The 14 Things You Need to Experience in Tucson, Arizona

 

I just finished my first trip to Tucson, Arizona and let me tell you, it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken! I never really thought of Tucson as a place I would like to travel to, but since my mom was house sitting for a friend and offered for me to come and visit, I thought “why not!” My mom and I ventured all over the city (which is ginormous btw- 227 square miles to be exact!) to take in some of the best eats, sights, and shops! If you’re planning a trip to Tucson or never even thought about visiting until you read this, I hope this post will help make your decision and planning that much easier!

Since we were staying at my mom’s friends house, I can’t recommend any hotels or places to stay in the Tucson area, but I can gush over the views from the house we stayed in with you! My mom’s friends literally live on the side of a mountain (definitely not what I’m used to seeing in the midwest) which made for some beautiful views of not only Tucson, but the stunning Arizona sunrises and sunsets! Since we were on mountain time, which is 2 hours before the central time I’m used to, I woke up around 6 every morning which allowed me to see some breath taking sunrises.

Something my mom and I kept saying during my trip was that we just couldn’t “capture it on film”. This means exactly what it says. There were so many beautiful things that you can’t quite capture on film (sunrises, sunsets, mountains, etc.) I tried to get as many good photos as I could, but some things you just can’t capture on a cell phone camera or any camera for that matter! So that’s why I highly recommend going to Tucson to experience everything for yourself! πŸ™‚ Enjoy!

My mom and I cheesing in the Tucson Mountains!
A view of the sunset from my mom friend’s house, can you believe this view?! Talk about life goals right there! πŸ™‚

{Eat}

El Charro

This was our first stop once I hopped off the plane and let me tell you, I’m so glad it was! This was hands down, the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. Fun fact: El Charro is the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family!

My mom and I got the table side guac to share (forgot to take a picture) and I got a house margarita (literally the best margarita I’ve ever had) and the tamale stuffed chicken, which, on their website, is described as “Grilled cage free chicken breast stuffed with melted queso casero & corn tamale. Topped with creamy raja sauce & fire-roasted green chile, avocado-corn salsa” Literally so much nomz in one meal!

The atmosphere of the restaurant was so fun and welcoming! The restaurant itself is in an old house and has a super cute screened-in porch as well as indoor seating to choose from, plus the wait staff was so friendly and welcoming to us! Something I noticed right away when we went to eat was how chill everyone was. It was such a change from the fast paced, go-go-go, midwest mindset I’m used to experiencing every day.

My house margarita- so yummy! I’m not a big fan of tequila but love margaritas (makes total sense right?), so I’m always hesitant to order margaritas in fear of it tasting like straight tequila, but this one didn’t! It was so fresh and citrusy!
My tamale stuffed chicken! It also came with beans and veggies on the side!

Waffle House

Ok, I know some of you who have Waffle House’s readily available and around you will roll your eyes at this stop, but to me- where the closest Waffle House is over 100 miles away, it’s a huge deal when I see one and it makes me very excited! My mom and I actually didn’t plan to go to Waffle House, but as we were driving to our morning adventure I saw the Waffle House sign and knew we had to stop!

I LOVE breakfast food- like to the point that I will have breakfast food at my wedding for my guests to eat…I’m committed. So Waffle House, to me, is the best place on earth. I obviously had to get coffee because #CoffeeIsLife, and of course, a waffle (because how could you go to Waffle House and not get a waffle?!?), bacon, and hash browns (which are literally the best hash browns on planet earth). Heads up, if you haven’t experienced Waffle House hash browns you need to get in your car and drive to the nearest Waffle House- they are life changing.

Unlimited coffee is my best friend πŸ™‚
My idea of breakfast heaven (Hash browns included, but not pictured) πŸ™‚

In-N-Out

I’m definitely that girl right now. This is another case of the “I don’t have any of these near me so I get really excited when I see one”- so sue me πŸ™‚ Β I’ve only had In-N-Out once before in my life (shoutout to Austin, TX), but ever since then, I was hooked! Like Waffle House, my mom and I didn’t have a plan to go to In-N-Out but once we saw the sign we knew we had to stop! If you’ve never been to In-N-Out before, the menu is really simple and literally only has 6 things on it. I got a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake- my face was a literal heart eyed emoji when I was eating. So. Darn. Β Delicious.

Look at those palm trees! How could you not want to go eat there?!
My favorite cheeseburger ever- seriously. And that’s saying a lot because I’ve had my fair share of cheeseburgers.

Iron Door Restaurant

WOW is all I have to say about this restaurant. Not only is it at the top of a mountain (we’ll talk about getting up the mountain later), which makes for some beautiful views (see below), but their food is out of this world!

They had the cutest little outdoor patio and I immediately fell in love with the views! The only downside is that our table seemed to be the place all the bees wanted to hang out (literally felt like I was in Bee Movie), so that was a little distracting/annoying, but once we put an open bottle of honey on the ledge next to our table the bees left us alone…for the most part.

The view from our table. “OH HEY THERE MOUNTAIN SIDE AND TONS OF TREES! GOOD TO SEE YOU TODAY!”
Another view from our table! Just look at the color of those trees! Fall colors everywhere!

Like I mentioned earlier, this restaurant is at the top of a mountain- over 9,000 ft above sea level- so it was a little chilly up there! Fun fact: It felt more like fall on top of this mountain than it did back in the midwest- it was in the mid 60’s at the top of a mountain in Arizona, as opposed to the high 70’s, mid 80’s weather the midwest was experiencing. I made a joke that I had to travel all the way to Arizona to experience fall haha πŸ™‚ Since it was a bit chilly, my mom and I got their hot apple cider, complete with a orange slice and cinnamon stick! Like cheeseburgers, I’ve had a lot of hot apple cider in my day and this was by far the best!

Their Hot Apple Cider. Literally the best thing I’ve ever drank. No exaggeration. Also, the fact they put it in a clear cup makes it that much better!

Before we got our meal we were served a huge chunk of their cornbread! I’m not sure what they put in this stuff, but it was AMAZING! It’s kind of hard to see in the picture below, but they had some kind of crust/crumble on top that my mom and I determined to be graham crackers! Who would’ve thought to put a graham cracker crust on cornbread?! Not me! Unfortunately we didn’t get to try the cornbread with their honey (which I can only assume was local), since the bees were busy with it, but I can only imagine that it would have made it even better! πŸ™‚

For the main event I decided on the “Mountain Soul” which included 2 brats with spicy mustard, applesauce, German potato salad, red cabbage, and cornbread! I was obsessed with this meal! I almost got a sandwich, but am so glad that I didn’t because this meal was amazing! I couldn’t decide if the brats or German potato salad were my favorite, so let’s just say it was a tie! πŸ™‚

The “Mountain Soul”! Such a hearty and filling meal!

If you know me, then you know how much of a sweet tooth I have, so when I saw they had individual pies I knew I had to get one! My mom and I opted for the cherry pie, which cost us $7.50. We decided to get the pie to go in fear that the bees would attack us if we ate it there. The decision to take the pie with us ended up being a wonderful choice because we got to, instead, enjoy the pie at an absolutely breathtaking spot on our way down the mountain (more on this spot later in the post)!

I can now cross “eat pie on a mountain” off my bucket list! πŸ™‚

Pie Bird Β Bakery and Cafe

Like you learned earlier, I’m a big fan of breakfast, so I always make it my mission when I visit somewhere new to find the cutest breakfast/brunch spots and the Pie Bird Bakery and Cafe was just that! This place was so wonderful- from the decor and ambiance to the food and staff, I was very impressed! The funny thing about this place is that it’s located on the ground floor of a professional office building, but you would never be able to tell from the way they’ve decorated and set it up!

I wasn’t kidding when I said this place was cute! I mean, look at that rolling pin light fixture!

For my meal, I went with the quiche of the day which included bacon, green peppers, green onion and other yummy things! It came with a side of fresh fruit, which I was pleasantly surprised was actually fresh haha Whenever I’ve had “fresh fruit” come with a meal you can tell it’s been recently de-thawed or is still frozen. This side of fruit included bananas, strawberries, pineapple and melon! I also got an iced caramel latte with almond milk and it was super yummy and energized me for the day! I didn’t take a picture, but my mom got a breakfast sandwich of sorts that included an egg, cheese, and jam! I know it sounds super weird, but it was SUPER yummy! The sweetness of the jam mixed with the savoriness of the cheese and egg went perfectly together!

My iced caramel latte, quiche, and fruit! A wonderful way to start my day!

Prep and Pastry

Another day, another breakfast stop! I wasn’t kidding when I said I love breakfast food! πŸ™‚ We just happened to find Prep and Pastry on Yelp after we visited The Mini Time Machine Museum (more on that later)! Again, I’m a sucker for good breakfast food and a good atmosphere and Prep and Pastry delivered on both! I didn’t get a picture of the inside of the restaurant itself (if you really want to see it there are plenty of photos on Yelp :)) but I obviously documented the food we got! πŸ™‚

The outside of Prep and Pastry! It’s located in a cute shopping mall with an antique store and a boutique, so you can do a little shopping before or after your meal! πŸ™‚
The Prep and Pastry breakfast menu! It looked like they do breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday!

Now on to the important part, the food! My mom and I both got the same thing, coffee and an omelette called “All Hail the Omelette”! It came with turkey sausage, caramelized onions, muenster cheese, grape tomatoes, cilantro and parsley, with a side of Preps potatoes! I ended up taking the cilantro and parsley off the omelette (I’m not a huge fan of either), but that didn’t take away from the flavor one bit! The tomatoes were the perfect addition and pop of flavor to every bite I took! Such a yummy and filling meal!

The “All Hail the Omelette” with Preps potatoes and coffee! Peep my mom in the background, Hi Mom! πŸ™‚

As you already know, I have a HUGE sweet tooth, so, to me, no meal is complete without a sweet something! Prep and Pastry had a variety of different baked goods to choose from, but I knew from the moment we walked in and I saw the maple bacon “dossant” it was a done deal! Basically the “dossant” is a donut croissant (you may have had a cronut before, from what I can tell they’re pretty much the same thing) and it was topped with a sweet frosting and candied bacon. Literally all of my favorite things wrapped into one pastry. My life is complete. πŸ™‚

The dossant! Are you drooling yet? πŸ˜‰

{Explore}

Mt. Lemmon

If you are only able to visit one spot in Tucson, Mt. Lemmon is the place I would tell you to go! My mom and I spent 6 hours there, but you could easily make it a whole day adventure with all the trails, lookout points, and vistas to check out! I’ve only included a few of the pictures I took from our 6 hour adventure up and down the mountain, but I tried to choose the best ones! πŸ™‚

A special tip for your trip up the mountain is a free guided science tour that was produced by the University of Arizona! All you need to do is search “Mt. Lemmon Science Tour” in the Google Play or Apple App store and hit “download”, that’s it! Once downloaded, you can go into the app and poke around, it even tells you when exactly to start the tour! They provide some awesome history and explain the “life zones” as you ascend the mountain! It was such a cool experience and I highly recommend downloading it!

A view from the road as we drove up to the base of the mountain to begin our tour!

Along the way there are a lot of viewing areas and vistas where you’re able to pull over, get out of your car, and take in the breathtaking views. Our favorite was the Windy Point Vista (which was a suggested stop on the Mt. Lemmon Science Tour)! We spent almost an hour walking/climbing around the rocks and taking pictures! I’ve included some of my favorite shots below! πŸ™‚

Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley/Lift

Located at the top of Mt. Lemmon this makes for the perfect ending to a trip up the mountain! We got to the ski valley earlier in the morning (around 9:30ish) so we beat the rush of people coming in around lunch time! πŸ™‚ During the winter months, the Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley and Lift is used for, you guessed it, skiing and other winter sports! But during the non-snowy months you’re able to ride the ski lift up to the tippy top of the mountain and experience some more amazing views! But don’t forget to bring a sweater with you- since it’s at such a high elevation the temperature was in the mid to low 60’s once we reached the top of the mountain, so even though we were in Arizona, it felt like fall in the midwest! πŸ™‚ Β There’s also a small shop at the bottom of the lift where you’re able to buy your ski lift tickets in addition to some Mt. Lemmon merchandise! They also have a quaint snack shop outside the gift shop that sells hot cocoa, hot apple cider, and other tasty treats!

Ready to ride up the ski lift! This was my first ski lift ride ever- so fun and memorable!
The gift shop I mentioned is on the left and the small snack shop is on the right!

The ride going both up and down the mountain was so peaceful and serene. It was so quiet and picturesque and the only thing you could hear was the wind. If I could experience that every day, I would. I felt so relaxed and at peace when we got off the lift. Plus, it didn’t hurt that it was my favorite type of weather (in the 60’s with a clear blue sky and a light breeze) πŸ™‚

A absolutely amazing view from our way down the ski lift!
A view going up the ski lift! Look at those fall colors and that bright blue sky!

Once you make it to the top of the skit lift you’re able to walk around and take in more of the beautiful Arizona sights! Something that was so interesting to me was the fact that you could still see damage from the forest fire that raged through the Catalina Mountains in 2002.

A view from the top of the ski lift. You can still see damage from the 2002 forest fire in the trees in the foreground.

Summerhaven

If you want to add to your warm and cozy top-of-the-mountain experience, you need to visit Summerhaven! This a cute little mountain town complete with a restaurant, general store, gift shop, and “cookie cabin”! πŸ™‚

The main street in Summerhaven! Can’t beat that sky!
The sign for the Mt. Lemmon General Store and Gift Shop! So mountain chic, right? πŸ™‚

Biosphere 2

Another great place to visit is the Biosphere 2! To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when we decided to go out to Biosphere 2, but I was pleasantly surprised by our visit- I learned a ton about the environment and sustainability!

Biosphere 2 is located in the middle of the desert- literally. It’s about an hour drive outside of Tucson, but the drive in is an adventure in itself because it makes for some of the most wonderful desert and mountain views! πŸ™‚ Constructed in the early 90’s, Biosphere 2 was inhabited by 8 people for 2 and a half years to study the ability to sustain life on another planet. Today it’s used as a controlled research facility that is operated by the University of Arizona! The tour lasted for about an hour and a half and we got to view the different simulated zones like the rainforest, desert, wetlands, and ocean!

A panoramic shot of the front of Biosphere 2 and that’s not even all of it!
A view of the wetlands from a bridge in Biosphere 2!
Look it’s the ocean…the Biosphere 2 ocean that is!
The rainforest zone! It was sooooo humid in there!

We also got to see where the original 8 “biospherians” lived and also got to go under the greenhouses and see the inner-workings of Biosphere 2! I wasn’t able to take any decent pictures of those areas (just think very industrial), so I guess it’s something you’ll just have to go and experience for yourself!

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures

Once my mom told me about The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, I was so so excited! Ever since a young age I’ve been fascinated by miniatures- I can’t remember exactly which museum downtown Chicago has them, but I thought they were the coolest things ever- so when I learned there was a whole museum dedicated to them, I knew we had to go!

The sign at the front entrance to the Mini Time Machine Museum!

They have different rooms throughout the museum where you’re able to learn about the history of miniatures, experience a ghost town of miniatures, Hollywood miniatures, and winter/holiday themed miniatures!

I’m always amazed at the detail that goes into each miniature display. Look at that picnic basket!
The holiday room where they have miniatures in the floor that you can walk over!
Obviously I had to take a picture of the Pinocchio miniature!
One of my favorite movies in miniature form!

{Shop}

Tucson Outlet Mall

I didn’t take any pictures of the outlet mall because, to be honest, I was in awe at the amount of shops they had available! I had an outlet mall fairly close to me growing up so going to an outlet mall is nothing new to me, but I especially loved this one! It had so many shops that I hadn’t ever seen at other outlet malls! Bonus, I got a new wallet/clutch from Michael Kors for like $30! I’m a sucker for a good deal, which is why I love going to outlet malls! If you love shopping for bargains and experiencing new stores and shops, I definitely recommend going to the outlet mall in Tucson!

Greetings from Tucson Sign | 4th Ave.

Ok, so this isn’t a place to shop, but I’m a sucker for a good Instagram photo op, so I obviously had to take advantage of the “Greetings from Tucson” sign! You can find the sign located at N Arizona and E 7th St, behind the Army Surplus (my mom and I missed it the first time we walked by hahaha)! The reason I included the “Greetings from Tucson” sign in the shopping section is because it’s a few streets away from 4th ave, which is a wonderful place to shop! If you’re looking for some unique and interesting shops, 4th ave is the place for you! My mom and I found the cutest boutique that was having a huge sale, so I was able to snag a dress that was originally $70 for $10 and a shirt that was originally $60 for $10 too! Again, I’m a sucker for a good deal so I was all about the $10 clothes! πŸ™‚

4th avenue and the neighborhood surrounding it is filled with art galleries and murals that are absolutely breath taking. You’ll see creative works of art all over the place in downtown Tucson! Before I visited, I didn’t realize how big of an art scene Tucson has, but after I saw art gallery after art gallery lining the roads, I knew it was a big part of the city!

Bookmans

Something else you should know about me, is that I LOVE being surrounded by books, so being at bookstores is my personal heaven! If you’re like me, then you’ll love Bookmans, but they don’t just have tons of books, they also have music, video games, video game consoles, movies, magazines, and novelty items! Also all their books are used and they don’t keep a record of what books they have, so you never know what you’re going to happen upon!

That’s all she wrote…

Phew! That was a long post! I loved my experience in Tucson and hope you’ll get to experience all the fun adventures I did!

What’d I miss? Are there any awesome places I should visit the next time I’m back in Tucson!? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and PinterestΒ and subscribe to my blog to get emails every time I post! Β Be on the lookout for new posts every Wednesday and who knows, I may even sprinkle in a surprise post every so often! πŸ™‚


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