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Getaway Guide: Where to Eat, Stay and Play in Tucson, Arizona

Looking for a sunny escape? Tucson's got you covered.

March 16, 2017

By Lesley Mirza

Put winter’s snow tires, ice bombs and salt shortages in your rearview mirror as you bomb around sunny and culturally charged Tucson, Arizona (with its more than hospitable daily temps of 20-ish degrees).

Play

Acclimate to your living-desert surroundings with a visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Spread over 97 acres, this multifaceted attraction encompasses a botanical garden, aquarium, zoo and art gallery—with 85 percent of what you’ll experience happening outdoors (sunscreen and big floppy hat would not go amiss).

Coyotes are one of 230 native mammals at the largely outdoor Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Center for Creative Photography.
Mission San Xavier del Bac. (Photo: Lane Erickson.)

A must-see for avid shutterbugs is the Center for Creative Photography, which boasts one of North America’s largest collections of fine art photography. You’ll find works by greats like Ansel Adams, John Gutmann and Edward Weston, to name a very few. Any “old building” enthusiasts in your group? Put Mission San Xavier del Bac on the itinerary. This working church and national historic landmark dates construction back to 1783 and is one of the finest (and most photo-worthy) examples of Mexican Baroque architecture in the U.S.

On the second Saturday of each month, be sure to make a beeline for downtown Tucson. In addition to an eclectic mix of free live music, the 2nd Saturdays festival offers food trucks, street performers and family-friendly fun for the kid cowpokes.

Eat

Indulge your morning food fantasies at 5 Points Market and Restaurant. Fan favourites are breakfast toast—two over-medium eggs on top of a hearty slice of heritage Red Fife grain bread with creamy pesto chèvre and house Chianti jelly—and gargantuan homemade pancakes.

Lunchtime calls for a trip aboard Gray Line’s Best of the Barrio tour. Expect four taste-bud-tantalizing hours getting to know the region’s best Mexican food through family-owned eateries and samples of Sonoran-inspired dishes—like to-die-for pastries at La Estrella Bakery.

Hub Ice Cream Factory.

Still hungry? Downtown Tucson’s best artisanal pizza is served up at Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink (the stylish historic space was previously a funeral home). Pie purists, prepare to swoon over the margherita pizza.

And what’s a desert stay without a cool scoop of handcrafted ice cream? Three hundred rotating flavours await sweet tooths at the Hub Ice Cream Factory.


Field Notes

The Sonoran Hot Dog You cannot visit Tucson without sampling this hedonist delight. A juicy beef dog is wrapped in bacon and swaddled in a super-soft bun before being immoderately smothered in beans, bacon, grilled onions, tomatoes, mayo, mustard and jalapeno sauce (you’ll need two hands). Now wash it down with a bottle of ice-cold, cane sugar-sweetened Mexican Coca-Cola—that’s Tucson fast food at its finest. Find the local favourite at El Güero Canero.


Shop

Find that quirky gift at Pop-Cycle, which is chockablock with treasures created from recycled, reclaimed and sustainable materials, or venture to Tucson’s warehouse shopping district, the Lost Barrio, to scope out galleries and boutiques specializing in hand-crafted furniture, tribal art and more.

Pick up a local jewellery creation from Shelago’s Artwerks USA—part of the Old Town Artisans collective, located on the heritage site of the El Presidio San Agustín del Tucson. Oils and Olives Queen Creek Olive Mill (found in the La Encantada mall) is the place to purchase chef-worthy olive oil as the olives are grown, hand-picked and pressed in Arizona.

The historic Hotel Congress is right on downtown Tucson’s bustling Congress Street (i.e., within arm’s reach of colourful restaurants, sidewalk cafés and vintage shops). (Photo: Courtesy of the Hotel Congress.)
Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort.

Stay

Step back in time with a quick budget-friendly sojourn at the hip-storical Hotel Congress, established 1919. Oozing with updated vintage charm, most of the cozy rooms are appointed with an antique iron bed and retro furnishings. Off the beaten track and in the heart of the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the luxurious Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort is your splurge stay, offering heart-stopping views from its ranch-chic accommodations. In the ’40s, this was the hot spot for illustrious silver-screen stars, such as Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. And architectural devotees will appreciate the Lodge on the Desert. Blending Old Pueblo and modern southwest charm, the 100-room boutique property offers hacienda-style accommodations. Plus, couples will love the intimate pool area with a mood-setting fireplace.

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