Woman posing with wild west characters
O.K. Corral, Tombstone

Vacation Like a Local in Southern Arizona

From insider activities to known and beloved things to do, Tucson's tourist traps often double as favorite local haunts. Experience a resident-inspired weekend in Arizona's second-largest city.

In Tucson, the things that tourists and locals love often overlap, and for good reason. Tucson is the hub of activity in Southern Arizona, whether you're looking for outdoor freedom, dining exploration or a cultural escape. Tucsonans take pride in being welcoming, making the city a sun-soaked, laid-back gem of the Southwest that is a gateway to history, culture and creativity—whether you live there or not.

Here's how locals would fill their perfect Tucson day, including top attractions and things to do.

Try signature dishes that locals actually eat

When Tucson became the first city in the United States to be designated as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, no one from Tucson was surprised. Heritage ingredients such as tepary beans, chiltepin chiles, white Sonoran wheat and corn can be found on menus ranging from dive bars to fancy restaurants with Forbes recognition.

In addition to signature ingredients, don't miss signature dishes. You know, the things that Tucsonans line up for and crave when they're away from home.

These include:

Hop on a trail or a bike

Fall and winter in Tucson provide perfect weather for almost any outdoor activity. Watching the sunrise over the city from the top of Tumamoc Hill is how many locals start their days. If you want a trail less traveled, the surrounding mountains provide plenty of opportunities to look at the world in a new way.

The Catalina Mountains offer tough but rewarding climbs like Finger Rock Trail and Pusch Ridge. There are also easier and just as satisfying hikes in Catalina State Park. For a color-filled view, definitely hike Linda Vista trail in Oro Valley, just north of Tucson.

A mention of Tucson would be remiss without a mention of cycling. In the more urban areas of the city, such as Downtown Tucson, you'll spot bright yellow TuGo bike stations where you can rent beach cruisers by the minute to dash from attraction to attraction. For those who like altitude, the ascent up Mount Lemmon is a bucket-list climb. For those who like length, The Chuck Huckleberry Loop (just "The Loop" to locals) offers 131 paved miles around the city.

Jump into Tucson's best pools

Come summer, Tucsonans look to cool off. While nearly every hotel and resort has a pool (or two, or three), there are a few standouts worthy of a dip.

In the heart of the city, 15 stories above the University of Arizona, the rooftop pool at the Graduate hotel provides views of downtown and the Catalina Foothills. The Arizona Inn's pool is a huge, historic hangout with poolside dining and beverage service. Suit up for the swim-up bar at Westin La Paloma, where water slides delight young and old, and two adults-only pools offer perfect relaxation.

In every season except for summer, locals love to hike to Romero Pools and Seven Falls, where natural pools gather in swimming holes and waterfalls, making the most of monsoon rain.

Find cool art

Indoor space filled with pop culture novelty neon signs.
Ignite Sign Art Museum, credit An Pham

It's not hard. Downtown Tucson is practically a painter's palette, where nearly every corner and storefront is covered in an impressive mural displaying everything from a lifesize postcard of Tucson's famous claims to fame to former professional basketball player Bill Walton riding a jackalope. Every outdoor section of Hotel McCoy is covered in art, including affirmations and Instagram backgrounds. Elsewhere, head indoors to see the latest displays at the Tucson Museum of Art as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art. For something a little more unusual, try the Ignite Sign Art Museum, where restored neon signs blink bright once again.

Wander the Old West

Save a day for some true-blue Old West history. Tombstone is a hamlet southeast of Tucson whose streets are still thick with the dust that clung to boots worn by Old West lawmen like Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp. Visitors can walk the streets of the Wild West in Old Tombstone, or ride a stagecoach to see exhibits and learn the true story of the O.K. Corral.

Take a wrong turn and you may find yourself in the presence of a gunfight between a pair of rough-and-ready outlaws with ten-gallon hats and itchy trigger fingers. The town's explosive celebration of its infamous past and the haunted tours given just after dusk propel you back into a one-of-a-kind Old West experience.

These recommendations will get you started, but there's plenty more to see. Discover the wines, mines and cactus spines of southern Arizona.

About the Author

Jessica Dunham

Jessica Dunham is a travel, food and fitness writer whose work has been published in PHOENIX Magazine, Runner's World, Phoenix New Times, Valley Guide, Phoenix Travel Guide, Modern Luxury Scottsdale and more. She is passionate about all things Arizona, especially spontaneous Saturday daytrips around the state. She can be reached at dunham-media.com.

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