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Posted by on Feb 29, 2016 | 81 comments

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.

I already wrote about how to try several dishes in a short period of time by doing a food tour and recommended establishments offering delicious breakfast, lunch and dining 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).

Downtown District, Tucson, Arizona

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.

Downtown District, Tucson, Arizona

Downtown District, Tucson, Arizona

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.

Downtown District, Tucson, Arizona

Downtown District, Tucson, Arizona

I loved the funky vibe in this area.  I kept bumping into murals, sculptures and even mosaics.

Downtown District, Tucson, Arizona

Downtown District, Tucson, Arizona

Downtown District, Tucson, Arizona

Walking west on Congress takes you to the area were the original Presidio stood.

Old Pima County Courthouse, Tucson, Arizona

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.

Old Pima County Courthouse, Tucson, Arizona

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.

Old Pima County Courthouse, Tucson, Arizona

Old Pima County Courthouse, Tucson, Arizona

This area also houses the Tucson Museum of Art and several original 18th, 19th and early 20th century homes.

Museum of Art, Tucson, Arizona

Museum of Art, Tucson, Arizona

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!

Old Town Artisans, Tucson, Arizona

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.

Warehouse District, Tucson, Arizona

Warehouse District, Tucson, Arizona

The San Agustin Cathedral is located on Corral Street.  Do not forget to stop by before moving to another area.

St. Agustin Cathedral, Tucson, Arizona

 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.

IBarrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

This is Tucson’s second oldest historic district.  Half of the Barrio was destructed in the late ‘60s during an urban renewal.

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

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.

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

Barrio Viejo or Barrio Historico, Tucson, Arizona

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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Explore the historic and modern areas of Tucson, Arizona on this walking tour of the city.,



  1. Thank you for the very lovely tour, filled with fantastic photos.
    Have a Happy Week!!
    Peace 🙂

    • Thanks Chandra! I am looking forward to explore more barrios on the future.

  2. I love all the colours and textures.

    • Thanks! I am happy how the photos came out. They truly reflect the colors of the barrio.

  3. love the colorful buildings in Tuscon! I haven’t been to Arizona, but I have a feeling that it’s a State with a lot of things to see and do!
    Anna recently posted..The essential guide to Washington DCMy Profile

    • Oh yes, Arizona is full of interesting natural and historical sights. I have plans to go back this year. Hopefully, I will discover more of the north.

    • We were there about 4 days (2 entire days in Tucson) and I feel that was too little too. There is a lot to see and do in the area.

    • That is a good way to describe Tucson. A lot of character and unique flavor.

  4. I had no idea Tucson had all these great sites! My husband’s family is from here, and all we did was go to Eegee’s for their frozen smoothies! Thanks for linking up!
    Christy Swagerty (whatupswags) recently posted..17 Places Sports Took MeMy Profile

    • Well, next time you are in the area you have to check out all the great restaurants in Downtown. I heard about Eegee’s but didn’t have time to visit.

  5. I love the colours and small town feel of Tuscon! It definitely sounds like my kind of place. #citytripping

    • I think that is one of the things I enjoy about Tucson. I was able to eat well and visit a lot of places and there were no crowds at all.

  6. No food today? haha.. But oh, I love street art too! And all those beautiful doors! They really get to me because living in Singapore, we live in mass-produced *yawnz boring* high-rise flats. We have restrictions on even the types of window grills we can install because everything needs to look uniform and all. Zzz…. #TravelTuesday
    Bumble Bee Mum recently posted..{Travel Tuesday #31} Mother Farm (Chiba, Tokyo, Japan)My Profile

    • Hmm, didn’t know they were so strict in Singapore about how living areas should look. In historic places like Tucson (and in Old San Juan too), the government encourages residents to paint their houses in different colors (and I guess to be different from its neighbors).

  7. I really enjoyed this walking tour of Tucson, Ruth! I love small cities like this and I absolutely die over the colorful houses, doors, etc. in Barrio Viejo! I would also love all the restaurants and artisan shops in the old town area. I had no idea that Tuscon was so cute and had this much character!

    • I like that the city offer way more than what people expect. I think it feels great when a city surpasses your expectations.

    • Wow! I have never heard pictures are good enough to eat. I like that ;0) But, yes, I am glad places like this exist.

  8. Thank you for a tiny vacation as I sip my tea. The photos are beautiful.

    Linda recently posted..WWMy Profile

    • Your welcome! Glad you enjoyed the short tour around the city.

  9. Wow, you were able to present the charm of Tucson in this post. I had not idea it was this charming. I’ve always wanted to go back to AZ and see the sights. What month did you visit and how was the weather?
    Photo Cache recently posted..Malaga in Pictures Part 1My Profile

    • I visited in December. On that month, average highs are supposed to be on the 60s. When I visited, the temperatures were in the low 50s which is colder than usual. I was able to manage well. Plus, there was tons of sunshine. That is way better than going when the temperatures are over 100.

  10. It looks so colourful! I had very little idea about Tucson, but it sounds such a lovely place and a great atmosphere. I do love cities which are walkable as well, or at least have areas to wander around – plus great food… Thanks for linking up to #citytripping
    Cathy (MummyTravels) recently posted..City Tripping #16My Profile

    • Since there are so many great things to see in Northern Arizona (including the Grand Canyon), I think a lot of people traveling around the West skip Tucson and it surrounding areas. But, I will encourage people to visit even if they have a limited amount of time.

  11. I feel as if Tucson has a range of eras and nationalities.
    The 50’s feel of the old theatres, the modern street art and then the brightly coloured buildings reminded me of Mexico
    Sally@Toddlers on Tour recently posted..Family Trek to NepalMy Profile

    • Yes, the city has gone thru a lot of different periods (Spanish, Mexican, USA, the a revival of Downtown not so many years ago). That is why it is so colorful and varied.

  12. Gorgeous photos and I love reading more about the history – even the fact that there is a coffee shop called the ‘Cartel Coffee Lab’
    Holly recently posted..Yarn Along: Lace BookmarksMy Profile

    • I do not know the story behind the coffee store name but it would be interesting to find out. The city has a bit of a hipster vibe, so, I would not be surprised if the name is kind of hook to attract people’s attention.

  13. I adore this place. So colourful and eclectic and those theatres look like old gems.

    • Great! You have to see some cities in Mexico. They are even more colorful.

    • I know you guys are planning a trip. Hope the posts help you a little bit with that.

    • I get what you are saying about desert cities but Tucson is Arizona’s second largest city and it houses a bi university campus. That is why is it is so diverse and has so many offerings.

  14. You’ve really captured the local color and vibrancy of the city. I would love to take a photo safari there. And I bet the food is great too.

    • The food is really good. Make sure to check my food related post of the city. I am sure you are going to like them.

  15. We did the same stroll in 2014 when we spent a few days in Tucson. My kind of travel.

    • This is my kind of travel too. We walked without a concrete plans. We discovered a lot by checking out some alleys.

  16. Hi Ruth, I like the details in your photos of Tucson. You won’t believe it, but I had to google, where Tucson is.

    • Not sure how well known is Tucson in the United States. I imagine it is not known outside the country at all.

  17. Never been to Tuscon, I’m afraid. It looks both interesting and cosy. Love the murals.

    • It is a place with all the creature comforts you may need but it still has that small town vibe that is so attractive to certain people (like me). I loved it there.

    • I went to Sedona about two years ago. That area is lovely too. Want to go back. You can search on the blog for articles about Sedona, Cottonwood, Jerome and Prescott.

  18. Tucson looks like a great place to visit and meander around. All of the colors reminds me of Portugal. Thanks for hosting this week. #TPThursday
    Nancie recently posted..Barcelona: Arc de TriomfMy Profile

    • A lot of cities with Spanish / Portuguese colonial roots are going to remind you of the Iberian Peninsula. The architecture in Old San Juan (Puerto Rico) is nearly identical to some places in Madrid.

    • I think it is more beautiful than what I have presented in here. I only had about two hours to check the Barrio Viejo. That was not enough time to check the entire Barrio. Plus, there are other Barrios full of old houses. You have to visit someday.

    • The Spanish / Mexican influence is what attracts me to the city. The funky vibe in the Arts District makes it more interesting.

  19. Gorgeous photos! I love all of the colours and details that you caught through you lens. It really must have been such a great place to wander 🙂 I also love the art and the colourful tiles.

    • Thanks Marcella. It is difficult to stop shooting in a place like this. It was color after color after color.

    • Glad to see you liked it Lyndall. I would gladly visit colorful places every day of the week ;0)

    • I am a door lover. You have to check my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

  20. I love the colors of the southwest. So different from the browns and greys of New England, especially this time of year. We are heading to Arizona next month, but unfortunately, we won’t make it to Tucson. Gorgeous photos, as usual – I feel like I just walked through the city with you.
    Tara recently posted..Jedediah Smith Redwoods State ParkMy Profile

    • Yes, it is great to live surrounded by colorful houses (I know since it is like that in Puerto Rico). What places are you visiting in Arizona?

  21. Fantastic colors! I didn’t realize that Tucson and southern Arizona was so colorful – I thought more of the muted colors of the desert. Thanks for sharing!

    • The colorfulness comes from the Mexican roots of the town. Also, in my opinion, Arizona is a colorful state. You just have to take a look at the local arts and crafts.

  22. LOVE that old theatre marquis!

    • I took different photos of them under different light conditions. At least several photos came out fine.

  23. HI Ruth, I haven’t been to Tucson and I’m glad to have learned more about it in your post. I didn’t realize that it is such a foodie city. That alone make it appealing to me. I enjoyed the Spanish architectures and the lovely colors and charm of Barrio Viejo. Thanks for the virtual tour of Tucson. Lovely photos.
    Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..Getsemani: Old Cartagena’s Real NeighborhoodMy Profile

    • If food is your thing, Tucson is the place for you. I had a great time eating to my heart’s content. In general, I consider Arizona a great place for foodies.

  24. Beautiful pictures! It’s great to see the Spanish influences on the city – as well as the modern art – makes for a very colourful place. I’d like to visit sometime. Thanks for linking to #citytripping
    Elizabeth (Wander Mum) recently posted..6 Destinations To Visit In SpringMy Profile

    • It would be great to combine a visit to the city with a road trip around the Southwest. Thanks for stopping by.

  25. Hi Ruth! Fabulous feature, even if I do have a slight hometown bias. 😉 There was a time when he Barrios were unfashionable; the upscale foothills to the north were the place to be. I’m glad to see the neighborhoods are still thriving. Also loved the photo of the Old Courthouse – that’s always been one of my favorite downtown buildings. Thanks for the photos from home! 🙂
    RobRob (@ recently posted..#Travel140: Your laptop still has to go through security by itself.My Profile

  26. What a great tour! I love the colors and all the styles of the doors. Historical places are always on the top on my list. I’ve only visited AZ for a minute, so I hope to get back and check out Tucson. Thanks for your insights!

  27. I lived in SoCal for 11 years and never made my way down to Arizona other than to drive through it. I think maybe I need to schedule in a stop to explore the next time I make a road trip back to Kansas!
    Sadie recently posted..Photo Friday: Inside Queen Sirikit ChedisMy Profile

  28. What a riot of colour.. and you captured it all so well. I love it when a location lives up to your imagination and you don’t feel cheated or disappointed. I am glad this was the case for you too.
    annette charlton recently posted..A Family in Paris: book reviewMy Profile

  29. Well! I have never given Tucson a second thought until I read your blog! I had no idea it was such a lovely place. The barrio viejo and the artisans’ quarter definitely appeal to me. I’ve long hankered for a visit to Santa Fe and have just looked on a map to see if both are doable in one trip…. I’m thinking yes!

    So… in one day I have inspired you to visit Norway, and now you have inspired me to visit Tucson. Thank you! 🙂
    Janice recently posted..On top of the worldMy Profile

  30. This was a wonderful walking tour of Tucson. We’ve been to Tucson several times and never got around to exploring the downtown area. We’ve done the Mission and Saguaro and the suburban areas. I love all the colors you captured here. These historic districts are great.

  31. I’ve never been to Tucson before and I had no idea how pretty and colourful the city is! I’m really impressed and love your photos. I’d love to go there someday, I like big towns that has the feel of a small city 😀

    Thank you for joining #MondayEscapes
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  1. Monday Escapes #30 - My Travel Monkey - […] Walking the historic and modern areas of Tucson – by Tanama Tales […]

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