Tucson is just a quick flight (only about an hour and a half) from the Bay Area. We flew out a few weeks ago on Alaska Airlines‘ new nonstop flight from San Jose to Tucson for a quick weekend getaway in the desert. Our flight arrived in the evening, so we saw our first Arizona sunset from the sky, followed by some spectacular lightning storms in the distance.
We made our way to our hotel in the dark. When the sun came up the next morning, we got to fully experience the incredible scenery of the Sonoran desert. The Catalina mountains are stunning, and cactus dotted the hills and roads, including many giant Saguaro cactus, the largest cactus species in the United States. Most of the resorts around Tucson are located in the Catalina foothills, which is a 15-20 minute drive from the downtown area. You can relax by the pool or golf during the day, then head down into the city for great Mexican food, pizza, or cocktails.
Tucson obviously has a great Mexican food scene, but we were also surprised by the variety of other types of cuisine available. Below are our top picks for eating and drinking your way around the desert. Click the links for more details on each spot.
Reilly’s Craft Pizza is known for three things: their upscale Italian dining room, their outdoor beer garden, and their hip basement bar. This place was super busy all night, and everything was delicious.
Tucson has a great micro-brewery scene. If you love beer, you can sample a wide selection at Reilly’s beer garden. It’s open late and super popular with locals. We also visited Dragoon Brewing’s taproom. We were told by multiple locals that Dragoon is the best beer in Tucson, so we stopped in to check it out. It’s in an industrial park, so not the cutest location, but they have a rotating list of food trucks and you can pick up fresh beer to go.
Cocktails and snacks at Hacienda del Sol at sunset are a must! After margaritas, we headed downtown for an upscale Mexican dining experience at Café Poco Coso. They have an ever-rotating menu of fresh options. The menu is written on a board, and your server will explain each dish to you. You’ll have to make your selections on the spot. If it’s too hard to choose, try the plates, which give you three selections from the menu chosen by chef. It’s a fun way to try the different dishes.
We had heard that the oldest family run Mexican restaurant in the United States was in Tucson, so on our last day, we decide to check it out for lunch. Growing up, we both loved chimichangas, so when we heard that EL Charro is the birthplace of the chimichanga, we had to try one. We had heard mixed reviews of the restaurant, but we had a good experience and would recommend it.
Other downtown Tucson places that are not to be missed include Independent Distillery (try their gins and craft cocktails), Reilly’s basement bar Tough Luck Club, HUB Ice Cream (see why here), and Obon Sushi and Ramen (their hand-illustrated cocktail list is awesome, try the Chiltepin Cobbler).
We finished off our Tucson visit at an unassuming place near our resort that serves some of the best pizzas we’ve ever had. Read more about this exceptional pizza spot here. The owner and pizzaiolo has trained in Italy and won national and international awards for his pizza throwing skills.
If you’re looking for things to do, check out Saguaro National Park or Sabino Canyon where you can view native dessert plants and animals up close. You can even visit Tombstone, which is only an hour and fifteen minute car ride away from the city center. Tucson is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery, pool, food, and cocktails.
Thank you to Alaska Airlines for sponsoring this post.