NYT: 36 Hours in Tucson

Tucson Is a City That Encourages You to Explore

The food is delicious. The access to natural beauty is even better.

The change, and how quickly it came, took me by surprise. One minute we were in the heart of Tucson, Ariz., among the restaurants, coffee shops and businesses you’d expect in a metro area of more than a million people. Scarcely 15 minutes later it was as if we were hundreds of miles from civilization. Surrounded by the muted bronze and sage colors of the desert, my cousin Melanie Kuhlman (and her three children) and I took in the silence, the desert brush and towering saguaro cactuses that stretched 20 or 30 feet into the air. One of the best things about Tucson, I discovered, is how easy it is to leave Tucson. That’s not a knock against the city — I mean it in the most complimentary way possible.

The Old Pueblo, as the city is sometimes called, is a special place. Unlike many major urban centers, whose bragging rights are that you don’t have to leave the city limits to find what you want, Tucson is a place that encourages you to explore. Yes, there is beautiful public art throughout, as well as a Unesco-recognized culinary scene. But within easy access are breathtaking mountainscapes, desert kitsch and outstanding wildlife-viewing opportunities. Tucson is worth a visit for any traveler, regardless of means, but I’m happy to say I kept well within my modest budget when I visited last month.

“It’s a city that doesn’t feel as big as it is,” said my uncle Brian, an avid outdoorsman and decades-long resident (and Melanie’s dad). Melanie compared the city to Phoenix, just two hours away: “We preserve our natural desert landscape,” she said. “If you look around Phoenix, there are a lot of lawns. People have …” She paused. “Grass.”

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