To write about Tucson and what it has to offer travelers as a blog post limited to no more than 2000 words is like trying to fit a taco through the eye of a needle — it simply can’t be done. Just to try to get the essence of Tucson jam-packed into one quick article where there can be no embellishing, elaborations or expounding with any extraneous information that could be of at least modest interest to the reader. None of that but you will just a taste of what Tucson can offer those who travel here.
A taste of Tucson is a good intro for we are a UNESCO City of Gastronomy (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) — the only one in this country — and we have what is known as the “Best 23 miles of Mexican Food” in the U.S. That’s some claim but it’s all absolutely true!
We don’t just have fabulous Mexican food either. We have some of the world’s greatest chefs settled here with some of the nation’s very top restaurants. Books have been written about Tucson’s diverse and wonderful food scene and there are even tours available. Tucson’s food will not disappoint you whether you’re a foodie or not! You could go out to a different eating establishment every morning, afternoon and dinner for five years and never repeat the same one. We’re chok-a-blok full of fantastic eats.
Let’s take a quick turn from food to the University of Arizona as this top-rated school has over 35k enrolled with plans for expansion to 50k in the not-too-distant future. If you like college sports, we’ve got ’em in with our former national basketball, baseball, women’s golf and softball champions! Of course, there’s also football and all the others too. We do love our Wildcats! The campus is also a great place to visit with Centennial Hall, Flandrau Planetarium, Arizona State Museum and so much more. Let’s not forget the world-renowned University Medical Center too.
Maybe some of our Attractions will tempt you . . . Let’s start with the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum which is consistently rated one of the top ten museums in the world. This is a living breathing indoor/outdoor museum that will immerse you in the desert environment and all its wonders. Besides ASDM, some other attractions highlights are a day trip to Sabino Canyon and you can ride the tram, hike or bike it. One of the most beautiful spots in the country! Biosphere II is nearby (it’s not at all like the movie Bio-Dome!) and for some fun tourist spots, there’s “Old Tucson” a movie set where many of your favorite flicks were filmed and movie stars performed. The real Tombstone, Arizona is less than a couple of hours away and a must-do if you come. “The Town Too Tough To Die!” “Walk where they walked” and the OK Corral — so cool! On your way there or back, don’t forget to visit Kartchner Caverns a network of caverns only discovered in the late 1980’s. Pima Air Museum and the Boneyard are world famous and should be seen. So very many more!
Sport and outdoor activities abound. Fact: Tucson is the sixth sunniest city in the WORLD! With so much sunshine, we like to be out of doors and there’s plenty to do and would you believe we even have skiing!!?? Yes! It’s true! The mountain range that dominates much of Tucson is the Catalinas and near the top at about 9000 feet is Mt. Lemmon and it actually has a ski valley there with a lift and all the accoutrements. There are golf courses surrounding the city proper and one right in the middle. We’ve even got a stop on the PGA tour with the Cologuard Classic. We’ve got loads of tennis courts, swimming pools, and over 650 miles of our city roadways have dedicated bike lanes. Mountain biking is a huge sport here and there must be hundreds of trails over thousands of miles. You can hike on loads of trails all over our mountain ranges too. While you’re at it, do a little birding too. You can do that within our fair city too as over 350 species of birds have documented sightings in metropolitan Tucson alone. If there’s a sport or activity and you like it, it’s here.
With our weather being so fabulous most of the year, it makes it easy to host events all year long. Our biggest draw is the Gem and Mineral Show that begins in January and runs well into February each year. It is the world’s largest gem and mineral show and attracts tens of thousands of people from all over the world. You’ve never seen anything like it with hundreds, if not thousands, of vendors participating. Don’t be confused that this is geared exclusively for rock hounds — No, no, no, no, no! This is your beads, your jewelry, diamonds, and gold, incredible pieces fashioned out of what the earth took millions of years to create. There’s astronomical finds and fossils and geodes and it goes on and on and on. Some shows are massive and others small but they’re all over town and it’s a bunch of fun.
That’s our biggest and most prestigious event each year but there’s always something else just around the corner to look forward to. In January we have our annual Jazz Festival that brings with it some of the Jazz world’s best musicians. As mentioned, February is host to the Gem and Mineral show but we’ve also got La Fiesta de los Vaqueros (Tucson Rodeo) and the accompanying parade which is the world’s longest and oldest non-motorized parade. Tubac, Arizona (just south of us) is home to the Tubac Festival of the Arts and so much more. March brings with it the 4th Avenue Street Fair with 100’s of juried artists and artisans and about 500,000 of us turn out for it. We’re also host to a Steampunk Convention every year with all the marvelous wonders and costumes they create. The Tucson Festival of Books is held at the University of Arizona with tens of thousands of attendees and hundreds of authors. They even get the “Rock Bottom Remainders” to play whose members change but include or have included authors Stephen King, Dave Barry, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Scott Turow, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr., Matt Groening to name just a few. Trust me, TFOB is not some book sale 🙂 So many more events around Tucson and Southern Arizona too.
As we heat up, our event calendar lightens up but we never do stop. We’ve got “Tucson Meet Yourself” an annual three-day tradition that celebrates the communities of Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico with food, dancing, artistry and music. The Arizona International Film Festival is held here in April, there are birding festivals and a big open studios art tour “See Art, Buy Art”. I love the motto! We all need more art in our lives.
Eventually, we cool down again and that brings with it the “El Tour de Tucson” — It’s a fund-raising event with approximately 9,000 participants of all levels of ability. The full course is 100 miles around Tucson but shorter courses are available to ride. One thing you won’t find just anywhere is an All Souls Procession Weekend honoring and remembering those who have passed before us. “One Mouth, Many Stomachs”. Come and join us for it — you won’t regret it. We finish up the year with a number of different events but I’ve simply got to mention the 4th Avenue Street Fair repeat again in December as it’s such a terrific place to shop for all those presents you need to buy. For football fans, we’ve also got the Arizona Bowl here to help round out the end of the year.
That’s just a smidge of all the annual events held in or near Tucson. I know I’m going to kick myself once this is published and I’m unable to change it for annual events I forgot to mention. I’m not even going to start on monthly events we hold here.
Let’s wind this up with theater, entertainment, and movies — We’ve got them all and absolutely first-rate ones too. Okay so it’s not Broadway but we do get off-Broadway shows come thru here at Centennial Hall and they are fabulous. We’ve got our very own Tucson Symphony Orchestra with an engaging diversity of performances. The Fox Theater is downtown and has a lineup from nationally recognized music to comedy to magic and more with many being nationally and world-renowned performers. Arizona Theater Company performs at the Temple of Music and Art with live performances of assorted plays including matinees. Our Convention Center is where you’ll find everything from your Rockers and Country Stars to Cirque de Soleil to Monster Trucks and Minor League Hockey (Go Tucson Roadrunners!).
How about taking in a movie? We’ve got multi-plex theaters all over town showing all the latest and greatest Hollywood has to offer. My personal favorite is the Roadhouse Cinema which is one of those theaters where one sits in recliners and they bring you food and drinks (alcoholic if you like) :-). First run, first-rate movies and all the popcorn you can eat with your feet kicked up and your cold beverage nestled in the cup holder. So good! “The Loft” is one of Tucson’s treasures and it hosts classics and indies on its screens. It goes even farther than that to make it an experience and it’s always wonderful to go there. Casa Video is my final mention of movies here . . . Don’t let the name or the strip mall location deter you. This place is fabulous with thousands of DVD’s for you to rent. Movies, TV series, Foreign Films, Indies, Shorts, Documentaries and on and on. If there’s some old TV show, movie or foreign series you thought was lost to time for you and only ever to be a memory, you may very well find it here. You might want to come to Tucson just for this place alone! 🙂 An added bonus is they’ve now opened the “Casa Film Bar” within the store. It’s just too cool and there are craft beers and movies and a place to chat about films and such.
Speaking of craft beer, Tucson is flush with independent breweries and I’m going to guess there’s about twenty of them if not more. Just to mention a few that we’ve personally visited and enjoyed: Borderlands, Thunder Canyon, Sentinel Peak and though not a brewery per se, the Hop Shop in the Metal Arts Village serves a selection of about twenty craft beers on tap plus more!
Tucson is a travel destination that’s not on a lot of people’s radar and should be but PLEASE do NOT confuse us with Phoenix. Phoenix is no Tucson! Phoenix is like the prim and proper older sister who drinks a measured sherry on New Year’s Eve and irons her white cotton underwear while Tucson is the wild child, eating psychedelic mushrooms and listening to the Rolling Stones ‘Paint it Black‘ while cruising the desert in a convertible. There is no comparison. Tucson is fun and open-minded and tolerant and loaded with things to do and places to go and Phoenix is more like one giant highway with everyone rushing nowhere.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Tucson has to offer not including its rich history, wonderful shopping, friendly and hospitable residents, top-notch medical facilities, world-class resorts, magnificent desert, incredible weather and spectacular sunsets — just to name a few things I didn’t mention!
Admittedly, our weather is pretty darn wonderful but it is quite brutal in the summer here. I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting but you will have to keep in mind that a lot of outdoor activities really aren’t well-suited for our very hot summer months. During those months, come and spend your time poolside and go to air-conditioned venues and drink loads of margaritas. You’ll be fine 🙂