15. Why the World Visits Tucson

By April Bourie

Located in what was once was considered the “Wild West,” it should be no surprise that Tucson’s first formal tourism accommodations were dude ranches.

Tanque Verde Guest Ranch formed out of a working ranch and began hosting guests from the east who wanted a true western experience in the 1920s. Westward Look also started out as a guest ranch in the 1940s, but by the 1960s, it was transformed into Tucson’s first resort. It’s a credit to our tourism vitality that both of these locations still welcome visitors today.

From this beginning, Tucson has since blossomed into what Visit Tucson calls the “Soul of the Sonoran Desert” and the “Flavor of the Southwest.” It’s no wonder Pima County hit record-breaking levels in travel spending in 2022 at $2.75 billion.

“In the past few years, we’ve noticed national and international media writing more frequently about Tucson,” said Felipe Garcia, Visit Tucson president and CEO. “Visit Tucson will continue to promote to the world what makes us unique, leveraging what makes us such a great place to work, live and play.”

So, what does make us unique? What made Conde Nast Traveler place Tucson at the top of its list of “The Best Places to Go in North America & the Caribbean in 2024?” Why would Time Magazine put the city on its list of the “World’s Greatest Places 2023?” There are many reasons.

Downtown Tucson’s revitalization offers a variety of new restaurants and activities, not to mention colorful murals, a haiku hike, the Tucson Museum of Art and the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum, where visitors and residents can learn about the Spanish and Native American origins of the City of Tucson. In addition, Conde Nast Traveler calls downtown’s Barrio Viejo a “historic melting pot galvanized by delicious dining and cultural programming.” 

Tucson’s museums located throughout the city are world-class and one of the best ways visitors experience the city’s history, culture, flora, and fauna.

Due to the wide variety of attractions, there is also something for nearly everyone to enjoy. For many residents, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a top-of-mind, award-winning attraction to take visiting family and friends to so they can experience our native plants and animals. 

Other ways to experience Tucson’s unique ecology can be found at Tohono Chul Park and Tucson Botanical Gardens. Pima Air & Space Museum is a one-of-a-kind museum where pilots who flew the planes housed there can regale visitors with their adventures. 

The DeGrazia Gallery shares Ted DeGrazia’s views of the world through his paintings, sculpture, and architecture. Old Tucson takes visitors back to the days of the Wild West with its gunfights, dance hall shows, and cowboy cooking. Biosphere II is not only an interesting place to tour, but it also serves as a research facility for the University of Arizona, and visitors see this research occurring firsthand.

Our major events draw visitors from all over the world. Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, El Tour de Tucson, the All Souls Procession and the Cologuard Classic by Exact Sciences, a PGA Tour Champions event, also help us share our culture and our love for the outdoors. 

Visitors come from around the world to enjoy Tucson’s outdoor activities as well. From road and mountain bike riding and hiking to scenic drives up Mount Lemmon, walking up or taking the tram up Sabino Canyon, fishing, ziplining and even dining al fresco, we’re blessed with a variety of opportunities to get out and enjoy our beautiful saguaro-studded desert. While enjoying these activities, visitors often have the opportunity to see the occasional coyote, hummingbird or javelina.

In addition, the city’s designation as the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S. gave a huge boost to its tourism reputation, drawing attention from all over the world. Just last year, Travel and Leisure included Tucson on its list of “Top 10 Cities for Food in the U.S.”

“The UNESCO designation is important because it has opened doors to Tucson to join other networks, such as the Food Capitals by the Delice Network, where cities like Montreal, Barcelona, Lyon and Brussels see Tucson as an equal in the food space,” explained Garcia.

We also offer world-class accommodations, beginning with The Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain, an incomparable luxury resort. Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa was named the 2023 Best Desert Hotel by Smart Meetings, and Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, which has received the prestigious Meetings & Conventions Gold Key Award more than once. Our acclaimed spas, Canyon Ranch and Miraval, also draw a global clientele.

“Tucson is emerging as a ‘must see’ destination for travelers with prestigious publications like Conde Nast Traveler, Time Magazine and The New York Times all including Tucson on their ‘Top Places to Visit in 2024,’” said Graeme Hughes, Visit Tucson executive VP. “It’s no wonder that tourism is one of the primary economic engines for Southern Arizona.”


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