While I grew up in Tucson, I hadn’t been back since I was twelve years old. I wasn’t originally planning on doing a Tuscon travel guide and actually was fairly unexcited about going back—to be completely honest, Zack and I just chose to spend a month of our nomad life there because we were looking for warm places within driving distance to spend the winter, and I vaguely remembered that Tucson was something of a spa town.
But wow. Wow. Tucson blew my mind. It’s SO beautiful, and the food is SO good (in 2015, it became the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy designated in the United States!! Why don’t people talk about this more!!).
While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are my Tucson travel guide must-dos.
The best healthy restaurants in Tucson
Barrio Charro and Barrio Bread — Barrio Bread is a small local bakery that makes some of the best breads I’ve ever had. They’re long fermented, made with fresh-milled flours, and made with local ingredients. Barrio Charro, their new offshoot, uses their breads as the base for their Mexican sandwiches. Barrio Charro has some of the freshest, most delicious Mexican food I had in Tucson, with lots of flavor-forward, local ingredients. The Churro Waffles are a must-try.
Five Points Market & Restaurant — the best spot for seasonal, veggie-forward breakfast and lunch, this small cafe has a regularly changing menu and inspired ingredient combinations. They also have an extensive natural wine and cider list.
La Estrella Bakery — Food & Wine named the donuts at this Mexican pastry shop as among the best in the US, and I don’t disagree. Go in the morning and let them pick out an assortment of pastries for you. They’re located in Mercado San Agustin, which has a ton of cute restaurants, shops, and cafes to look around while you’re there.
Seis Kitchen — also in the Mercado San Agustin, this is a great place to fish tacos and breakfast burritos.
Boca Tacos — the tacos are great here, with fresh ingredients and lots of vegan and vegetarian options. It’s a cool vibe, smack in the middle of 4th Avenue, which is filled with cute vintage stores, restaurants, and tattoo shops. I was personally underwhelmed by the other menu items, including the salsa, which desperately needed salt.
Barista del Barrio — hands down the best food I had in Tucson and one I haven’t seen in any other Tucson Travel Guide. This food truck has a simple menu—just breakfast burritos, tamales, and drinks, but what they do, they do well. They had the best salsa I had in the city, and the breakfast burritos (which come as a small set of two rather than one large one, which I loved) are grilled for an even more delightful texture. Their lattes are amazing too, and they have plenty of alternative ones and are happy to do them caffeine-free. I got the Oat Milk Mexican Hot Chocolate latte with no coffee and I still dream about it to this day. There’s plenty of outdoor seating if you’d like to eat there.
Tanias 33 — a lot of people recommended Tanias 33, and while I liked it, it was a bit hearty for my personal preference. Still, if you’re looking for lots of vegan staples (they also have meat) done in a heartier Mexican style, it’s worth checking out. You get a LOT of food for your money, but I recommend doing takeout—the ambiance leaves something to be desired.
Tumerico — this vegan restaurant was recommended by so many of you, and it definitely lived up to the hype. Their menu changes daily, and has a lot of jackfruit-based meat alternatives. I particularly loved the taquitos and the flavored lattes are a ton of fun. I also liked La Chaiteria, which was opened recently by the same owners and has an attached Mexican marketplace and meat options as well.
Food Conspiracy Co-Op — I always think local grocery stores are a great way to check out the food scene in a town, and this is a great one. They have GORGEOUS produce, and tons of local products, including the best tortillas I’ve ever had (the La Norra brand, get the taco and burrito-sized ones) and bright-pink Prickly Pear Tepache. While it’s a co-op, you don’t need to be a member to shop there!
Rillito Park Farmers Market — the Sunday farmers market is the largest one in town, and has hot food for breakfast/brunch (try the wood-fired pizza!) and tons of local food. The pre-roasted peppers are amazing for salsa if you’re staying in an Airbnb, and the coffee stand makes the freshest roasted, most delicious beans in town.
Just Churros — a small truck selling—you guessed it—just churros, this place shares a 38-year-old churro recipe that will be one of the best things you’ve ever tasted (I rated it better than Disneyland, which everyone knows has the best churros in the world). Skip the chocolate sauce—it’s glorified Hershey’s—and go for Dulce De Leche for dipping. Make sure to eat them in the car, while they’re still as hot as possible.
The best hikes in Tucson
Tucson has a lot more diverse hiking than you’d expect. While it’s primarily desert, it’s a high desert, which makes for an abundance of different types of cactus and other lush flora. It’s also surrounded by island mountains on all sides. You can drive up Mt Lemmon and go from an 80 degree day to a pine-filled, snow-covered scene in under an hour, which feels so crazy and so fun (the drive is gorgeous too, and well worth it for the views alone, although do bring some ginger tincture if you get carsick, since it’s quite windy!)
Bear Canyon to Seven Falls — Probably the most famous hike in Tucson, this winds up a canyon and ends at a gorgeous waterfall, which was flowing with a ton of water when we were there. A long hike that’s not too hard, this makes a great day outing. It is crowded and parking in the Sabino Canyon Lot can be an issue on weekends, so go on a weekday or on the early side.
Marshall Gulch Trail #3 — this is a quick and easy trail at the top of Mt. Lemmon. It doesn’t feel like you’re in Tucson at all—you’ll be surrounded by pine trees and get sweeping mountain views.
Josephine Saddle via Super Trail and Old Baldy — this is another island mountain, a bit south of Tucson (about halfway to the Mexico border). It feels like being in Colorado, with desert giving away to pine forests and craggy peaks. This is a lovely loop trail with lots of diversity.
Douglas Spring, Bridal Wreath Falls, Three Tank, Garwood Loop — my favorite trail in Saguaro National Park, this loop will give you the full Tucson Travel Guide desert experience. There’s a surprising amount of diversity and lots of beautiful views as you make your way in and out of small canyons. Bring lots of water, as this hike is almost completely exposed!
The best things to buy in Tucson
Time Market — a really fun gourmet market off 4th Ave, this place has fun local products like chocolate, popcorn, coffee, and beer. They also have great pizza by the slice and really delicious cookies.
Sonoran Rosie — hands down one of my favorite things I bought in Tucson and maybe in my life, this small shop sells bath products made with hand-foraged desert botanicals. The creosote shower bundle will make your bathroom smell like the desert after the rain, and the bath bombs are beautiful and delicious smelling. There’s no local storefront—you can order online, but Rosie also does free local pickup (just note it when you check out on Etsy). Hands down the best souvenir to take a piece of the desert home with you.
Where to stay in Tucson
We stayed in the loveliest Airbnb—it was walking distance from the Mercado San Agustin, was super quiet and cozy, and beautifully decorated. You can see the full house tour below, and check out the listing here. Highly recommend!
Our Tucson house tour
I hope you enjoyed this Tucson Travel Guide! Let me know any other recommendations in the comments below!