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Tucson or Sedona

Hubby and I are traveling to Arizona in a couple of weeks and can't decide whether to return to Sedona, which we loved, or go to Tucson (and area) which we haven't seen. We are active, middle aged, enjoy hiking, biking, golf, great food and music. We intend to rent a vehicle so we will be mobile but don't want to spend too much time moving around. We prefer to stay in one place and take day trips. Any suggestions? We only have a week.

Posted by
6921 posts

It's been about 25 years since I was last in Tucson, and haven't ever visited Sedona. A strategy for our trips to Europe, more and more, is to visit a new place (there are so many places yet to see and experience), but if there's enough time (more than a week), we'll throw in a visit to an KS favorite place, too. Are you looking for familiarity or a novel place? Moon Guides and other travel books might give you more information about each place to help in your decision-making process.

Posted by
839 posts

Presuming you are landing at Sky Harbor and renting a vehicle from there, I'm guessing you know Tucson and Sedona are about the same distance from Phoenix.....but in opposite directions. While you are somewhat familiar with Sedona, Tuscon is nice, too. The issue is, what is beyond those locations?
Tuscon, south of Phoenix, is somewhat limited in variety while the Sedona area, north of Phoenix has Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon and even the National Parks of southern Utah if you are willing to drive about 250 miles north.
I'd vote for Sedona...but next trip, go to New Mexico. It's hard to beat, especially this time of the year.

Posted by
25551 posts

Well, there's quite a lot in the immediate area around Tucson: The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the old mission at San Javier del Bac (stunning target for photographers), Saguaro National Park, and Mount Lemmon (hiking). About 2/3 of the way to the Mexican border is the art/craft town of Tubac, where I spent an enjoyable day window shopping some years ago.

I agree that New Mexico is also highly visitable. Investigate weather details before settling on the timing, though. It's a four-season climate, especially when you get up to Santa Fe and points north.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you for your suggestions. I would love to go to the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff but I have concerns about going this time of year. I think I will save those for a different trip at a different time of year. New Mexico also sounds nice but, as you say, it will be saved for another time.

Posted by
363 posts

Hello! I have lived in Tucson since 1999. Acraven has some excellent ideas for things to do/see in Tucson. My favorite is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (have had an annual pass since we moved here). A few weeks ago they started the seasonal "Raptor Free Flight" program, which is included in the admission price and is held at 10 am & 2 pm daily (although you will want to arrive at least 30 minutes ahead of time to get a good spot). The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is where my friends and family who come to visit want to go back to time and time again.

Another good hiking area in Tucson is Sabino Canyon. There is a tram that you can ride to the top and walk down, or just hike both ways.

If you wanted to go on a "day trip" from Tucson, Tombstone is about 90 minutes away. It is a little bit touristy but has a lot of the authentic buildings and is a glimpse in to the Old West and the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Also down that way is the "Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area" which has thousands of wintering Sandhill Cranes. Watching them land in huge groups is mesmerizing.

Kartchner Caverns is near Benson, about an hour drive from Tucson, is the most amazing cavern that I have ever seen. Make sure that you make reservations ahead of time. There are two tours that you can choose from and I definitely recommend that if you take just one tour, go on the "Rotunda/Throne" tour.

Pima Air and Space Museum, in Tucson, is one of the world's largest privately owned aerospace museums, with almost 300 aircraft. If you or your husband are airplane buffs at all, this is a very interesting way to spend a few hours.

Saguaro National Park, with the iconic gigantic sagauro cactus, is divided into two sections, East and West. The West portion is just a couple of miles from the entrance of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and is free. However, if you get a chance, try to make it to the East section. At the East section, there is a seven mile drive (small admission charge) that has pullouts for hikes and takes you deep in to the park. The saguaros are more interesting, I think, on the East side and have many more arms.

Tucson also has the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, which has 400 miniature houses and room boxes, some new, some over a hundred years old. They are closed on Mondays and holidays.

If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a private message.

Posted by
4079 posts

In addition to the excellent suggestions already given, you might take a look at the nighttime programs at Kitt Peak, west of Tucson.

In a couple of weeks, the moon should be dark enough to see millions of stars with the naked eye, but you must be out of the city to do so, and of course the skies must be our normal clear.

We live close enough that we can see the observatory from our living room and have to limit the lumens of our external lighting, not that we leave external lights on anyway.

If you decide to visit the Tucson area, you can fly to Tucson International Airport and rent a car. There's no need to fly to Phoenix.

You may not know that UNESCO named Tucson as the first place in the United States to be honored with the Capital of Gastronomy designation. There is a lot of good food here.

Please feel free to PM me for more info, too.

Posted by
15477 posts

I haven't been to northern Arizona then (early November was fine) but I've been through southern Utah (Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, Navajo territory. . . ) for Thanksgiving week twice with great weather - clear, sunny, highs in the 60s. If you haven't been north of Sedona, there is so much that awaits you!

Posted by
4351 posts

My usual opinionated recommendations:

Tucson is a bit "hard" to get around because it is fairly large and the freeways don't go the direction you want to go. For example the trip from the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort to Sabino Canyon takes almost an hour to drive, although this is probably the longest drive within Tucson a person can make. Note that pop-up roadblocks appear on highways near Tucson (toward Kitt Peak or Tombstone) and federal officials interview you about your immigration status, a nuisance.

The Kitt Peak trips are really highly priced for what you get, and the telescopes used are pretty small. There's a "game" that's played to be chosen to be in small group that looks through a larger telescope but those people have seated themselves in just the right spot and know when to shoot up their hands. The light from Tucson really degrades the quality of the experience. Also, the whole place is a relic since the new equipment goes to Chile or Hawaii where it is truly dark.

I think the Chiricahua Mountains are the highlight of the area, but to see it well takes 2 vehicles and a 10 mile one way hike. But it's a must do North American wilderness hike.

Posted by
380 posts

We've been to both places. As you have already been to Sedona, I would suggest spending your time in Tucson.
Besides the previous suggestions, here are a couple more.
A day trip to Tubac to see art:
It's sort of like Santa Fe, NM. It's only a 50 mile drive south of Tucson.

Another fascinating place is the Biosphere.

My favorite intersection in Tucson is Ina & Oracle. There is Beyond Bread for great sandwiches at the SE corner. Across the street is Frost for gelato and Wild Flower, an excellent restaurant at the SW corner. NE on Oracle is Tucson Tamales.

Not to be missed is Sonoran hot dogs at El Guero Canelo (there are several locations)

Posted by
6168 posts

Tucson would be my choice (for you) because there's a lot to see and do there and nearby, plus you haven't been there, plus it's more of a real city with non-tourist aspects while Sedona (where I haven't been in quite awhile, I'll confess) is more centered on tourism, resorts, and such.

Tubac is a nice day trip, or half-day trip, but not really to be compared with Santa Fe. Nearby Tumacacori is also historic and interesting.

Posted by
3968 posts beautiful with the red rocks are filled with hiking opportunities. I found Tucson boring although I loved seeing the saguaro. You won't see them in Sedona but Red Rock State Park makes up handsomely for that. My favorite day trip from Sedona is the Grand Canyon.

Posted by
4079 posts

My responses to Tom's comments:

"Tucson is a bit "hard" to get around because it is fairly large and the freeways don't go the direction you want to go."

Maybe true, depending on where you want to go. We live way out west, obviously if we can see the observatory at Kitt Peak from our house. We are near the intersection of Ajo and Sasabe Highways known as Three Points or Robles Junction. We allow about 1.25 to 1.5 hours to get to the center of town.

"Note that pop-up roadblocks appear on highways near Tucson (toward Kitt Peak or Tombstone) and federal officials interview you about your immigration status, a nuisance."

True and false. We have experienced no Border Patrol stations going into town or coming back home on Ajo in the 9 years we've lived here. But we usually don't go farther west than Robles Junction. We have experienced one on the way to and from Tombstone and there is a permanent one on I19 near Tubac. It takes about 2 minutes to answer yes to the question, "American citizens?" And we're on our way. Not a nuisance in my opinion. By the way, there is a permanent one going across the White Sands area in New Mexico. The "federal officials" are Border Patrol agents, both 2 and 4-legged. We always thank them for their service.

"The Kitt Peak trips are really highly priced for what you get, and the telescopes used are pretty small."

I don't know about this since every time I've tried to go, the events have been cancelled due to weather. I'm not sure why they'd be cancelled if the images were from South America.

"The light from Tucson really degrades the quality of the experience."

True. We can see a big glow from Phoenix and its suburbs with the naked eye from our house. We don't see that so much from Tucson because it's a darker city and the mountains block the light, but I'm sure you can see both from 7000 feet up at Kitt Peak. Tucson limits light so much that some people are concerned about safety.

In our desert neighborhood some people unaware of the ordinances and our location in the second most restricted light area near Kitt Peak, have had visits from the county and have been required to change their exterior lighting to meet them.

I think Sedona is beautiful, but these days it seems to be nothing but condos and golf courses, along with the crystal woo-woo. As Dick said, it's not a real city to me.

Southern UT is absolutely amazing, and possibly my favorite place on earth, but better in warmer weather.

And something I forgot before, if you do go to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, eat at the Ocotillo Cafe.

Posted by
13213 posts

My brother, SIL and I escaped the N Idaho snow and gray winter last Feb with a road trip to Tucson. The blue sky and bright sunshine went a long way to relieving cabin fever! In addition to the Sonoran Desert Museum (YES to Lo’s suggestion of the Ocotillo Cafe there!) we enjoyed 2 botanical gardens in town - Tucson Botanical Gardens ( good cafe too) and Tohono Chul. and did not get to everything on our list.

We are also birders so spent some time in the Bisbee area to be near the amazing winter range of Sandhill Cranes at Whitewater Draw plus some other birding sites.

We did hike at Catalina one day as well.

I’d give Tucson a try if you can get reservations.

Posted by
8198 posts

Never been to Tucson, but once in Sedona is enough. Why not go somewhere you haven't been?

Posted by
254 posts

Nobody seems to have mentioned nightlife, so I will throw in my 2 cents. When we lived in Tucson, we were always very impressed with the arts scene - especially in the winter time when there are more people in town. There were lots of small theater companies doing very good work; the big civic Convention Center and Music Hall presented many interesting music and theater acts; the University's Centennial Hall presented a wide variety of music, dance, & entertainment acts ; the drama & music departments at the University offered a steady stream of good quality works; there were lots of venues that had national/international artists performing everything from Irish "trad" to Cajun zydeco to classical guitar to Flamenco dancing to modern voice to various Vegas talents and magic acts. I think Tucson is on the international entertainment circuit because of proximity to Phoenix and pulls in a ton of talent considering that it is a medium sized city. And the prices were always quite reasonable, especially at the University departments they were a steal. Parking was a breeze most everywhere in comparison to big US cities. I doubt that Sedona can offer anywhere near the variety & quality of A&E.

BTW, speaking of the University, it has several world-class sights: the Ansel Adams photo collection, the Dendroarchaeology (tree-ring) Lab - where tree-ring dating work was invented and first applied, and the Mirror Lab - one of the few places in the world you can get a close-up tour of how giant telescopes are built.

As far as outdoors, I agree with Tom_MN about the Chiricahua Mountains. IMO they are just as good as the scenery around Sedona, without the pink jeeps, crowds and vortex goofiness. By all means consider a hike in Sabino Canyon for a "name" destination, but don't overlook the many other trails in the Catalina Mts that typically have much better views than Sabino trails. We found the 70 degree winter days to be ideal for hiking many of the lesser known trails with very little crowding compared to the hordes always at Sabino. Consider a visit to the Santa Rita Mts south of Tucson. There are some good, very uncrowded hikes and a world class bird area at Madera Canyon. We are not birders, but we were very impressed by the masses of hummingbirds and other rare birds from S. and C. America that show up there. One last suggestion - winter is a great time for a hot air balloon ride in the Tucson area. You take off just after dawn, everything is quiet & peaceful and you get an amazing view of the countryside. Full disclosure - we were volunteer crew for a local balloon company for a few years and may be biased about how much fun it is.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you everyone. Tucson it is with lots of great suggestions of what to do. Can't wait!

Posted by
4079 posts

I'm glad you opted for Tucson.

One of the best short drives near town goes over Gates Pass between the city and the road to the Desert Museum. There are beautiful views of the Tucson mountains, rocks and saguaros with other mountains in the distance beyond a huge valley. There are 2 places to stop and park to enjoy those. One is at the top of the road and one is almost to the bottom. The best direction to drive is east (city side) to west (valley side). There is no guard rail.

One way to go back to town is to go to Sandario Rd, west of the Desert Museum. Turn right, heading north. Go to Picture Rocks Rd and turn right again, heading east. This takes you back to town, but pretty far north. Before going through that pass, there is a small parking area where you can stop and do the short walk to see the petroglyphs. Again, the pass through the mountains has no guardrail.

You could do this drive connected with visits to the Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park. You will see thousands of saguaros in this large protected area of which Tucson Mountain Park is also part.

However you decide to spend your time here, you'll find plenty of things to do...and eat.