A WILDCAT'S GUIDE TO TUCSON
A college town with a booming downtown, a terrific alternative music scene, and a number of multi-cultural events and experiences, Tucson is nestled in a lush, desert oasis with gorgeous views, hiking trails, rock climbing and great cycling. Not to mention, Tucson’s restaurants and agricultural history made it the first U.S. city to win the UNESCO designation, “World City of Gastronomy.”
Ready to explore? Check out our guide to the best city in the Southwest.
One of the best ways to explore Tucson is to hop on the modern streetcar that zips right through campus. The roundtrip ride goes from the UA to the westside and back, and visitors can hop on and off at different attractions. The first must-see destination is historic Fourth Avenue, a tree-lined street teeming with live music, eateries and vintage clothing shops.
The quirky Pop Cycle boutique features local art made entirely of recyclables; nearby, Antigone, a beloved 45-year-indie bookstore, was recently bought by three millennial women. Hungry? Bison Witches has been a student staple for more than two decades, serving up monster sandwiches and bread-bowl soups.
Next the streetcar clangs under the old railroad tracks to Downtown and then ploughs down Congress Street, home to the outstanding music venues of Club Congress and the Rialto. Then it's on to the west side, past the Mexican-American neighborhood of Menlo Park — loaded with restaurants like the simple-but-yummy Tania's — and on to the Mercado, a hacienda-style courtyard, houses a café, retail shops, and the fine-dining Agustín Kitchen and Seis Kitchen, famed for its Mexican street tacos.
Thousands gather Downtown every October and November for the Dia de los Muertos events and vibrant All Souls Procession in honor of our dearly departed.
ARIZONA-SONORA DESERT MUSEUM
Get a peek of unique wildlife like javelina and mountain lions at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This fusion experience combines a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum and aquarium.
In 1987, construction began on seven different ecosystems at Biosphere 2 to see if humans might be able to live in similar enclosed habitats on other planets. Today, you can take a behind the scenes tour of the facility, which is now dedicated to University of Arizona research and understanding of global scientific issues.
SAN XAVIER DEL BAC
Jesuit priest Eusebio Kino, who founded San Xavier Mission in 1692, was a staunch defender of the Tohono O'odham, fighting against European colonists who tried to steal native land. The mission building has been dubbed the dove of the desert for its striking white exterior.
KITT PEAK NATIONAL OBSERVATORY
Up for stargazing? Tour the Kitt Peak National Observatory, located about 50 miles southwest of Tucson and home to one of the largest arrays of optical and radio telescopes in the world.
Tumamoc Hill, the saguaro-studded hike closest to campus, was once home to the Tohono O'odham. Trek up the steep road (2.9 miles total up and back) and be rewarded with a spectacular vista of the city, the mountains and the whole Tucson valley.
For a taste of cooler weather, drive up the long and winding road to 9,159 feet at Mount Lemmon. This Canadian eco-zone with tall pines, cool temperatures and the southernmost ski run in the U.S. also hosts an observatory where UA astronomers scan the skies.
If the monsoon rains have blessed Tucson in the summertime and Sabino Creek is running, you can take a swim after your hike or just take in the stunning waterfalls at Sabino Canyon.