Surrounded by majestic saguaro forests and dramatic mountain peaks, Tucson
Tucson is a fresh-air fan’s dream, with an average 350 days of sunshine annually so visitors play outside year round. And even though summer does get toasty, humidity here is generally low (as the local mantra has it, “it’s a dry heat”) and cool escapes are nearby.
Spa-goers in Tucson can relax and rejuvenate with signature treatments using native Sonoran Desert botanicals. Two of the world’s top-ranked destination spas—Canyon Ranch Tucson and Miraval Arizona—originated here in the healing desert, and continue to set high standards for Tucson’s widespread spa culture, which includes a range of superb hotel, resort and day spas.
Options for outdoor adventure and nature experiences in Tucson are seemingly endless. Visitors enjoy hiking, cycling or horseback riding among towering saguaro cacti—Saguaro National Park has the world’s largest concentration of them—or teeing off at a desert golf course designed by a top golfer. Aficionados of the feathered will find a bird-watching haven, and amateurs and experts enjoy stargazing with dark skies and world-class observatories. Everyone is enchanted by the spring wildflower blooms. And atop Mt. Lemmon, winter snow sports alternate with rock climbing, hiking, picnicking and events for year-round fun.
Yet, Tucson is more than just a pretty space. A fascinating cultural heritage blends Native American, Spanish and Mexican histories. The city’s most magnificent icon, the Mission San Xavier del Bac, is a National Historic Landmark and the country’s finest example of Baroque mission architecture. The Tucson Presidio museum, a replica of the Spanish fortress established here in 1776, marks the modern city’s birthplace; another National Historic Landmark, Tumamoc Hill is the site of a 2,500-year-old ruined Hohokam village.
Of course, the Old West lives on here. City slickers and cowboys mingle at guest ranches and country-and-western dance bars. Old Tucson Studios, where the West’s most-famous legends have been captured on celluloid, offers simulated shoot-‘em-ups and 1880s entertainment. La Fiesta de los Vaqueros (Tucson Rodeo) features some of the swiftest steer-roping around. And, south of Tucson, the town of Tombstone is home to Boothill Graveyard and re-enactments of its famed “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” and more.
Civilized pleasures are plentiful, too. Tucson is one of only a few cities of its size in the U.S. that has a resident symphony orchestra as well as opera, theater and ballet companies. Appreciative Tucson audiences support the performing arts, galleries and museums, while respected attractions offer one-of-a-kind experiences for all ages.
Palate-stimulating Southwest-style cuisine and authentic Mexican food are among the city’s myriad dining options, and tony resorts offer innovative menus and welcoming settings. Local restaurants are thriving here, thanks to the Tucson Originals independent restaurant group; and Tucson nightlife options range from quiet wine bars at fine hotels to high-energy dance clubs, trend-setting rock-and-roll bars, and concerts under the stars, with lots in between.
Those whose idea of a successful trip involves shopping for unique souvenirs will be delighted, too. Country western gear, Native American crafts, and Mexican folk art—say it with salsa or cactus—can be found everywhere, from small boutiques to major shopping malls. And rock hounds and jewelry collectors from around the globe know Tucson hosts the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase, the world’s largest marketplace of its kind, every February.
Tucson is a jumping-off point for many terrific Southern Arizona day trips. Within easy driving distance are the Old West mining towns of Tombstone, Bisbee, Douglas and Ajo; Southern Arizona’s wine country near Elgin and Sonoita; and shops, galleries and festivals in Tubac and Patagonia. A bit further south are the unusual rock formations of Chiricahua National Monument, and shopping in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, and much more.