Tucson, Arizona is a fantastic place to get a glimpse of Arizona and the desert without the overwhelming rush (and heat!) of Phoenix. Personally, I prefer it over Phoenix and all the nearby cities. It is clean, urban, and accessible. On nearly any trip to Arizona, I have always landed in Tucson and explored in and around the city. Not to mention, there is room to visit many other places nearby, including the historic Tombstone, hip Bisbee, or Phoenix.
How to get around:
I would certainly recommend driving in Tucson. The roads are clear and well maintained, making it easy for commuting from one place to another. The traffic isn’t bad either, even at places that are busy, such as the airport. Another option would be to Uber or take the bus system, all depending on the amount of luggage you have or what you are doing.
Where to stay:
We have never attempted to stay at a luxury hotel there, but many of the cheaper, chain hotels are actually pretty nice. Many of them have pools as well, which is nice for hot summer days. The rates are more expensive near the central areas, but if you have a car, finding a cheap hotel should be no problem.
What to do in Tucson:
Tucson is home to plenty of things to do both near and far. Some of my favorite days there has been just driving around and shopping since they have tons of options for thrifting, along with their mall. My personal favorite is Plato’s Closet, where you can find name brand clothes for a much cheaper rate, while selling stuff you have outgrown or no longer want.
One of the most popular attractions is the Pima Air and Space Museum. Here you will find TONS of planes, both new and old. The museum itself holds a boatload of information on flight and planes, especially in regards to the military. There is also a boneyard, filled with tons of no longer used planes, neatly arranged into lines. The space part the museum is also super interesting and full of beautiful exhibits. Honestly, it is a pretty overwhelming experience since there is so much to look at and see. The total space is quite large and there are actually shuttles to take you from one place to another if you so desire. Make sure to bring water, those summer days can be really toasty outside!
My personal favorite place to visit in Tucson is San Xavier del Bac. This old cathedral has been in progress since the 1700s and is still being built. Here, one can find marvelous artwork in the ceilings, beautiful gardens and shrines, and lots of history. I did not take a tour, but I wish I did because there is so much detail in the architecture. For example, the door handles are snakes, which is interesting given Christianity usually depicts snakes as evil due to the one in the Garden of Eden. However, when the church was being built, they were depicted in a good light since snakes are typically by water, which is necessary for survival. Unique things like this are easy to miss, which is why I would recommend a tour. Also, take the hike up the nearby hill because it offers fantastic views of the cathedral and the area.
There is also a handful of other old sights and art museums to check out depending on your interests!
What to do near Tucson:
Tucson is a great city to use as a base for other adventures and offers plenty of opportunity to digress into other areas of Arizona. I would definitely make some day trips south or even just to Vail! Here are some suggestions:
Here you can experience two great natural ares. This city is home to Saguaro National Park, as well as Colossal Caves. Both are great to tour if you have a chance. Saguaro National Park is home to some of the biggest cacti you will ever see. The saguaro cactus is the cliché cactus we all see in depictions of the desert, usually accompanied by a cow skull and perhaps a roadrunner or lizard, but there are not the only cacti in the park. Here, you can find chollas, prickly pear, teddy bears, agave, mesquite, and many more desert plants. There is an awesome gift shop where you can find lots of souvenirs, including the sticker that is attached to my laptop as I write. There is a drive that one can take in their car up through the park that is the best way to experience it. I would definitely stop by the visitor center to get more information and routes and double check that your car is good to go.
The other spot, Colossal Caves, is a super cool dry cave filled with stalagmites and stalactites that are much bigger than me. Originally discovered by Native Americans and then by thieves looking for a hideout, the caves were developed by the Civil Conservation Corps, which is what makes it accessible today. There are some awesome options for tours, some of which are more intense and physical than others, but all of them are informative and great! Make sure to bring light jacket, some of the caves are rather chilly.
If you are really adventurous, there is a ranch nearby where you can pet animals and even take a ride through the desert. This was a huge highlight for me since I haven’t rode a horse in much longer than I would prefer. The service was great and the ride was beautiful, something I would recommend if you are into that kind of thing.
Tombstone and Bisbee:
These historic cities aren’t far from Tucson and are great places to spend a day or two. Tombstone is home to many historical legends involving the wild west, between the OK Corral gunfight with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the others, the famous Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, the strange Bird Cage Theater, numerous mines, Boothill Cemetary, and more. For a full immersion into the old west, this is definitely the place because many people dress in that time period, there’s tons of historic sites, and even reenactments of the gunfight daily.
Bisbee is personally one of my favorite places in all of Arizona. It is a small town located in a valley near Douglas and the Mexican border. Here you can find plenty to do and eat, from visiting the historical Copper Queen Mine, the Bisbee Historical Museum (which is actually one of my favorite museums I have seen), and so many odds and ends you will find throughout the street. Bisbee is home to a vibrant and odd culture that is very unique and not really found elsewhere. There are tons of yummy snacks, coffee, sandwiches, and more all across town, but my favorite is Cafe Roka Also, if you are staying close to evening, consider taking a ghost tour to get a more spooky perspective.
Overall, Tucson is a great place to explore and use as a gate into other Arizona cities. You can find plenty of things to do, good food, and vibrant beauty. Whether you are wanting to explore it or the nearby area, I would completely recommend checking it out during your time in Arizona!