On the National Register of Historic Places El Presidio District in downtown Tucson is one of the nation's oldest continuously inhabited sites. It has evolved with shops galleries and restaurants.
Edward McCain

Shop for folk art and enjoy the season in this historic Western town

Matthew Jaffe

As the holidays draw near, Arizona artist Maria Luisa Teña assembles hundreds of terra-cotta figures at the Tucson Museum of Art to create El Nacimiento, a room-size installation that depicts the Nativity and scenes of Mexican religious and village life.

It's the highlight of a visit to Tucson's historic El Presidio District, where bougainvillea, cactus, and brightly painted walls preserve a village atmosphere even as offices have set up shop.

With the museum's diverse collection and the galleries at Old Town Artisans, the 15-square-block district is a prime stop for art lovers looking for a soulful shopping experience. Like El Nacimiento, the neighborhood celebrates art and tradition in the shadow of a rapidly changing city.


El Presidio District is east of I-10 on the northern end of downtown Tucson. It's bounded by Granada and Stone Avenues and Alameda and Sixth Streets. 


The Presidio Trail Take the 2.5-mile self-guided walking tour, which winds past 23 historic downtown sites. INFO: A map is available online and at the Tucson Visitor Center; 100 S. Church Ave.; 800/638-8350.

Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block This art showcase incorporates five historic homes that now serve as galleries. Its shop is a good bet for holiday gifts. INFO: Closed Mon; $8, free ages 12 and under; 140 N. Main Ave.; 520/624-2333.EAT

Cafe a la C'Art Sandwiches, salads, and desserts in the museum's 19th-century Stevens/Duffield House. INFO: $; closed Sat-Sun; 150 N. Main Ave.; 520/628-8533.

El Charro Café A Tucson classic for Mexican cuisine, with a store that sells the restaurant's salsas and other gift items. INFO: $; 311 N. Court Ave.; 520/622-1922. 


Old Town Artisans Shops and galleries arrayed around a courtyard in buildings dating to the 1850s, with ceilings made from saguaro ribs. The Old Town Pot Shop's wares include handblown ornaments by Arizona glass artist George Averbeck. A good spot for folk art is colorful Tolteca Tlacuilo. INFO: 201 N. Court Ave.; 800/782-8072.


A neighborhood highlight, El Nacimiento is displayed in the city's oldest building, La Casa Cordova, on the Tucson Museum of Art's campus (through Mar 30; closed Mon; free; 140 N. Main Ave; 520/624-2333)


Within a short walk of the district's attractions and restaurants, El Presidio Bed & Breakfast Inn (4 rooms from $120; 800/349-6151) is set in an 1886 structure that started as a simple adobe and expanded into a more elaborate building with Victorian flourishes. The house, filled with antiques, opens to a lush cobblestone courtyard.

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