What do scintillating sunshine, starry skies, and spiny saguaro have in common? Well, other than posing problems for people who have difficulty pronouncing sibilants, they can all be found in Tucson, Arizona, gateway to the west.
Located in Pima County, south of Phoenix and north of Nogales, Tucson is home to the US Air Force’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where thousands of mothballed airplanes are parked, and the University of Arizona. But, for the traveler who wants a diverse experience when traveling to the American west, Tucson is truly a gateway to both the old and new.
Tucson took a hit in January 2011 when six people were killed and nineteen injured (including US Representative Gabrielle Giffords) in a shooting at the Casas Adobes Safeway supermarket parking lot. The incident highlighted the prevalence of a gun culture in Arizona and exposed some cleavages between those who want more controls over access to guns and the diehards who cling stubbornly to the ‘right to bear arms.’
Despite this tragic incident, though, Tucson remains one of my favorite ports of call. In a state that is predominantly conservative, Tucson is an oasis of middle of the road, even liberal, culture. A mixture of the old west and modern culture, more diverse than any other place in Arizona, a city where you can chose between backpacking or off-road driving in the desert or attend an international book fair.
Tucson’s airport, located not too far from downtown, is served by a number of airlines and has flights from the west coast, the upper northwest, and through Dallas, the east coast. There are also flights to and from Mexico and points south. Interstate 10 traverses the city, making it easy to arrive by car, and it’s only a few hours’ drive to El Paso, Texas or the west coast.
Things to Do
Whether you’re looking for a taste of the Old West, want to play golf at some world-class courses, or experience the diverse cultures of the American southwest, Tucson has something you’ll find to your liking.
Just north of Tucson is Oro Valley, a distinctive community of picture postcard views and a wide range of art and cultural offerings. A small, but diverse community of about 44,000 residents, Oro Valley has a small town feel but a big city attitude, and was named one of the top 10 places in the US in 2008. The town is famous for its public art and hosts four annual arts festivals.
Not incorporated until 1977, Marana has been in existence since the late 1800s. In 2007, this small community, with its close association with the historical traditions of the past, hosted the Accenture Match Play Championship, putting it firmly on the map of places that are ‘must’ visits.
Military buffs, especially fans of military aircraft, will love cruising past the aircraft storage facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Known as the ‘airplane bone yard,’ this facility has thousands of planes parked in row upon row that are visible from the highway, including B-52 bombers and Russian MIGs.
There’s always something interesting going on in or near Tucson. Every January, it Sis host to the New Year’s Powwow and Indian Craft Market as well as Dillinger Days, marking the capture in Tucson of John Dillinger, the FBI’s ‘Public Enemy Number 1.’ The Tucson Festival of Books, a celebration of reading and literacy, features workshops and activities for all ages at the University of Arizona, and has appearances by hundreds of world-renown authors.
This is just a tiny sampling of the many things you can find to do in Arizona’s most picturesque city. From world-class golf of the Accenture Match Play Championship to the La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo and Parade, you’ll find every day in or around Tucson packed with fun and adventure. Home to some of the most fantastic species of birds in North America, southern Arizona is a haven to bird watchers, and Tucson is a convenient base from which to stage birding expeditions.
Tucson and the communities in close proximity offer a great opportunity for acquiring southwestern arts, craft, and jewelry, and the city has an eclectic offering of cuisines from all over the world, from traditional southwestern to Mexican to European.
Where to Stay
There are a lot of choices in accommodations in Tucson, from hotels to luxury resorts to modest bed and breakfast, many of which are also tourist attractions in themselves. You can experience the Old West at an authentic western ranch or stay at a luxury golf resort with a world-class course and a fantastic view of mountains and desert. There’s something for every taste and budget.
Here are two of my favorites; the first offers accommodations at under $100 per room night, while the second starts at over $200.
Best Western Plus Innsuites Tucson Foothills Hotel & Suites
6201 N. Oracle Road
Tucson, AZ 85704
JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa
3800 W. Starr Pass Blvd.
Tucson, AZ 85745
For more information on hotels in Tucson, click on the following link: