Bordered by five mountain ranges and two national parks, Arizona’s most laid-back city is a hiker’s paradise. Add in a revitalized downtown and the dude ranch escape of a lifetime, and you’ll be ready to say “Yee-ha!” Saddle up.
It’s been around for decades, but the family-owned Tanque Verde Ranch is still the most fun place to stay in the Sonoran Desert. Nestled next to Saguaro National Park, it feels a world away but sits within striking distance of Tucson’s best restaurants and attractions. Parts of the ranch date back to the late 1800s and Wild West stories abound (ask about the time the original owner was hanged from a wooden beam by bandits—and lived to tell about it). Current owner Bob Cote still faithfully cooks a blueberry pancake breakfast every Thursday morning at the old homestead.
Activities range from horseback riding lessons to mountain biking. The signature Harmony With Horses program—an intensive riding lesson—will have you looking at horseback riding in a whole new light. Don’t miss the ever-changing menu of “craft cowboy-style cocktails” in the Doghouse Saloon.
If it’s luxury you’re after, no Arizona hotel out-poshes The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, for its comfortably elegant accommodations, amazing views, eco-holistic spa, and several restaurants, including one where a Tequila Butler pours sample-sized offerings of signature cocktails right at your table.
Downtown is experiencing a major revitalization, which means you needn’t look farther for the city’s best restaurants (many are right around Congress and Sixth). Check out James Beard Award winner Janos Wilder’s Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails (135 South Sixth Avenue) for innovative farm-to-table cuisine and killer cocktails. Hub Restaurant and Ice Creamery (266 East Congress Street) offers comfort food with a Southwest twist, 40-plus gourmet ice cream flavors (like salted caramel), and one of the best wine-by-the-glass lists we’ve ever seen. The menu at upscale Mexican bistro Café Poco Cosa (110 East Pennington Street) changes so frequently (twice daily) that it’s printed on a portable chalkboard and taken from table to table. Chef Suzana Davila has been featured in every major publication from The New York Times to Wine Spectator. For dining outside the downtown core, neighborhood restaurants Jax Kitchen (7286 North Oracle Road) and its sister restaurant, The Abbey (6960 East Sunrise Drive), both named for the owner’s children, are great for seasonal modern fare, like Jax’s succulent salt-cured whole roast chicken for two.
Tucson’s Sonoran desert dotted with stately saguaro cacti is arguably Arizona’s most iconic landscape, and there’s no better way to take it in than by embarking on a hike.
For easier hiking: Those seeking a tour of the classic, towering cacti—which famously take up to 75 years to grow a single arm—can set out on any of the many trails in Saguaro National Park, west of the city. The half-mile Signal Hill Trail is a perfect adventure for kids and leads to the Signal Hill Petroglyphs, created by the ancient Hohokam people. The Douglas Springs Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls is a moderate out-and-back trail totaling nearly 6 miles, with the added bonus of a gushing waterfall as your midpoint reward during spring runoff. On the east side of town, visitors can hike through Saguaro National Park East on the scenic relatively flat 10-mile Cactus Forest Trail, which coils through cacti and desert succulents.
For more difficult hiking: The Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, located in the Santa Catalina Mountain foothills northeast of the city, offers great options for more experienced hikers, like the rugged Seven Falls Trail, a three-hour trek that crisscrosses Sabino Creek and ends at the falls, where hikers can wade, swim, and relax in natural pools of water before the return trip. The area north of downtown Tucson also offers challenging treks on either the Pontatoc Ridge Trail or the Finger Rock Trail.