Tucson Essentials

Find out the best places to shop, eat and drink, watch the sunset, see the stars, take the dog and more.
By: Jennifer Netherby
Related To:
Stone Patio With Infinity Pool Overlooking City in Distance

Patio Overlooks Tucson, Ariz.

Maps indicate that the residence is the highest home in the Catalina Foothills, located at an elevation of 3,550 feet. At night, lights from Tucson, Ariz. twinkle in the distance.

Photo by: Long Realty Company, a member of Luxury Portfolio International

Long Realty Company, a member of Luxury Portfolio International

Food and Drink Essentials


El Guero Canelo 
2480 N. Oracle Road 
Their tacos are cheap and authentic, but to really experience El Guero, try the Sonoran hot dog. Their signature entree is a hot dog wrapped in bacon grilled and topped with beans and a secret sauce. People drive across town for it.


Little Cafe Poca Cosa 
151 N. Stone Ave. 
This family-owned downtown lunch cafe serves up some of the best-tasting mole in the city. Chef and owner Marcela Davila makes traditional dishes from different regions of Mexico and will give you a hug on your way out. Get there for an early or late lunch or you’ll have to wait and bring cash.


2805 E. Skyline Drive 

17th Street Market 
17th Street and Park Avenue 

For local brands and pre-made meals good enough to serve guests, turn to Arizona gourmet grocer AJ’s in northwest Tucson. They carry most of the well-known high-end brands, good produce and quality meats. The coffee bar is a popular alternative to Starbucks. For the freshest seafood in town, head to the 17th Street Market. It also has a huge produce section and aisles and aisles of exotic food imports from Asia and other countries; you could easily spend days browsing. Live bands play on the weekends.


100 E. Congress St. 
Downtown scenesters and U of A students stumble into this diner for bowls of Cap’n Crunch and bucket of tater tots after a late night out. If you arrive just as the bars are closing, prepare for a wait. It’ll give you time to read their extensive list of rules for the Grill and life on the back of the menu.


Raging Sage Coffee Roasters 
2458 N. Campbell Ave. 
U of A students type away on their laptops on the front tables, staring out at traffic while hikers and groups of friends gather on tables inside and on the back patio at this busy cafe in central Tucson. On Saturday mornings, people will line up out the door for some of the best coffee in Tucson, jalapeño scones and other pastries.


Nimbus Brewing Company 
3850 E. 44th St., Suite 138 
Nimbus microbrews are the local favorite served in bars and restaurants throughout the city, but a stop by their Brewery location is a must for beer lovers. The space is spare, but the signature brews and laid-back atmosphere make it a popular place to meet up with friends for an after-work beer or catch a band playing on weekends. Just bring a good map as the Brewery can be hard to find.

Entertainment Essentials


Tucson Yoga 
150 S. Fourth Ave. 
Get there early because this Armory Park studio packs in yogis from across the city for its $6 yoga classes. Classes can be challenging and the teachers are among the best in the city.


Reid Park Zoo 
1100 S. Randolph Way 
The Tucson zoo is small enough to be manageable with small kids but still big enough to fit more than 400 animals from Africa, South American and Asia, making it popular with families. It’s in the middle of Reid Park so you can stop by the playground or picnic area before or after a visit to see the llamas, baboons and barking deer.


Casa Video 
2905 E. Speedway Blvd. 

The Loft 
3233 E. Speedway Blvd. 

Tucsonans and U of A film geeks go to Casa Video for an unmatched selection of foreign films, B-movies, anime and other hard-to-find movies (they still carry VHS.) If that’s not enough to lure you over, they also give out free popcorn to munch while you browse. If you’d rather watch a quirky film in a theater, head down the street to where you can sip a glass of wine while watching the latest French film. The Loft not only plays the newest independent and foreign films, but has made movie watching sociable with sing-alongs to musicals, horror film festivals on any Friday the 13th and other weekly events.


422 N. Fourth Ave. 

2920 E. Broadway 

Shop and save the planet at the same time. Pop-Cycle sells pop art-style gifts, clothes and furniture all made from recycled materials by local and national artists. Their items are so well-made, you’d never guess the funky picture frames, kitschy lunch boxes and purses, and other gifts were recycled if they didn’t tell you. Not far away, Bohemia sells art from locals who share in the profits. It’s located in the Lost Barrio, a hidden shopping district downtown where local merchants sell furniture imported from China, Morocco, Ghana and other faraway places.

Nightlife Essentials


340 E. Sixth St. 
Grab a cocktail or single malt scotch and a seat before the faux fireplace in the lounge up front for a more intimate date. You can also catch some of the best local and national bands playing in the main room on weekends. An unpretentious attitude and top-shelf drinks have made Plush popular with young couples and soon-to-be couples. And it is plush, with comfy seating, thick carpeting and red velvet wallpaper.


Club Congress 
311 E. Congress St. 
Dig out your leg warmers and Madonna bracelets for Retro-Lution '80s night on Mondays, one of the most popular dance nights at this club in the historic Hotel Congress where bank robber John Dillinger was once apprehended in the '30s. The dance floor is big with four bars serving up cheap drinks to an eclectic mix of dancers having too much fun to care if you can’t dance. Live bands play on weekends.


Kitt Peak National Observatory 
Highway 386 
With clear skies year-round, Tucson has become the stargazing capital of the world with three major observatories in the area. Kitt Peak will let you gaze through the same optical telescopes astronomers use to see galaxies far, far away. Be sure to make a reservation well in advance.

Outdoors Essentials


The Rillito River Park 
4200 N. Campbell Ave. 
The six miles of paths along the Rillito River bed are popular for walking, jogging, biking and horseback riding. The river is dry most of the year, but the route shows off a beautiful stretch of desert. Desert flowers bloom in the spring, roadrunners can often be spotted crossing the path and saguaro cactuses line the trail.


Sabino Canyon 
5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road 
At the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon has miles of scenic trails that’ll take you by waterfalls, streams and swimming holes for a dip for those days when the afternoon sun feels unbearable. And if you’re feeling lazy, you can always take the tourist tram. During the summer, they offer night hikes that begin at 6 p.m.


Miko’s Corner Playground at Reid Park 
1100 S. Randolph Way 
Conveniently located in the middle of the city, this recently refurbished dog park is one of the few in town with both grass and shade. There’s also a fenced-off area separating large and small dogs, and there's plenty of doggie water fountains.


Tuesday Night Community Bike Ride 
8 p.m. every Tuesday 
Meet on the University of Arizona campus at the flagpole behind Old Main 
Over the last two years, what started as a leisurely evening ride around town with friends has grown into a weekly outing that can attract more than 300. It’s packed with college students, but you’ll also find parents with their kids, young professionals, some retirees, local freaks and other downtown residents, all chatty for the neighborhood ride. The ride is usually 5 to 8 miles long, but it’s easy. Bring a flashlight.


Gates Pass Lookout 
Gates Pass Road 
Arizonans like to boast that they have the best sunsets in the world and the view from Gates Pass Lookout just might make you a believer. Drive up this winding trail west of the city to watch the sun set over the desert below, lighting the sky with brilliant pinks, oranges, reds, yellows and blues. To get there, head west on Speedway until you hit the parking lot at the end of Gates Pass Road.

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