City blends urban sophistication with desert charm
Tucson, a city of more 500,000 in southern Arizona, is one of the fastest-growing big cities in the U.S., thanks in part to the 350 days of sunshine annually, which make the region very appealing to tourists.
Tucson is bisected by Interstate 10, which runs across the southern U.S., and Interstate 19, which runs south toward Nogales and the U.S. border with Mexico. I-19 is the only interstate highway that uses kilometer posts instead of mileposts, although the speed limits are marked in miles per hour instead of kilometers per hour.
City of Shows and Festivals
Tucson became a tourist attraction in part due to its clean dry air, which attracted many veterans who had been gassed in World War I and were in need of respiratory therapy.
Today, tourism is a major industry in Tucson, bringing in $2 billion a year and over 3½ million visitors annually due to Tucson's numerous resorts, hotels and attractions.
One of the major annual attractions is the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show and its associated shows, all held generally in the first two weeks of February. These associated shows (which include gems, jewelry, fossils) are held throughout the city at over 45 different sites. This Tucson show is the largest of its kind in the world.
For the past 25 years, the Tucson Folk Festival has taken place the first Saturday and Sunday of May in downtown Tucson's El Presidio Park. In addition to nationally known headline acts each evening, the festival highlights over 100 local and regional musicians on five stages in one of the largest free festivals in the country. All stages are within easy walking distance. In addition, there are numerous workshops, events for children, sing-alongs, and a popular singer/songwriter contest. Musicians typically play 30-minute sets, supported by professional audio staff volunteers. A variety of food and crafts are available at the festival, as well as local microbrews.
Another popular event held in February, which is early spring in Tucson, is the Fiesta de los Vaqueros, or rodeo week. Western wear is seen throughout the city as corporate dress codes are cast aside during the Fiesta. The Fiesta de los Vaqueros marks the beginning of the rodeo season in the U.S.
Mariachi music is popular and influential in Tucson, and the city is home to a large number of Mariachi musicians and singers. Mariachi is celebrated annually at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference.
Casino Del Sol Resort & Conference Center and its sister casino, Casino of the Sun, are owned and operated by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and have been in operation for 20 years. The Tohono O'odham Tribe owns and operates the Desert Diamond Casino & Entertainment.
Points of Interest
Connect with the natural world at Tohono Chul Park, named by Travel and Leisure as one of the great botanical gardens of the world. It features themed gardens, nature trails, art galleries, classes, creatures and a charming tea room.
Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a remarkable fusion zoo (and aquarium), botanical garden, natural history museum and art gallery. Experience live animal presentations showcasing a variety of desert animals. Don't miss Raptor Free Flight where untethered birds of prey display extraordinary aerial skills—plus the Warden Aquarium "Rivers to the Sea" exhibition.
The Mission San Xavier del Bac is acclaimed as the finest example of mission architecture in U.S. Southwest. Located on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, this active parish now offers free guided tours by volunteer docents who explain the mission's history and its lavishly decorated interior, the richest and most ornate in the Southwest.
Tucson's interesting architecture, lively performance venues and diverse museums and galleries come alive on a downtown walking tour. Or, ride the Old Pueblo Trolley, which moves between downtown Tucson, Fourth Avenue (a unique historic tree lined shopping district) and University of Arizona entertainment districts.
Downtown attractions include the Hotel Congress, the Art Deco Fox Theater, the Rialto Theatre and the El Charro Café, the city's oldest restaurant. Over 100 years of aerospace history can be explored at the Pima Air & Space Museum, where 300 aircraft are displayed on 80 acres of land.
Just west of downtown Tucson is Sentinel Peak, which sports a giant "A" in honor of the University of Arizona. The "A" is red, white and blue, except when it is white or another color decided by a biennial election.
The Tucson Mall is Tucson's largest shopping center with Dillards, JC Penney, Macy's and Sears.
South Tucson has a predominately Mexican-American population and is widely known for its many Mexican restaurants and the architectural styles, which include bright outdoor murals.
The five mountain ranges surrounding Tucson offer endless opportunities for climbers of every skill level, from beginners to seasoned, wall-crawling veterans.
One of Arizona's top rock-climbing destinations is Mount Lemmon, a short drive from Tucson in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Rising 9,157 feet above the Sonora Desert floor, Mount Lemmon has more than 1,200 climbing routes, ranging from single pitch clip-ups to multi-pitch routes.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park and Kartchner Caverns State Park offer cave tours.
Cyclists are a common sight in Tucson thanks to the appealing climate, award-winning commuter bike routes, off-road mountain biking trails and bike facilities throughout the city. Tucson hosts the El Tour de Tucson each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and attracts as many as 10,000 bicyclists from all over the world.
More than 500 species of birds call the Tucson area home. Hummingbirds can be seen year round, and specialty birds like gray hawk, red-faced warbler, and vermilion flycatchers can be found within a short drive of metropolitan Tucson.
During spring and fall migration it is possible to see 150 or more species in a single day. Summer brings spectacular rarities including hummingbird species found nowhere else in the United States. In winter more than 20,000 sandhill cranes, myriad species of waterfowl, sparrows, and raptors seek warm temperatures and a winter's rest in the region. Several communities host birding festivals throughout the year.
For More Information:
Tucson Visitor Center
Arizona Office of Tourism