Endless skies, enviable sunsets and soothing climates are just a few of the wonders of Southern Arizona. Though the undisputed commercial and political capital is the centrally located city of Phoenix, one should experience the low-key mentality, artistic atmosphere and amazing beauty of Tucson just over 100 miles to the south. Tucked away in a valley created by four mountain ranges, Tucson lies nestled in a constant frame of mind that will not allow it to become a big city. It has an established downtown and a well-known university enrolling well over 30,000 students every year it retains a small town charm with a big city dreams. Many of Arizona’s cultural, historical and environmental treasures also make their home here.
One can’t help but appreciate the natural surrounding beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Being a city nestled by numerous mountain ranges and surrounded by some of the most beautiful national parks makes it easy to get away from city life. A visit to Saguaro National Monument not only inspires, but gives a sense of the true vitality and majesty of America’s deserts. The mighty saguaros decorate the rolling hills like soldiers marching to battle. These hills give way to jutting cliffs and steep mountain inclines that reach towards the vast blue sky. There are two parks, Saguaro National Monument East and West. Both offer fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and the sprawling city, just from opposite sides. Though keeping to the West will allow you to easily access some of Tucson’s other gems.
San Xavier del Bac Mission, built in 1797, lies about 12 miles southwest of the city on the Tohono O’odham reservation. Still served by Franciscans to assist the local Native American community for which it was built, it retains a historical charm and grandeur usually reserved for much larger structures. Its Baroque style interior evokes a haunting type of beauty. Outside the stark white mission one can indulge in some traditional fry bread made by the locals. Refried beans and melted cheese layered on top is one option, as well as a variety of cooked meats or just a drizzle of honey. Though if you’re watching your weight or are a practicing vegan/vegetarian I suggest avoiding this treat as it was most likely deep-fried in lard.
Tucson also offers some of the finest restaurants in the state, serving not only Southwestern style cuisine, but any cuisine your palette may desire. From Indian to Italian, the variety of restaurants allows for endless feasting opportunities, though trying some of the local Sonoran cuisine is highly recommended. Mexican restaurants can be found all over town, but I suggest sticking to downtown and the West and South side areas in order to sample some of Tucson’s finest food. A great way to find out where to go is to ask the locals. You’ll find people here to be quite friendly and helpful, as well as connoisseurs of great Mexican cuisine.
This is also a thriving art community with galleries abound and a local music scene with a strong presence. Sticking to the downtown and university areas will lead you to many of the mostly small, rustic galleries and art studios. A small stretch of 4th Avenue, located just west of the university and north of downtown, maintains its persona as hip and artistic. Small shops, cafes and galleries line the avenue and area residents and visitors come to stroll and be seen. Where the street ends to the south and downtown begins, you will find the Congress Hotel. This is a running vintage hotel that houses a small café/restaurant and a full dance club/bar accessible through the lobby. Rooms start at around $60 per night and maintain the feel of times gone by. The café serves an eclectic variety of food resembling that of the traditional café, but with a Southwestern flair. Many local and touring bands play in the club as well, turning the hotel into a hub of Tucson nightlife.
Some other great points of interest that lie to the west of the city are the Sonoran Desert Museum and Old Tucson Studios. The Desert Museum houses the finest representation of life in the harsh, yet beautiful environment. From insects to mountain lions this unique zoo is enriching for young and old. Off of the same desert road Old Tucson lies amongst a backdrop of rolling desert hills and fantastic mountain ranges. While its original purpose is as a film set, which is still used today, this old west style town also houses a small theme park, with gunfights, stunt shows and old west themed gift shops.
The mildest temperatures of this area are during the winter season and so this is the most optimal time to visit. The temperatures remain in and around the 70’s with most days bathed in full sunshine. The summer season can reach into the 100’s with July and August being assaulted with annual monsoon storms that bring intense thunderstorms and heavy rain. Though, these rainstorms bring about a flourishing, yet fleeting, abundance flora in vast stretches of yellow, orange and pink that adds another level of magnificence. Whichever time of year you choose, you will leave with an understanding of the unique way of life that this beautiful city holds.