A Perfect Day in Tucson: Where To Eat & What To Do

Whether you’re a nature-enthusiast, a history buff or consider yourself a culinary connoisseur, there’s no denying that Tucson has a lot to do and see. And to eat.

This makes narrowing down which landmarks to visit, museums to browse, and restaurants to experience a challenge. If you’re a tourist visiting Tucson for a short trip, or a local entertaining guests from afar, we’re here to lend a helping hand.

Read on to discover one example (with alternatives) of a perfect day in Tucson from the moment you wake up to a late night snack you know you may need if you make it that far.

Morning

Coffee, scones, hiking, and breakfast
Raging Sage Jalapeno Jelly Scone

Raging Sage Jalapeno Jelly Scone (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Rise and shine, you have a lot to do today!

Grab your hiking boots and head to Raging Sage Coffee Roasters on Campbell Avenue. The shop opens at 6:30am, and fills the bakery case with unbeatable pastries all morning. Fingers crossed you walk in to find a warm batch of scones fresh out of the oven.

Order your award winning drip coffee (or tea) with a Sage & Jalapeño Jelly scone (see our full roundup of Tucson scones here). Oh, and order it ‘to-go.’

Now that you have a little fuel with you, drive north on Campbell to the Finger Rock Trailhead. Time to work up an appetite for breakfast. (Yes, that giant pastry was just pre-hike fuel.) While the full 6-mile trail loop is too long for today’s itinerary, you’ll see plenty of great views and desert life in the first few miles.

Ghini's French Caffe (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Ghini’s French Caffe (Credit: Ghini’s)

After your hike, drive back into town on Campbell and stop at Ghini’s French Cafe in the Safeway shopping center at Prince and Campbell. The menu includes classic French breakfast dishes, like Croque Madame, as well as American breakfast favorites such as Cheddar Biscuits and Sausage Gravy.

At Ghini’s you’re sure to get a taste of local flavors, as Chef Coralie Satta uses only fresh, locally- and ethically-sourced ingredients. Regulars favor Ghini’s signature dish, the Eggs Provençal with tomatoes, garlic, and thyme served with your choice of fresh baked toast. Opt for the house baked baguette.

More local hiking options:

  • Sabino Canyon (Northeast)
  • Tumamoc Hill (West of Downtown)
  • Pima Canyon (North Central)

Lunch

Exploring the University followed by lunch
(Credit: The University of Arizona)

(Credit: The University of Arizona)

After breakfast, it’s time to explore one of Tucson’s largest and most famous fixtures. The University of Arizona, founded in 1885, started with 32 students and now educates over 40,000 students each year.

Often called one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, a quick self-guided tour should include a stroll through the newly remodeled Old Main, the Center for Creative Photography and the Arizona State Museum.

Pescado Taco at Boca (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Pescado Taco at Boca (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Lucky for you – and tens of thousands of UA students and faculty – there are great dining options within a quick walk of campus. This would not be a perfect day in Tucson without tacos, and Chef Maria Mazon of Boca Tacos y Tequila serves some of the best in town. Don’t forget the unique salsa specials made in-house daily.

If you are looking to get a head start on your afternoon plans and instead make a quick stop at one of Tucson’s many taco stands, Taqueria Pico De Gallo on South Sixth Avenue will not disappoint.

More local landmarks:

  • Mission San Xavier del Bac (South)
  • Old Tucson Studios (West)
  • Tucson Botanical Gardens (Central)

Afternoon

Desert Museum & Saguaro National Park West

When you’ve had your fill of authentic tortillas and carne asada, head west to the nationally-acclaimed Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The drive will take you through one of the country’s most unique national parks, Saguaro National Park West.

The saguaro, the largest cactus species in the United States, is only found in a small portion of the country, known as the Sonoran Desert. Taking advantage of the pull-offs for pictures is fully encouraged.

Tortoise with Pancakes at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum (Photo credit: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum)

Tortoise with Pancakes at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum (Credit: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum)

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is consistently ranked one of the top museums in the country, and with good reason. Arriving around dusk will give you the best chance to see all of the Sonoran Desert’s remarkable animals, as many are nocturnal, like the Javelina and Gray Fox.

More local museum options: 

  • DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun (Northeast)
  • Pima Air & Space Museum (South Central)
  • Tucson Museum of Art (Downtown)

Dinner

Downtown Tucson and dining options galore

After a few hours at the Desert Museum, it’s finally time to explore Tucson’s revitalized downtown. With bustling new restaurants, bars, and breweries everywhere you look, the options for where to eat and drink are seemingly endless.

Barrio Libre in Tucson, Arizona (Credit: Theresa Delaney)

Barrio Libre in Tucson, Arizona (Credit: Theresa Delaney)

If you’re not quite ready for another meal, enjoy the cool evening weather and venture into the neighborhoods south and west of Congress Street. The historic Barrio Historico, Barrio Libre and the El Presidio neighborhoods feature an array of unique barrio architecture and colorful houses.

Then, head to Tap & Bottle on Sixth Avenue for a quick beer before dinner. The extensive options include many locally-brewed favorites. Be sure to ask the bartender for his or her recommendation.

Steak & Fries at 47 Scott (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

Steak & Fries at 47 Scott (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

For dinner, treat yourself to New American cuisine and craft cocktails at 47 Scott. The house-made mozzarella and Phyllo Stuffed Chicken are each a must try.

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If, instead, you find yourself on the notoriously eccentric Fourth Avenue, which runs perpendicular to Congress Street, visit The Coronet. Located in the old Coronado Hotel, the restaurant offers a gorgeous patio for people-watching and unique menu of “old-world rustic cuisine”.

After Dinner

Sweets, digestifs, and live music
(Credit: Hub Ice Cream Factory)

(Credit: Hub Ice Cream Factory)

You saved room for dessert, right? Enjoy one (or two) of Hub Ice Cream Factory‘s delicious homemade flavors, like Bourbon Almond Brittle or Salted Caramel, or a homemade Choco Taco.

If ice cream won’t satisfy your sweet tooth, head to The B-Line on Fourth Avenue for an assortment of pies and pastries made in-house.

After dinner, spend some time sitting outside at Hotel Congress‘ large back patio. The hotel, built in 1919, is one of Tucson’s oldest buildings and houses the popular Cup Cafe and Tiger’s Tap Room. It became one of Tucson’s most famous landmarks when notorious bank robber John Dillinger was captured at the hotel during a fire. If you’re lucky, the stage will be set for live music from a local or traveling artist.

Hotel Congress Tucson's Craft Beer Weekend

(Credit: Hotel Congress)

More local patio options:

  • La Cocina (Downtown)
  • Sky Bar (Central)
  • North Italia (North Central)

Late Night

Pizza from Empire (Credit: Empire Pizza & Pub)

(Credit: Empire Pizza & Pub)

Should you find yourself in need of a snack after your extended day, take advantage of Tucson’s late night eateries. The cuisine and locations are wide and varied – one of the perks of being a college town.

A local favorite is Empire Pizza on Congress. Open until midnight Sunday through Tuesday and 3am Wednesday through Saturday, this pizzeria offers authentic New York-style slices, all made from scratch with dough and sauce prepared fresh daily.

Tiny BLTs - Cheddar Chive Biscuits. Bacon, Arugula, Tomato Jam, and Bacon Mayo at Arizona Inn

Tiny BLTs on Cheddar Chive Biscuits at Arizona Inn (Credit: Adam Lehrman)

More local late night options:

  • Arizona Inn (Central)
  • Lindy’s on 4th (Central)
  • The Parish (Northwest)

Now, it’s time to rest and digest so you can hit everything you missed tomorrow. 😉

Disclosure: While some of the restaurants listed are advertisers, this in no way influences inclusion or exclusion in this piece or any piece. In fact, many restaurants approach us about advertising because of prior promotion of them simply doing things we find spectacular.

Theresa is a copywriter, food explorer and pursuer of all things creative. Find her at theresadelaney.com.

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