An energetic college town, Tucson (too-sawn) is attractive, fun-loving and one of the most culturally invigorating places in the Southwest. Set in a flat valley hemmed in by craggy, odd-shaped mountains, Arizona's second-largest city smoothly blends Native American, Spanish, Mexican and Anglo traditions. Distinct neighborhoods and 19th-century buildings give a rich sense of community and history not found in the more modern and sprawling Phoenix. This is a town rich in Hispanic heritage (more than 40% of the population is Hispanic), so Spanish slides easily off most tongues and high-quality Mexican restaurants abound. The eclectic shops toting vintage garb, scores of funky restaurants and dive bars don't let you forget Tucson is a college town at heart, home turf to the 38,000-strong University of Arizona (UA).
Although it's fun to wander around the colorful historic buildings and peruse the shops, Tucson's best perks are found outside town. Whether you yearn to hike past giant cacti in the beautiful Saguaro National Park, watch the sun set over the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains or check out the world-class Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, straying beyond the city limits is worth it.
Tucson lies mainly to the north and east of I-10 at its intersection with I-19, which goes to the Mexican border at Nogales. Downtown Tucson and the main historic districts are east of I-10 exit 258 at Congress St/Broadway Blvd, a major west–east thoroughfare. Most west–east thoroughfares are called streets, while most north–south thoroughfares are called avenues (although there is a sprinkling of roads and boulevards). Stone Ave, at its intersection with Congress, forms the zero point for Tucson addresses. Streets are designated west and east, and avenues north and south, from this point.
Tucson destination guides
Ask Lonely Planet: best place to see the night sky?
Here at Lonely Planet, we have travel experts on tap. In this excerpt from the June 2011 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine, they advise reader Matt Bronson who asks: 'Where can I go to get away from the bright city lights and see great night skies, with plenty to do during the day as well?' 1.
Across America Westbound
Take an adventure across the heart of the United States and discover the landscapes, cities and people that define modern America. Leave New York behind on this journey through New Orleans, Santa Fe and Las Vegas, and arrive in the shining lights of Los Angeles.
Tucson Day Tour
Travel to Tucson, often referred to as The Old Pueblo. One of Arizona’s oldest cities, Tucson boasts rich Spanish heritage and charming Southwest architecture. You'll have time to enjoy the exhibits and lunch on your own. Visit San Xavier Mission with its beautiful art and unique history.
Arizona's top 5 scenic drives
Back roads. Byways. Scenic highways. Arizona is chock full of them. Here are five of our favorites. Route 66: small-town America, with a side of kitsch 'Get your kitsch on Route 66' might be a better slogan for Arizona’s scrubby stretch of Mother Road. Lumbering dinosaurs. A wigwam motel. A prank-filled ice-cream shop.