If you’re looking for a unique weekend getaway location, put Tucson, Arizona on your list of must-go-there destinations. You’ll find a diverse city full of activities, entertainment and great food, all dished up in a sumptuous desert locale.
A walk downtown will give you a great overview of this most unusual city. You’ll come across just a few skyscrapers, but the architectural variety in most buildings will hint at the town’s eclectic history. Enjoy the colorful Spanish tile roof of the old Tucson Courthouse dome, then wander over to St. Augustine Cathedral and cool off in the shade of a palm tree cast against the church wall. Visit the Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón to see where this settlement officially began, and discover how it was destroyed in an Apache raid. Walk down 6th Street, enjoying the Warehouse Arts District, along with a great variety of eateries. Then take in the many attractions in the area, like those listed below.
San Xavier del Bac Mission
Tucson’s cultural mix began with the Spanish, whose priests explored the area to establish missions ministering to local Native Americans. Padre Eusebio Kino founded San Xavier del Bac Mission in 1692 on the Tohono O’odham Indian settlement southwest of the current city. The natives had resided in this area for centuries, but warring tribes of Apaches raized the original church. So the church you see today was built between 1783 and 1797, although it is still incomplete.
Known as The White Dove of the Desert, San Xavier is the oldest European structure in Arizona. Under current renovations, the stunning interior of the chapel looks much as it did when originally built. At that time, sculptures of the saints were created by artisans from Mexico, then carried to the Mission by donkey, with clothing for them then made from gesso. Paintings and icons line all of the chapel walls and the gilded altar is ornately adorned. Don’t forget to look up, either! The entire complex is a wonderful artistic and spiritual oasis in the desert.
Venture north of town about 35 miles to enter another world. Here you will find a huge glass and chrome atrium campus in the midst of the Sonoran Desert called Biosphere 2. Built as a massive science experiment, this research facility houses seven different ecosystems including a rainforest (with ocean), a swamp and grasslands. In 1991 eight scientists were “sealed off” in Biosphere for two years, with the intent to grow their own food, manage their own atmosphere and study the idea of a self-sustaining colony.
Since that experiment, the Biome has become a scientific research institute, with classrooms and an amazing tour. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to take a guided walk through the various ecosystems and see the plant and animal life that survive there!
If nature in the midst of city traffic is what you need, then explore Tohono Chul, a mixture of beautiful gardens, art galleries, museum shops and a bistro located on one of the busiest corners in Tucson. You won’t hear honking horns and screeching tires on this verdant plot of land, however. It is truly a respite, wrapped in Mother Nature’s sound proofing vegetation … a place for cool relaxation and reflection.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is actually split in half by the city of Tucson, lying on both the western and eastern side of the city limits. If you haven’t wandered through an entire forest of these giant cacti, you must visit! Time your tour to coincide with the various desert “blooms.” In late February and into March, several different species of cactus sprout colorful flowers, and late in April the gentle giants that the monument is named for put on a show, as well.
Pima Air & Space Museum and The Boneyard
At the south end of town, the Pima Air & Space Museum offers a unique opportunity to see over 300 historical aircraft. With a space gallery, World War II planes, commercial airplanes and more, it might take you two days to get through! Not to worry: they offer a two day pass! And while your purchasing that ticket, be sure to make a reservation for the AMARG tour.
It seems everyone is fascinated by the largest aircraft boneyard in the world, officially known as AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group). Nothing says “military precision” like hundreds and HUNDREDS of aircraft meticulously lined up wing-to-wing in the desert. Each plane, jet, or helicopter is efficiently wrapped for protection from the elements, as many are “rejuvenated” to fly again. Some others like the B-52 bombers you’ll see, are parted out, as many a bomber still flying is 80 to 90 years old! Still others are scrapped.
The tour is on air-conditioned buses, as you will be escorted around Davis-Monthan Air Base with a very knowledgeable guide. You’ll have the opportunity to see the B-52’s, A-10 Thunderbolts, F-4 Phantom fighters, and so many more. Get your ticket early to tour The Boneyard, because the tours sell out, sometimes days in advance.
If you are looking to stretch your legs, look no farther than Sabino Canyon. Just north of Tucson, the canyon offers tram tours with nine stops for walking. Or if you would prefer, stop at the visitors center for information on the hiking trails to the backcountry. You’ll find an interpretive trail there. Then take off on your own to enjoy the many pools and cascades along Sabino Creek, and note the wide variety of birds that inhabit this part of Arizona.
Food, food, and more food
Tucson is known for its many fine restaurants, a few attached to resorts within the area. But it has a rich collection of moderately priced cafes and diners, as well. As a verified penny pincher, I have found a great number of eateries that haven’t broken the bank.
If Mexican food is your goal, definitely try Poco and Mom’s Cantina – great food, great prices, and because of that, it is always busy! Visit Beyond Bread and discover the precursor to Panera Bread – it ‘rises’ above all others! And if you’re looking for pizza like you can only get in Italy, check out Fiamme Pizza – delizioso!
All this travel and eating requires some down time. Why not relax at any one of a number of entertainment venues?
For an interactive stage show, get a seat at the Gaslight Theater. You’ll get corny jokes, improvisation and all the popcorn you can eat! The Fox Theater downtown is an intimate entertainment hall, bringing in musical performers from a variety of genres. Or disappear into the stage show at Mystery and Magic Dinner Theater Playhouse. You can also mosey on down to Tombstone for a shootout at the OK Corral.
Your Weekend Getaway to Tucson Awaits
A very RV-friendly town, Tucson offers camping amenities in every price range. It caters to the winter snow birds that flock to southern Arizona’s warm deserts. In fact, if you are building a rental business through Outdoorsy, Tucson would be a great destination for your customers! And if you are just looking for a stimulating new destination for a weekend getaway, this diverse town has everything you need!