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Tucson, Arizona Travel Guide
Last Updated: Jun-17-2014, Hits: 12,218, Rating: 4.00, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Tucson, Arizona Travel Guide Restaurants (126)
Hotels and Lodging (72)
Bars and Nightlife (49)
Attractions (45)
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Arizona Travel Forum (1)
Location: North America
Geography: Mountains, Desert, City
Vacation Type: Family
Popularity: Moderate Tourism
Costs: Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Golfing, Scenery, Cultural Attractions, Ecotourism, Hiking, Shopping, Spa & Wellness

Facts and Stats:
City population - 541,811
Metropolitan population - 1,023,320
Time Zone: Mountain Standard Time - GMT -1 (Do not observe daylight savings).
Telephone Area Code: 520
Country dialing code: 1
Languages: English
Electricity: 120v

For it's size, Tucson offers a wide range of outdoor and cultural activities. Hiking, biking and horseback riding provide a good way to see the beauty of the surrounding Sonoran Desert and Tucson is an excellent golf destination for those who prefer to stay in the city. The city is also culturally rich with an array of museums, theater, opera, ballet, and festivals like the famous Mariachi Festival. Don't miss their world reknowned observatories where you can view the stars like scientists do.

Brief History:
The Cochise built pit houses and used stone tools until about 300 A.D. Between 300 and 1450 A.D., the Hohokam culture thrives. The Pima and Tohono O'odham are the descendents of that advanced civilization, and have inhabited the region since the Hohokam decline.

Around 1540 the Coronado Expedition crosses Arizona in search of the "Seven Cities of Gold."

In 1692, Spanish missionaries looking for people to convert and subjects for the king, arrived in the valley to find the Indian village S-tukson ("black base"). Shortly after, Father Francisco Kino establishes the Mission San Xavier del Bac in 1699. It wasn't completed until 1797.

In 1775, Hugo O'Conor establishes the Tucson Presido. This year marks the official birthdate of the City of Tucson.

By 1804, about 1,000 people lived in Tucson - mostly Spanish, Mexicans, and Native Americans who made their living raising crops and livestock. After the Mexican Revolution of 1821, Tucson became part of Mexico. As trade opened between the East Coast and California, a new brand of Americans - trappers and traders - began traveling through Arizona.

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 brought even more outsiders to the region - an influx of people from the eastern U.S. looking for fortune in the mines. Some saw opportunity in the rough frontier town of Tucson and stayed to begin families.

Looking for a southern rail route, the U.S. negotiated the Gadsden Purchase with Mexico in 1854 and Arizona became a U.S. territory. The appeal of the area was not apparent to everyone. Several congressmen suggested the nation pay Mexico double the sale price to take Arizona back. Between 1867 and 1877, Tucson held the title of territorial capitol.

As the population of outsiders inhabiting the area grew, the native inhabitants defended their territory. Battles between the settlers and the Apaches plagued Tucson for several decades, distracting it from the Civil War. The 1860s were the days of the Wild West in Tucson, with arguments frequently ending in gunfire.

In 1880, the Southern Pacific Railroad reaches Tucson. The population grew to 8,000.

Around the turn of the century, Tucson began marketing itself as a sunshine city, attracting thousands of tuberculosis victims seeking a cure in its dry climate.

Arizona becomes the 48th state in the Union in 1912.

In late January 1934, five members of the Dillinger gang, including John Dillinger, were arrested in Tucson. They were five of the top six names on the FBI's first Public Enemy list.

During the territorial and early statehood periods, Tucson was Arizona's largest city and commercial center, while Phoenix was the seat of state government (beginning in 1889) and agriculture. The establishment of Tucson Municipal Airport increased its prominence. Between 1910 and 1920, Phoenix surpassed Tucson in population and has continued to do so. However, both Tucson and Phoenix have experienced among the highest growth rates in the United States.

Tucson is situated on an alluvial plain in the Sonoran desert, surrounded by five minor ranges of mountains: the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Tortolita Mountains to the north, the Santa Rita Mountains to the south, the Rincon Mountains to the east, and the Tucson Mountains to the west. The high point of the Santa Catalina Mountains is 9,157-foot Mount Lemmon, the southernmost ski destination in the continental U.S., while the Tucson Mountains include 4,687-foot Wasson Peak.

The city is divided into several distinct neighborhoods as follows:
  • Downtown/Central - In the center of the city is downtown and the University of Arizona. This is also the Tucson Arts district. This area is home to the smaller neighborhoods of Sam Hughes, Barrio Historico, Barrio Viejo, Armory Park, Tucson Country Club, Fairfield, Allen Pie, El Encanto, and others. Over the last several years, this section of the city has been engaged in redeveloping the area under a project known as Rio Nuevo.
  • South Tucson - A predominantly Hispanic neighborhood that has been plagued with property and violent crime. In fact, it has a crime rate 4x the national average, although some say that things are improving due to increased police patrols. Reportedly, there are excellent authentic Mexican restaurants and stores, although you should take care not to get taco-jacked when visiting here. Note that South Tucson is a separate 1x1 mile city that is often confused with the "Southside of Tucson". The Southside is the area south of South Tucson where the airport is located.
  • Southeast Tucson - The southeast features many horse properties, and increasing numbers of tract homes in the neighborhood of Santa Rita Ranch, located alongside of the Santa Rita Ranch golf course. Southeast Tucson is located just a few minutes from some of Tucson's largest employers such as Raytheon, IBM and Davis Monithan Air Force Base.
  • Southwest Tucson - This neighborhood is bordered by the Saguaro National Park West and Indian land. Mostly residential.
  • West Tucson - Mostly residential.
  • East Tucson - East Tucson is relatively new compared to other parts of the city, developed between the 1950s and the 1970s. East Tucson has above-average real estate values relative to the rest of the city and includes Saguaro National Park East. Tucson's "Restaurant Row" is also located on the east side.
  • North Tucson - North Tucson has many of the city's most upscale boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and homes. Also on the north side is the suburban community of Catalina Foothills, located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains just north of the city limits. Some of the Tucson area's major resorts are located in the Catalina Foothills as is La Encantada, an upscale outdoor shopping mall. The DeGrazia Gallery of the Sun is located near the intersection of Swan Road and Skyline Drive.
  • Northeast Tucson - The most attractive natural feature in the northeast is certainly Sabino Canyon, the most accessible part of the Catalinas, which teem with tourists, trams, and hikers on weekends, while still retaining its serene beauty.
  • Northwest Tucson - The expansive area northwest of the city limits is diverse, ranging from the rural communities of Catalina and parts of the town of Marana, to the rapidly growing, affluent town of Oro Valley in the western foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Many of the Tucson's golf courses and resorts are located in this area.
Click here for our map of Tucson's neighborhoods.

Tucson is approximately 50 miles from the art community of Tubac, 80 miles from Tombstone, 70 miles from Nogales, Mexico, and 115 miles south of the armpit known as Phoenix.

Not surprisingly given it's proximity to the Mexican border, Tucson is about 40% Hispanic and has a decent sized Native American population. The average age of Tucson residents according to the U.S. Census is on par with the rest of the country. However, during the winter months, retirees (snowbirds) migrate south from cold places to enjoy beautiful Tucson winter weather. If you show up during the winter, don't be surprised to often find yourself stuck driving 10 miles under the speed limit.

In contrast to the retirees, the winter population also swells due to the arrival of students at the University of Arizona. The school has over 35,000 students who will never know how awesome it is to be an Oregon Ducks fan.

Downtown is Tucson's cultural center and claims to be one of just 14 American cities to boast professional companies in theater, dance, symphony, and opera. Tucson also claims to have more working artists per capita than any city in the United States. In addition, the city has numerous museums on various subjects. See the "Attractions" section of this guide for specific information.

Food & Nightlife:
If you like Mexican food, then Tucson is a great place to pack on a few pounds. Of course, Mexican isn't the only cuisine served here, it is just the one Tucson does best. Make sure you try some prickly pear cactus food - it is like shrimp in Forrest Gump. You can get prickly pear ice cream, syrup, jam, cake, margaritas, candy, lemonade, salad dressing, etc. Other local ingredients include chilies, beans, squash, cilantro, mesquite flour, blue corn meal, and tropical fruits.

If you like the nightlife, you may want to go to a city that has one. In all seriousness, the downtown/university area is pretty hopping and has a variety of options, but elsewhere, the city practically shuts down after dark. The outlying areas mostly consist of chain restaurants and bars, and Tucson sorely lacks neighborhood watering holes. In lieu of bars and clubs, there are a number of performance arts opportunities as previously mentioned.

Tucson, and Arizona as a whole, is a very affordable place to live and vacation. Their property, food, gas, etc. are inexpensive compared to many places in the country. Wages are low as well, however, for the snowbirds who are not concerned about wages, this is an attractive place get a steal on a 2nd home.

Although there are expensive restaurants in the city, overall, the cost of eating out is lower than many other places you might find yourself. Tipping is the U.S. standard 15%.

Getting There and Around:
Most likely you will be flying to Tucson International Airport (TIA). TIA is a small, easy to use airport serviced by 8 airlines that average 60 departures per day. Tucson is a sprawling city which makes having a car a good idea as taxi fares could add up rather quickly.

If you need alternate transportation, Tucson's bus service is called Sun Tran. At the time of this writing, a single fare is $1.25 and a day pass can be purchased for $3. The Old Pueblo Trolley can take you from 8th St and 4th Ave to the University of Arizona for a fare of $1 each way. See their website for the route map.

In case you do need a taxi, try Yellow Cab (520-624-6611) or Discount Cab (520-388-9000).

You ought to seriously consider the time of year that you visit Tucson. In the summer, this place is only a few degrees cooler than hell. With the exception of a few crazy people, everybody spends the summer going from their air-conditioned house to their air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned business, etc. While you won't die, you also won't be able to get outdoors which is one of the draws of this area. The winter weather is fabulous with warm days and cool nights. Below is the current weather and monthly averages.

Month Avg High Avg Low Average Rainfall
January 66°F 42°F 1.04"
February 70°F 45°F 0.96"
March 75°F 49°F 0.88"
April 82°F 54°F 0.33"
May 91°F 63°F 0.20"
June 100°F 72°F 0.28"
July 101°F 77°F 1.93"
August 99°F 75°F 2.23"
September 95°F 71°F 1.24"
October 85°F 60°F 1.21"
November 74°F 48°F 0.68"
December 66°F 42°F 1.02"

Tips/Additional Information:
  • Be careful when walking through desert areas as there are rattlesnakes and scorpions around.
  • When doing ANY outdoor activities, take precautions against sunburn and heat stroke. Use sunblock and stay hydrated - drink a ton of water and then some more.
  • During the monsoon season (usually July - September), Tucson may experience flash flooding. Do NOT attempt to drive across a flooded road that is barricaded. If you become stranded, you will be issued a traffic citation by the police under the 1995 "stupid motorist law", fined in the amount of $2000, and ordered to pay for all rescue costs. If you have a child in the car, the rates go up from there.
  • This may seem like a stupid reminder, but when you are outside, watch out for cacti. Especially watch out for jumping cholla whose spines detach very easily and can make for a painful day. If you do become friendly with a jumping cholla, don't attempt to remove the spines with your hands. Use tweezers, pliers, a comb, etc. to remove them.
  • Midtown (specifically the section along Alvernon Road between Grant and Ft. Lowell) and the South section of the city (in the general area between I-10, I-19, and Valencia) are not the safest places to be, but there are no real attractions in these areas anyway.
  • Tucson has implemented automated cameras to enforce speed and red light violations at various locations. Rumour has it that your photo will be taken for being over the speed limit, however, a ticket will not be issued unless you are 11 miles over. Use this information at your own risk and feel free to let us know if you find otherwise.

  • Services and Contacts:
  • Police/Medical/Fire emergency - 911
  • Police Non-Emergency - 520-791-4444
  • Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau - 520-624-1817 or 800-638-8350

  • Photo Gallery

    User Reviews (1)

    Reviewed by: sloshed
    Review date: Oct-16-2009

    We go to Tucson about once a year (never in the summer) to visit family. We just got back yesterday from another good trip. Tucson is certainly different than what we are used to in Portland, however, there are some cool things to do here and good food to be eaten (we definitely look forward to eating good Mexican food). There is plenty to do in Tucson and when you are done with that, Tombstone, Tubac, Mexico, Kartchner Caverns, the Sonoran Desert, and other attractions are within driving distance. The negatives: The urban sprawl is out of hand, too many old people, very little nightlife. 

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