Travel Guide to Tucson, Arizona in a Weekend
This Tucson, Arizona travel guide covers when to visit, how to get there, the best things to do, where to eat, and where to stay!
Tucson may be widely known among snowbirds as a warm winter escape, but did you know that Tucson is also home to nature conservatories, rich Spanish colonial culture, and some top-notch modern art?
It’s true — I recently visited Tucson and was absolutely blown away by this southern Arizona city. However, not only did I find art and Spanish culture, I also found some of the best Mexican food this side of the border (I say this as a San Diego local who knows her Mexican food), and some seriously spectacular scenery.
Ready to discover the best of Tucson, Arizona? Let’s dive in!
Travel Guide to Tucson, Arizona in a Weekend
The Best Time to Visit Tucson
As with a lot of popular travel destinations, the best time to visit Tucson, Arizona is during the shoulder seasons. While travel to Tucson is great year-round, you’ll find the winter months to be the most popular and the summer months to be the hottest.
That being said, I found winter to be a wonderful time to visit as well. The weather was warm enough during the day and I was able to experience a bit of snow by driving only 30-minutes outside of town. I visited in early January and I didn’t find it to be too crowded. I often had hikes to myself!
How to Get to Tucson
With an international airport, getting to Tucson couldn’t be easier. The airport is served by eight airlines that fly non-stop to nineteen airports and that have one-stop connections to more than 340 airports.
And, of course, the capital city of Phoenix is just a two-hour drive away, which is also an option if you’re looking to fly in and then rent a car.
Alternatively, Tucson is also on the Sunset Limited Amtrak railway line, and home to a Greyhound bus station that’s open 24/7.
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How to Get Around Tucson
The best way to get around Tucson is to rent a car. Thankfully, the airport is cute and small which makes renting a car super easy. Once landing, you’ll be out of the airport in a flash!
As for the city of Tucson itself, it’s easy to navigate and traffic is bearable. Driving will be a breeze.
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Best Things to do in Tucson
Saguaro National Park
Located 16 miles west of Tucson, Saguaro National Park is perfect if you’re up for an outdoor hiking or biking adventure.
The park is known for having the country’s largest cacti, the Saguaro, and there are plenty of hiking trails for you to enjoy. Some of the more popular trails are Loma Verde Loop (3.8 miles), Wild Dog Trail (1.8 miles), King Canyon / Gold Mine Loop (2.4 miles), and Sendero Esperanza Trail to the Ridge / to Wasson peak (3.4 – 8 miles).
It should also be noted that there are east and west sides of the park. The east side comprises the older Saguaro forest, higher elevations, and a pine / mixed conifer forest. Meanwhile, the west side has the highest Saguaro density and a lower elevation (including shrub and desert grassland).
Both sides have hiking trails, loop drives, and picnic areas.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
The oldest standing European structure in the state, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a great example of Spanish Colonial architecture and is a national historic landmark.
Seeing upwards of 200 000 visitors every year, this Catholic mission was first founded back in 1692, but the construction of the current church you see today started in 1783 and was completed in 1797.
The mission is open every day from 7 AM to 5 PM and doesn’t have an admission fee.
Looking to escape the intense summer heat or have a great wintertime adventure? Then head 45 miles north of Tucson to Mt. Lemmon!
Due to the 8000 ft elevation in the Coronado Forest, Mt. Lemmon is around 30 degrees cooler than nearby Tucson, which makes it one of the top summertime retreats in the area. However, this also means that, in the winter, you’ll be able to find excellent skiing, snowboarding, sledding and snowshoeing.
There are also plenty of hiking trails and cabin rentals if you’re looking for a relaxing weekend away among the trees.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
What’s essentially a zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum, and art gallery all in one, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum lends focus to the diverse flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.
Not only is this often listed as one of the top ten museums in the country, but 85% of the experience is outdoors, they have two miles of walking paths, and they’re home to conservation and research programs.
Read more: Havasu Falls Travel Tips – Havasupai Reservation, Arizona
Kitt Peak National Observatory
Looking to have a gander at the stars while you’re in Tucson? Then head over to the Kitt Peak National Observatory.
Located 56 miles southwest of Tucson, the observatory operates three nighttime telescopes, 22 optical telescopes, and two radio telescopes. Overall, the site has the most diverse collection of astronomical observatories on Earth.
If you want to learn all about what they do at Kitt Peak, then take a tour!
Pima Air & Space Museum
Comprised of over 350 historical aircraft, 6 indoor hangars, and 80 acres of land, the Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the largest non-government funded aircraft museums in the world.
Specifically, the museum is home to the world’s smallest biplane, a flight simulator, a gallery honoring women in the aviation industry, an airplane “boneyard”, and plenty of history-making artifacts.
When you think of Tucson, Arizona, what comes to mind but some saloons, cowboys, and the wild wild west?
A historic movie studio and theme park, Old Tucson was originally constructed for the movie Arizona in 1939 and has since been the filming location for over 400 films and commercials.
Due to its stature in the film industry, this is one of the premier wild west attractions in the area, and they have tons of things to do there. In particular, the set features live-action stunt shows, amusement rides, musicals, and some great BBQ.
Read more: Havasu Falls Camping Guide (Permits, Hiking Trails, Packing Tips)
Where to Eat in Tucson
Did you know that Tucson is home to the best 23 miles of Mexican Food north of the Mexican border?
A lofty statement, I know, but it’s true — whether you’re interested in fine dining or casual cantinas, you’ll find some seriously tasty authentic Mexican food. In fact, Tucson is a UNESCO certified City of Gastronomy for its 4000 years of Mexican and Native American culinary heritage.
These are some of the best restaurants:
For an award-winning Mexican food experience, check out Seis Kitchen. With a menu inspired by six distinct culinary regions around Mexico, you can expect a variety of dishes each with a story.
And make sure to check out their happy hour when they have menu items on special for as little as $2.
Ever wondered what a restaurant that mixes traditional Sonoran cuisine with a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet would be like? Prepare to find out at Charro Vida!
Charro Vida believes in preparing regional-specific meals made using sustainable food practices and healthy, locally sourced produce. They believe in the art of enjoying a meal and creating an experience that will positively influence the community.
For a traditional and authentic Mexican food experience, check out Tanias 33. With everything on the menu from quesadillas, enchiladas, and tamales, you won’t go home hungry.
Plus, they have vegetarian and vegan options!
Taqueria Pico de Gallo
For a little slice of taco paradise, check out Taqueria Pico de Gallo. Located on the corner of 6th Avenue and 36th Street, this is one of the top Sonoran street food options and is a staple in the Tucson community.
El Guero Canelo
With locations all throughout Arizona, El Guero Canelo does traditional Sonoran food that won’t break the bank. Their menu provides all the top-requested fare such as tacos, quesadillas, hot dogs, and tortas.
The owners even have their own Mexican bakery for perfectly-crafted tortillas!
BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs
For a traditional Sonoran hot dog, look no further than BK Hot Dogs. Their award-winning hot dogs are wrapped in bacon and put into a fresh, homemade baked bun. Then, it’s loaded with pinto beans, fresh onion, tomato, mayo, mustard, and their secret jalapeno sauce.
Where to Stay in Tucson
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort
Looking to stay on stunning grounds, play some golf, explore the great outdoors, or simply relax and rejuvenate? Then stay at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort! This is the resort I stayed at during my time in Tucson and I highly recommend it.
All fitness classes and wifi usage are included in your resort fee, they have a morning guided hike every day, and there are two pools and a spa.
While staying here, I also recommend booking a reservation at Flying V Restaurant!
3 Palms Tucson North Foothills
Located in northwest Tucson, the 3 Palms Tucson North Foothills is a highly-rated mid-range property that is home to an outdoor pool, hot tub, and courtyard.
Plus, every suite is outfitted with a microwave and refrigerator.
La Posada Lodge & Casitas, Ascend Hotel Collection
A four-star property at the base of the Catalina Mountains, the Posada Lodge & Casitas features an outdoor pool, free wifi, a hot tub, a fitness center, and even laundry services.
Onsite, you’ll also find the Gringo Grill & Cantina that features regional-inspired dishes.
Lodge On The Desert
Just 9-miles from the Tucson International AIrport, the Lodge On The Desert is popular with couples and family travelers. Guests can enjoy an outdoor heated swimming pool and hot tub, a restaurant on site, and free parking.
The Hotel McCoy offers 3-star accommodations and features free bikes. Continental breakfast is available, there is a wellness area with a sauna and fitness center, and it’s in a great location!
Plan Your Trip to Tucson
After traveling consistently for over 10 years, we’ve come to trust and rely on a few websites to help us find the best deals on flights and accommodation.
Flights: Going is the first place we check when searching for cheap flights. If you sign up for their email alerts, you’ll receive flight deals at up to 90% off. I have traveled all over the world using their flight deals.
Accommodation: Booking.com offers savings on hotels, apartments, and villas in 80,000 destinations worldwide. You can browse hotel reviews and find the guaranteed best price on hotels for all budgets.
Travel Insurance: We never travel without a travel insurance policy because it’s not worth the risk! We use and trust Visitors Coverage, which we’ve used for the past 8 years.
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Dont forget the Titan Missile Museum in nearby Green Valley…good history lesson
I think that while Tucson has some great Mexican food people often get really overfixated on it and dont try the multiethnic foods of tucson- for example, my current favorite restaurant of all time is Zemams, which is Ethiopian food- there is good food from all kinds of ethnicities. that said Mexican food and culture is the most common and among the best as a whole. Some great places not on this list are: Zemams, Barrio Brewing Co., Miss Saigon’s (incredible vietnamese food), Blue willow, Prep and Pastry, Rocco’s little Chicago, El Charro(literally the oldest still running Mexican food restaurant in the United States. Ikkuyu(ramen), I’ve heard Roma Imports is really good (Italian), Café Desta (a Ethiopian/Jewish restaurant in a really cool place in the same building as a great market, called 5 points Market and restaurant. that corner called 5 points also has a place called La cabaña del bambino which I’ve heard is great. Estrella is a great Mexican bakery, I’ve heard this place called Tito and Pep is incredible, Pops is a super historic neighborhood comfort food place, for pizza there’s Empire, Brooklyn, Falora(which is in a pretty cool shopping place with Visible breakfast club and Barrio Bread, two classics)and Bear Canyon Pizza, a great pizza place with insane sized pizzas. and in gerenal Tucson is full of incredible food, look for it.
as for great neighborhoods and places, obviously Barrio Viejo, El Presidio, Barrio San Antonio, Barrio Santa Rosa, Ironwood, Pie Allen and Sam Hughes are all really cool historic areas that are quite walkable.
also, if you take bike paths and even better bike boulevards/routes, biking is actually super pleasant and probably a better way to experience the city, you just have to research it first.
Thank you for the great suggestions!
I think Mi Nidito is the best Mexican restaurant in Tucson. Well worth trying with their soups and carneseca tacos delicious chips. So Busi but worth the wait.
As a jogger I recommend Sabino Canyon along with hiking there as well! “A” Mountian is one of my favorite post jogging sunset views as well as Sabino Canyon
Please note that Old Tucson Studio closed months ago. It has been purchased by a private company and they have plans to upgrade and reopen it eventually.
I hope they do it justice! Only been there once, look forward to it reopening!
Mt Lemon is Northeast or north north east of Tucson.
Tohono Chul Park with its crenelated saguaro cactus and 40 acres of desert flaura and fauna with a museum, restaurant, gift shops and places to buy cacti.
The Tucson Boneyard: see aerial photos on the internet and one can see pkabes from the side of Kolb Road, e g., east are B-52s and west fighters of just north of Valencia Road.
Hacienda del Sol on Canpbell Road
Probably 300 great sunsets every year due to the desert dust picked up by the wind
Karchner Caverns – one of the best wet caves in the country
And on and on
Hacienda Del Sol in located on Hacienda Del Sol road…which you can access either driving south from Sunrise or north from River Rd.
It is a lovely resort and has a fabulous restaurant.
Another not mentioned is the Arizona Inn located near the University of Arizona. A Tucson gem!
I too, could go on and on…
Unfortunately Old Tuscon has been closed with no date of reopening. Very sad
As a Tucson native I can confirm that she is the first blogger to ACTUALLY have all of the best places in Tucson listed in this article. I love it!