One perfect day at the Tucson Botanical Garden

Andrea Gómez Romero
Browse the sensational succulents and other Southwestern plants at this Arizona garden

Why go now: In a word, flowers. In late April, saguaros pop little white blossoms that look like Easter bonnets. Trust us, it's cool.

Brake for cactus: Tucson is home to the world's largest regional cactus and succulent society (tucsoncactus.org), and montly meetings are open to the public.

Go native: Desert Survivors (Closed Sun, 1020 W. Starr Pass Blvd., 520/791-9309) is your spot for super-rare natives like red barberry.

Stranges souvenir: Living rocks (Lithops) resemble tiny sea cucumbers and are great for a lonely windowsill. Browse the mother lode at Plants for the Southwest (closed Sun, 50 E. Blacklidge Dr., lithops.com).

Oodles of noodles: The 17th Street Market (closed Sun, 840 E. 17th St., 520/792-2588), in the Warehouse Arts District, specialized in ethnic groceries, including more than 50 types of instant-ramen bowls.

Three times a farm: If you miss the Friday farmers' market, there's another one Saturday--and a third on Sunday (times and locations at farmersmarkettucson.com).

An amusement park of plants: Located 10 worth-it miles north of downtown, Tohono Chul Park is a 47-acre botanical oasis with paths, nine gardens, galleries, greenhouses, and shops. See the wildflower displays of the Sonoran Seasons Garden, then hit the tearoom ($, 520/797-1222) for lunch. The dish to try: sinus-clearing red posole, best enjoyed on the rear patio so you can watch the action in the Hummingbird Garden. $7, 7366 N. Paseo del Norte, tohonochulpark.org

One-stop idea shop: Landscape architect Margaret Joplin is a recycling wizard with fresh ideas on garden decor. At Pure Beauty, her nursery/studio/storefront, scrap metal becomes abstract wall hangings, plastic light fixtures turn into planters, and a steel disc transforms into a wheeled pot coaster. Open Mon-Fri, by appointment Sat-Sun, 2719 E. Broadway Blvd., 520/623-8068.

Butterflies and irises: Tucson Botanical Gardens are a lush retreat tucked into the city's heart. This month, the bearded irises are in Blu-ray and the tropical greenhouse's Butterfly Magic features winged wonders from Africa and Australia. For a peek at botany's dark side, catch Wicked Plants. $12, including both exhibits (through Apr 30), 2150 N. Alvernon Way, tucsonbotanical.org

The Tiffany of garden stores: Family-run for more than 70 years, Harlow Gardens deals in local artists' one-of-a-kind patio pieces...like a 3-foot-high metal snake wearing a cowboy hat. Something more practical: Pick up a biodegradable flowerpot made from rice husks. 5620 E. Pima St., 520/298-3303.

Veggie burger with a side of tacos: La Cocina's sleepy Mexican village interior belies a global menu focues on seasonal ingredients. Sure, you can order tacos, but the Vietnamese salad rolls and edamame hummus deserve attention--as does a Sonoran-style cosmo with hibiscus-infused vodka. $, in Old Town Artisans, 201 N. Court Ave., 520/622-0351. 

Make it a weekend: Let yourself be coddled at the Arizona Inn, a 1930 resort sprawled over 14 groomed acres near downtown. None of the 95 casita-style rooms is the same--if you're lucky, you'll get one with a patio overlooking the cactus garden and fountains. From $259; arizonainn.com

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