Tucson Just Became Our Favorite Weekend Getaway Ever. Here’s Why.

Here is what you never knew about Arizona’s young, vibrant city

Kendra Poppy
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Tucson Weekend Getaway

Sixty miles north of the Mexican border lies the big little city of Tucson, Arizona. Tucson is quickly reinventing itself as the West’s next progressive hotspot. With some of the country’s best cycling, a distillery specializing in Sonoran single-malt whiskey, a hyperlocal food scene, and Instagram-worthy desert design everywhere you look, there is no question that Tucson’s star is rising. On a recent visit, we discovered some noteworthy surprises that should make Tucson your next great travel destination.
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There’s an Award-Winning Food Scene

In 2015, UNESCO designated Tucson the United States’ first City of Gastronomy, a recognition of its 4,000 years of agricultural history and the work that the city’s chefs and educators are doing to keep that food history alive. (Read more here.) There is no question that Tucson today is home to some of the world's best Mexican food, but its reputation has expanded to encompass a diverse and storied food scene. Local favorite eateries reflect the city’s interest in vibrant, sustainable, and chef-focused cuisine. Our recommendations: Five Points Market & Restaurant, Agustin Kitchen, Barrio Bread, EXO Roasting Co., Welcome Diner, Penca, La Cocina, and Cup Cafe in Hotel Congress. Learn more in our guide to Eating and Drinking in Tucson.
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The Energy Is Palpable

Tucson has long been associated with retirees and resorts, but as a college town—it’s home to the University of Arizona, which brings in 45,000 students each year—Tucson couldn’t be younger or more energetic. There are many local businesses that cater to this youthful, budget-savvy crowd, like James Beard Award winning El Guero Canelo, known for their $3.50 Sonoran Hot Dogs, and the much-beloved Seis Kitchen, which serves street tacos for $2.25.
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The Weather Is Amazing

We all think of Tucson as a HOT desert outpost, but for seven months of the year, Tucson’s average high is under 85 degrees, and during the winter, highs hover in the 60s. That means that when the rest of the country is in a deep freeze, Tucson’s balmy “cool-season” weather makes it the perfect destination for outdoor adventurers. During the summer months, locals and visitors take advantage of cooler mornings and gorgeous evenings to get outside and experience the city and its surroundings.
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The Biking Is World-Class

Tucson is renowned as a fantastic city for golfers, but it’s actually a top-tier destination for hikers, bikers, and climbers, too. Tucson sits at the base of five mountain ranges, most of which are protected parklands, making it ideally located for outdoor adventurers. Tucson is considered one of the country’s top biking cities, thanks to 131 miles of car-free trails for road and mountain bikers. On the north side of town, Mt. Lemmon stands at 9,157 feet and offers 26 miles of killer climbing for cyclists.
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And So Are the Hiking and Climbing

When it comes to hiking, Tucson has trails for all levels. A favorite hike is the half-day, moderate Seven Falls trail, which features a running stream, cool pools of water, and yes, a waterfall, which flows for most of the year. Find Tucson’s top ten hikes here. Tucson is home to incredible climbing, too. Mt. Lemmon offers more has 2,700 climbing routes, ranging from single-pitch clip-ups to multi-pitch traditional routes. Un-roped adventurers will find several bouldering options in the foothills that surround the city.
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The Beer and Spirits Scene Is Buzzing

Tucson is home to an award-winning whiskey distillery, an impressive array of breweries, a handful of swanky mezcal bars, and two macabre-chic cocktail lounges--one in the basement of a renovated morgue and the other in a former funeral home. Learn more in our guide to Eating and Drinking in Tucson.
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It’s Surrounded by One of the West’s Most Scenic National Parks

The iconic Saguaro National Park surrounds the city of Tucson, where you’ll find a stunning landscape studded with the namesake cacti. Ten miles west of town, you will find the Tucson Mountain District of the park (Saguaro National Park West) and 20 miles east of town you will find the Rincon Mountain District (Saguaro National Park East). Combined, the National Park provides over 168 miles of hiking and biking trails.
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Fantastic Vacation Rentals Abound

Tucson is home to several top-tier resorts, but for an authentic taste of this vibrant city, we recommend booking a vacation rental. We scored a fantastic three-bedroom adobe in the historic El Presidio, owned and operated by Object Limited. The centrally located home, built in the 1880s and recently gut renovated, was the perfect jumping off point for all of our adventures.
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You Can See Art and Wildlife All under One “Roof”

Right down the road from Saguaro National Park West is the incredible Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The 21-acre indoor-outdoor space, which houses everything from native plants and animals to art, is an absolute must-visit for kids and adults alike. While there, don’t miss the incredible cactus garden, the hummingbird exhibit, and our all-time favorite, the hugely entertaining ground squirrels.
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The Architectural Eye Candy Will Keep You ’Gramming

In 2018, actress Diane Keaton bought a 1880s adobe in the Barrio Viejo neighborhood of Tucson, igniting a renewed interest in the city’s beautiful historic buildings. You’ll find every type of architecture here, from the seventeenth-century Spanish mission, Mission San Xavier del Bac, to nineteenth-century adobes and mid-century modern ranchers. If you’re interested in a self-guided tour of the most Instagram-worthy neighborhoods, check out El Presidio, Barrio Viejo, Dunbar Spring, and Armory Park.
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The Shopping Is Dangerously Good

Fantastic shopping can be found throughout the city. The mother-and-daughter proprietors of BON stock their store with Southwestern-style home and garden goods, vintage linens, and a small selection of sumptuous clothing. Desert Vintage (since 1974) curates a collection of stylish and eccentric vintage clothing for men and women. In the Mercado District, Mercado San Agustin and the MSA Annex, located right across the street from each other, house an incredible array of locally owned small businesses, including a handmade furniture store, a bike shop, and a store dedicated to quality Tucson souvenirs. This article is sponsored by Visit Tucson.