to and from Tucson International Airport, the Desert Diamond Casino on the reservation, or on the road to visit Mission San Xavier del Bac, a national landmark and by far the most attractive site on this side of town.

North and the Foothills
In Tucson, "north" generally means "north of Broadway," with Broadway Boulevard as the dividing line between north-south street numbers. Bounded on the north by the natural barriers of the Santa Catalina Mountains and Coronado National Forest, this area includes the University of Arizona campus with its many venues for science and art as well as the city's main business and shopping areas, with the Tucson Mall and the Foothills Mall considered by many to be the biggest and the best of them.

Further to the north, the land and the income level slowly rise all the way up to the tony Foothills residential district. This area features beautiful homes with a view, surrounded by stately saguaro cacti and mesquite trees, outside the city limits and well out of reach of Tucson's tax authorities. Wintertime visitors relax after a game of golf at one of the posh resorts in the area, such as the Westin La Paloma, Westward Look or Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.

Northwest
Northwest essentially means that big chunk of Tucson stretching from Oracle Road, the main north-south artery, and I-19 westward to the base of the Tucson Mountains and the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. Bordered on the northwest by the ever-expanding residential and recreational retreat of Oro Valley (more golf courses here), this part of the city offers few visual attractions other than Tohono Chul Park, a very civilized, pleasant desert garden with an artsy touch. Once you're past I-10, the road starts snaking into the grandeur of Saguaro National Park West, covered by entire forests of the giant cacti that gave the park its name, and the site of several ancient Indian petroglyphs. Don't miss the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum on the far side of the Tucson Mountains, and consider stopping at Old Tucson Studios for the sake of the kids.

Northeast
Bounded roughly on the west by Wilmot Road, the Rincon and Catalina Mountains on the east and north, and Interstate 10 on the south, expansion of this district is largely limited by state and federal lands. The most attractive natural feature in the northeast is certainly Sabino Canyon, the most accessible part of the Catalinas, which teems with tourists, trams, hikers and joggers on weekends, while still retaining its serene beauty. If you are an outdoors person, you will also appreciate the vast expanses of Saguaro National Park. Enjoy the desert and mountain scenery, and try not to disturb the roving of the native scorpions and rattlesnakes.

Cultural life in Tucson, by and large, reflects the ethnic and social diversity of the city, ranging from the conservative retirement communities at the outskirts to the progressive artist community downtown. To find out what's happening in the arts and who's coming to town, read the entertainment pages of the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen, especially the "Caliente" section in the Friday edition of the Star, or grab a free copy of the Tucson Weekly.

Performing Arts
Thanks to continuous cultural sponsorship, Tucson has managed to support both an opera and a symphony orchestra for several decades now without without interruption. Both the Arizona Opera and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra usually perform at the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall, the main venue for high culture downtown.

If you are culturally more in tune with the progressive camp, check out the Borderlands Theatre or the Invisible Theatre for avant garde political productions and light comedy. For laughs, take yourself and your family to the Gaslight Theatre, Tucson's only dinner theater, where you can munch on sandwiches and ice cream cones while watching Western dramas with lots of music, slapstick and practical jokes.

Nightlife
The variety of Tucson nightlife defies stereotypes about the kind of entertainment a Western town has to offer. In fact, most clubs offer alternative rock instead of country and western music. The blues is very much alive in Tucson, with local acts taking turns at Margarita Bay and various other clubs. Check weekly listings in the papers for details. Venues for live jazz are rarer; try the Cafe Sweetwater on 4th Avenue on Friday and Saturday nights, or the Cascade Lounge at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort for light dinner jazz on Thursday to Sunday afternoons.

While the western section of downtown is dominated by the temples of high art, the eastern part belongs to the "dark" forces of alternative rock, centered around the legendary Club Congress on the ground floor of the equally famous Hotel Congress. It's featured as "The World's Darkest Nightclub," and once you've stepped inside, you will see why it deserves that title (if you can see anything at all). Right across the street from the club there is the Rialto Theatre (The), a vaudeville theater that has been restored to its glorious old past, now featuring big names in blues and rock from out of own.

There are, of course, various places for country and western, but for the most authentic brand, you'll have to drive to the out-of-the way Li'l Abner's Steakhouse on a Friday or Saturday night. If you enjoy country dancing, join the up to 3,000 patrons crowding into the dance floor at the New West on Ina Road, an establishment which frequently features famous country and western acts such as Asleep at the Wheel.

Museums and Galleries
Tucson's art scene is very much alive and thriving, particularly on the gallery and studio level. There are plenty of museums and galleries displaying the entire range of artistic styles from realistic paintings of Southwestern scenes to multimedia installations. Although it is still a mainstay of traditional Western art, visitors should be aware that Tucson is slowly becoming a driving force in cutting-edge international contemporary practice.

The Tucson Museum of Art, the main exhibitor of contemporary art in the city for more than forty years, has recently been expanded to include both Western Art and contemporary experimental works, as well as a gallery of pre-Columbian pieces. A little further to the east, the University of Arizona Museum of Art offers a good sampling of famous 20th-century sculpture and a collection of Renaissance art. The Center for Creative Photography across the street houses one of the best collections of photographs in the world, including the work of renowned photographer Ansel Adams. Its archives, which are open to the public, contain the works of hundreds of other first-rate photographers.

The city's real strengths, however, reside in its science and history museums, particularly the on-campus Arizona State Museum with its splendid displays of Native Southwestern art, and the Arizona Historical Society Museum, which is devoted to the local history of Native Americans, Mexicans and pioneers.

Sports
As a place offering consistently dry and sunny weather throughout the year, Tucson is popular with golfers around the world. Green fees vary from course to course and from season to season, with municipal courses like the Fred Enke Municipal Golf Course offering lower rates than resorts such as the Ventana Canyon Golf Courses in the foothills.

The horse racing season at the recently expanded Rillito Park Racetrack lasts from early February into March, with more races scheduled at the Pima County Fair in April, along with horse shows, gun shows, and various kinds of other diversions. And, of course, no entertainment guide to the Old Pueblo would be complete without the Tucson Rodeo, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros as it is called in Spanish, the largest winter rodeo in the United States. If you're here in late February, you just simply can't ignore it.

Family Friendly
Tucson offers a variety of diversions for kids. Proposing to take them to the zoo is usually a sure bet, and while Reid Park Zoo offers a good variety of assorted international animals, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is more unique in presenting creatures of the desert in their natural habitats, with spectacular desert views. Another sure winner is a visit to Old Tucson Studios, a Western theme park and movie location surrounded by giant sahuaro cacti, not too far from the Desert Museum west of the city. Cowboy stunts and gunfights are also available in Trail Dust Town, especially during Trail Dust Days; and you don't have to be a kid to enjoy it.

Tucson

State: Arizona

Country: United States

Tucson by the Numbers
Population: 531,600 (city); 1,010,000 (metropolitan)
Elevation: 2389 feet / 728 meters
Average Annual Precipitation: 12 inches / 30 centimeters
Average January Temperature: 54°F / 12.2°C
Average July Temperature: 89°F / 31.7°C

Quick Facts

Electricity: 110 volts, 60Hz, standard two pin plugs

Time Zone: GMT-7; Mountain Standard Time (MST)

Country Dialing Code: 1

Area Code: 520 

Did You Know?

Tucson is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States. Natives began farming here nearly 3000 years ago.

Orientation

Tucson is the second-largest Arizona city and is located in the southeastern part of the state. Phoenix lies 115 miles (185 kilometers) northwest, El Paso is 262 miles (422 kilometers) east, San Diego 362 miles (583 kilometers) northwest, and Santa Fe 371 miles (597 kilometers) northeast.

In 1698, Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, on his way north from what is now Mexico to explore possible sites for building new missions, came across an Indian village called Shuk Shon. During the 70 years of Spanish colonial acquisition that followed his visit into the territory later known as Arizona, the place was renamed San Agustin del Tucson, with the hard "c" in the middle still pronounced. Both the saint's name and the hard "c" were later dropped by Anglo-Americans, with St. Augustine Cathedral downtown now the only surviving memory of the Spanish name.

When Father Kino arrived, people had already lived in the region for more than 2,000 years. Anasazi, Mogollon, Hohokam and O'odham tribes came and went in successive waves of immigration over the centuries. One of the favorite settlements lay at the base of a big hill of black volcanic rock. Known as Chuk Shon (meaning, roughly, "village of the spring at the foot of the black mountain" in the O'odham language), it is an elevation now officially called Sentinel Peak, and also nicknamed A Mountain for the large whitewashed letter (for University of Arizona) on its eastern side. In any case, it is one of the best lookout points, commanding a view of the entire Tucson basin.

A few miles further to the South, out of a nearby village named Bac, the Jesuits worked to convert the local Pima Indians to the Christian faith. Today, this is the location of Mission San Xavier del Bac, the "White Dove of the Desert," known for its beauty world-wide.

Though the colonialists from Europe were not exactly considered friends by the Indians of Bac, they seemed the lesser evil compared to the Apache raiders that moved into the Tucson valley, to the extent that the Pima and O'odham asked for Spanish military assistance against the Apaches. The Jesuits, who had to be considered inept in effectively defending the locals, were replaced with Franciscan priests who understood the strategic importance of Tucson. Finally, in 1775, an Irish mercenary in Spanish employ known as Don Hugo O'Connor arrived to establish a presidio, or military fort, here. Though nothing is now left of the structure, El Presidio Park downtown still marks the fort's original location.

While the village at the foot of Sentinel Peak vanished, a new Mexican village slowly grew up around the Spanish presidio, nicknamed the Old Pueblo, an endearing term still used for the city. After the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, following the Mexican-American War, which gave a large part of Sonoran territory to the United States, the village quickly became a new American frontier town. It even served as the capital of the Arizona Territory from 1867 to 1877. Cattle ranchers moved into the valley, and mining companies began prospecting the mountains for copper and gold. The real boom came with the arrival of the railroad in 1880, allowing goods and raw materials to be transported at drastically reduced costs.

As East Coast entrepreneurs and investors considered Mexican housing primitive, they began replacing the mud-brick adobe buildings, first with imported brick and lumber, and later with concrete and steel, thus drastically changing the look of Tucson. With Anglos pushing into formerly Mexican-American territory, many of the old adobes fell into disrepair and were eventually bulldozed into oblivion. Today, with the adobe style being the rage, many Tucsonans wish that those "primitive" but cool and practical houses were still standing. Luckily, some of the original adobes have been preserved in the Barrio Historico district south of downtown. The uneasy relationship between pioneers, Indians and Mexicans is well documented both at the Arizona Historical Society and the Fort Lowell Museum, while people interested in the more distant past of Arizona and its original inhabitants will find a wealth of material at the Arizona State Museum. Mexican culture is celebrated during the annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and the local Tohono O'odham and Yaqui people keep their traditions alive in the Wa:k Powwow and Yaqui Easter Lenten Ceremony.

With the discovery of silver and copper deposits in the nearby towns of Tombstone and Bisbee, minerals became the dominant industry in southern Arizona until copper prices took a nosedive in the 1970s. Many mines were closed at the time, but the effects of decades of strip mining, both in its economically beneficial and environmentally damaging senses, can still be viewed at the Asarco Mineral Discovery Center.

When the mining business went into a slump, aerospace and aircraft industries moved in to pick up the slack, a development extensively documented at the Pima Air and Space Museum. Since the founding of the University of Arizona in 1891, Tucson has gradually shed its image as a rugged Western town filled with cowboys, miners and hard-drinking gamblers and replaced it with marks of intellectual and technological activity. Due to the presence of the university, the city is now home to several hi-tech companies. It is also one of the world centers of astronomy, as certified by the presence of nearby Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Furthermore, Tucson has become the center of a booming health industry. Every year, thousands of visitors from the northern regions, mostly senior citizens, come to stay and enjoy the mild winter sun of southern Arizona, thus securing the financial health of the numerous spas, resorts, real estate agencies and Southwestern souvenir shops in the region.

One of the main issues currently confronting Tucson and many other cities in the west is how to deal with urban sprawl. Since the 1950s, city development has run out of control, spawning tacky strip malls along Tucson's street grid and nondescript tract homes at the outskirts, while parts of the old barrio downtown were leveled to make room for high-rises and concrete structures such as the Tucson Convention Center. In recent years, however, Tucsonans have learned to consider their architectural and ethnic heritage as more of an asset in helping to attract tourists and conventioneers to the city. By the early 1990s, what remained of the barrio had been restored, and the depressed downtown was revived with some success by the Tucson Arts District. Still, the controversy over urban development continues and, for the foreseeable future, the diverging demands of job security, population growth, water conservation, environmental protection and aesthetics promise to dominate the political agenda in the Old Pueblo.

Points of interest in Tucson, AZ

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