Walking the Historic and Modern Areas of Tucson
In my list, a city is a winner if its culinary scene surpasses my expectations.
Tucson is one of those cities that took me entirely by surprise. I was aware of all the delicious Sonora style dishes available thought the city but was not prepared for a smorgasbord of Italian, Asian and New American options.
Since food is one of my greatest passions, I tend to present every city I visit with a la carte touch (did you get that?). The reality is that Tucson is full of sights related to its hundreds of years of history.
And, that is great since we all need a break between meals. Right?
Even though Tucson is Arizona’s second largest city, the small town feeling is everywhere. You’ll miss Downtown if you blink while driving the I-10 Freeway. Parking spots are widely available, waiting times to get a table at a restaurant are short (sometimes nonexistent) and residents seems to know most of its neighbors.
The sense of small town is also conveyed in the ability to walk at leisure around the center. This is one of the reasons why I felt so at ease in there.
Congress Street can be considered the heart of Downtown (check Broadway Boulevard and Pennington Street too).
This is where you are going to find the notorious Hotel Congress. The site is known for being the capture place of a bank robber called John Dillinger.
Dillinger and his gang were staying (with false names) on the third floor of the hotel. A fire broke during the stay and they were able to escape. History says Dillinger asked the firefighters to retrieve his luggage from his room. He was then identified and arrested.
Also, it is the area where two of the city’s famous theaters are located.
This is the place to be if you love food. Numerous restaurants, coffee shops and creameries line the streets. Make sure to check the early evening and weekend specials. A lot of the restaurants I highlighted on previous posts are located around here.
I loved the funky vibe in this area. I kept bumping into murals, sculptures and even mosaics.
Walking west on Congress takes you to the area were the original Presidio stood.
The original fortress was built by Spanish soldiers during the 18th century and was the founding structure of what became the city of Tucson. After the American arrival in 1856, the original walls were dismantled, with the last section torn down in 1918. A reconstruction of the northeast corner of the fort was completed in 2007 following an archaeological excavation that located the fort’s northeast tower (it is open to the public).
One thing to keep in mind is that Tucson and the southernmost part of Arizona (and a little piece of New Mexico) weren’t part of the territory Mexico transferred to the United States after the Mexican American War. The area was acquired under the Gadsen Purchase. The government had plans to build a transcontinental railroad and figured out it was more cost effective to buy relatively flat land (with excellent weather) than to pass the route thru the mountains.
Marks on the floor show were the original walls once stood.
The Old Pima County Courthouse is located within what was once the Presidio. This is the former main county courthouse building. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by Roy Place in 1928 in Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival style architecture.
This area also houses the Tucson Museum of Art and several original 18th, 19th and early 20th century homes.
One block north of the Art Museum you will also find the Old Town Artisans, located in a 150-year-old building, and featuring the arts and crafts of hundreds of local and Southwestern artists. Beware shopping lovers. There are a lot of super cute things in here!
The Warehouse Arts District, a former industrial area turned studio spaces, galleries and residential loft, is an interesting place to explore. I stepped into several murals loaded with social and cultural messages.
The San Agustin Cathedral is located on Corral Street. Do not forget to stop by before moving to another area.
After taking a look at the different sites around Downtown, it is time to walk around one of the most charming areas of the city. The Barrio Viejo (or Barrio Historico) still has more territorial adobes than any other Tucson district. The architecture is predominantly Sonoran Traditional where zero setbacks are common, creating long, continuous streetscapes of houses, offices, and shops.
This is Tucson’s second oldest historic district. Half of the Barrio was destructed in the late ‘60s during an urban renewal.
To get to the Barrio, it is better to get into your car and park around Cushing Street. For more Sonoran style houses visit the following barrios: Barrio Anita, Barrio Santa Rosa or Barrio San Antonio.
I really enjoyed the different colors in this area. This is the Tucson I had on mind before my visit.
Have you visited Tucson? What other recommendations would you add?
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