According to the website visittucson.org, Tucson "inspires a sense of freedom among all who visit. Freedom of thought and expression. Freedom to discover and explore. And the freedom to be yourself." Never having been there before (in this life), I couldn't quite put my finger why it felt familiar to me. After 24 hours of scratching the surface around town, these are the stops I am still thinking about in my free time.
These are the 5 things you have to do if you get to spend a day in Tucson.
Mission Valley Garden was a perfect first stop and should be for you too if you have never visited the area. It is where past, present, and future are intertwined. Seen from Sentinel Peak or A-Mountain, this garden has been producing foods indigenous to the area for 4,000 years. If you decide to take a tour, you'll be filled with stories about each seed and its uses. The garden is filled with rows of traditional plantings and fruit-bearing trees. It's a heartfelt journey into the history of those who live off what is produced in the garden.
Exo Roast Co.
When I walked into the Exo Roast Co. the first thought that popped into my head was, "This is my type of place. I could stay here all day!" Exposed brick, wood floors, and conversational seating gave off the vibe that this is a place for any and everyone. Here is where you chill, take a load off, and relax. You'll meet up with friends, colleagues, or have a few moments with your favorite book. You'll enjoy coffees with names like "The Possum" and others brewed with ingredients such as Chiltepin pepper (a round chili pepper grown only in the U.S. near the Mexico border) and mesquite syrup, which is traditional in the region.
This coffee house is more than a cup of joe; it's an experience that should be enjoyed daily. It is certainly worth a drop-in to taste the deliciousness brewing. While there, order empanadas if they have them. (I recommend Pumpkin if it's in season.)
My Happy Place: Borderlands Brewing
A few blocks from Exo Roast Co. sits an art gallery dressed up like a brewery -- or, some might say, a brewery dressed up like an art gallery. Located in Downtown Tucson, Borderlands Brewing is an open concept brewery whose walls are lined with paintings by local artists -- all for sale. You can see the brewery machines on the premises as you sit at the expansive bar and drink one of their brews. They use local ingredients such as prickly pear and Mexican vanilla, crafting brews for every palate. If the drinks don't make you happy then the atmosphere undoubtedly will.
When someone tells you there are only two Chocolatiers in town and you are standing in front of one of them... do not pass go and do not pass up the opportunity to sample his chocolate!
Monsoon Chocolate is a "bean-to-bar" chocolate heaven factory and café. Cacao beans from countries such Ecuador, India, and Peru are masterfully and lovingly made into the chocolate you are privileged to have at this establishment. Smores, stroopwafels, and chocolate tacos are just a few of the offerings. I did a chocolate sampling, and when he asked if I wanted another, I looked the Chocolatier in the face as seriously as I could and said: "You're kidding right? That's like asking me if I want a million dollars tax free!"
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort was the last stop of my 24-hour journey through Tucscon. I will admit to wanting to come out of the Arizona heat and into an air-conditioned room with a bed. However, I was not ready for the things that happened to me at this resort. Things I'm certain will happen to you if you ever stay here.
A gorgeous property, this hotel is large but still intimate. Pulling up to it and seeing the well-maintained grounds, the restaurant, infinity pool, and lights providing just the right ambiance, you start looking for the celebrities that are surely checking in. I was hoping for a "nice" room to finish out my trip, but what I got was so much more. This was more than a room with a bed; this was a comfortable, well-appointed modern space with a beautiful balcony to watch the sunset over the Santa Catalina mountains.
It was my entry into the bathroom that made me stop and pinch myself. There before me was the largest tub I've ever met. If tubs aren't your thing then you won't' be terribly impressed, but if you are a soaker who believes baths are a gift from God, then hold onto to your socks because they will surely be knocked off here. This massive bathtub didn't take over the bathroom, as there was plenty of room to move about. It made the bathroom. Large enough for two people, it did not disappoint. As I soaked away, reflecting on the day, I felt at ease, restored, and pretty darn grateful.
I decided that the feeling I couldn't put my finger on was that I was in the arms of an old friend. Tucson felt as if it was welcoming me back even though I was a first timer. It felt as if I belonged there -- not as a stranger, but as a friend. Tucson not only liked me, but they seemingly liked each other. I could sense the importance of community and by the end of the day, I felt that community was inclusive of me.
If you decide to take a trip to Tucson, enjoy some of the stops on this list, and tell Tucson I say "hello!"