Perfect Day of Time Travel in Tucson Arizona

Tucson Sky, 2011
Tucson Sky

Sometimes your perfect city lies right outside your door. That can be true whether you’re staying at home or you are taking advantage of a slow travel option like house sitting or home swapping. ( If you’re new to house sitting, click here to visit Hecktic Travels.) Home swapping is another fast-growing option that we’re considering  for a future trip, and that is why we agreed to do this article for, the home swapping people.

We think everyone should put Tucson Arizona on their list of places to see some time in their life. Why? Let’s say you have decided to visit one of the oldest cities in the United States to soak up some historic ambiance and you love the great outdoors. And did you want a city with excellent dining choices and lots of cultural activities?  That’s Tucson.

A Perfect Day in Tucson, Arizona

1. Get up early for a bike ride along the Rillito River in this bike-friendly city–named America’s best town for road biking in 2010 in Outdoor Magazine.   Get a bike route map mailed to you by the city before you arrive, or pick one up at several locations. (When completed, a River path  will cover 55 miles in a complete circuit of the city.)

2. When you have worked up an appetite, stop at the pretty St. Phillips’ Plaza (corner of Campbell and River Road) and get an energy smoothie or breakfast sandwich at Liv Cafe and Bistro. [NOTE: this restaurant is closed as of 2014. ]

3. Head downtown (by bike or car) on Stone Avenue.  In the heart of 21st century downtown Tucson, check out the 1775 Spanish origins of the city at the reconstructed Presidio walls where the Spanish settled El Presidio Real de San Augustín del Tucson. Whew! Thank goodness the name got shortened. A timeline along the sidewalk explains that indigenous people settled here as early as 1520′s.

Presidio North Gate (Recreated)
Presidio North Gate (Recreated)

4. Pick up a Presidio Trail walking tour brochure at the Presidio and see how Tucson Arizona changed from the 18th to the 20th century. I particularly enjoy walking through Barrio Viejo–the oldest neighborhood in the U.S. of extant adobe buildings.

Barrio Viejo, Tucson
Barrio Viejo

5. Time for lunch? Walk over to long-time favorite Tucson Mexican restaurant, El Charro (est. 1922), for excellent Sonoran-style lunch.  Don’t miss the tableside guacamole, and be sure to gawk at all the Mexican arts and crafts adorning the walls.

 El Charro Restaurant
Tableside guacamole at El Charro

6.  Head south out of downtown to see the early 19th century Mission San Xavier del Bac on the Tohono O’odham reservation. A mission on this site built by the Spanish in the 17th century deteriorated and was replaced by this beauty, which is still an active place of worship.  Fine craftsmen from around the world have been helping native Tohono O’odham artists restore the artwork and the structure.

San Xavier del Bac facade
San Xavier del Bac facade, Tucson

7. Take Valencia Road or the Aviation Parkway far east to visit the Pima Air and Space Museum. The museum’s display of aircraft ranges from the Wright Brothers tothe 21st century.  This  collection of aircraft  ranks 3rd  in the country in size right behind Wright Patterson in Dayton and the Smithsonian in D.C. Right next door (it takes a separate tour) you can see the “Boneyard” a storage area for old Air Force planes that may be needed for something in the future. They keep well in the desert air.

8. Don’t linger too long at the Air and Space Museum, because you do not want to miss seeing the oldest desert dwellers around the city–the giant Saguaro cactus forest in the eastern half of the Saguaro National Park. A drive meanders through the park, suitable for cars, bikes or horses. Plenty of hiking trails, too.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park, Tucson

9. Head back into the city for dinner.  Tucson Arizona is blessed with an incredible array of good restaurants of every type. To ensure a unique Tucson experience, look for a Tucson Original–not a chain.  You may want to try one of the foothills’ places with a view near Campbell and Skyline intersection so you can see a famous Tucson sunset.

Sunset and rain, Tucson
Sunset and rain, Tucson

10.  Still have energy for some nightlife? Check out what’s going on at the 1920′s-era Congress Hotel downtown or at the restored-to-glory 1930′s Fox Theater, or just check out the music scene in downtown Tucson to finish off your perfect day.

Don’t worry that you’ve exhausted all the possible things to do in Tucson Arizona in this one day.  We didn’t even get to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, the University of Arizona, with a cluster of five museums within walking distance, Sabino Canyon or Pima Canyon’s hiking trails, a drive up to 9,000-ft high Mt. Lemon, Kitt Peak for astronomy buffs, and much more. For more ideas, see my earlier article, 36-Hours or So in Tucson.

The photos in this post are all my property. Please respect my copyright. This post is part of the project 100 cities to home swap before you die from

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

5 thoughts on “Perfect Day of Time Travel in Tucson Arizona

  1. Sounds like a wonderful place to visit. I’ll just have to do it in the winter/fall…I can’t take the heat!

    What types of museums and theaters exist in the area?

  2. Isn’t it fun to write about your own city and find there are so many things to do that you can’t list them all. This is a fun post and filled with good tips.

    1. Jackie: It is always fun to write about Tucson. And I’m always surprised at how many things there are to see and do, which I usually take for granted. How many of these things have you done on your visits to Tucson?

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