In 2015, UNESCO proclaimed Tucson a City of Gastronomy, a venerable nod to its unique regional cuisines, abundant farmers markets and copious community gardens. Discover these award-winning traits yourself with a savory romp through Tucson’s thriving downtown. At the same time, find clever gifts at the Mercado San Agustín Annex, trek a riverside trail where farmers once tilled, and ride the modern streetcar to Tucson’s bustling brewery scene. (Beer is food, too!) Then road-trip to Tombstone, where ghosts of the Old West rub shoulders with newly minted spirits at a fine local brewhouse.
Here’s how to get started:
Shop the Mercado San Agustín (MSA) Annex
This clever new addition to the ever-popular Mercado features small boutiques and eateries tucked inside shipping containers. Find trendy home accouterments in Now or Never (maybe a designer terracotta pitcher by Lagos Del Mundo, or a contemporary Souda wood-and-marble pedestal). Or celebrate Tucson in the Why I Love Where I Live shop, where you’ll find Arizona Heart totes, pocket notebooks and “Bloom Where You’re Planted” greeting cards. Then savor a sumptuous roasted eggplant and pesto veggie masterpiece at Beaut Burger.
Stroll through time
The Santa Cruz River, now a subterranean river with a dry bed at ground level, sustained farming in this region for millennia. Get a sense of that history with a gentle hike along the Santa Cruz River Park Trail. The trail totals more than 40 miles of pathway along both sides of the river. The mesquite-lined path, meandering alongside Tucson's downtown, offers surprising refuge from the urban bustle.
Catch a ride
The Sun Link Tucson Streetcar opened for business in 2014, and now provides fun, streamlined transportation between the University of Arizona and downtown. Get onboard at the Mercado and travel across the river, into the heart of our bustling brewery district. Get onboard at the Mercado San Agustín and travel across the Santa Cruz riverbed into the heart of the town's bustling brewery district.
Raise a Pint
Hop off the streetcar and duck into any one of the local breweries for a great local brew. The charming Crooked Tooth Brewing Company, a relative newcomer, boasts a homey vibe. Menu mainstays range from Archmagus Ale, with caramel and roasted nut, to Lazer Soundwaves—a sour, peppery saison.
For more than a decade, Barrio Brewing Company has drawn an eclectic mix of college kids, area workers and neighborhood folks to a vintage warehouse on the outskirts of downtown. Patrons relish sipping brews on the outdoor terrace as the train rumbles past.
Borderlands Brewing Company sprawls inside a historic brick warehouse, which was once a train produce depot. Today, Borderlands is known for it’s regionally themed beers and great live music.
Next stop: Tombstone
A night out at Big Nose Kate's Saloon in Tombstone
While Tucson's microbreweries have a decidedly contemporary atmosphere, you can still belly up to a bar in Old West fashion in Southern Arizona. Make a road trip to the historic town of Tombstone, about a 90-minute drive southeast of Tucson. This feisty outpost gets its larger-than-life flavor from the 1881 OK Corral shoot-out, now considered the granddaddy of Western legends.
Here, the Old West lives on. Stand in the storied corral alongside a life-sized Wyatt Earp, and you’ll sense a yellow-bellied sniper haunting the shadows. Saunter down a weathered boardwalk and you’re trailed by faintly jingling spurs. Glance up a narrow alley, only to glimpse an outlaw's tattered long-coat disappearing through a doorway.
Escape the boardwalk and slip into the Bird Cage Theater. During its bawdy, 19th century heyday, this colorful hub hosted gambling, theatrical performances and a busy brothel. It was closed and sealed up in 1889. Decades later, the intact interior became the quirky museum it is today, filled with curious artifacts, from antique poker tables to the “Belly-Up Bar.”
Take a break from your Western exploits to whet your whistle at the popular Tombstone Brewing Company, acclaimed for its namesake Tombstone IPA, a hoppy, hazy wonder with tropical flavors and bursts of peach. After working up an appetite, you can grab a bite to eat at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, located just a short stroll away from the brewery. This restaurant offers up everything from wings and pretzels to burgers and barbecue brisket.
If you hanker to spend the night, try the Landmark Lookout Lodge. This popular inn overlooks Tombstone and boasts sunsets worthy of a John Ford Western. Enjoy an outdoor firepit tailor-made for sharing frontier tales of yore—as well as stories of your own Southern Arizona adventures.
Author: Tim Vanderpool