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 40,000-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 runs 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 (with 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.
A new street car (ticket/day pass $1.50/4), linking downtown and the university opened in 2014. Bikes are permitted on board.