Desert Heat: Best Romantic Things to Do in Tucson



With gorgeous desert scenery and a laid-back charm, Tucson and romance go hand and hand. Whether you and your date are looking for a day of outdoor adventure, or prefer a night out in the city, the list of romantic things to do in the Old Pueblo are varied and unique. 

Nature lovers will want to spend a day at Tohono Chul, a sprawling botanical garden that showcases the native flowers, trees, plants and fauna of the Sonoran Desert. Not only is the scenery stunning, the garden is also home to an art gallery and a romantic bistro. 

When day draws to an end, you might want to head to Tucson Mountain Park, home to Gate's Pass, one of the city's most scenic outlook points. At sunset, the desert becomes flooded with amber light from the setting sun, creating a stunning setting for a romantic evening. 

For romance in the city, go for a stroll at the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block, where the city's historical adobe buildings set the stage for a romantic outing. The art museum's charming cafe, Cafe a la C'art, tucked away in a lovely historic house on the museum grounds, offers a quaint, comfy spot for a gourmet brunch or lunch.



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Ted DeGrazia is a Tucson legend. His home and the surrounding buildings, originally built in open country in the foothills of the Catalinas, are now surrounded by the city. The gallery, his former home, his workshop, and the roofless chapel were all built by hand from native materials. The "gallery" now serves as a museum to the famed artist. It also houses the gift shop and a small gallery dedicated to the religious festivals of the Yaqui Native Americans. The grounds are rustic and artful, and the garden is lovely. Well worth a visit, even if you're not a DeGrazia devotee.


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Southeast Arizona


 

About 50 miles south of Tucson is the artsy little town of Tubac. Start off at the Visitor's Center in the La Entrada de Tubac shopping center, where you can pick up maps and plenty of brochures about local attractions. You'll certainly want to see Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, which dates back to 1752 and houses some wonderful historical and archaeological exhibits. You can hike the Anza Trail between this park and Tumacacori National Historic Park (about 3 miles). The trail crosses the Santa Cruz river a couple of times so you'll get wet feet, but it's a great way to see the variety of plant and animal life that a constant water source brings to an otherwise arid desert. Finally, be sure to spend some time browsing through the numerous art and craft galleries, charming boutiques and eclectic shops offering everything from handmade beads and furniture to Native American pottery and contemporary art glass. A fun day trip!


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The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson is a 15,560 square foot facility that likes to think of itself as a miniature time machine where you can step back in time--in miniature form. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy a self-guided tour through the various rooms, which represent different lands and times, real and imagined. The museum is home to over 275 miniature houses and room boxes. No matter what your inspiration, everyone in your group is likely to find a favorite room and time period. This museum of miniatures is perfect for kids, but adults are also likely to enjoy a tour of this offbeat museum.


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Sabino Canyon
Photo courtesy of Larry Reynolds


 

Situated on the northeast edge of town in the Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon is a popular year-round spot for walking and picnicking because it doesn't require a hike into the mountains. That's because a shuttle bus travels the 3.8 miles to the head of the canyon, making nine on/off stops along the way. Of course, the Coronado National Forest is crisscrossed with many miles of trails that are great for hiking or horseback riding (and some are open to bicyclists as well), so if you have the urge to really get out in nature, this is a great place to do it. Although not required, shuttle reservations are recommended during peak seasons.


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Located about an hour from town, Mt. Lemmon's ski lift runs year round you can use it to reach the top for skiing in the winter or hiking in the summer. And thanks to the mountain's altitude (about 9000 feet), the climate is substantially different than in Tucson. It's not uncommon for folks to spend the day skiing, and then drive back to their hotel in Tucson for an afternoon dip in the hotel's outdoor pool. During the summer, be sure to bring a jacket a tank top and shorts may be comfortable in town, but it probably won't be enough on the mountain! Ski runs are usually open from mid-December to April.


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Within its boundaries, this 20,000 acre park has miles of hiking trails and numerous incredible desert vistas. If that sounds appealing, a hike up to Gates Pass will reward you with a charming stone gazebo from which to take in a stellar sunset view. Other outdoor activities within the park include horseback riding, picnic areas, camping and archery/rifle/pistol ranges. The park encompasses a wide variety of other attractions as well, such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson Studios. The park offers plenty of pull-out points for motorists looking for the perfect spot to capture that postcard-perfect desert sunset.


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The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of Tucson's star attractions, with good reason. Part zoo, part natural history museum, and part botanical garden, the facility is set on 21 acres and is home to numerous animals that roam freely within invisibly-fenced enclosures. After checking out the exhibits in the main visitor center, wander along two miles of paved pathways, where you can catch sight of endangered species such as the Mexican wolf, thick-billed parrot, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, and the Gila topminnow; and not-so-endangered critters like leafcutter ants, black bears, river otters, bighorn sheep, coatis, beavers, coyote, javelinas, black-tailed prairie dogs, termites and roadrunners. And don't miss the captivating cactus garden or the Hummingbird Aviary!


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Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block


 

The Tucson Museum of Art houses a permanent exhibit of pre-Columbian art, Western art, Latin American art (from ancient to contemporary), modern and contemporary art, and Asian art, plus traveling exhibits. It also houses an art school and an art library. There is a fine gift shop within the museum, as well. Located in the historic El Presidio (the original walled city), the Art Museum shares the district with historic homes, one of which is on the National Register of Historic Places. All are within easy walking distance of the museum. Well worth a visit when you're in downtown Tucson.


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Tohono Chul Park is an award-winning botanical garden in northwest Tucson. The park has been open for more than 25 years, bringing together nature, art and culture in unique and insightful exhibits. The park's gardens were designed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. A stroll through the gardens can also provide you with glimpses of birds, lizards, jackrabbits and even the occasional bobcat and rattlesnake sighting. The park is also home to an art gallery, fine dining bistro and a gift shop. Tohono Chul Park hosts weekly events and classes. Check out the website to see what's in bloom during your visit.


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Set in the heart of the city, the Tucson Botanical Gardens offers plenty of winding pathways, taking visitors past floral exhibits, greenhouses, classrooms for instruction, and a superb exhibit on xeriscaping, a concept of planning yards and gardens using minimal water in the desert climate. Don't miss the iris garden, the herb garden, the unique tropical exhibit or the well-stocked gift shop. The garden regularly hosts special events, such as music in the garden, a butterfly exhibit, and a special luminaria event during the winter holiday season. Whimisical and informative, the Tucson Botanical Garden offers visitors special insight into the plant life of the desert.


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Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.

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