Touring Tucson: Gyul Meets "The Old Pueblo"
I've been meaning to write more about life in Tucson since I moved here about five months ago. A lot of people don't know much about this city and are more likely to name Phoenix or the Grand Canyon as places in Arizona that they're familiar with. Since moving here I've come to find Tucson as one of the most unique places I've ever been. It's not the most populous city, but it is a surprising dream for the foodie, artist, music lover, or explorer in everyone.
Tucson is surrounded on all sides by beautiful mountain ranges, making it somewhat of an oasis in the Sonoran Desert. Although temperatures can reach upwards of 110 degrees in the summer months, Tucson is actually known for it's relatively perfect weather. Those 100+ degree days are sometimes met with summer monsoons that help to cool things off. Fall weather in Tucson mimics Spring in most places and the winters are mild. Stephen and I both agree that the sky in Tucson is probably the clearest we've ever seen. It's hardly ever cloudy and thanks to light pollution laws, the city has one of the darkest night skies of any city in the U.S. This means that in many places, you get a spectacular show of stars on any given night.
Stephen and I live near the Santa Catalina Mountains in an area called the Catalina Foothills. It's home to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area which has multiple hiking trails (including the famous Seven Falls trail.) About two weeks after moving to Tucson, Sabino Canyon was one of the first places I visited and marked my first hike in the city.
Seven Falls was definitely the most challenging hike I've ever done (which says a lot about the climate difference.)
The hike is about 8.2 miles total from the beginning of the recreation area to the actual falls. I had a hard time getting used to the heat along with the altitude (most of my hikes have been much shorter and in tropical climates.) I still had fun and we were able to make multiple stops along the way and take in how beautiful the canyon is.
PIMA AIR & SPACE MUSEUM
We actually visited this museum during our initial trip to Tucson back in 2017 when Stephen first got his job offer.
The museum is one of the world's largest non-government funded air and space museums. It has over 300 aircraft on display in different indoor and outdoor exhibits, and when I say on display? I mean you can literally walk under a full sized passenger jet and more.
One of my favorite parts about the museum was being able to see the Air Force One that was used by U.S. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and seeing multiple versions of fighter jets and other military aircraft used by militaries from across the world. They even have jets and airplanes that have been gutted out an transformed into spectacular pieces of art.
REID PARK ZOO
I think Reid Park Zoo is definitely an underrated gem in the city as well. It's not the biggest zoo I've been to, but it definitely was a beautiful one.
Stephen and I only paid about $11.50 each to see the entire zoo which took about an hour and a half. They have zoo keepers available at most of the exhibits to answer absolutely any questions you have about the animals in their care.
Side Note: We ended up visiting the zoo on a summer day where temperatures peaked at 103. Most of the animals retreated to the shade (as they should have!) and weren't in full view. This may be a visit better kept for the Fall when temperatures are cooler. Reid Park is also nearby for picnics, walks and festivals throughout the year.
I'd write about just one restaurant in this post, but then I wouldn't be doing the entire city justice. Tucson has yet to fail me in terms of food. There are so many good restaurants here with unique menus.
I thought that I'd be coming here to indulge in tons and tons of Mexican food, and although I was absolutely right on that - I actually ended up finding some great brunch spots, Italian, Asian, and mixed menus with even better cocktails, craft beers and deserts.
Some places I just have to mention here are El Charro Mexican Restaurant, Commoner&Co, The Oink Cafe, Arizona Pizza Company, Wings & Rice and The Hub. Believe me, I am trying my absolute hardest to narrow that list down for this blog post. Just know that if you ever visit Tucson, finding a great place to eat will NEVER be a problem.
Barrio Viejo literally translates to "old neighborhood. It's one of the many places in Tucson with homes displaying old architectural styles from the late 1800s. The adobe houses are colorful and still home to different residents and businesses.
Barrio Viejo has quickly become one of my favorite places, not only for photographs but because it reminds me so much of home. The smaller streets and colorful homes in Barrio Viejo look so much like Christiansted Town in St. Croix (where I'm from.) I'm glad that despite much of the development of downtown Tucson, some of these homes and buildings have been preserved so that they can continue to teach new Tucson residents about the working class people from Africa, Europe and Asia who lived here.
TUCSON MOUNTAIN PARK
The Mountain Park is home to multiple parks and recreational areas, the Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucson, and my personal favorite, Gates Pass.
The park is huge and home to some of the most beautiful views I've seen in the city. Sometimes I visit the park just to drive and clear my mind or to sit at Gates Pass (the sunsets here are breathtaking.)
If you're not that serious about hiking, the park does have multiple nature trails you can walk to learn about the different plants and animals that are native to this area. My favorite plant so far? The Saguaro Cactus. They can be hundreds of years old and grow to the size of most trees.
Yesterday was our second trip up to Mount Lemmon, the highest peak of the Santa Catalina Mountains and hands down - the most peaceful place I've been outside of the Grand Canyon.
Mount Lemmon is a fun day trip for Tucsonians who are trying to avoid the desert heat. It's guaranteed to be anywhere from 20-30 degrees cooler than Tucson, and the climate changes the further up you drive.
The 27-mile drive up through the "sky islands" feels otherworldly. There are dozens of places to pull over and sit or take pictures on your way up to the Summerhaven area. There are cabins throughout the area (and some are even AirBnbs!!), small stores, restaurants and trails.
The fun part about Tucson is that although I've visited quite a few places while living here I still have so much more to see and do. I joined a Facebook group called Brunch Babes Tucson to help me meet new people and socialize at different events across town, and I also make sure to search the Facebook Events feature weekly to see what's coming up. Still, the places mentioned in this post are the ones I keep going back to.
If you're moving to Tucson or visiting soon, be sure to check them out!