Tucson is a desert wonderland, famous for its towering Saguaro cacti, great Mexican food, and amazing sunsets, on display for free every evening.
There's no better way to start your tour of Tucson than at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, located west of downtown over the scenic Tucson Mountains. The drive alone is worth a visit: Gates Pass, the winding mountain road that whisks you to the museum, is locally famous for its panoramic vistas.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is an open-air "living museum" where the attractions are not trapped behind glass, but outdoors in the Tucson sunshine. Grab a visitor's map and prepare to be enchanted by the beautifully landscaped trails, interpretive displays, and scenic outlooks. You might even catch a glimpse of coyotes, javelinas and mountain lions.
Explore the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum's two miles of walking paths — Photo courtesy of Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
After the museum, stop downtown for lunch at El Charro Cafe, one of Gourmet magazine's 21 Legendary Restaurants and the oldest family-run Mexican food restaurant in the United States. The secret of the cafe's longevity is in a large menu of hand-crafted house specialties, such as the El Charro Carne Seca and the Carne Colorado plate, shredded beef slow-cooked in an old family recipe of red chile. La Tiendita, adjacent to the restaurant, is a small gift shop where you can pick up Southwestern food gifts to take home.
Artist Ted DeGrazia built this shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe at his landmark studio and home in North Tucson — Photo courtesy of DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun
Next up, head to northwest Tucson to DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, the home and studio of legendary Italian-American Western artist Ted DeGrazia. DeGrazia's stylized paintings of Native American children and Southwestern motifs have graced everything from posters to greeting cards, but his work most fully comes to life with a visit to his home and studio.
DeGrazia and his wife purchased the 10-acre foothills site in the early 1950s to build what would become one of Tucson's most popular local landmarks. Wander through the galleries and enjoy the warmth and history of the building, which features rock floors, interior murals and an open-air roof. DeGrazia and his crew made the traditional adobe bricks of the building themselves, which were baked onsite by the Tucson sun. The gift shop features DeGrazia's prints and souvenirs from this historic and uniquely Tucson landmark.
Unwind at the Cup Cafe, located in the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson — Photo courtesy of Hotel Congress
Finish off your first encounter of classic Tucson with a night downtown at the historic Hotel Congress. This lively hotel is home to Club Congress, an upbeat dance club, and the award-winning Cup Cafe, where guests gather on the lit patio late into the desert night.