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A Weekend in Sunny Tucson Arizona

Tucson Arizona is a perfect location for a sunny weekend trip.  When suffering through long Utah winters, it’s essential for me & Mrs. Thorough Tripper to find some warmth and sun for a few days – especially since we aren’t skiers. I have been to Scottsdale Arizona and Southern California countless times. For this sun-seeking trip, I wanted to try something different, so we chose Tucson.

We visited Tucson Arizona for a quick 3-night weekend trip and loved it.  We visited in late winter (2019). March is one of my least favorite Utah months. You think it should be spring, but it is still very much winter. In Tucson, the temps in early March were in the 70s – exactly what we needed!  The surrounding Sonoran Desert was beautiful. I’ve never been much of a desert lover, but something about all the giant saguaro cactus in Tucson makes it special.

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Our Lodging

We stayed at the Lodge On The Desert for this Tucson Arizona weekend trip.  This boutique hotel is not actually on the Desert.  It’s located in an eastern Tucson neighborhood, but features Pueblo-style architecture, sits on 5 well-manicured acres, and has large rooms. We stayed in a Deluxe Spa Room with a giant jetted tub. A daily hot breakfast is served at the hotel restaurant each morning (included with the room rate).  The morning weather was just warm enough to eat out on the hotel restaurant’s patio.

One of the courtyards at Lodge On The Desert In Tucson Arizona
One of the courtyards at The Lodge On The Desert

While tripping for Tucson, I explored staying at an actual on-desert hotel. However, The Lodge On The Desert is a Top 10 rated hotel on TripAdvisor, and many of the actual desert resorts had mediocre reviews.  I’ve talked plenty about my preference for Vacation Rentals. I couldn’t find one in the Tucson area that I liked as well as The Lodge.

Our Best Meal

We ate a lot of great food. Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy – only one of two cities in the United States to receive this designation (San Antonio is the other).   The lengthy UNESCO criteria for this designation includes a “well-developed gastronomy characteristic for the region”, and a “vibrant gastronomy community with numerous traditional restaurants and/or chefs.”

The Sonoran Dog is a ubiquitous part of the Tucson food scene. A Sonoran Dog is a bacon-wrapped hot dog in a slightly sweet bun, topped with pinto beans, salsa, mustard, mayo, onions, and tomatoes.  There is great debate within Tucson about which eatery serves the best Sonoran Dog. I don’t eat hot dogs. But in the spirit of true experiential travel, I did try one at BK Tacos – the winner of the Travel Channel’s Food Wars Sonoran Dog debate.  And I liked it 🙂

Our favorite meal was at Mariscos Chihuahua. This is a small Mexican restaurant featuring mostly seafood.  It’s located just off I-10 north of downtown. As of this writing, it is ranked #7 on Tripadvisor for the whole of Tucson.  I love good Mexican food. In fact, I would say that truly authentic Mexican food is my favorite cuisine.

At Mariscos Chihuahua, we ate ceviche and Camarones Culichi.  The menu says that Camarones Culichi is the dish that made them famous. Of course, we had to try that! The dish features seasoned shrimp served in a mildly spicy green sauce. The sauce had a consistency just a little thinner than mole.  It came with rice and included some of the best homemade corn tortillas I’ve ever had – thick, chewy, warm, with great corn flavor. So good!! Plus, their $6 margaritas were huge and they didn’t skimp on the tequila.  

Camarones Culichi at Mariscos Chihuahua in Tucson Arizona

Our Favorite Activities

It’s all about the desert in Tucson and we enjoyed two different desert activities.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum

This is a 98-acre zoo and desert botanical garden located 13 miles west of Tucson.  The drive out to the Desert Museum took us through the saguaro cactus forests of Saguaro National Park.  It reminded me of stereotypical Old West scenery. We decided to download some Marty Robbins music on Spotify for our drive. It seemed like the most appropriate soundtrack for the wide-open desert road. Both of our Dads loved Marty Robbins. This was the road trip soundtrack from our childhood. But always an 8-track tape back then 🙂

Vista in the Saguaro National Park near Tucson
Vista in the Saguaro National Park on our way to the Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum features a 2-mile walking trail dotted with enclosures of animals indigenous to the area (saw my first javelina), and desert botanical gardens featuring local desert plants. Plenty of educational plaques are posted. It was all very fascinating. I had no idea that there are so many different kinds of cactus!  We spent several hours at this great outdoor museum. The cost is $22 per adult. 

Cactus Garden at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
Cactus Garden at the Desert Museum

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Sabino Canyon is located on the northeast side of Tucson. This Recreation Area is part of the US National Forest system.  Hiking opportunities abound here. We spent several hours exploring cactus-lined trails in the lower canyon. A shuttle service will take you higher in the canyon to access additional trails. Unfortunately for us, we visited during a several-month window when the shuttle operation was temporarily suspended.  We still enjoyed the lower trails that begin at the Visitors Center.

There is a different kind of natural beauty to be experienced when hiking in the Sonoran Desert. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much. We paid an $8 daily use fee at the visitor center parking lot.  Additional fees are required for the shuttle. 

One of the Lower Trails just off the Sabino Canyon Visitors Center
One of the Lower Trails just off the Sabino Canyon Visitors Center

All in all, we ate great food, enjoyed great late winter weather, and had a great Sonoran desert experience.  We really loved our trip to Tucson! If you would like to read about another great trip in the USA, then check out this post about our Oregon Coast road trip. Or this one about Moab Utah.

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