A couple of months ago, Kimberly of wegotsidetrekked.com, was on the look out for local sidetrekker experts aka people who have lived in a place long enough in a city to know its water holes and share their experiences in said cities. That was all the inspiration I needed to share a few of my favorite local Tucson hangouts.
The Wild West has captivated the imagination for generations. Tucson stands as a multicultural hub. A big city with a small-town vibe, Tucson’s diversity offers something for everyone. Boasting 350 days of sunshine a year, it’s easy to see why people are drawn to Old Pueblo.
Surrounded by the world’s largest concentration of Saguaro Cactus, Tucson is the oldest incorporated city in Arizona and home to the Saguaro National Park. However, if you think only of Saguaros when you think of Tucson, you’re missing out!
Tucson has been my home for the past five years. It’s quite the change from my native Midwest. However, it’s been fun to capture the uniqueness of the city and there’s no shortage of things to do in Tucson.
Below is a list of my favorite hangouts in Tucson and a couple that is on my Tucson bucket list of things I want to do in Tucson.
Tucson Gem Show – The Tucson Gem & Mineral Show is held every February and attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world. The event is held, not in a single location, but rather at a multitude of settings including hotel bedrooms, lobbies, parks, and lawns with the premiere location. To learn more about the Tucson Gem Show click here.
To find Tucson Gem Show on Instagram go to @tucsongemshow.
OUTDOOR ADVENTURES & BOTANICAL GARDENS
For a nature retreat from the bustle of the city, Tucson offers Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon (part of the Coronado National Forest) as well as Tucson Botanical Gardens and Tohono Chul Park.
I love these nature havens is that I grew up surrounded by nature. Fields, streams, lakes, marshes, trees, and fields. I feel far more comfortable when I have room to breathe instead of stifled by concrete. Nature is my big escape and joys.
Saguaro National Park – Tucson has the distinction of being home to the largest cacti, the Saguaro. The saguaro is symbolic of the American Southwest. According to the Saguaro National Park website, Saguaro National Park is uniquely situated around the 500 square miles that make up Tucson; which is at the heart of the Sonoran desert.
To visit Saguaro National Park on Instagram go to @saguaronationalpark.
Sabino Canyon – According to its website and firsthand experiences, if you’re looking for soaring mountains, deep canyons, and indigenous plants and animals, Sabino Canyon is for you! This oasis in the Sonoran desert draws over a million visitors to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.
Below are photos from my hike in Sabino Canyon last spring when 85 degrees is considered cool. In both parks, you can enjoy bicycling, camping, biking, hiking, horse riding, fishing, and more. Standing beside these hearty Saguaros is as awe-inspiring as gazing out to the surrounding foothills and Indian ruins.
To visit Sabino Canyon on Instagram go to @sabinocanyonaz.
Tucson Botanical Gardens – Located on the historic Porter property. Reader’s Digest named Tucson Botanical Gardens as the best secret garden in America. It is a lush oasis of foliage consisting of mature trees, specialty gardens, and more. It feels like you’re stepping into another world upon entering the grounds.
Whether your visit is to enjoy the beauty of nature through the various gardens, or the Butterfly Greenhouse filled with a seasonal tropical butterfly display and plants, or a featured event such as the Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life exhibit (runs through the end of August) or the Summer Oasis Series (June 1 – September 30), you will not be disappointed.
The Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life exhibit is a part of the New York Botanical Garden’s blockbuster exhibit and it was a thrill to end. According to the Tucson Botanical Garden website, “This exhibit examines Kahlo’s work, life, and influence through the lens of the plants and nature that surrounded her. Tucson Botanical Gardens was selected as the only institution to receive this extraordinary exhibition designed by one of the world’s premier botanical gardens, the New York Botanical Garden.”
Marry the beauty of nature with educational and cultural activities and events, Tucson Botanical Garden, brings the best of both worlds.
To visit Tucson Botanical Gardens on Instagram go to @tucsonbotanical.
Tohono Chul Park – According to the park’s website, “The mission of Tohono Chul is to enrich people’s lives by connecting them with the wonders of nature, art, and culture in the Sonoran Desert region and inspiring wise stewardship of the natural world.”
As previously noted, being from a rural area, I especially appreciate a place to enjoy nature in the midst of all the concrete about city life. Tohono Chul Park’s origins stem from Richard and Jean Wilson who began purchasing patches of the desert to what is now 37 acres. A place that was their home is now a haven to all interest in learning and appreciating nature.
To visit Tohono Chul Park on Instagram go to @tohonochul.
Pima Air & Space Museum – The Pima Air & Space Museum was my first taste of museums Tucson had to offer. Years ago I first heard of it when brother went to visit a friend from school who had relocated to the area. The only thing I remember him saying at the time was that he saw John Travolta there and got his autograph. Keep in mind, my brother is not much of a talker, it was the 80s, and well, it was John, freaking, Travolta!!! (Sadly, my brother didn’t have a camera with him, but Travolta pretty much looks the same now as he did back then).
The only thing I remember him saying at the time was that he saw John Travolta there and got his autograph. Keep in mind, my brother is not much of a talker, it was the 80s, and well, it was John, freaking, Travolta!!! (Sadly, my brother didn’t have a camera with him, but he pretty much looks the same now as he did back then).
My visit to the Pima Air & Space Museum was far less glamorous, but nevertheless impressive. According to their website, “It’s one of the largest non-government funded aviation and space museums in the world! It features over 300 historical aircraft, from a Wright Flyer to a 787 Dreamliner.”
It’s pretty incredible to see aircrafts up close, let alone to walk amongst them. The museum features 3 hangar exhibits, a space gallery exhibit, and an outdoor exhibit. As a visitor, you are able to get a bird’s eye view of what it was like inside aircraft(s). You could help but wonder how those who flew them must have felt during times of war, especially as volunteers who were veterans recounted their missions.
DeGrazia Gallery In The Sun – One of the greatest treasures Tucson has to offer is the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun. Many years ago I had seen a DeGrazia print and fell in love. The artwork always remained in the back of my mind. It reminded me of a necklace my parents brought back from a trip to Mexico of a hand-painted little girl holding a bird I had adored and still have to this day.Unfortunately, I didn’t know who the artist was or his work, but when I moved to Tucson, I soon discovered how close I was to the artist’s home and studio.
According to the DeGrazia Gallery In The Sun website, what started as a small construction project in the early 1950s developed into a 10-acre National Historic District designed and built by acclaimed Arizona artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia.
“The gallery was designed by me. I wanted to have the feeling of the Southwest. I wanted to build it so that my paintings would feel good inside.” – Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia.
When the town of Tucson grew near to his first studio on Campbell Avenue and Prince Road, DeGrazia and his wife Marion, a sculptor from Upstate New York, bought the isolated foothills property in the early 1950s to escape the encroachment.
Following a regional tradition of building a chapel or shrine in thanks, DeGrazia’s goal was an adobe mission built from the ground up at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
There are six permanent collections of paintings that trace historical events and native cultures of the Southwest. Rotating exhibitions display some of the 15,000 DeGrazia originals housed at the gallery, including oils, watercolors, sketches, serigraphs, lithographs, sculptures, ceramics, and jewelry. A consignment room displays DeGrazia originals available for purchase, while the gift shop offers a wide selection of reproductions.
To visit DeGrazia Gallery In The Sun on Instagram go to @degraziegallery.
Mercado San Agustin – The only open marketplace in Tucson, Mercado San Agustin, features a selection of innovative shops, restaurants, a weekly farmer’s market, and hosts local events. What is most charming is the old-world courtyard, a popular gathering place for both locals and visitors to experience the unique culture of Tucson.
Originally introduced to Mercado at a Tuesdays Together, Rising Tide Society meeting place, I was enamored with the courtyard and how it drew people together as both a meeting place and market.
To visit Mercado San Agustin on Instagram go to @mercadosanagustin
Saguaro Market – What can you find at Saguaro Market? Glad you asked! If you love original artwork with a modern, Southwest flare, Saguaro Market is for you! They market sells original artwork from local artists including high-quality gift wrap, paper goods, as well as a unique selection of gifts and home accessories.
What’s even more special about Saguaro Market is that it’s an experience: “A place where people want to spend time, kick-back, do a little shopping, and drink a cup of coffee, a pint of beer, or a glass of wine. Children will have a fun, safe place to create masterpieces, play games, read books, and make-believe. It will be a place for family & friends to gather and enjoy a day together.”
To visit Saguaro Market on Instagram go to @saguaromarket.
Hotel Congress – The Hotel Congress is a member of the Historic Hotels of America®. Originally built in 1919, Hotel Congress also included the Tap Room Bar. After a fire in 1934, the hotel was rebuilt. It retains its urban, vintage, Southwest charm in the heart of downtown Tucson with colorful murals that line the walls.
In later years Hotel Congress also housed Club Congress, which hosts live shows and dancing, as well as Cup Café with its iconic penny floor. The food at Cup Café is AMAZING and has been featured in local and national publications alike.
To visit Hotel Congress on Instagram go to @hotelcongress.
St. Augustine Cathedral Church – Located in downtown Tucson, St. Augustine Cathedral Church rose from modest beginnings, composed of a small, two-room house, to the Spanish Colonial Revival style that is stunning to behold today.
Mission San Xavier del Bac – According to Mission San Xavier del Bac, construction of the current church began in 1783 and completed in 1797. Mission San Xavier is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. It’s filled with original statuary and mural paintings. The church has over 200,000 visitors per year from all over the world.
2nd Saturdays Downtown – If you’re fortunate enough to be in Old Pueblo on the second Saturday of the month, you will want to make it a point to attend 2nd Saturdays Downtown. The monthly event is free, family-friendly, a music festival held on the second Saturday of each month in downtown Tucson, as the name suggests. Along with the music festivities, you will find vendors, street performers, etc.
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