After a surreal spring and summer stuck at home, we’re all looking forward to fall adventures. Mask up and hit the road to safely experience the best Arizona has to offer.
Craving wide-open spaces and a break from the bustling city?
Drive south for an easy autumn vacation in the Old Pueblo. Many of Tucson’s most alluring attractions are outdoors or open-air, so you can free yourself from your home office and spend a little time in nature. From majestic stands of cacti in Saguaro National Park to the native flora and fauna on display at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to the glorious gardens of Tohono Chul Park, there’s no limit to the breathtaking beauty of this desert metropolis. Hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking are all accessible, from beginner-friendly Sabino Canyon to the more hardcore Finger Rock.
Want a little more luxury? The Tucson area is home to dozens of luxury resorts and guest ranches that are adhering to stringent cleaning and safety protocols. Splurge on a stay at JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa or Loews Ventana Canyon Resort for a traditional resort vibe, or focus on your health and wellness at Canyon Ranch Tucson or Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa. If you want a taste of “roughing it” chased by luxury, try an upscale guest ranch like Tanque Verde Ranch. visittucson.org
3 Must-Try Mexican Restaurants
1 El Charro Cafe
Tucson is one of only two U.S. cities awarded an international City of Gastronomy designation by UNESCO, and it stakes its claim on having “the best 23 miles of Mexican food in the country.” Try this longtime favorite for classic Mexican favorites. elcharrocafe.com
2 Café Poca Cosa
Mexican food is modernized and given a bit of a twist at chef/owner Suzana Davila’s sleek bistro. The menu is so seasonal and reflective of Davila’s inspirations that it changes twice daily and is written on a chalkboard that servers take from table to table. If tamale pie is listed, order it. cafepocacosatucson.com
3 El Guero Canelo and BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs
We had to squeeze two in one go because they are the top spots for Sonoran dogs, Tucson’s semi-official dish: hot dogs wrapped in bacon, grilled, and topped with beans, onions, tomatoes, mustard, mayo and jalapeño sauce. Tucsonans debate the merits of each of these. We say stop wasting time arguing and enjoy one from each place. elguerocanelo.com; bktacos.com
Tucson Spotlight: Pima Air & Space Museum
Aviation enthusiasts will be in heaven at the Pima Air & Space museum, one of the largest aerospace museums in the world. In its nearly five decades, the museum has amassed 400 aircraft and innumerable plane artifacts and paraphernalia. No cramped, stodgy buildings here – the museum is spread out over six huge hangars and an 80-acre airfield, so socially distancing is easy-peasy.
As you walk through the museum’s grounds, you truly get a sense of the history of flight. Plentiful examples of commercial, civil, military and experimental aircraft from every era help you viscerally understand what flying was like in every decade since the Wright brothers changed history forever. Particularly evocative examples include aviation icons like the SR-71 Blackbird, a Boeing 747 and 787 Dreamliner, World War II fighter planes, three B-52s, an Air Force One and a flying eye hospital. Quirkier birds include the world’s smallest bi-plane and aircraft used as canvases by famed contemporary artists. If only these cockpits could talk! pimaair.org
New at the Museum
Since it boasts its own restoration facility, Pima Air & Space Museum has the unique ability to resurrect fallen aircraft. A prime example is this new exhibit, a Soviet-built plane that was the most important anti-Nazi aircraft on Europe’s Eastern European Front in World War II. This beauty spent 48 years at the bottom of a lake after being shot down in the 1940s. After a meticulous rehabilitation process, Pima put it on display in February. It’s one of only a handful left on the planet.
There are sentimental hometown ties to this aircraft. The Hurricane’s new paint scheme illustrates the daring story of World War II hero L.C. Wade, who learned how to fly in Tucson before going on to become the most successful American ace in the war and who served as a volunteer with a foreign air force. Wade achieved an astonishing 23 aerial victories in his trusty bird. This display opened in 2020 as well.
Bell HH-1N “Huey”
Pima’s newest exhibit is this helicopter, which is “retired” from flying search-and-rescue missions for Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Before that meaningful career, though, it was a personal transportation aircraft for presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. in the 1980s.
With its mining and ranching roots, Wickenburg is a natural destination for those who appreciate Wild West culture and lore. You can peek into the recently remodeled 70-year-old Historic Saguaro Theatre or visit spirits of the past with Wickenburg Ghost Tours, which offers an in-depth tour of significant downtown locations and details on their previous lives. The Historic Vulture City offers similar history tours at the Vulture Mine’s 1863 location. Rather DIY? The town has a downloadable guided walking tour on its website and app.
Wickenburg isn’t stuck in the past, though. You’ll find tasty modern vittles at downtown restaurants including European Kitchen, Anita’s Cocina, Onery Hog BBQ, Rancho Bar 7 and Nana’s Sandwich Saloon. Live music and heritage events like the annual bluegrass festival, cowboy poetry gathering and Christmas lights parade are slated to resume this fall and winter, as well. Check the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts website to scope out cultural programming available. The Hassayampa River Preserve is a draw for hikers, birders and naturalists. outwickenburgway.com
3 Guest Ranches to Visit
1 Rancho de los Caballeros
Guest ranches are a great way to experience the Old West in Wickenburg, and Rancho de los Caballeros hangs its hat on being where “luxury meets rustic.” Read: There’s a spa as well as copious outdoor activities. ranchodeloscaballeros.com
2 Flying E Ranch
Practice your target shooting or feast at an old-fashioned cookout, or go for a modern desert trek on an ATV. Once large gatherings are safe again, head to the Real Country Corral for high-quality live music and entertainment. flyingeranch.com
3 Kay El Bar Ranch
In addition to ranch activities like horseback riding and cattle penning, you can learn about cowboy poetry with head wrangler Norm, a student of the singularly Western artform. It offers a completely different viewpoint into this storied lifestyle. kayelbar.com
Wickenburg Spotlight: Desert Caballeros Western Museum
Western history and art come to vivid life at this Smithsonian affiliate museum, whose permanent collections include works from Remington to Russell. The museum does an excellent job of mixing classic Western and indigenous art with contemporary expressions, in mediums ranging from paintings to sculpture to textiles.
These newer takes are currently on brilliant display with Cowgirl Up! Art from the Other Half of the West, which runs until November 29. This exhibition is unique in that you may view the art, created by 60 women artists from around the United States, as well as purchasing it. Take home a piece of Desert Caballeros Western Museum and Wickenburg and support local artists at the same time.
DCWM is more than a museum – it’s a community hub where world-class speakers and recurring and one-off events attract a flock of regulars. Virtual tours and videos on its website engage people even remotely. And while museum stores are often an afterthought, here they are curated and stocked with as much care as the museum itself. You can find Western clothing, decorations, gifts and edible Southwestern goodies. westernmuseum.org
New at the Museum
Four Corners, Many Hands: Historic Navajo Textiles is a dramatic exhibition of Navajo rugs from the private collection of Sam and Brenda Crissman. The intricate, geometric, beautifully handcrafted textiles illustrate the story of Navajo weaving in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when trading posts were community hubs and cultural exchanges between indigenous weavers and white merchants.
Cottonwood is located in the beautiful Verde Valley, and both locales are aptly named: The city is teeming with its namesake tree and the valley has so many trees you might question whether you’re still in the Southwest. These lush conditions and temperate climate make the Verde Valley the heart of Arizona’s wine country. Vineyards dot the area, and a high concentration of tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood provide a fabulous destination for a day of wine tastings. Download a Verde Valley Wine Trail Passport (vvwinetrail.com) and collect stamps at participating wineries and tasting rooms that count toward prizes (please call ahead to make reservations).
To assuage visitors’ concerns during the pandemic, Cottonwood launched a campaign called Safe.Clean.Ready. Participating businesses meet a set of guidelines that is even stricter than the general steps most businesses are taking. For a full list, visit the city’s website. cottonwoodaz.gov
3 Must-Try Restaurants
1 Pizzeria Bocce
The wood-fired oven drives much of the cuisine at this nouveau Italian spot. Nosh on wood-fired vegetables with goat cheese and balsamic or try the unorthodox but delightful ravioli salad, with pasta pillows replacing croutons. Of course, don’t forget pizza. The simple margherita is perfection. Bar Strada, a food-truck-style kitchen, will open as an expansion on Bocce this fall. boccecottonwood.com
2 Crema Craft Kitchen + Bar
Brunch all day at this bright and happy spot, where you can fill up on pancakes, chicken and waffles, chilaquiles and some of the best breakfast burritos in the state. Talented baristas/mixologists churn out espresso drinks and craft cocktails like the Aviation Mimosa (Champagne, maraschino cherry liqueur and lemonade with a crème de violette float). cremacottonwood.com
3 Nic’s Italian Steak & Crab House
Indulge in surf and turf Italiano-style at this fun and casual Tuscan-style steakhouse. We’re partial to the insanely juicy bone-in ribeye topped with steamed King crab legs, but you could also make a delicious meal out of clams Portofino or fettuccine Alfredo. nicsaz.com
Cottonwood Spotlight: The Tavern Hotel
Escape the Valley’s lingering heat at this chic retreat, which boasts 48 guest rooms and two luxury penthouses in the heart of Old Town Cottonwood. The Tavern Hotel began life as a grocery store in 1925 and was a hub for town activity for many years. In 2011, The Haunted Group owners Eric and Michelle Jurisin lovingly preserved the historic building and turned it into a hotel. Additionally, a revamp a few years ago brought punchy yellow Adirondack chairs and beautiful new lighting. Most recently, the Jurisins added a pool, fitness room and cottages.
Perks and packages abound at The Tavern Hotel. Upon check-in, you’ll receive a complimentary cocktail at neighboring restaurant The Tavern Grille (also owned by The Haunted Group). A continental breakfast at the Jurisins’ Crema Craft Kitchen + Bar (located right across the street) is included, or you can apply complimentary coupons toward a brunch entrée or craft cocktail. The hotel offers five special packages designed to show guests the best of Cottonwood: Sip & Stay Wine Package, Verde Canyon Railroad Package, Tee Up & Wine Down Package, Paddles to Wine Package and Date Night in Old Town Package. Book one or several for a full-service experience of the Verde Valley. thetavernhotel.com
Fountain Hills Fling
The Town of Fountain Hills’ iconic, eponymous fountain turns 50 this year, so what better time to take a leisurely day trip to one of the Valley’s most beautiful destinations? Enjoy the temperate fall weather by maximizing your time outdoors, safely enjoying Fountain Hills’ myriad hiking and biking trails. The Sonoran Golf Trail includes five top-tier golf courses with some of the best scenic views in the state. Extend your visit by booking a staycation at the new Adero Scottsdale resort, which opens this month and is primed for stargazing opportunities as the only Dark Sky Zone resort in the region. fh.az.gov
1 Sami Fine Jewelry
Pop into this gorgeous gemstone and jewelry boutique to peruse everything from diamond engagement rings to Oregon sunstone earrings that mimic the colors of the sunset over the surrounding hills. Book a helicopter Arizona Amethyst Mine Tour with Sami’s Stephenie Bjorkman when they resume. samifinejewelry.com
2 Sapori D’Italia
Order a delectable Italian feast of fresh pappardelle Bolognese and veal Marsala to go from this authentic trattoria and have a romantic picnic in Fountain Park. Owners Gasper and Maria Manno were featured on the Food Network show Restaurant Impossible in 2013 – the highest-viewed program on the award-winning series. saporiditaliaaz.com
3 Chocofin Chocolatier
For a sweet treat, indulge in assorted chocolates from this longtime Fountain Hills favorite, where chocolatiers Louis and Denise Mirabella handcraft ganache, chocolate bars, nut barks and caramels in small batches. Try the Salt + Pepper chocolate, topped with Maldon sea salt and smoked paprika. chocofin.com