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As the heart of the Southwest, Tucson, Arizona is an adventurous weekend escape. Nestled in a valley, surrounded by towering mountains and speckled with saguaros, the city has a long history. Frequently it is known as a college town, but recently, it’s home to Arizona’s second-largest city and a trending food scene.

In 2015, Tucson became the first American city to be designated as a “City of Gastronomy” by UNESCO. So it should come with no surprise when the list of recommended restaurants is long.

A Weekend Guide to Tucson, Arizona

Tucson may have an exciting and trending food scene, but in addition to that, there is a sense of place. You’re inescapably in the desert. The desert shapes much of Tucson you see today. From historic architecture like adobe homes to regional cuisine influenced by Sonoran traditions, the desert has had some hand in it. It’s an eco-system that reaches far beyond the frequent cactuses you’ll see.

A Weekend Guide to Tucson, Arizona

Whether you come to hike the rolling hills of Saguaro National Park or sit poolside at a chic, design hotel in the desert, Tucson is an ideal destination for those looking for a change of pace. An opportunity to appreciate that good things come slowly. And amidst it all, open to finding that the desert is home to wondrous discoveries.

Here’s how to spend a weekend in Tucson, Arizona

A Weekend Guide to Tucson, Arizona

Before You Go

When to Visit Tucson: This is a very personal question of how much heat can you take. The summer months can be hot, requiring earlier starts to the day. In contrast, the winter months can be quite cold. The sweet spot would be mid-fall and early Spring (plus you’ll see the blooming cactuses).

Amount of Time in Tucson: Three nights and two full days is a good amount of time to do a deep-dive, no-rush experience of the city and surrounding area.

Getting to Tucson: Tucson Airport has daily flights to multiple destinations across the U.S. Alternatively, Phoenix airport is an hour and a half away and could fly into there.

Getting around in Tucson: A car is necessary for Tucson to explore the area. The city is spread out and to visit the nearby sights you’ll want a car.

A Weekend Guide to Tucson, Arizona

Where to Stay in Tucson, Arizona

Posada by The Joshua Tree House: Reason alone to visit, this 5-suite inn by the dynamic duo, Sara and Rich Combs (the Joshua Tree House founders) is a dream. They restored and renovated a stunning inn that is only five minutes from the western entrance of Saguaro National Park (about 30 minutes from downtown Tucson).

It’s hard to put into words how beautiful and restorative a stay is at this inn. Set with spacious suites decked out with tasteful design and wonderfully blended in with its surroundings, you’ll want to reserve a suite here far in advance.

Search for more Airbnbs in Tucson

Best Restaurants in Tucson, Arizona

Dining in Tucson can range from local taquerias to exquisite and upscale food. This range of food makes it exciting to get a taste of both when there. Here’s a curated list of restaurants in Tucson to try. (* indicate places personally tried, the rest come recommended from our friends who live locally).

*Seis Kitchen (Mercado San Agustin location): Some of the best fresh tacos and Mexican cuisine had in Tucson. I’d come back twice for their quesadilla that was cooked extra crispy.

Agustin Kitchen: Came highly recommended for a more upscale dining experience for dinner, with a French take on American classics.

*Penca: Another favorite for their happy hour (or dinner) as their flavorful and more modern tacos were amazing as was the sangria.

A Weekend Guide to Tucson, Arizona

*Welcome Diner: If you’re looking for classic comfort food with a modern twist, head here. Their fried chicken is incredible, popcorn cauliflower, and mac & cheese is a must.

Time Market: A great local market to pick up provisions and sandwiches or pizza.

Five Points Market & Restaurant: A more casual market that also offers a great brunch menu.

*Taquería Juanitos: We looked all over for a local taco shop and this one came highly recommended. It exceeded our expectations and was some of the best tacos had in the past years.

Maynards Market & Kitchen: An upscale restaurant known for French cuisine and set in the historic train station.

*Exo Bar: If you’re looking to try the local mezcal or cocktail bar, come here. We did a mezcal tasting one night and had a wonderful introduction to the local Sonoran varieties plus the cocktails were great.

*Get coffee at: Presta Coffee Roasters, Cartel Coffee, and Exo.

Things To Do in Tucson, Arizona

Spend a day in Saguaro National Park.

You could easily spend the majority of a day exploring the beautiful Saguaro National Park. I’d kick it off with a scenic hike through King’s Canyon in the western section, just outside the park. Other trails include Hugh Norris, Signal Hill, and the Desert Discovery Trail.

Afterward, I’d drive the dirt, Bajada Loop Drive to get back further into the park. You’ll come across some of the tallest saguaros in the park here and gives you a chance to get some great views. You can stop as well along the way at different pullouts and explore.

Explore the Desert Museum.

One of the more wonderful surprises found on the trip was a morning at the Desert Museum. We had no idea it was a conservation zoo for only local animals, so we had no idea what to expect. The enclosures are stunning and set in the desert, where local fauna and flora are. Well worth a visit for a few hours. Tip: head early in the morning to see the animals when they are active.

Eat lunch at Mercado San Agustin and shop locally at the MSA Annex.

This part of Tucson is wonderful for a lunch, perusing of shops, and even grabbing a drink. The MSA Annex is just down the street and offers multiple vendors with local goods by artisans. We spent a few hours here exploring one afternoon.

A Weekend Guide to Tucson, Arizona

Do a mezcal tasting.

At night, head to Exo bar for a Mezcal tasting that features a range of mezcals. Their menu is extensive and offers a few different tastings depending on your palette.

A Weekend Guide to Tucson, Arizona

Walk the Barrio Viejo

Near downtown, the Barrio Viejo is a neighborhood lined with historic adobe homes. All very colorful, it’s a great neighborhood to explore.

Tour Mission San Xavier del Bac.

A great thing to do while near the airport (10 minutes away), this mission has an ornate church to explore. It’s really pretty, the bright white exterior pops in the desert. You could spend maybe thirty minutes or so here.

Bonus Photography Tip – Nightime Photos

One incredible part of being in the desert is nighttime photography is great. The reduced amount of ambient light means you can really capture incredible photos of the nighttime sky and stars. You’ll want to be somewhere where there are no street lights.

You’ll need a tripod and a camera (a lens that goes down to f/4 or f/2.8).

Quick settings guide:

  1. Place the camera on a tripod and set your camera to manual mode
  2. Go to your lowest aperture or f stop around f/1.8 or f/4
  3. Set your manual focus to the maximum focal length (∞)
  4. Set shutter speed to 0.8-1.0″ (seconds) and ISO to ~5000
  5. Use a remote control or timed photo to take the photo

These settings are a good starting place to see what you can capture using a standard tripod. To brighten the image, you could slow down the shutter speed. The relatively short shutter speed (and high ISO) is intended to reduce star trails. You’ll be surprised how much they move in a 10-20″ exposure! To shoot longer exposures at lower ISO, a star tracking tripod mount will give you the best results. But, the above will work for a very quick and easy nighttime photo starting point!

Travel Planning & Travel Insurance

Get travel insurance here — I trust World Nomads as their price point is affordable and I’ve personally have been reimbursed for flight cancellation and more.

For a downloadable travel itinerary that you can customize, see here:

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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

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I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

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  1. Being a Native Tucsonian I thought your article was great! You mentioned several fun things to do in the downtown Tucson area, and I loved that you found a privately owned place to stay that looked to be run by some great local Tucson friends. I would, however, like to point out that the East Tucson/ Vail area of the city is equally fantastic and very different from the more crowded city center. I would advise anyone reading your article to make sure they check out this area as well, (and don’t miss out on visiting Colossal Cave), it’s an absolutely beautiful mountain area near Sahuaro National Monument East. There’s so much to do in our city, and as long as you are visiting during the months of October through May, you will love it here! Thank you for you article, and come back and see us soon!

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