It’s a long drive from Marfa to Tucson! We don’t normally like to pull eight-hour driving days, but we were so excited to get to Tucson that we decided to push through, and then packed our Tucson time with as much eating, drinking, and hiking as possible–which is easy to do, since Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy (the first in the US! San Antonio is now too!), has around 20 breweries (the list from these travelers puts our beer tourism to shame), and is surrounded by five mountain ranges and the Sonoran Desert. What’s not to love?
For the second time (we first Airstreamed in Tucson in 2019), we stayed at Sentinel Peak RV Park, the closest park to downtown Tucson. The park itself isn’t terribly scenic, but it has all the basic amenities, and the location is fab. Public transportation is available outside the campground, downtown is a short drive away, and the Mercado San Agustín commercial district is even closer. Walking to the MSA area is a breeze, and you *can* walk to downtown, but be careful! Tucson apparently is not much of a pedestrian town, and we found that drivers were not very pedestrian-aware!
Our favorite food in Tucson since we started visiting 25 years ago (?!) (remember from last Tucson post, J’s brother got his PhD and started his family here) is at The Little One, formerly known as Cafe Poca Cosa. It’s a tiny downtown carryout-only (in early 2021 at least) cafe with tables on the sidewalk out front, and local artisans gifts inside by the register. We ordered a huge lunch and then a million a la cart items to stock our fridge.
Last time in Tucson we loved Boca Tacos so much that it was on the top of our must-eat list for this visit. This time we loved it a little less. Their outdoor seating was very pandemic-friendly, and I very much enjoyed the salmon taco and cauliflower taco, but J’s experience was just ok. The nighttime scene on Fourth Avenue seemed a little weirder than pre-pandemic: fewer places open, more aggressive panhandlers, and very loud cars cruising up and down.
We ended up getting another meal from Boca, this time carryout salads for a picnic in nearby Catalina Park (not to be confused with Catalina State Park, our next destination!). They make a good, BIG salad–ask what proteins you can add as a topping.
The best new (to us) food we had in Tucson (actually South Tucson, for some reason designated as a separate city despite being completely surrounded by Tucson and just a mile from downtown) was a recommendation from our Southern Arizona expert, Uncle Jim: Taqueria Pico de Gallo. They have all the authentic tacos your taco-craving heart desires, and even non-traditionals like fish and shrimp for pesky pescatarians like me. Unfortunately, they were out of fruit cups when we stopped, and unfortunately, J wouldn’t split a horchata with me, and I didn’t think I could handle the sugar all by myself. If you go, please get a fruit cup and a horchata and tell me all about them.
I think I’ve mentioned this before: in the early days of Airstreamdog, we’d try to visit as many unique breweries in a town as possible–as in, not go to a brewery twice if there were other breweries to be tried. I guess we’ve gotten lazy, but nowadays, if we find breweries we really like, we’re more likely to return to those than to try an unknown. Sorry for you, dear reader, but it has worked out pretty well for us.
So, the two breweries we visited were not new to us, but two we knew we liked:
Pueblo Vida has our favorite beer in Tucson. In the pandemic-times, they are just a to-go window, but they’ll let you sample beers they have on tap.
Borderlands has a big, shady, dog-friendly patio, and yummy IPAs and sours, which are our go-tos.
Hotel Congress has been a Tucson landmark for over 100 years, and its Cup Cafe serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktails. We had a great time on the fantastic dog-friendly patio people-watching and listening to live music. How often do you get to do that these days?
We had to get a drink at the MSA Annex down the street, one of our favorite spots last visit. It’s a very pandemic-friendly spot, with fooderies and drinkeries operating out of shipping containers surrounding a central courtyard with tables. We were lucky to grab a table to enjoy the sun and a cocktail from Westbound.
We were drawn to The Hut, a tiki bar on Fourth Avenue, by the sounds of a Grateful Dead cover band playing as we walked by. I wasn’t able to finish my sugar-bomb of a cocktail, but they have an awesome patio and the band was really good!
Somehow we hadn’t come across The Boxyard before! It’s a(nother) super cool cluster of shipping containers serving food and drink around a central courtyard, on Fourth Avenue. We got coffee from Freight Train, which unfortunately has closed since, but apparently another coffee shop will be taking their place.
Looking to do some early afternoon work, we tried to get coffee at Decibel Coffee Works in the MSA Annex, but they close at 1:00 and we missed them. We asked a fellow patron also stymied by the shop’s hours for a coffee+patio recommendation and ended up at Caffe Luce by U of A, a nice spot for computer time.
Our first hike in Tucson was Sweetwater Trail to Wasson Peak, a pleasant 9-mile out-and-back starting near town; it wasn’t toooo crowded, and has lots of saguaros and big views from the peak. Uncle Jim likes the Hugh Norris trail better, and a hiker we passed recommended the Kings Canyon trail, so maybe we should have done this loop instead. A wrong turn on the way to the trailhead took us to Sweetwater Preserve and we’d remember it for later…
Then it was Bugsy’s turn to hike (she only goes on every other or every third hike now because of her bad back) so we ventured to Madera Canyon, 45 minutes south of Tucson. The scenery there is quite different–less desert, more forest–and the Madera Canyon Nature Trail is a pretty 5.3-mile out-and-back through the canyon, past prime birding areas. It was really crowded after 10:00, so go early!
For our last hike, we wanted something close to town and Bugsy-friendly, so we returned to Sweetwater Preserve, which we’d spotted from our first hike to Wasson Peak. The preserve is absolutely gorgeous, but again, go early! It’s very popular with hikers, trail runners, equestrians, and mountain bikers. Getting passed repeatedly by bikes isn’t super relaxing, but because of the location, scenery, and dog-friendliness, we’ll be back. If you’re a saguaro fan (and who isn’t) this place is for you!
One of our new favorite activities is disc golf, and we’ve had fun seeking out courses on this trip, like in Austin. Tucson has several courses, and on our last morning in town we played a quick round at the Santa Cruz River course (not located at Santa Cruz River Park; yes we made that mistake) and it was a good time. Not super scenic, but a nice, open course with a mountainous backdrop and some horsey neigh-bors.
- Hike the 12-mile Yetman Trail on this list of best hikes
- Hike and maybe camp in Cochise Stronghold, part of Coronado National Forest
- Get a cocktail at the Ritz Carlton: I read somewhere that the cocktail lounge has a patio with gorgeous views. I want to relive the fun we had feeling fancy at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City!
- Visit the Museum of Miniatures
- We’ll have more nearby to-dos on upcoming posts because our next three stops are in the general Tucson area!
We love Tucson and can’t wait to return! Keep sending us your recommendations and we’ll add them to our list!