Tucson’s Spanish heritage is flamboyantly on display in the ochre and adobe hues, heavy beams and intricate iron railings that make this city—close to Arizona’s southern border with Mexico—so famously picturesque. The city’s surroundings are spectacular, too: Within a few miles of historic downtown, known affectionately as the Old Pueblo, you’ve got petroglyphs, dramatic cliffs and world-class ski runs. But modern-day Tucson also bustles and buzzes thanks to the presence of the University of Arizona, which has spawned a vital arts community, cutting-edge food scene and yearly calendar packed with fiestas and events.
The highly educated population of Tucson leans heavily towards the green and groovy, with Biosphere 2, Saguaro National Park and the Kitt Peak Observatory among the area’s top draws. In a city where the economy is driven by aviation, electronics and missile production, you’ve also got one of the highest per-capita ratios of writers, artists, yoga teachers and retired entrepreneurs. Their influence shows in a wealth of top-notch restaurants helmed by creative young chefs and hip shopping districts weighted heavily toward local designers, craftspeople and collectives.
Tucson spreads over the Sonoran desert surrounded entirely by mountains on all four sides, with volcanic peaks as high as 9,000 feet. The area’s dramatic geography—isolating Tucson from surrounding communities—has been responsible for incubating Tucson’s distinct cultural meld of Spanish, Mexican, Indian and international influences.