It's no secret, I love Tucson. I think it is tucked away in the very southwestern corner of the US, away from view, so it's often missed. But, if you love food and sunshine, it is WELL worth a trip! While Arizona summers often get a bad rap, I really think it's gorgeous year round. Ok, maybe not August...but where is it nice in August?
Don't believe me that it's a foodie's paradise? Well it's the first city in the US that's been named a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) City of Gastronomy! It has a heritage food culture that goes back thousands of years which has resulted in amazing and unique produce that isn't available anywhere else in the country. So really, you've gotta go check it out.
I've compiled a list of amazing places to go while you're there (you're going, right??). It is far from exhaustive, but I will continue to add to it over time. I hope this can give you a jump start on planning your next trip.
Penca- This trendy eatery sits just across from the Federal Court House on Broadway. There is no big signage on the outside, so you have to know what you're looking for. It features seasonal Mexico City cuisine with thick and chewy handmade corn tortillas, perfectly spicy salsa, and refreshing prickly pear tea. Many restaurants downtown open for happy hour and dinner, but Penca opens early for both brunch and lunch, so it's a great mid-day stop. They've got lots of great choices on the menu, but it's hard to beat a couple tacos and some chips and guac. That's a universal rule.
Food Conspiracy Co-Op- This is like...my favorite. As a food co-op they have great organic produce and lots of bulk bins if you need some groceries. They also carry lots of great local food products (like bottled FTC Kombuca and R Bars). If you need a bite to grab and go, there are also plenty of choices for you. They've got a hot bar for you to choose from, as well as some pre-made options in the cooler (like Ethiopian wraps from Cafe Desta). Grab some snacks and a cold beverage and go explore downtown!
Cup Cafe- This little treasure is tucked inside the historic Hotel Congress. And really, let's just get down to business: they have a pie case that includes a vegan cheesecake. Sold! They're well known for their brunch, but they've got an all-day menu that features tons of vegetarian and gluten-free options. Everything is clearly marked on their menu, which makes ordering according to your diet a lot easier. Whether you're staying at the Hotel Congress or not, it's worth stopping by the vintage hotel, built in 1919. And, I mean, while you're there you might as well grab some cheesecake, right? I won't tell.
Mercado San Augustin- This market is gorgeous. I just love it. This is a permanent public market with several shops and restaurants. The farmer's market takes place every Thursday evening year round. The market has a wide variety of local meats, honey, nuts, dates, and Arizona-grown produce. The San Xavier Co-Op Farm brings some unique heritage foods like tepary beans, dried cholla buds, and mesquite flour. If you're staying downtown, you can take a quick ride on the Sun Link Streetcar to get to the Mercado. Grab a big Agua Fresca from Seis and enjoy all the amazing variety this market has to offer. You'll never be so happy to eat real, local, unprocessed, fresh food!
Rillito Park- This is probably one of Tucson's biggest Farmer's Markets. It takes place every Sunday morning in the lovely Rillito Park, which also features great paths for biking and walking. It is on the north side of town, but it's worth the short trip. The market features so many of the best food producers in town. Here are some of my favorites: Adventure Coffee Roasting (their Ethiopian Sidamo coffee is my favorite coffee, ever), Fermented Tea Company (FTC) Kombucha, Fiore Di Capra Goat Cheese, Gourmet Girls gluten-free baked goods, Miracle Honeybee Company, and tons of great local produce and high quality meats.
Steam Pump Ranch- This market is further north, out of Tucson and into Oro Valley. It is produced by Heirloom Farmer's Markets, just like the Rillito Park market, so it features many of the same food producers. It is worth the trip for the homemade tortilla chips (and small non-GMO green chili street taco tortillas), roasted veggies, pastured pork, and Ethiopian coffee (my verrrrry favorite beans, from Adventure Roasting). And like I said...the giant bags of homemade tortilla chips.
For a Treat
Cashew Cow- This delicious dessert parlor features 100% dairy-free cashew-based ice cream. It is so smooth and creamy, and such a great treat for those of us who can't do dairy. They have several flavors available each day. They're closed on Mondays, so plan accordingly!
Frost- Frost Gelato is authentic Italian gelato right here in Tucson. There are several locations around town. They use super high quality ingredients and recipes straight from Bologna, Italy. According to my parents, Italian gelato experts, this is the best gelato they've found in the US. There are lots of dairy-free sorbets to choose from, but if you can handle dairy, the gelato really is amazing. They have enough flavors to keep you coming back every day.
Screamery- Now if you're going to eat dairy, you might as well go for the good stuff, right?! Screamery features 100% grass-fed dairy. They purchase their dairy raw, and pasteurize it themselves on-sight. You can read more about their process here. They're consistently ranked among the best ice cream in Tucson, and it's not hard to see why- high quality food tastes good! There are several locations in town, so find one close to wherever you're staying.
A Bit Further Out
Harvest- Harvest is known for their fresh, seasonal menu featuring local food year round. They've got tons of gluten-free options and substitutions available, including great house-made buns. Their burgers are made of local, grass-fed beef and feature locally grown tomatoes and greens. Want to take it up a notch? Skip the burger, and go for options like braised short ribs, or pan seared duck breast. And if meat is not your thing, they have plenty of vegetarian options, too. The high quality food here makes Harvest a stand out!
Gourmet Girls- If you need to eat gluten-free, there's no better place than a dedicated, 100% gluten-free restaurant. Gourmet Girls has a full bakery packed with all kinds of gluten-free goodies, but they're also a complete restaurant. They open at 7am, and their breakfast menu features delicious dishes like cinnamon roll french toast. Ummm...hello? Is there a better way to start the day?? Wow. Lunch has an assortment of salads, sandwiches, wraps, and impressive 1/3 lb. grass-fed burgers. All of the breads and bakery items are made in-house. They're only open until 3pm, so if you're headed this way, go early!
Other Fun Spots
Mabel's on 4th- I am seriously obsessed with this little kitchen boutique. It is the most adorable little vintage place, I basically want to move in. The owners handcraft amazing wooden kitchen tools featured all over the store. They also have adorable screen printed kitchen towels and lots of vintage inspired kitchen tools. There are loads of things you'll fall in love with here, you've been warned. To push the cuteness over the top, they give you a real vintage recipe card at check-out. I can't. You really must go!
Antigone Books- Is there anything better than a local bookstore? I can get lost in here for hours, browsing their interesting books and beautiful journals. Every corner of the store has unique things to find, and there is a great kids section. They also hold several fun book groups and author events each month, so check their calendar while you're in town. Want to meet some like-minded people? Join a book group and dive in! If you're just visiting, you can hit Mabel's, Food Conspiracy, and Antigone all at once on historical 4th Ave.
Tucson Olive Central- Tucson Olive Central features walls and walls of unique olive oils, vinegars, and hot sauces. They are all made locally in Tubac, AZ (just south of Tucson). Their Strawberry Peach White Balsamic is to die for. You can make this, or just add it to some sparkling water and sip it. It's THAT good. They also feature local flavors like prickly pear, and of course the classics. You are free to taste hundreds of flavors and find something just for you. They often have deals, so it's worth getting on their mailing list if you're interested. They recently moved off Congress St, so as of Summer 2017, they can be found at 245 S. Plumer Ave. Suite 31.
Honeybee Canyon- Since Tucson has gorgeous weather all year, there are tons of opportunities to get outside and explore their unique, beautiful landscape. Honeybee Canyon has several easy, sandy hikes just north of Tucson in Oro Valley. Most are just a couple miles long, so nearly anyone can participate. If you walk on far enough you will see some ancient petroglyphs on the rocks! Just remember to take tons of water with you. Even when it seems cool outside, Arizona is so dry that you can get dehydrated in a hurry. In the summer months, plan to be DONE by 10am. And again, water, water, water!
Catalina State Park- Many people don't realize it, but Tucson is surrounded by mountains. This makes gorgeous hiking and biking easily accessible! Catalina features various trails, from easy to difficult, and .7 miles to nearly 20 miles (round trip). It is just a 15 minute drive up Oracle road, and you can be hiking in the wilderness in minutes! March is an especially beautiful season, as the park is covered in wildflowers. Shortly after the flowers bloom, the saguaro blossom! This park is easily accessible and has a variety of trail options, providing something for everyone! Again in the summer, plan to be done by 10am. Never ever hike in Arizona without water, even when it's cool outside.
I hope I've inspired you to give Tucson a try. It's a gorgeous, underrated part of the country, any foodie or outdoors enthusiast will love it. If you know of some great spots in Tucson, add them in the comments!! You can Pin this image for future trip planning, too