Truth time: we left Tucson. We left it two weeks ago and we're just finally beginning the grieving process. We LOVED this city and, in celebration of our time there, we've compiled a few of our favorite Tucson activities. Ordered by level of exertion, we hope you get a chance to experience them all!
1. Eat on a Patio (30 min to 2 hours). Really any patio will do. Tucson is just beautiful, especially in the winter when the weather is perfect for patio sitting. Bonus treat: there are no bugs! This can obviously be accomplished on one's own patio, but a few of our other favorite patios include the Baja Cafe, the Hotel Congress and Poco and Mom's.
2. Star Gaze on Mt. Lemmon. Tucson and NASA are two peas in a pod, but you don't have to pay for the observatory shows to be wooed by the southwest sky. Just drive up the Mt. and look up!
3. Stroll at Meet Me at Maynards (30 min to 3 hours). This free event encourages everyone to get outside and get moving. Check in between 5:00 and 6:30 on Monday evenings and walk, run, or scooter your way through a 3-4 mile loop. Return to the plaza behind the Congress Hotel by 7:00 to hear the band play, enjoy a $2 beer, and perhaps win a sweet raffle prize. Even if you aren't a raffle winner, you can enjoy discounts from dozens of local restaurants. The event is free, encourages exercise, supports local business, and builds community. *swoon*
4. Attend a Downtown Festival (30 min to all day). Tucson has tons of free events happening around the city. We attended an art festival on 4th ave, the bike swap meet, and the annual folk festival. There are of course many others and each one makes for excellent people watching.
5. Visit the Titan Missile site (1 hour). Paul insisted this be on the list, although I have to admit I could have passed on this one. If you like nuclear fall-out, engineering master pieces, and intricate protocols, then this is a once in a lifetime experience.
6. Visit the Desert Museum (2+ hours). There are so many local museums we didn't make it to--the art museum and the air and space museum come to mind. Still, we did make it the desert museum and it was worth the hype. This mostly outdoor museum/zoo feels more like an education stroll than a dusty exhibit. I went twice.
7. Bike the Saguaro East Loop (45 min to 1 hour). The Sonoran desert is one of 2 places in the world where the magnificent saguaro cacti grow! Any hiking in Tucson will give you great views of Saguaro forests, but I loved biking the 8 mile, one way loop in Saguaro National Park-East. Since it's one way, bikers can pedal side by side without worrying about traffic. The loop is pretty zippy except for one long and steady climb near mile 4.
8. Swim in Romero Pools (3+ hours). This is a steady 6 mile round trip, desert hike. I was fascinated by water in the desert, so many of Tucson's hiking trails lead to seasonal water and it's so beautiful in the desert. Romero pools is a popular place, but if you go just beyond the initial set of pools (where 90% of hikers will stop) you'll find even better pools and falls for dipping in. Desert hiking can be very hot and sweaty and the pools are so cool and refreshing! I was lucky enough to hike past the pools and complete a 3 day backpack trip with a dear friend. All of these activities are better with a buddy who is up for an adventure.
9. Hike Marshall Gulch to Wilderness of Rocks (2+ hours). Too hot for you in the valley? Escape the heat by starting your hike on top of Mt. Lemmon. At over 8,000 feet, this summit in the Catalinas is always 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the city and it looks completely different from the desert hiking you'll find below. The Marshall Gulch trail is pretty in and of itself. but continue farther down the wilderness of rocks trail to see some stunning hoodoos. Go as far as you'd like, but keep in mind that hiking at higher elevations is a physical challenge in and of itself.
10. Bike the Loop (5+ hours) Tucson is one of the country's most bike friendly cities. I consistently found that drivers were courteous and roads were set up with cyclists in mind. Still, it's nice to have this 50(ish) mile loop of shared-use path circling Tucson. There are a few sections that travel on city streets to connect parts of the loop that aren't quite finished, but for the most part it's beautiful and easy riding. Leave by 9 am, stop for lunch downtown, and make it home in time to take an afternoon nap.
11. Hike the Bear Canyon Loop (6+ hours). This was the second hike I went on in Tucson. I do wonder if it was a favorite because the hiking terrain was so new to me--I loved being able to look around ALL the time at the vistas (so different from wooded, easy coast hiking). We started on the Bear Canyon trail and looped around the backside of Sabino Canyon. It felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere and the canyon walls and waterfalls were breathtaking. Be sure to bring $10 for the trolly down, unless you want to hike a full 17 miles. The trolly will cut off the last 4.
12. Bike up Mt. Lemmon (for me-4 hours but there are people who do it in 2). If you're a cycling enthusiast, this is a must. Mt. Lemmon is a pretty famous training spot for the pros and one of the top rated bike climbs in the world. It is 25+ miles and over 5,000 feet of elevation gain. I loved how I started biking among saguaros and ended the climb among snow and ponderosa pine trees. While it's a big accomplishment, don't be too daunted, it's a gentle, but looong climb.
Lucky 13. Summit Mt. Wrightson (6 hours). This one is at the bottom because, in addition to being a 12 mile hike, it's also an hour outside of Tucson. Still--the hiking in Madera canyon is so different from the Rincons and the Catalinas, the drive is worth it. This peak feels more like an east coast climb, with a true summit and panoramic views. I love the biodiversity of Arizona and this peak is a great way to see it all for yourself.
This is just a short list of all our Tucson adventures. We give Tucson all the stars for things to do, eat, see, and experience. Now, on to the next adventure!