I’ll be the first to admit that Tucson doesn’t make it to many lists of top destinations, but my parents are both from there, I went to college in the “Dirty T” and we lived there when my kids were babies. It’s a whole different vibe than the Phoenix metro area and full of some really awesome places to explore with your family. It holds a special place in my heart and if you’re new to AZ, definitely worth a visit. Whether you’re looking to escape for a day or a weekend, here are some fun things to do with the fam just 90 minutes down the I-10.
Where to go
If you’re looking to beat the heat, drive down early and head up Mt. Lemmon. Located on the north east side of town, within an hour you’ll be up in 75 degree weather breathing that cool mountain air 9,000 feet in elevation. The drive up the mountain is one of the most beautiful in all of Arizona and you go from Saguaros to pines in less than an hour. Once you make it up the mountain you can ride the ski lift (yeah, you can ski in the winter….in Tucson…) or go for a hike. Not outdoorsy? Me either. There is a delicious little pizza restaurant called the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin and they serve fresh pizza and cookies all year round.
If you’re looking to stay in town, Brandi Fenton Memorial Park is nestled in the foothills and is our favorite park to visit while we’re in town. It has play structures for all ages and a really awesome splash pad. If the weather is nice, it’s the perfect place to pack a picnic (maybe Eegee’s…it tastes better in Tucson) and let the kids run around.
If you’re looking for something uniquely Tucson, drive through Saguaro National Park. I’ve lived in Arizona my entire life, so Saguaros shouldn’t impress me. There is something majestic about them and driving through the park with more Saguaros than you can even see is breathtaking. You can definitely get out and hike around, but it’s definitely worth the detour on your way in (or out) of town.
One last thing I can’t leave out is Colossal Cave in Vail. It’s about 30 minutes outside of Tucson, but worth the drive. Growing up, my grandparents lived about 10 minutes from the cave, so it reminds me of my childhood and hasn’t changed much! It’s packed with Arizona history and the cave tours last about 45 minutes – just enough to keep the kids interested. I must note, they do not allow kids under age 5, so if your kids are a little bit older, this is a must see when you visit.
Where to eat
The Tucson food scene is unmatched. We visit often and there are 3 restaurants we visit on rotation.
- Scordato’s Pizza: I don’t even know where to begin, so I am just going to tell you what to order. For appetizer, get the antipasto with extra bread and extra green sauce. I’ve asked what’s in the green sauce and no one will tell me, but it’s definitely olive oil, maybe some pesto and it’s just delicious. Next order the pizza. Any kind, you can’t go wrong. My kids love the Margherita and the Chicken Meatball and Ricotta Cheese. Don’t skip the Penne Sausage and absolutely indulge in the Bread Pudding. It’s casual, kid friendly and the staff are some of the best in the business.
- BOCA Tacos y Tequila: Chef Maria is a genius and a celebrity…not only locally but nationally known. The restaurant is on 4th Avenue which is uniquely Tucson and a destination in itself (think Mill Avenue, but slightly more strange and less commercialized). We always start with the salsa flight (a flight of house-made salsas that change daily) and perfect tortilla chips for dipping. Words cannot describe because I’ve never had one I didn’t love and well, they change daily so it’s always something different. There are more tacos choices than you can try in one time, but you can’t go wrong with the Macho, Asada and Camaron. Also, margaritas.
- Guadalajara Grill: This is a Tucson chain. It’s traditional Mexican food, but done right. They have a guacamole cart where they make it fresh and right in front of you. The kids love the bright decor and I’ve never had a margarita that I didn’t want to order a second one. The food is consistent and never disappoints.
Tucson is quirky, so I just have to say this: keep an open mind when visiting. I like to think of it as a cross between Mesa and Sedona. I personally love visiting and going to our favorite places when we do visit. I grew up going pretty often, so it’s been fun to have my kids experience it too.