Seven nights in Tucson, AZ (visit #4)–Tucson for Christmas trip

We visited Tucson in December 2023/January 2024 as part of our Tucson for Christmas trip. Read about our first trip in 2018 here, our second in 2021 here, our third in 2022 here, and our Tucson Favorites here!

our favorite Tucson mural
our favorite mural in Tucson

This post combines a stay of five nights with a separate two-night stopover: we drove two hours south from White Tank Mountain Regional Park to meet family in Tucson and stayed five nights with them (not with them–we stayed in the Airstream and they stayed elsewhere), and then after two nights in Catalina State Park and a New Years trip to Prescott, we returned to Tucson for a couple more nights.

Since this is our fourth Tucson post (really the fifth, counting our Favorites post), I’ll just cut to the chase and list the things we did!

Campground

Bugsy and the Airstream at Sentinel Peak RV Park

We always stay at Sentinel Peak RV Park when we’re in Tucson. No reason to look elsewhere. On a non-campground note, J’s mom spent a night at Hotel Congress, and then the non-Airstreaming fam stayed in an AirBnB. When our matriarch checked into Hotel Congress, they repeatedly warned her that it’s a very loud hotel, and go figure, she didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Be warned!

Bugsy on Christmas morning
Bugsy in the AirBnB on Christmas morning

The AirBnB was mostly good but had some issues; generally, it was a good base of operations for our extended family.

Eating

Bugsy waiting for Christmas breakfast
Bugsy waiting for Christmas breakfast

The problem with Tucson is that there’s too much incredible food and we always end up hurting ourselves. Each visit, we aim to combine tried-and-true favorites with new-to-us places, and this trip we made it to two new spots: Charro del Rey for Christmas Eve dinner with the fam, and Tanias 33 for breakfast burritos to take hiking.

halibut at Charro del Rey
my halibut at Charro del Rey

Dinner at Charro del Rey was delicious! We booked it for Christmas Eve not knowing anything about it other than they could accommodate our group of 8 on a tricky day to get a reservation. The restaurant is a sibling of the famous El Charro Cafe serving sustainable seafood, humane meats, and local produce. Everyone loved their food, with the stars being the halibut, the tuna tostada, and the Brussels sprouts.

breakfast burrito from Tania 33
absolutely enormous breakfast burrito from Tania 33

Tanias 33 is just up the road from our campground, and lucky for us they were also open–and very busy–for breakfast on Christmas eve. J’s sausage and egg wasn’t his favorite, but my vegetarian machaca with dried hibiscus flowers was HUGE and tasty and interesting enough to warrant a return visit from me in the future. Note that you can order ahead online if you’re in a hurry to get on the hiking trail.

And we hit a bunch of old favorites:

Ruiz sonoran hot dog
Ruiz sonoran hot dog

Ruiz Hot Dogs for possibly the best Sonoran hot dog in Tucson

tacos from Taqueria Pico de Gallo
tacos at Taqueria Pico de Gallo

Taqueria Pico de Gallo for delicious, authentic, cheap, and friendly Mexican food

christmas finery at Bata
we got dressy for our fancy dinner at Bata

Bata for J’s mom’s celebratory pre-birthday dinner, maybe our current favorite Tucson restaurant?

lunch salads at Boca
Boca lunch salads

Boca for salads and margs while shopping on Fourth Ave with the family, including Bugsy

lunch ramen from Kukai
Kukai ramen and curry

Kukai for ramen and sushi rolls that pleased everyone in our large group of family and friends

dinner at Tito and Pep
Tito and Pep birthday dinner

Tito and Pep for J’s mom’s birthday dinner for upscale but accessible food that even the kids liked

beer and tacos at Borderlands
Beer and tacos at Borderlands

Borderlands Brewing tacos on New Year’s Day when nothing else was open; they were fantastic and we’ll totally eat there again

breakfast burrito from Seis in Sabino Canyon
Seis burrito in Sabino Canyon

Seis Kitchen for breakfast burritos to fuel a day of hiking; we think they’re the best in town

breakfast burrito from Barista del Barrio in Sweetwater Preserve
Barista del Barrio breakfast burrito in Sweetwater Preserve

Barista del Barrio for more hiking-fuel breakfast burritos, our second favorite in Tucson

Hiking

hiking in Tucson Mountain Park
misty morning in Tucson Mountain Park

Our favorite Tucson activity is to go hiking (preferably with breakfast burritos in our packs), and we managed to hike each day in town–some short family-friendly hikes, and some longer scenery-intensive hikes, all absurdly close to home.

Short family-friendly hikes

hiking Jack and George Mountain Trail
Jack and George Mountain Trail hike

Jack and George Mountain Trail: We walked Bugsy up this trail for a quick and easy 1.2 miles with views.

hiking with the family in Painted Hills
hikin in Painted Hills with the fam

Painted Hills Loop: The whole family, dog included, enjoyed hiking this easy 3.5-mile saguaro-filled loop.

hiking in Robles Pass Trails Park
hiking in Robles Pass Trail Park

Camaro Loop in Robles Pass Trail Park: Somehow we hadn’t hiked in Robles Pass before and it might be our new favorite county park? Camaro Loop is a gorgeous and peaceful two-mile, dog-friendly loop.

hiking in Sweetwater Preserve
hiking in Sweetwater Preserve

Sweetwater Preserve: Sweetwater seems to be the most popular of the county parks, and for good reason. It’s lovely and you can cobble together a hike of any length, and it’s dog-friendly (and mountain bike-friendly, so stay alert).

Longer scenery-intensive hikes

hiking in Tucson Mountain Park
Yetman-Rock Wren hike in TMP

Yetman-Rock Wren six-mile out-and-back in Tucson Mountain Park: Hiking in TMP is fabulous. We saw a million saguaros and only a couple humans. Note that TMP is dog-unfriendly.

hiking in Tucson Mountain Park
Bobcat Ridge-Starr Pass loop hike in TMP

Bobcat Ridge – Starr Pass loop in Tucson Mountain Park: This four-mile loop was not very crowded, convenient, and beautiful, but had more bike traffic than we like to hike with.

hiking in Sabino Canyon
hiking into Sabino Canyon

Hutch’s Pool from Sabino Canyon: We used to love hiking in Sabino Canyon when we’d visit J’s brother in the early Aughts, but hadn’t returned as Airstreamers. Dogs aren’t allowed in the canyon, and we worried we’d be away from home too long for Bugsy’s comfort between the 30-minute drive to the park from the campground and the hour on the tram to and from our trailhead at the end of the canyon. We made it work this trip by hiking the four miles out to Hutch’s Pool and then running back to the tram stop.

Hutch's Pool in Sabino Canyon
Hutch’s Pool above Sabino Canyon

After seeing a zillion cars in the parking lot, we passed very few people out on the trail. The scenery was magnificent and the trail wasn’t difficult. The $15, 7.4-mile tram ride was neat too, with narration about the history, geology, flora, and fauna of the canyon (you can walk into the canyon for free). What a treat!

Drinking

Coffee

We love to hang out at the MSA Annex; it was our first stop in Tucson with J’s mom for Decibel coffee and boutique Christmas shopping.

the coffee counter at Presta
Presta’s coffee counter

Next door to the MSA Annex is the Mercado San Agustín, where our favorite breakfast burritos are located. While picking up said burritos, we also grabbed coffee from Presta.

Alcohol

Congress Hotel at night
Hotel Congress, with Congress Hotel on the awning?

As previously mentioned, J’s mom spent her first night in Tucson at Hotel Congress, so when we picked her up for dinner we had a drink there in the lounge. It’s a neat old bar in a neat old hotel.

daydrinking at The Boxyard
daydrinking at The Boxyard

While the teenagers went thrifting on Fourth Avenue, the grownups had drinks at The Boxyard. Everybody wins!

beer and football at Pueblo Vida
beer and football at Pueblo Vida

Our favorite brewery in Tucson is still Pueblo Vida, for their sours and hazy IPAs. Thank you, Pueblo Vida, for being open on Christmas Eve so we could stock up for family time.

I mentioned the tacos at Borderlands, but the beer is also noteworthy! They’re known for their hazy IPAs (=happy J) and had a super tart citrus gose for me.

To do

Bugsy waiting for another meal
Bugsy waiting for breakfast again

There’s always more to eat and drink in Tucson!

I’m dying to try Tumerico vegetarian food, especially now that their chef was nominated for a James Beard award. Sibling La Chaiteria is just a couple blocks from our RV park and each visit we say we’re going to eat there… and each visit we don’t. Next trip for sure!

This is an amusing article about Tucson breakfast burritos, but I’m not sure any make it onto the to-eat list. Actually, the article mentions Anita Street Market, said by some to be the best Mexican restaurant in town, and it’s close to our campground. Oh no, they might be closing!

Our friend and Tucsonan (not Tucsonian) Ruben recommended Wild Garlic Grill but it’s pretty far from home. Keeping it on our radar just in case.

Carryovers from our previous to-do list:

hiking in Sabino Canyon
hiking back down from Hutch’s Pool

Now to Catalina to detox and hike off all those Tucson calories!

4 Replies to “Seven nights in Tucson, AZ (visit #4)–Tucson for Christmas trip

  1. Correction, please. I was warned about Hotel Congress being an “in” spot so changed rooms prior to going. However, I was awoken a few times during my night there by the thumping music but fell back asleep pretty easily. It was my first time staying there but I have visited and eaten there many times during Ian’s time so love it. I would stay there again.

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