The town of Oro Valley in the Tucson metropolitan area of Arizona with over 45,000 residents rests along the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Called the Upscale Tech Mecca of Southern Arizona by the Arizona Daily Star newspaper, it shares some fluid boundaries with other bits of Pima County in a vibrant district just a few miles north of Tucson. With strong Spanish and Mexican influences, intriguing history, and gorgeous scenery, Oro Valley is an Arizona hidden gem worth exploring.
Things To Do In Oro Valley
If you like outdoor activities, arts and culture, great food, and even ancient history, Oro Valley offers a wealth of opportunities for exploring. Here is just a sampling of the many different experiences available.
1. Honey Bee Canyon Park
Arizona’s Sonoran Desert offers a unique landscape and Honey Bee Canyon Park provides a great place to discover its wonders. Many trails around the 80-acre park appeal to hikers and bikers of all levels. The scenery features native plants like the saguaro and organ pipe cactus with lots of visual interest. Located in the Rancho Vistoso area of Oro Valley, the park is home to lots of desert wildlife and birds. Discover the ancient history of the Hohokam people who lived in the area around 450 A.D. Explore the ruins of their settlement, now called Honey Bee Village, containing several hundred houses along with petroglyphs and other fascinating archeological points of interest.
2. Steam Pump Ranch And Oro Valley Farmers Market
In the 1870s, two entrepreneurial German immigrants arrived in Arizona and created an oasis in the hot landscape by using a steam engine to pump water. Steam Pump Ranch became a significant way station for the Arizona cattle industry. As the community evolved, so did the ranch, ultimately becoming an important commercial venue for water and food production, a place of history and preservation, and an example of economic sustainability. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 16-acre property provides a park and special activities like cultural tours and open-air concerts. Of particular interest is the weekly Oro Valley Farmers Market where small local farms, ranches, producers, and other food vendors sell their seasonal bounty.
3. DeGrazia Gallery In The Sun Museum
Renowned Arizona artist Ettore DeGrazia began constructing an architectural project embodying his artistic vision for the open-air Mission in the Sun building in the early 1950s. The vision grew, and the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum has evolved into a 10-acre National Historic District of buildings and galleries with collections of the artist’s works portraying rituals, historical events, and native cultural traditions of the Southwest. The compound is home to a dizzying array of more than 15,000 originals by DeGrazia, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and jewelry, with both some originals and reproductions available for sale. The Little Gallery exhibits works from emerging artists making for an exceptional cultural arts destination.
4. Naranja Park Archery Range
Outdoor activities are a big part of Oro Valley’s appeal. For a wide array of outside fun head to Naranja Park. In addition to great hiking, birding trails, and picnic spots, you can release your inner Katness Everdeen or William Tell at the Naranja Park Archery Range. A 15- to 100-yard fixed target range as well as two 14-target walking course, offer up fun challenges. Another unique activity is a field used by the Sonoran Desert Flyers, a local organization that promotes radio-controlled model aircraft. Naranja offers an off-leash dog park if your pup wants to play as well.
5. Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens And Galleries
Named one of the world’s 10 best botanical gardens by Travel + Leisure, Tohono Chul is a local treasure in the Oro Valley District. This 49-acre paradise blends nature, art, culture, and the unique botanical environment of the Sonoran Desert. From huge Saguaros to themed gardens, nature trails, exhibits, and art galleries featuring local artists, Tohono Chul offers a rich sensory experience. Quiet relaxation spots dot the grounds as do 140 bird species. When they’re migrating, monarch butterflies visit too. View the Santa Catalina Mountains during a variety of learning experiences, lectures, guided tours, workshops, special events, and concerts throughout the year. The Garden Bistro offers regionally inspired fare along with happy hour, brunch, and other special offerings with peaceful surroundings.
6. Catalina State Park
It’s hard not to be impressed by the stunning scenery of Catalina State Park with over 5,000 acres adjacent to Coronado National Forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The park includes several trails great for hiking and backpacking and a few that are open to horseback riders. You can hike past Romero Ruins archeological site, see the desert’s feathered residents on the Birding Trail, and experience a variety of terrain through trails with varied lengths and difficulty levels. To explore even further, connect with other trails to visit spectacular Mount Lemmon, the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Campers can reserve sites for tents and RVs online. We loved exploring slowly and marveling at the variety of birds and desert wildlife peeking out around us.
Best Restaurants In Oro Valley
Oro Valley offers a variety of dining experiences to satisfy every appetite. Whether you’re looking for fine dining, cheap and cheerful, or authentic ethnic cuisine, you’ll have plenty of options in this tasty town.
7. La Hacienda
One of the best-loved restaurants that is both affordable and authentic is La Hacienda. Truly authentic flavors populate the menu and include traditional Mexican favorites like sopas, fajitas, tacos, tostadas, and grilled plates. If everything looks too good to decide, the well-planned combination plates make it easier. The bar menu includes lots of margaritas and tropical drinks to go with your meal or enjoy during a happy hour special.
8. Harvest Restaurant
For something a little different, Harvest Restaurant focuses on local and seasonal food prepared with care and creativity. House specialties like the slow-roasted braised short rib and innovative healthy flavors like the Hemp and Chia Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna Salad join carefully crafted burgers and sandwiches on the menu. Several local craft beers are on tap, along with house concoctions like fruity sangrias, margaritas, and the clever Tequilatini with chipotle cherries.
9. Bottega Michelangelo
Italian food is truly universal, so the Southern Italian menu at Bottega Michelangelo is a popular choice. You’ll find many of your favorites here from arancini and eggplant rollatini to fresh pastas, pizzas, Chicken Parmigiana, and more. They also have some dishes you don’t easily find in a comfy, cozy, neighborhood Italian restaurant. Porchetta, an antipasto board, and Nonna Antoinetta’s Pasta al Forno, featuring baked rigatoni and everything but the kitchen sink, are just a few. The friendly service and relaxed atmosphere also make for a delightful meal.
Where To Stay In Oro Valley
When it comes to accommodations, we’re going to use the holistic approach to Oro Valley hotels. There are great places right in town, but for a couple of truly memorable stays, we recommend the following amazing resorts that may make you want to stay longer than planned.
10. El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort
To experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert surrounded by nature yet steeped in the comfort of a full-service resort, El Conquistador Tucson exceeds all expectations. There are 50 acres of peaceful desert scenery blended with incomparable amenities. Aside from having just about anything you would want during your stay, El Conquistador also offers its unique Gilt Trips, totally customizable experiential getaways to relax, renew, refresh, and restore you in exactly whatever way suits you best. This is one of those places that no matter how frazzled or stressed you may be when you arrive, you’ll quickly feel yourself become soothed in both body and spirit.
11. Miraval Arizona
For the ultimate getaway, Miraval Arizona is in a class all its own. With 400 acres of spectacular scenery at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the inclusive resort is accurately described as an oasis. Not only are the accommodations absolutely top shelf, but the array of health, wellness, creativity, spiritual, and physical renewal experiences available is breathtaking. Nutrition, horseback riding, meditation, mountain biking, photography, mindfulness, culinary workshops, yoga, drumming, and many other experiences are available to explore. Miraval offers a unique environment to rest and relax as well as learn and discover. Miraval seeks to engage all of your senses in a personal experience that enhances your well-being in every aspect. Its beautifully secluded location is a perfect place for a transformative experience where you can get lost and found at the same time.
While you’re in the Oro Valley vicinity, drive a few miles further and check out Biosphere 2. You can take a self-driving tour of the property to learn more about the scientific research and history of the project that was designed to help understand the earth, its systems, and the possibilities for its future. For a preview, you can take a virtual tour right now.