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Why Go to Tucson

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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Tucson Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

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.

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What You Need to Know

  • Beat the heat Prepare for scorching temperatures if you're visiting between May and September. Make sure to always have a full bottle of water and to reapply sunscreen regularly.
  • Habla Español Because of Tucson's large Mexican-American population, it's not uncommon to hear Spanish spoken in certain neighborhoods.
  • This is a college town The University of Arizona dominates a large portion of Tucson, and school spirit is strong. Expect heavier traffic and a rowdier atmosphere on football or basketball game days.

How to Save Money in Tucson

  • Consider a summer trip Although the weather can get unbearably hot, hotel rates drop as much as 60 percent from winter to summer. And if you visit in May or September (the shoulder season), you'll find both low rates and bearable temps.
  • Fly into Phoenix The Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is a larger, more trafficked airport than Tucson International Airport. You'll save on airfare if you fly into Phoenix and either drive or take a shuttle to Tucson, which is about 120 miles southeast of Phoenix.
  • Get a passport For $24, the Tucson Attractions Passport will grant you an assortment of deals at popular attractions like the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park. There is also a free mobile app with more deals.

What to Eat

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

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Getting Around Tucson

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.

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