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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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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
Seems like a nice weekend! I didn’t know UNESCO had gastronomic cities (or that Tucson was one). I’ll tell ya, I had some really amazing tamales in Tucson 🙂
I was surprised too. The food is indeed great in both Tucson and the other one – San Antonio, but there are other great gastronomic cities in the US too. I’m sure the list will grow.
We spent some time in this area last autumn. Loved it! Your pics brought fond memories. Didn’t catch the museum though so need to return!
The museum is definitely worth a visit. It was my first “outdoor museum”
Aren’t the cactii stunning? Like you, I didn’t realise they came in so many shapes and sizes! Or that they could grow so big. Sounds like a great place for hiking.
Yes, it really is like walking in a cacti forest!
Love love love this landscape! Beautiful pictures! March is the perfect time to visit that area of Arizona. We stayed for a couple of nights here in Tucson and then did a road trip up to the Grand Canyon. Arizona has a lot to offer…and that food! Yummy!
It had actually snowed the week before – a very uncommon event, so there was water running through some of the usually dry creek beds. That certainly added to the beauty of the area 🙂
I like the idea of the outdoor museum. Sounds like you had a wonderful weekend there.
Outdoor museum is sure the perfect way to describe it
Travel Bugs World
Would love,love,love to visit this area. All that space and majestic scenery is inspiring! Also love your accommodation recommendations as well as where to eat. Looks so yummy!
Yes, majestic is a great way to describe those saguaro cactus forests. Very unique scenery. And great food in Tucson as well.
We loved our stay in Tuscon. And definitely want to go back. We were fascinated with the variety of the cactus. And how much greenery and colourful flowers we found too. Thanks for taking us back!
We also were amazed by the cactus variety. And many were flowering at the time. So interesting…
Kevin | Cocktails and Carry-Ons
Oh how I miss Arizona! I loved seeing all the cacti. Such a cool vibe. Sort of wishing I hadn’t seen the best meals picture. I’m now making reservations for my local Mexican spot tonight and I think I need to go get limes and start making margaritas!
Yeah, that meal haunts me too 🙂