My parents graciously gave my brother’s family and me the best Christmas present we’ve gotten in years – a trip to Tucson! Vacationing is the ultimate in my book, and in this winter wonderland, it was really awesome to get away. Traveling in January to a warm location really can’t get any better, especially when the place you’re traveling is lovely, interesting, and fun! We spent 5 nights, 4.5 days exploring Tucson and its nearby parks, eating yummy food, and soaking up the sun.
Things to do:
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Road
This zoo/natural history museum/botanical garden was #1 on our list while planning, #1 on Trip Advisor, and our #1 favorite activity that we did in Tucson. With amazing views of the mountains, desert animals roaming in large enclosures, and great tidbits around the park, we were definitely impressed.
There are two sections to this national park, and while Trip Advisor ranked the west side as better, we happened to be close to the east side of the park and took an afternoon walking amongst the cacti. We saw a jackrabbit, various birds, and every kind of cactus imaginable, all with the backdrop of the beautiful mountains. Whichever side you choose, it’s definitely worth the visit.
Old Tucson, 201 S. Kinney Road
Old Tucson is a movie studio for old westerns, now set up as a theme park. My 3-year-old niece had as much as fun us adults did – from shows to BBQ and old-fashioned confectioners, Old Tucson was an interesting afternoon well-spent.
International Wildlife Museum, 4800 W. Gates Pass Blvd
On one rainy morning, we decided it was a museum day and checked out the International Wildlife Museum. Set up with hundreds (maybe thousands?!) of taxidermied animals, this was certainly an interesting stop. I was particularly fond of the butterfly room!
Sunset at Gates Pass, several viewing points on Gates Pass Road
With the mountains serving as such a picturesque background, catching a sunset was a must in Tucson. This is really one to Google Map because there’s no real address, but the best spot we found had a viewing platform flanked by inclines. We decided to hike along the mountain to get a better view and are glad we did.
Reid Park Zoo, 3400 Reid Court
Hailed as a small, but mighty zoo, Reid Park Zoo really was a nice gem in the middle of the city. With up-close-and-personal experiences with elephants, giraffes, and jaguars, we thoroughly enjoyed our morning stroll around this zoo.
Shopping at Old Town Artisans, 201 N. Court Ave.
Before arriving in Tucson, I’d read an article touting how great this shopping center was and passed it along to my sister-in-law and mom – they were hooked. I’m not one to shop on vacation, because I can get new clothes in Illinois, but this place was chock-full of interesting and unique shops. There were antiques, kitschy items, handmade jewelry, and Tucson/Arizona paraphernalia, including wine and food made in the state all throughout.
Mission San Xavier del Bac, 1950 W. San Xavier Rd.
A National Historic Landmark, this church was completed in 1797. “The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.”
Sabino Canyon, 5900 N. Sabino Canyon Road
There are two ways you can see the canyon: trolley or walking. I recommend both! We took the narrated trolley along the path to the end, and then half of us hiked our way along the canyon back to the visitors’ center. Spectacular panoramas! The trolley goes back down, especially for the non-hikers and 3 year olds.
Mt. Lemmon, it’s a mountain so no address!
Part of the Coronado National Forest, Mt. Lemmon offers scenic views of the surrounding area – a photographer’s dream! There is skiing in the winter and a cute little town directly at the top. It’s near Sabino Canyon, so it makes for a 2-for-1 kinda day.
Places to eat:
El Charro, 311 N. Court and 6910 E. Sunrise
I cannot say enough good things about this place. I LOVE Mexican food and this place just reaffirmed it. Go during happy hour and indulge on half-price drinks and appetizers. So freaking delicious that I’m salivating here in chilly Chicago just thinking about it.
Tucson Tamale Company, 3 locations
Such a yummy, quick lunch! Lots of options for tamales, including desert (we had a mango, pineapple and oh. my. god.), as well as delish sides.
Barrio Brewery, 800 E. 16th Street
Two things my family loves: beer and good deals. We made it here just in time for happy hour, so those half-price apps were our dinner. The beer was equally as awesome. Set in an old warehouse, the location was off the beaten path, but worth the trek.
My last recommendation is to get the Tucson Attractions Passbook because there are some great savings in there.
Overall, Tucson was such a fabulous vacation! Not only was it bonding time for us, we got some spectacular photos and made some great memories. Many thanks to my parents for everything xo