Where to Go
Downtown and University District
The downtown area is where Tucson began and where its heart still beats today. Although downtown usually becomes a bit deserted after 5 p.m. on Friday, the University district and 4th Avenue—the city’s bohemian- chic enclave, sometimes called a smaller version of Berkeley, California’s Telegraph Avenue—are busy most hours of the day. History is everywhere here, and it’s the only truly pedestrian-friendly section of the city.
Tucson’s midtown neighborhood is where most of the Old Pueblo’s real-life living takes place. The Fort Lowell Museum in the northern part of this district preserves the artifacts of the military’s role in Tucson, and the Tucson Botanical Gardens are the best place to learn about the unique local flora that thrives on aridity. The small but prestigious Reid Park Zoo is a must for families.
The foothills area features artist Ted DeGrazia’s romantic DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun and renowned architect Josias Joesler’s imprint on Tucson. And at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, the desert meets the mountains and a cool-water creek rushes down from the peaks to create one of the state’s most beautiful and popular desert riparian areas.
East Side and the Rincon Valley
The top draw here is Saguaro National Park East, the park’s largest and oldest section. You can walk, bike, or drive through a thick saguaro forest, one of the best and most accessible portions of the Sonoran Desert and the very best place to learn about and witness the desert’s fauna and flora. Head east from the park to tour Colossal Cave Mountain Park, where Old West outlaws used to hide out.
West Side and the Tucson Mountains
This rugged desert land, west of central Tucson, is where you’ll find Tucson’s premier attraction, the world-renowned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Here you’ll see mountain lions and black bears lounging on warm rocks, and watch baby bighorn sheep negotiating the man-made cliffsides. But before you even reach the museum, you’ll rise and descend over spectacular Gates Pass, looking down across a sweeping saguaro- dotted landscape.
The South Side holds one of Tucson’s top sights, San Xavier del Bac (the “white dove of the desert”), one of the nation’s finest remaining examples of mission architecture. Lovers of Mexican food in all its varieties will want to return to the small incorporated city of South Tucson again and again, for it is here that you’ll find the region’s best enchiladas, tamales, and carne asada.
Greater Tucson includes the forested heights of the Santa Catalina range, whose highest peak, Mount Lemmon, reaches above 9,000 feet and holds the nation’s southernmost ski run. The mountains feature such a different ecosystem that the trip along the twisting Sky Island Scenic Byway is like driving from Mexico to Canada in about an hour. To the south is the lush Santa Cruz Valley, where you can learn all about the nuclear missiles that once ringed the city at the Titan Missile Museum.
© Tim Hull from Moon Tucson, 1st Edition