Tucson Travel Guide 2021

2021 Tucson Visitors Guide

Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Santa Catalina Mountains, Tucson, Arizona is a vibrant desert city that offers something for everyone. Tucson’s sunny and mild climate affords its one million residents and thousands of annual visitors plenty of opportunities to enjoy the city’s many cultural offerings and outdoor activities.

Tucson Vacation Guide
Tulsa skyline; image via Tucson Hidden Gems

Arts, entertainment, world-class golf and much more can be experienced in this desert gem. The Tucson metropolitan area is presently home to over 750,000 and is continuing to grow by nearly 2,000 new residents each month. People visit Tucson for its rich history, recreational and cultural pursuits, gorgeous desert scenery, world-class hotels, and year-round sunshine.

In this city, where old and new are equally represented, traditional adobe architecture and modern high-rise buildings stand side by side. Folklorico mingles with modern art, dance, and music. It is not uncommon to lunch on a topopo salad and dine that same evening on fine French cuisine.

Tucson (pronounced Too-sahn) has been continuously settled for over 12,000 years and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The city is spread out over hundreds of square miles in a scenic, high desert valley surrounded by five mountain ranges: the Santa Catalinas on the north and northeast, the Rincon range to the east, the Santa Rita Mountains on the south and southeast, the Tucson Mountain range on the west and the Tortolita Mountains to the northwest. Sentinel Peak, called “A” mountain by University of Arizona students, is slightly southwest of downtown Tucson and affords a fantastic view of the metropolitan area.

Tucson’s historic neighborhoods are clustered within the central city and include Barrio Historico, El Presidio, Armory Park, West University, Sam Hughes, Iron Horse and the Pie Allen District (named for an early settler famous for his dried-apple pies). The downtown Arts District and the Fourth Avenue Shopping District are also centrally located.

Visit Arizona, and discover Tucson! This desert blooms with life!

Tucson Downtown Hotels

Downtown Tucson is a creative center of art, culture, and history. Important landmarks include St. Augustine Cathedral, the old Pima County Courthouse, Hotel Congress, and the Charles O. Brown House. The area is known for its vintage theaters, eclectic architecture, fantastic restaurants, and bustling nightlife. It is conveniently located just blocks away from Main Gate Square, the University of Arizona, and the artsy Fourth Avenue. An important historic spot, downtown Tucson is the longest continuously inhabited site in the nation. Today, you can explore the best that modern Tucson has to offer while experiencing the seamless integration of this rich history. Downtown is the place to be for unique shops, art galleries, opera, ballet, festivals, and the new restaurant row. The natural wonders of the Sonoran Desert are only minutes away, and nearby Tucson Mountain Park offers a wealth of possibilities for outdoor fun. Hike the beautiful mountain trails, explore the lush desert wildlife, or enjoy an unparalleled western sunset at Gates Pass. Downtown Hotel Service offers Hotels near Downtown Tucson that are quality hotels at an affordable price.

About Downtown Tucson

Travelers to the great state of Arizona will surely want to make a stop in downtown Tucson. Though the city is more laidback than Phoenix, it offers plenty for tourists to see and do while they are in town. The University of Arizona is located near the midtown area. Both the McKale Center and Arizona Stadium dominate the skyline. Families who have come to the city to tour the University of Arizona will find the campus idyllic and bustling at the same time. Most students are proud to attend.

Historic districts

There are several historic districts located near downtown Tucson. The Hotel Congress, in fact, is one of the most famous structures in the city. Outside the hotel, visitors can view an old train depot and step inside a small but elegant transportation museum. The Hotel Congress appears much as it did decades ago and also features a quaint eatery on the bottom floor. Guests who stay at the historic hotel are usually happy to book another reservation when they are next in town.

Shopping

Shoppers will also be able to get their fix in the downtown area of the city. Many of the stores located in the Fourth Avenue Shopping District contain unique products that are hard to find anywhere else. Though the downtown area is laid out on a grid pattern that is common in the western half of the United States, tourists should have no problems walking to most of the central attractions. Bicycles provide another way to get around relatively easily.

Historic Places

People can also visit the Pima County Courthouse and St. Augustine Cathedral, both of which are decades old. These structures provide an interesting insight into the religions and legal traditions of Tucson. The Pima County Courthouse, in fact, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a true gem. Many historic structures can be viewed in just a few hours.

Ultimately, downtown Tucson is a revitalized area that is home to a number of historic districts. Whether visitors are looking for quaint eateries or raucous football games, they can find it here. With the weather nearly always mild, the city is a fine place to visit year-round.

Tucson Weather

Tucson is located in the northeastern edge of the vast ‪Sonoran‬ Desert at an elevation of 2,400 feet, and its climate reflects its surroundings. The city really only experiences two seasons — winter and summer — with winters being mild and relatively dry and summers being hot and sunny. A “monsoon season” is added late each summer.

Summer

Summer brings a mixture of weather to Tucson. The bright summer sun routinely heats the earth to 100 degrees or above during June, July, and August. Tucson is a sunny city with 193 days of clear skies and 284 days that see at least some sun.

But the summer is also when the Arizona desert sees most of its rainfall. Tucson receives 70 percent of its 11.9 inches of annual precipitation in the second half of the year. In July, for example, Tucson receives 2.37 inches of precipitation. By comparison, in the late spring and early summer, the city only receives a few drops of rain (0.74 inches, April, May, and June combined).

Spring

Any rain that falls soon becomes victim to Tucson’s low humidity and frequent sunshine. Water evaporates fairly quickly and Tucson returns to the desert. It does not snow very frequently.

The relative humidity is only noticed a few times each year, especially during the monsoon season, which is July through September. In the driest months, humidity can be a parched 13 percent in the mornings and not rise above 25 percent in the afternoons. Even during the rainy season, it is never very humid.

This lack of humidity means that Tucson’s temperatures can take wild swings during each 24-hour period. In January, average highs of 66 are met with lows of 42. In June, average highs of 100 are met with lows that dip into the mid-’60s. Every now and again it gets super hot in Tucson. It reached 117 degrees in 1990. The record low of 16 was set in 1949.

Winds are to be expected in any desert climate and Tucson’s winds almost always below 7-8 miles per hour and from the southeast.

Winter

Tucson’s mild winter climate makes it a popular city for tourists during the winter. Spring brings gradual warming, with high temperatures rising from 66 degrees in January to 82 in April and 91 in May. Spring also brings drier weather with plenty of sunshine.

Fall

In the fall, a slow cool down begins in late September, with high temperatures around 95 degrees, and ends in December with highs of 66. The fall is wet, with over four inches of rainfall — much of it from torrential downpours that cause frequent flash flooding.

Tucson Transportation

As Arizona’s second-largest city, Tucson is easily accessible by public and private forms of transportation. Interstate 10 passes right through this major city and offers convenient drives to all major regions in the southern parts of the United States. I-10 runs between the Los Angeles area in California and Jacksonville in Florida. Additionally, Interstate 10 directly links Tucson with Phoenix, Arizona’s capital and biggest city. Drivers should be prepared to navigate through desolate deserts and valleys as they drive along I-10 throughout Arizona and other neighboring states.

Sun Tran provides public transportation services in Tucson and the surrounding communities. The Sun Tran network consists of more than 40 bus routes and a fleet of more than 200 Gilling buses. Many of the buses stop at the Downtown area and the University of Arizona campus. There are more than ten total express routes that circulate throughout Downtown Tucson. Additionally, there are several Sun Shuttle routes that offer service to outer communities such as Marana and Catalina. Located along East Congress Road, the Ronstadt Transit Center is a major transfer point within the Sun Tran bus network.

The bus transit center is conveniently located right next to the Tucson Amtrak Station, which is the only place in the city that offers rail service. Operating between Los Angeles and New Orleans, the Sunset Limited line offers convenient service to major cities in Arizona’s neighboring states. The Texas Eagle trains run between Chicago and San Antonio and then continue on to Los Angeles. Both of these Amtrak services offer great opportunities to enjoy scenic journeys throughout the southwest en route to Tucson. Passengers should be aware that Amtrak service in Tucson is not available daily so it’s a good idea to check the train timetables ahead of time.

Located about 10 miles south of the Downtown District, Tucson International Airport welcomes more than 1.5 million passengers each year into Arizona’s second-largest city. Arizona’s second busiest airport is served by major U.S. airline companies such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, US Airways, and United Airlines. However, Tucson International Airport offers a limited number of direct flights within the United States. Most of the nonstop destinations are to major cities on the west coast and southwest such as Los Angeles, Denver, and Phoenix. The Sun Tran route 6 and route 11 stop directly at Tucson International Airport. After renting a vehicle from one of eight car rental facilities at the airport, passengers can drive directly to Downtown Tucson in about 15 minutes. Shuttles, limousines, and taxis are also widely available in Tucson’s main commercial airport.

Tucson Attractions

Tucson is located in southern Arizona, 60 miles north of the Mexican border. It’s the 33rd largest city in the United States, and Tucson is Spanish for “at the base of the black hill,” referring to its location near an extinct volcano. Tucson is serviced by major highways which makes it easy for tourists to visit major attractions nearby. Visitors should pack accordingly for a visit to Tucson where average temperatures are above 100 degrees from April through October.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Enjoy the architectural detail of Mission San Xavier del Bac; the breathtaking scenery and natural beauty of the mountains; the history and heritage of the Presidio district; the stately cacti in Saguaro National Park; the wet cave system in Kartchner Caverns State Park. Then venture out to view the traditional and contemporary works at the Tucson Art Museum and aeronautical history at the Pima Air & Space Museum.

Santa Catalina mountains

Tucson’s climate varies from the warmth of the 2,400-foot high desert basin to the cool breezes and ski areas of the 9,100-foot elevation of the forests of the Santa Catalina mountains. The City’s dry desert air and winter sunshine make it a popular destination and winter resort. The City is home to the University of Arizona and to Davis Monthan Air force Base. Industries include electronics and missile production.

Sonoran Desert Museum

The Sonoran Desert Museum combines a world-renowned zoo, a natural history museum and a cactus garden depicting the most colorful and diverse of Arizona’s deserts. Explore the museum’s hummingbird aviary, then hike among bighorn sheep while delighting in observing jumping cholla cactus and Western whiptail lizards.

Tucson Botanical Gardens

After a day at the museums, it’s time to relax in the Tucson Botanical Gardens, where you can drift away in a dreamy butterfly garden and meditate among Mexican gold poppies and owl clover wildflowers.

Colossal Cave

Spend some time underground in cool Colossal Cave amid stalactites and stalagmites; marvel at the peaks and valleys on a hike through Sabino Canyon; and summarize the highlights of your natural journey at the famous Biosphere 2, a seven million foot airtight, glass replica of Earth’s environment. Don’t miss Tucson’s trademark blazing sunset streaked with turquoise and pink, and the perfect follow-up: an evening of star-gazing at Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Outdoor Recreation

Tucson is famous for its wonderful recreational opportunities. It is home to many world-class golf courses, such as the Grand National Golf Resort located in beautiful Dove Mountain. The resort hosts Tiger Woods and professional golfers from around the world each year for its annual PGA event.

The surrounding Catalina Mountains provide hikers, backpackers, and bird-watchers with miles upon miles of scenic and challenging trails to enjoy. An hour drive takes visitors to the top of beautiful Mt. Lemon, which offers a nice retreat from the summertime temperatures of the valley below. Here, residents and visitors can fish, camp overnight, hike miles of pine-laden trails, and enjoy views of Tucson and the entire valley.

Tucson Entertainment

Tucson and the surrounding areas provide a number of unique entertainment options. Visitors can spend the day at Old Tucson Studios, experiencing the Wild West sets where many of the classic westerns of the past were shot. A short drive takes visitors to Tombstone, AZ, where they can walk down the same streets that Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp once strolled. Here, visitors can enjoy re-enactments of the “Shootout at the OK Corral,” sip sasparilla in the Birdcage Saloon or enjoy any number of the western shops.

Home to the University of Arizona, Tucson also plays host many cultural events. Visitors can enjoy musical and theatrical productions at the University’s theatre or an afternoon taking in beautiful art at the famous DeGrazzia Art Gallery.

Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon is the tallest mountain near Tucson at 9,157 feet and offers a spectacular view of the city and the desert floor. Catalina Highway takes visitors to the mountain where they can enjoy camping, bird watching, exploring, hiking, skiing and cycling. The Steward Observatory atop the mountain is open to the public. Mount Lemmon is one of the favorite vacation areas for residents of Tucson.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Featuring a 98-acre zoo and museum in Tucson, this attraction invites visitors to see mountain lions, desert flora and educational displays to acquaint people with nature around this area. Visitors can stroll along two miles of trails to marvel at desert life.

Titan Missile Museum

Tourists can explore an old decommissioned silo where ICBMs stood ready to rain destruction down on any enemy who dared to attack. Visitors will see the underground facilities down to the seventh level, an inert mock-up of a Titan II missile and the giant silo doors.

Trail Dust Town

Small children love the narrow-gauge train that takes visitors around this western-themed mall. It’s filled with historical artifacts and small shops to buy souvenirs. The stunt show is featured in the evening with actors playing out western roles.

Pima Air & Space Museum

This museum presents the history of manned flight and boasts one of the largest displays of aircraft in the world.

Sabino Canyon

Hiking, swimming, picnicking and cycling are offered at this area of the Coronado National Forest.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Built in 1786, this adobe church represents early Spanish architecture with carvings, frescoes, and sculptures.

La Paloma Golf Course

This is a Jack Nicklaus course that features 27 holes at the Westin La Paloma Resort.

Tucson Mountain Park

Enjoy exploring a true desert environment at this 20,000-acre preserve. Dress accordingly and carry plenty of water.

The Fox Tucson Theatre

This gaily decorated theatre located in downtown Tucson is a primary landmark and a tribute to the local arts. This theatre pays homage to the unusual southwestern Art Deco design of that era. It reopened in 2005 and hosts a wide variety of southwestern entertainment, including jazz, ballet, rock, and concerts.

Nightlife in Tucson

Tucson nightlife is fueled by the 30,000+ students of the University of Arizona. Downtown Tucson provides rows of trendy bars and nightclubs that offer the perfect environment for lounging with a cocktail or dancing the night away. The Historic Hotel Congress, where John Dillinger was apprehended, is a popular spot for residents and tourists alike.

Tucson Dining

Visitors can enjoy tastes that are sure to please any palette at the numerous wonderful restaurants within the city. Tucson is famous for its authentic Sonoran cuisine. Numerous Sonoran restaurants provide delicious dishes that cannot be experienced elsewhere. Other restaurants, such as Harvest and the Gold Room, provide upscale traditional fare worthy of praise from the harshest of food critics.

Vivace

This is a restaurant that serves a variety of delicious Italian dishes. Chicken and asparagus risotto, linguini with grilled salmon, seafood soup and crab-filled breaded chicken breast are some of the delectable main courses that you can choose from at Vivace. This restaurant is also known for its very nice selection of wine, including White Zinfandel and Chardonnay.

Grimaldi’s Pizzeria

This is another great choice if you have a craving for Italian food. Caprese salad, antipasto, Mediterranean salad and Caesar salad are some of the popular appetizer choices on the menu. Anchovies, meatballs, onions, fresh garlic, olives and sweet red peppers are just a few of the many toppings that you can choose for your pizza. Additionally, you can choose from a variety of desserts, including caramel apple cheesecake and Grimaldi’s famous cannoli.

Jax Kitchen

This restaurant serves European and modern American cuisine. Baked goat cheese, chicken fried artichokes, mussels and duck confit street tacos are some of the foods that you can select at Jax Kitchen. This restaurant also serves a variety of gluten-free dishes.

Beyond Bread

This is a bakery that also serves subs, sandwiches and soups. It is one of the restaurants that you should consider choosing if you are looking for an inexpensive place to eat. Barbeque sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, BLTs, small green salad and small green soup are a few of the popular choices on the menu. Coffee cakes, scones, muffins and breakfast pastries are some of the sweets that you can select at Beyond Bread.

Opa! Greek Cuisine And Food

As the name suggests, this restaurant serves a variety of Greek cuisine. The Gyro platter, lamb loin souvlaki and the Greek burger are some of the entrée choices at Opa! Greek Cuisine And Food. You also have a number of great appetizers to choose from including, hummus and flaming feta cheese.

Trident Grill

This is a restaurant that serves American food. Clam strips, Maryland blue crab cakes, wing tenders and burgers are examples of some of the choices that you will be able to find on the menu. In addition to enjoying a great meal, you will also be able to use free Wi-Fi.

Miss Saigon

This is a Vietnamese and Asian restaurant. Rice noodle soup, grilled chicken with spicy cabbage, calamari and flank steak are a couple of the items on the menu. Spicy chicken, chicken salad and tofu fries are some of the appetizer choices.

Tucson Events

Tucson, Arizona offers a wide array of attractions for people who are passing through and for travelers who make the city their final destination. While there are plenty of year-round activities great for any group, Tucson also features numerous annual events that attract thousands of people. Check out the events of the following types held in Tucson each year.

Street Fairs

Each spring and winter, Tucson hosts a street fair, attracting countless artists who display their work, numerous tasty food vendors, and a variety of entertainment options and children’s activities. Street musicians, face painting booths, and fun entertainment makes these street fairs excellent for families to enjoy the excitement together.

Native American Celebrations

Tucson also features several Native American celebrations that exhibit the Native American culture of the area. The American Indian Exposition, for example, displays Native American artwork along with cultural foods, dances, and activities. The Southwest Indian Art Fair is another popular event that features hundreds of artists, dancers, and performers along with many activities for the entire family.

Marathons and Biking

Several recreational events are featured throughout the year including marathon and bike races. The Arizona District Classic, for example, features half marathon, quarter marathon, and 5K races open to all ages and skill levels. The Mount Lemmon Marathon and Half Marathon is a popular race, featuring up-hill terrain and a scenic route. For bikers, there are several well-known races throughout the year including the El Tour de Tucson, which is among one of the most popular activities in Tucson that attracts thousands of people each year. This race features a wide range of mileage options and is open to individuals of all skill levels. In addition, bikers can participate in the Cochise County Cycling Classic, featuring scenic views and several course options.

Museum of Art Events

The Tucson Museum of Art holds several events throughout the year that attract thousands of visitors. The Crush Wine, Food, and Arts Festival is hosted by the Museum of Art and features wine tasting from over 150 local restaurants. The museum also hosts a Mexican nativity scene throughout most of the year at the La Casa Cordova building. In addition, their Spring Artisans Market is a popular weekend event of gorgeous art displays held in the museum’s courtyard.

Visitors who want to attend these events can find plenty of affordable nearby hotels to stay in, and they can enjoy countless other activities during their stay in Tucson, Arizona.

Family Fun near Downtown Tucson

Tucson is a favorite vacation area because of the wonderful attractions within and around the city. Many of the attractions are especially suited to families with children that the whole family will enjoy. A family vacation in Tucson will please the youngest child to the oldest adult.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a must-see attraction while visiting Tucson. It is a museum, garden and zoo all rolled into one. The museum boasts over 300 species of animals and about 1200 types of local plants. This is not a museum where everything is contained within a building. Explore two miles of trails that run through the desert and see coyotes, mountain lions, prairie dogs and Gila monsters or visit the aviary and hummingbird exhibit.

Children’s Museum of Tucson

Little and big kids love the Children’s Museum of Tucson. An exhibit proves that math can be fun and another demonstrates that one might have to be a detective to deduce some science activities. Little kids love the playhouse, sandpit and imagination blocks while older children enjoy TechTopia where exploration is digital. See the train engine and drive it like an engineer through the magic of digital technology.

Old Tucson

Built-in 1939 to accommodate scenery for the movie Arizona, Old Tucson has been the studio many Westerns from the 50s and 60s for theater and TV were filmed. John Wayne was the star in at least four of them. Today it is a theme park and film studio where cowboys have gunfights in the street, horseback rides are available, saloon girls dance the can-can, and more. Also, visit the petting farm and carousel in the park.

Pima Air and Space Museum

Pima Air and Space Museum is an interesting place for adults and kids. Get right in the cockpit of some of the 300 craft that is fit for air and space. The Kennedy/Johnson Air Force One is housed there and a training Apollo capsule is available to view as are some moon rocks.

Reid Park

Take the kids to Reid Park to get rid of excess energy and play in the playgrounds while adults sit on the benches and rest, or rent a paddleboat to go out on the lake. There is a little zoo in the park with giraffes and other animals, and it has a wet play area for those hot days.

Tucson has something for the whole family and is a great place for exploring the southwestern part of America.

Shopping near Downtown Tucson

As the second-most populous city in Arizona, Tucson boasts some of the best shopping opportunities in the state. Located along North Oracle Drive, the Tucson Mall is the largest shopping center in the city. This shopping mall has more than 200 total shops that are spread out on more than 1.3 million square feet on two levels. This major shopping center boasts stores and retailers that are listed in a directory featuring more than 15 different categories. Tucson Mall is also anchored by major department stores including Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s and Sears. Kids can have fun in the Children’s Play Area on the lower level while mom or dad goes on a shopping spree at the Tucson Mall.

Located along East Broadway Boulevard, Park Place Mall is the second-largest mall in Tucson. This venue boasts more than 120 total stores and businesses that occupy more than 1.1 million square feet on a single level. Additionally, Park Place also offers great department store shopping opportunities in the anchor tenants that include Dillard’s, Sears and Macy’s. Additionally, Park Place has a Century 20 Theater complex for a complete family-friendly mall experience. Park Place is also neighbored by several other plazas along East Broadway Boulevard. National chain stores, restaurants and local shops are located along this busy road in Tucson.

Located along La Cholla Blvd, the Foothills Mall is one of the biggest shopping malls in Arizona’s second-largest city. This shopping center has more than 100 total stores in a directory featuring more than a dozen categories. Foothills Mall mostly has outlet stores from top brands in accessories, sports, shoes and more. Additionally, this major outlet center offers great cinema entertainment in the AMC Lowes Theater complex. The nearby super Walmart offers other great bargains and includes a supermarket section.

Situated at the corner of North Campbell Avenue and East Skyline Drive, La Encantada is one of the premier shopping centers in Tucson. This complex specializes in high-end shops and retailers that sell apparel, accessories, jewelry, shoes and other luxurious items that come with expensive price tags. Consisting of an upper and lower level, La Encantada boasts dozens of stores that appeal to male and female shoppers looking for the latest fashions from designer brand names.

The Campbell Avenue District in Downtown Tucson is another major commercial area in the city. Dozens of local businesses and some chain stores line up the plazas along North Campbell Avenue. Located near the University of Arizona campus, the Main Gate Square offers unique pedestrian-friendly shopping opportunities in Tucson. This shopping district has dozens of merchants and other convenient services.