Downtown Tucson, Arizona is an Eclectic Mix of Old and New

with 24 Comments

Have you been to Tucson lately?

At a population of half a million people, you’d think the city of Tucson could feel large and anonymous. It’s anything but. With a compact city center, the place comes across as a small town with vintage buildings and businesses intermixed with new.

City Center

Lunch at Street Taco & Beer on West Congress Street is a treat. Small, stuffed-full tacos were $2.50 each with a side of tasty guacamole near the same price. Chips for scooping that and spicy salsa are included and available for refilling your bowl from a heated supply near the soda machine. Another not to be missed downtown dining experience is Cafe Poca Cosa, which easily explains how this was the first United States city to win the “City of Gastronomy” designation from UNESCO.* Food is delicious, the atmosphere easy, and the ever-changing menu varied and scrumptious. The portions are sizable, so come hungry or plan on sharing.

*Since another city on the UNESCO list is Parma, Italy, Tucson is in decidedly excellent company. Our first night in Parma, we asked the hotel front desk manager where we could get a good meal. He stood puzzled for a moment and brightening, replied: “You cannot get bad food in Parma.” So we suspect it is in the center of Tucson.

St. Augustine Cathedral

The St. Augustine Cathedral on South Stone rivals any church we’ve seen in Europe with its grand main worship area, side altars, and elaborate wooden ceiling. Somehow the huge church still conveys intimacy with God and quiet contemplation.

More than 100 years old, the church underwent major repairs in 1966 with exterior work currently taking place. Next door, Marist College is experiencing a revival and renovation to turn it into senior living units—it’s currently in sad shape. If you don’t make it to Tucson until 2019, you’ll see this building completed along with the $45 million construction of a four-story office building, community center and affordable housing for seniors in Cathedral Square.

Docent tours are available, simply email them ahead of time. This would be a wonderful way to learn about the incredible artwork. The church entrance has intriguing paintings as does the church proper. Above the outside doors is a wood carving and the phrase, “Be Doers of the Word,” a perfect bit of inspiration before leaving after mass.

Presidio District

In the Presidio District, we walked through the maze of shops and galleries in the Old Town Artisans – a house that’s 150 years old. Presidio refers to the original Hohokam Indian location and the first Spanish fort built in the 1700s. There’s a piece or two of it standing, marked with bronze plaques.

Within the walls of this sprawling Artisan’s structure are various galleries: Pink Door specializing in southwest items, Tolteca Nacuilo which includes worldwide items, Art House Centro provides locally made arts, Shelago’s Artwerks USA are items of lapidary and silversmith, The Gypsy’s Emporium contains a vintage collection of objects, and La Zia also has world imports.

There’s a Presidio District History Tour that includes the Tucson Museum of Art, the Historic Block and lunch at La Cocina. Sounds like a deal at $40 per person. The houses, built by millionaires in the late eighteen hundreds to early nineteen hundred are: The J. Knox Corbett House, La Casa Cordova, The Edward Nye Fish House, The Romero House and the Stevens/Duffield House. You must make reservations.

The Art Museum is closed on Mondays and features a free evening (5:00-8:00) on the first Thursday of the month.

Tucson has sprawled since our 2011 visit, the sun—so welcome in winter to a western Pennsylvanian— is relentless and the lack of deciduous trees can make an easterner miss home yet Tucson is full of smiles from random people in random places, making tourists feel welcome. Don’t skip visiting if you find yourself traveling in the Grand Canyon State.

*Read a quality Smithsonian article about this designation by clicking here.

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Also published on Medium.

24 Responses

  1. Erica
    | Reply

    Wow, only $2.50 for a taco or a side of a guacamole. Jeez, that sounds amazing. $2.50 will buy you the crumbs that fell off the taco where I live. Seems like a nice little town with lots to do. Though I definitely understand missing the East Coast trees. While Los Angeles has much more foliage than Tuscon, it’s still nothing like the town In Pennsylvania where I spent much of my childhood.
    Erica recently posted..How To Make Your Healthy Salad Not SuckMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      They were small tacos, Erica–perfect for a small eater like me! HA HA to LA prices for the food. I remember that from my life there long ago. The desert is appealing, but the difference in the trees would make me long for other landscapes.

  2. Jeri
    | Reply

    I’ve only been to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, but I’d love to go to Tucson one of these days. I’m rather obsessed with the desert for so many reasons.
    Jeri recently posted..#Marketing: My GoFundMe Breast Cancer CampaignMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      You would like Tucson a lot, Jeri. It has a very eclectic and friendly vibe to it. Maybe you have a little Georgia O’Keefe influence?

  3. Sushmita
    | Reply

    Well definitely a mix of old and new, have a lot to visit hope will get to visit and will step out of India sometime! Fingers Crossed!
    Sushmita recently posted..Have you checked out, Pinterest Propel for successful advertising?My Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Sushmita, I imagine there is a lot to see in India! You’ll get out and get traveling–I know it. You have that sense of adventure about you!

  4. MIna Joshi
    | Reply

    I always love reading about your travels and the places you eat. Tucson sounds like a lovely slow pace kind of a place which would suit me, Loved looking at all the pictures.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Being a wonderful cook, Mina, I can understand your enjoying the food! My husband is ALL about the food. I could eat a bagel and apple and call it good. HA!

  5. Phoenicia
    | Reply

    $2.50 for tacos and guacamole is very reasonable. I have not eaten tacos for a while. I am now thinking of nachos either cheese and guacamole!

    St Augustine church is absolutely beautiful. The architecture of the building is amazing. I can imagine they receive a number of visitors.
    Phoenicia recently posted..Consistency brings results!My Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Yum to guacamole–I’m with you there, Phoenicia. I’d like to go back and take a tour of the church–learn a whole lot more about the gorgeous building.

  6. Lenie
    | Reply

    Rose Mary, you’ve done it again. I’m not a traveler as you know but when you write about your travels I always want to go. I would love to have some of those tacos and the church is amazing. those old time builders were true artisans weren’t they. Next time you go to Tucson, figure out how to send me some of those tacos. 🙂

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Lenie, so glad that you had a bit of a tour with me! Yes, those artisans were amazing–they did so much with so little equipment. The skills are dazzling.

      Tacos, north, you got it!

  7. Marvin Dittfurth
    | Reply

    I did the Tucson Marathon once. Loved the city. thanks

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      You say that so casually, Marvin! Running a mile would wreck me–unless zombies were on my tail.

  8. Marquita Herald
    | Reply

    I’ve been to Phoenix several times but don’t remember visiting Tucson. It looks like a great place to visit, and I really like the sound of those tacos right now! Thanks for sharing RoseMary.
    Marquita Herald recently posted..Unmasking the Emotional Manipulators Among UsMy Profile

  9. Donna Janke
    | Reply

    I love the Tucson vibe – the vintage buildings and the character. And it’s easy to explore. I hope to get back to explore more of it.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Good word for it, Donna–Tucson does have a good vibe. I also hope you get to go again.

  10. Doreen Pendgracs
    | Reply

    Hi Rose. I definitely have not been to Tuscon lately. And I’m not 100% sure that I ever was there. I think so! But that would have been about 40 years ago, and I can’t remember that far back. that’s what I love about the digital era. We’re tracking just about every thing we do nowadays. which makes it SO much easier to know where we were and when.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..women’s cocoa cooperatives of the Dominican RepublicMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Get thee back, Doreen! I think I saw a chocolate store…
      Yes, I fought going digital for a long time and then Seester explained the possibilities!

  11. Jackie
    | Reply

    Is the Grand Canyon on your bucket list? I’ve never been there but would love to see it. Maybe catch Tucson….you always make cities sound lovely and I’m not a city girl!

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      It is, Jackie! I have been there, but there is so much of it to see and I could go again anytime. We will add that to our travel list for when we are little old ladies (although we are already little! and some would call us old).

  12. Ken Dowell
    | Reply

    Sounds like a great place to visit. I suspect the food might be a major interest for me.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Ken, you and my husband would travel well together. I could care less about food, but HE is another story!

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