Tucson is a historical and diverse metropolis nestled in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Derived from the Spanish word meaning “at the base of the black hill”, the city’s name pays homage to the strong Spanish influence visible around every corner and to Sentinel Peak, which stretches above the city landscape. With centuries-old frescoes, southwest desert beauty, and unique history at your fingertips, Tucson is an off-the-beaten path destination like no other.
To get from desert flower gazing at the edge of town to dinner and a show in the heart of the city, the best option is to drive. Pick up a car at Tucson Airport and cruise Tucson's streets and scenic highways at leisure, making the most of your Southwest adventure.
Experience Tucson’s appealing desert landscapes and untouched nature first-hand. Drive the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway up to Mount Lemmon and the Santa Catalina range. Along the way, you can take in canyon and mountain views. With a variety of overlooks, pack a picnic lunch and stop for some photo opportunities. For an on-foot desert experience, head to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which features 230 native animals and 1,200 plant species while you are strolling the outdoor walking paths.
Finally, do not forget to pack your hiking shoes and water bottle for an afternoon at Saguaro National Park to get an up-close look at the nation’s largest cacti species, which is the giant saguaro. The arts and architecture of Tucson create an ambiance of the true Southwest. Near the airport, a walk through Mission San Xavier del Bacs, which is a church with an eclectic blend of Moorish, Byzantine, Renaissance, and Mexican styles, is a definite must.
Travel to The Gallery in the Sun, a 10-acre National Historic District that features a stunning, adobe mission, complete with open-air roof, rock floors and Southwest inspired murals. Admire the architecture and gallery artwork, then enjoy a walk along the property the grounds, covered with statues. Afterwards, head to The Madaras Gallery, which was voted best in the city. Here, art pieces by local artists celebrate the enchanting beauty of the Sonoran Desert; some of the artworks are available for purchase.
In the evening, head to what the mayor recently proclaimed to be “the best 23 miles of Mexican food in the U.S.” After dinner, you can catch a show at the city’s famous Rialto Theatre, known for its diverse live performances. End your day with a late night trip to Spencer’s Observatory. Learn how to use its numerous telescopes and take advantage of Tucson’s clear skies by renting out the private patio for a night of stargazing.
With these suggestions being just the tip of the iceberg for Tucson exploration, it is easy to see why having your own set of wheels will give you perfect access to the mysteries of the Southwest. Our budget-friendly options at Orbitz make discovering the hidden treasures of this desert city both easy and accessible.