We really lucked out with this trip. We had already cancelled our June trip to Washington, D.C. since all the museums and monuments were still closed, and we’ve been wanting to get the kids to Tucson to visit their grandma for ages. Airfares had plummeted, as well as the cost for an Airbnb, so we crossed our fingers and took the chance. So glad we did!
Flying during the pandemic turned out to be not bad at all (read our experience here), and we found the coolest Airbnb not far from my mother-in-law’s. It was in the foothills with a private pool and great mountain views, and it was just surrounded with wildlife – lizards, hummingbirds, quail, little prairie-dog-looking critters, I could go on. Our boys loved seeing all the different plants and creatures (except for the MASSIVE spider that showed up in the bathroom one evening – our “thrill” for the week), and learned they could find scorpions at night if they took a walk with a black light (mom waited by the pool with a cosmo during that one). Such a different environment than where we live in Ohio! Here’s what we were able to pack in during our week there:
Agua Caliente Park
STUNNING. That’s what I have to say about Agua Caliente. This little gem of a park was not far from where we were staying. It has several ponds and walking paths, but the visitor center was closed when we were there. Imported palm trees give it a tropical feel, and if I lived in the area I think I would walk there every morning.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaros are the tree-like cacti that my generation of midwesterners mostly saw in cartoons. The Saguaro National Park has two completely separate parts – west and east. We were closer to the east section, so we spent a few hours driving through that area. We did take a little hike along one of the trails, but even in dry air, 104 degrees in the beating sun really wears you down. It wasn’t long before we were high-tailing it back to the car. The desert landscape was harsh but beautiful, and being able to drive through it in air conditioning was a lifesaver.
Mt. Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains, at 9,159 feet. It actually gets snow at the top in the winter and has a ski resort. It is also where my husband and I got engaged many moons ago, which our kids find completely disgusting. Tucson was dealing with mountain wildfires throughout our trip, so we made sure to do our Mt. Lemmon drive early on – this turned out to be a good strategy because the day after we drove to the summit, they closed down the road due to the fires. It’s a beautiful and interesting drive, as you pass through several different ecosystems along the way. It’s also a good way to escape the desert heat, because the temperature drops significantly as you gain altitude.
If you’ve heard of the movie “Tombstone“, it was about this place. It’s a real town straight out of the old west with gun fights and horse-drawn carriages, about an hour’s drive from Tucson. We enjoyed some fun shopping, lunch at a saloon, and my boys’ favorite part was the “Killer Bee Wild Honey” shop – honey sounds so much more dangerous when it comes from killer bees, right?
Sonoran Desert Museum
The Sonoran Desert Museum is a really cool, zoo-like museum and botanical gardens, with indoor and outdoor exhibits showcasing the plants, nature, and wildlife of the area. The location itself is uniquely situated on a hill in the middle of a valley, with eye-popping views in every direction. We weren’t planning on visiting the museum initially, since when we arrived it was still closed due to the coronavirus. But once again good luck graced us, and the museum re-opened on our last day in Arizona! We practically had the place to ourselves, and the kids really enjoyed it.
Dah Rock Shop
Both my boys like collecting gemstones and rocks, so their grandma suggested a stop at Dah Rock Shop. We actually spent a good amount of time there while the boys shopped for souvenirs. It seems a little off-the-beaten-path on a tiny side street with limited parking, but we thought the selection and prices were great – definitely recommend if you have any gemstone fans in your group.
Favorite Food and Snacks
Other than our lunch at Tombstone, we really only ate at one sit-down restaurant during our trip, and it was by accident. We were driving through downtown Tucson and stopped at a little shopping plaza called the Mercado District – most of the shops were still closed due to covid-19, but a few of the snack places were open, as well as a restaurant called Agustin Kitchen. We had a delicious brunch there on the patio, and the entire courtyard had such a fun laid-back vibe; I would imagine it’s also a great spot for date night when the lights come on.
On both our first and last night, we ordered takeout from Taco Giro, which was a Mexican place right down the street from our Airbnb. Convenient AND tasty. We also did a couple breakfasts/brunches at Le Buzz, a really neat coffee shop and restaurant closeby. Other than that, we did a lot of grab ‘n go type eating while we were busy doing other things. The whole family decided that Dutch Bros. Coffee is better than Starbucks and should expand to Ohio – they will customize anything for you, including smoothies! And I won’t even tell you how many Eegee’s the boys consumed. Eegee’s is apparently a Tucson phenomenon, and their signature item is a fruity ice treat, kinda like a Slushee crossed with Italian Ice. Our kids actually had Eegee’s Withdrawl the first week we were back home.
I am so glad we took this trip and the kids got to see where their grandma lives. We all loved the dry weather (even though the afternoons in June were really hot), and the kids enjoyed seeing the different climate and landscape. I can see why it’s a popular place for retirees; we may have to consider it ourselves someday!