Why go now: Fresh restaurants, boutiques, and a revamped underpass linking it to the University of Arizona neighborhood have breathed new energy into this historic district.
Main drag: Congress Street
Also worth a stroll: Pennington Street, and Scott and Stone Avenues.
Bring your plastic: The Rockin’ Queen (closed Sun; 45 S. Sixth Ave.; 520/461-1076) has up-and-coming clothing labels at feel-good prices. At Got All Your Marbles (closed Sun; 220 E. Congress St.; 520/628-1433), you can mix and match gemstones in all of its hand-cast jewelry.
Sign the neighborhood has arrived: James Beard award–winning chef Janos Wilder is opening Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails (debut scheduled for October; $$; 135 S. Sixth; 520/623-7700).
For something more casual: Head to the pet-friendly patio at the new branch of Monkey Burger ($; closed Sun; 47 N. Sixth) for a classic patty with fried pickles and sweet-potato fries.
Dig deeper: Explore ruins of the city’s Spanish settlement on the Presidio Trail walking tour (map at tucsonpresidiotrust.org).
Hit the town
Congress Street buzzes at night with retro watering holes like the Hotel Congress—where John Dillinger and his gang were briefly captured—and theaters like the Rialto and the Fox Tucson. People-watch at the hotel’s Cup Cafe or raise a glass at its Club Congress.
Play on the tracks
Kick-start your day with a latte and fresh Danish pastry at Maynards Market ($$; 400 N. Toole Ave.; 520/545-0577) in the historic train depot’s refurbed art deco waiting room, then browse shelves chock-a-block with local tamales and salsas, organic wines, and handcrafted soaps.
Afterward, check out the cool locomotives in the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum ($5 donation suggested; 414 N. Toole).
Art, music, mystery
The surreal, religious visions of Daniel Martin Diaz have traveled around the country. Now his Old Master–style paintings have a permanent home at the museum-cum-curio-shop Sacred Machine.
Can’t afford the art? Check out the painted skateboards, guitars, and CDs by Blind Divine, the band founded by Diaz and his wife. 245 E. Congress St.
Take in the bar scene at 47 Scott bistro or have a quieter cocktail under the cafe lights on the back patio.
For dinner, we love the riffs on American classics like mini grilled cheese on challah or mac ’n’ cheese with fresh herbs. The bread salad—housemade mozzarella, tomato, and baguette chunks topped with a fried egg—is a knockout. $$; closed Sun; 47 N. Scott Ave.; 520/624-4747.
Make it a weekend
Downtown is a great place to kick up your heels at night—which gives you a good excuse to check into the Royal Elizabeth Bed & Breakfast Inn. One of Arizona’s oldest homes, this gracious 1878 Victorian has thick adobe walls, high ceilings, and gleaming wood floors—plus a pool in case you need a pick-me-up swim the next morning. $219, including breakfast.