Tucson with the Santa Catalina Mountains

Tucson (TOO-sawn) is the second-largest city in the state of Arizona and the county seat of Pima County, located in the Sonoran Desert. It is situated at a higher elevation than nearby Phoenix and is correspondingly cooler. Although with half a million residents it is smaller than the capital city, its cultural life is just as vibrant.


Tucson has always been a crossroads. Until recently, water was relatively plentiful in Tucson, in spite of its location in the middle of a desert. This made it an important travel route, an agricultural center, and a communications nexus.

Tucson's history is ancient, with evidence of human occupation stretching back 10,000 years. Between A.D. 200 and 1450, the Hohokam culture dominated the area -- the Pima and Tohono O'Odham peoples that still occupy the area are descendants of the Hohokam. In 1699, Father Eusebio Kino, S.J., established the Mission San Xavier del Bac, southwest of present-day Tucson. Over the next 100 years, other missions were established in the area, but European presence was minimal.

It wasn't until 1775 that the Presidio of Tucson was created by Don Hugo O'Connor. At that time, it was the northernmost Spanish outpost in the New World. In 1821, Tucson became part of the new country of Mexico, and in 1853 it became part of the United States as a result of the Gadsden Purchase. In 1863, Arizona became a US territory, and by 1880, its population was around 8,000. In 1912, Arizona became the 48th state to enter the union.

Today, Tucson is still a crossroads, with European, Native American, Mexican, and Asian cultures bumping into one another, in sometimes conflicting and sometimes compatible – but always interesting – ways.

Visitor Information

Get in

By plane

  Tucson International Airport (IATA: TUS), 7250 S Tucson Blvd,  +1 520-573-8100. Served by a number of airlines.

The airport is on the far southern end of the city. A taxi to central Tucson (University of Arizona area) will run about $25-$30 and take 25 minutes. Bus services to and from the airport is significantly cheaper but will take at least 60 minutes to/from downtown Tucson. Some people fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor and then take a shuttle to Tucson (about 2 hours). Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the airport.

By train

By car

I-10 (Interstate 10) from the north and southeast, and I-19 (Interstate 19) from the south.

By bus

Get around

By public transportation

By car

I-10 and I-19 are the only freeways in Tucson. East-west travel on surface streets above I-10 can be slow during the work day. Tucson has far fewer miles of freeway than other U.S. cities of its size. All east-west travel and all travel on the east side is done via surface streets.

By bicycle

Tucson is a bike-friendly community, and has an extensive system of bike routes and paths (but is something you don't want to do in the summer unless you are experienced riding in very hot, dry weather).


Historic sights

Mission San Xavier del Bac
Fort Lowell

Museums and galleries

AMARC, aka the "Boneyard", with the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background.
De Grazia Chapel

Parks and wildlife

A Ferruginous Hawk at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Sabino Canyon

Other sights

Kitt Peak National Observatory


Tucson is a very diverse city. English is the most widely spoken language. Many people in the south side are bilingual in English and Spanish.


Festivals and events

Tucson Gem & Mineral Show
Fiesta de los Vaqueros
All Souls Procession

Sports and outdoor activities

Tucson Mountain Park




As you can guess, Tucson is a veritable hub of Southwestern and Mexican cuisine. But Tucson is an adventurous town (easily the most liberal metropolitan area in Arizona) and as a result of its diversity, has a vibrant culinary culture.


A Sonoran hot dog at El Güero Canelo


Cup Cafe
El Minuto Cafe, one of the oldest Mexican restaurants in Tucson


The Grill at Hacienda del Sol


Old Pueblo Trolley, popular on weekend evenings for travel between University and 4th Ave

Tucson has an active wine community, with many retailers, restaurants and wine bars regularly offering scheduled wine tasting events. Cochise County, southeast of Tucson has many wineries, some of which welcome visitors.

The majority of Tucson's nightlife for young and old is located in three small areas of the town near the University of Arizona, all within walking distance to each other. The three are: 4th Avenue, University, and Downtown. Tucson nightlife tends to start later than nightlife in other areas of Arizona, such as Phoenix or Scottsdale. Expect bars and clubs to be sparsely populated until approx 10-10:30PM on an average weekend night.

4th Avenue stretches from University ave in the north to downtown Tucson in the south (only about ½ mile long). This stretch of 4th Avenue is the main nightlife strip of Tucson and filled with bars and restaurants of all varieties on each side of the street.

The downtown Tucson area just south of 4th Avenue tends caters to a nicer and wealthier crowd and is home to many of Tucson's higher class restaurants and cocktail bars, as well as the famous Club Congress.

The University ave area of Tucson starts on University/Euclid on the west and runs several blocks until it ends into the school. It is approximately a 10-minute walk along University Avenue from the 4th Avenue area. Like 4th Avenue, University contains a strip of bars, stores, and restaurants that cater to a variety of tastes and ages (not just college kids).



The historic Hotel Congress

Some motels located on West Miracle Mile Road and south of 3000th block of North Oracle Road tend to be cheaper, run-down motels that involve the shady types. Although good deals can be found you probably wouldn't want to take your family to any one of these. This area is a legacy of the pre-freeway auto courts, 1937 to 1965, called Miracle Mile. A number of the old hotels remain, mostly run by Indian owners, compete on price and upkeep. With the city fighting crime, mostly prostitution, aggressively in the area, widening and landscaping Oracle Road, even removing one of the few traffic circles in Tucson, now only an unsavory reputation remains as the area tries to pull itself out of decline. If you need a room for $25 this is the place to start looking.




Catalina State Park

Stay safe

Stay healthy


For all emergencies you may dial 911 from any cell (active or inactive cell phone) or land line phone free-of-charge. If using a cell phone be sure to inform the operator of your exact location, as it takes extra time for the operator to attempt to triangulate your location--time is of the essence in emergency situations. When calling 911 for assistance be as calm as possible, and do not panic or use profanity over the phone, as the operator on the phone might consider the call as a prank.

For non-emergencies dial the police department at 520-791-4444 between 0800-2200 hrs (after 2200 hrs, you may dial 911 for all issues).

For visitor information about events and activities taking place in Tucson, check out the city of Tucson's on-line directory .

There are surprisingly many locations within the city of Tucson that are free Wi-Fi hotspots, so free Internet access shouldn't be viewed as a problem. Most of the hotspots are located at coffee shops (such as the Bruegger's Bagel locations), the local book store (Bookman's), and the local libraries throughout the city.




Go next

If you're a traveler, and you're leaving Tucson, you might want to go to Phoenix, or Nogales, Mexico. For cool weather, head up to I-17 to Flagstaff. Also take the Catalina Highway to nearby Mount Lemmon and the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Routes through Tucson

Los Angeles Yuma  W  E  Benson San Antonio
Phoenix Picacho  W  E  Benson Las Cruces
END  N  S  Green Valley Nogales
Holbrook Oracle  N  S  END

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 03, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.