When I first made plans with my friend Cameron to visit our friend Katie and her husband (also named Cameron) in Tucson, Arizona, I wasn’t sure I would be thrilled to visit the desert. I was looking forward to being somewhere with milder climates in December, but I wasn’t sure what Tucson would look like. Would it be dry and empty with a few cacti here and there like they depict in cartoons? My road trip along Route 66 last year gave me the impression that it would be like Utah, but much drier and more vacant. However, to my surprise, Tucson was not what I expected. There is no doubt in my mind that Tucson is very hot in the summertime, but it is also something else: green, artistic, and full of culture. Whether we were exploring Tucson in the day or wandering around at night, I found plenty that made me think I had found a small treasure in the dry, rugged desert.
Tucson Botanical Gardens
A garden in the desert? Is it possible? In Tucson, it is. Walking with the Camerons through the greenery and display of Origami in the Garden that featured metal sculptures designed by Kevin and Jennifer Box, I was continually intrigued by the amount of plant life at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. To my surprise, I was also eager to chase some rabbits who hopped their way along the garden. With every step along the garden pathway, it felt as though each leg of the journey was telling a different story of the plants in Tucson and the world.
Tucson Museum of Art
When the Tucson Museum of Art was first suggested I thought it sounded like a good idea to see art in a museum outside of my current workplace. It was an even better idea when we stumbled upon Dress Matters: Clothing as a Metaphor. You can imagine my delight as we walked through clothing in many different forms including dresses, paintings, and glass art. The collection of regional artwork along with art from Africa, South and Central America, and Asia proved to be a cherry on top of the whipped cream. Whether the focus is local art and history or work from around the world, the Tucson Museum of Art had me continually looking for more to uncover.
Mercado San Agustin and Downtown Tucson
I took my efforts to shop locally this holiday season very seriously, which is why I was grateful to find the support of many local shops and artwork in Tucson. After grabbing cookies at Mercado San Agustin for breakfast, we decided to take a look around at the booths for local vendors in the hopes of finding Christmas presents (for others and ourselves). The smell of tamales eventually made our ultimate decision to shop with our stomachs before we headed downtown. Tucson’s downtown area did not disappoint. My shopping list was checked off when I found ornaments of mini cooking utensils and a retro coloring book. This entire holiday season, Tucson was not a place I thought I’d find so many unique and locally made products.
Winterhaven Festival of Lights
When it comes to the holidays, sightseeing usually revolves around lights, and Tucson did not let me down. After seeing Katie’s interest in Winterhaven Festival of Lights on Facebook, I asked if we could add it to our holiday activities. Luckily, everyone agreed to make it a part of our itinerary, and we found ourselves amongst many festive scenes of light. From displays of Snoopy to our favorite movie, Star Wars, we enjoyed the many ways people celebrate and express themselves during the holidays.
At the end of my visit, I felt something for Tucson that I didn’t anticipate: a little spark of admiration. It may be a city in the desert, but Tucson has more than cacti and the occasional desert plant. Tucson understands the importance of supporting local artists and maintaining the natural beauty of the area. If you need somewhere warm to escape the cold, Tucson may be the answer you’re looking for.
Hours and Locations
Tucson Botanical Gardens: 2150 North Alvernon Way, Open 8:30 am-4:30 pm daily and 4:30 pm-8:00 pm Thursday and Friday, Admission: between $8-$15.
Tucson Museum of Art: 140 North Main Avenue, Open Tuesday-Sunday 10 am-5 pm, Admission: between $7-$12.
Mercado San Agustin: 100 South Avenida del Convento, Open daily.