Tucson is an exceptionally sunny city, with more than 350 days of sunshine a year. And with daytime temperatures rarely dipping below the mid-60s, Arizona's second-largest city makes a great place to escape the cold weather. But Tucson is much more than an incubator for snowbirds. Deeply rooted in Hispanic heritage, "Old Pueblo" (a nickname for Tucson) is a hotbed of historic and cultural attractions, not to mention a mecca for those in search of some spicy Mexican cuisine north of the border.
Despite its ever-expanding size, Tucson exudes a small-town atmosphere. Neighborhoods like the El Presidio Historic District and the Barrio Histórico – complete with colorful adobe buildings and quaint shops – make you feel like you're in an old Mexican village. Meanwhile, the high-end restaurants and resorts of the Catalina Foothills district add a contemporary flair that may soon rival that of Phoenix's ritzy suburbs, like Scottsdale. And the trendy shops and rowdy bars surrounding the palm tree-laden University of Arizona campus infuse this city with a youthful spirit. Unlike the sprawling state capital, Tucson has yet to overpower its surroundings; nearby mountains and wilderness areas like Saguaro National Park offer a true taste of the Sonoran Desert.
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The best times to visit Tucson are from April to May and from September to October. These shoulder seasons offer pleasant weather and reasonable room rates. Winter's sunny skies and comfortable temperatures attract thousands of northerners in need of a thaw. And the summer months offer spectacular hotel discounts, but temperatures often hover in the triple digits, making outdoor activities insufferable.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
It should come as no surprise that Mexican cuisine is Tucson's specialty. You'll encounter smoky, sweet and spicy flavors throughout your visit, so prepare your taste buds. El Charro Café is an institution that's been around since 1922 and serves classic dishes like tamales, tacos and enchiladas. For even more tamales, head to the Tucson Tamale Company, which is a staple for locals. If you're looking for a more upscale setting, try Cafe Poca Cosa, which offers a menu (in Spanish) that changes twice daily.
Mexican flavors may be the backbone of the city's culinary scene, but that's not all Tucson has to offer discerning foodies. Visitors and locals rave about the breakfast served at Cup Cafe, which sits inside a downtown hotel and serves a menu of inventive American favorites. For an even more eclectic menu, consider making reservations at Feast, which is praised for its inventive flavor pairings and extensive wine list. Wildflower is another new American favorite that often surprises diners because of its location within a strip mall.
When you're not getting to know Tucson through its distinctive eats, consider sampling the region's wine. Arizona wine country sits about an hour away from the city in the southern Arizona villages of Sonoita and Elgin, and the eastern town of Wilcox, making for an easy daytrip if you're in the mood to sample some local vino.
The best way to get around Tucson is by car. Although there are several public transportation options, you'll need your own wheels to reach top sites like Saguaro National Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Rental rates are reasonable, and there are rental stations in town and at the Tucson International Airport (TUS), which is located about 10 miles south of downtown.
Although you can choose to fly into the Tucson airport, you'll find that airfare to Phoenix is cheaper. You can choose to rent a car and drive the 120 miles or so – southeast along Interstate 10 – to Tucson, or you can hop on the Arizona Shuttle, which will cost $41 to $45 each way, depending on when you book.See details for Getting Around
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