Food, Historical Sites, and Skylines: These are a Few of My Favorite Things in Tucson

9 Jan

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I have lived in Tucson for twenty years and every year is more special than the last.

Growing up in Tucson is an adventure. Even if you’re new to Tucson, you probably already know what I’m talking about. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s cool. I’m going to show you how to explore Tucson like a true local. Let’s kickstart your Tucsonan adventure, Wildcats! 

Every semester after finals, my friends and I like to celebrate our success. What better way to reward ourselves than with some yummy FOOD?! 

Hands down, our favorite restaurant in Tucson has to be…

El Güero Canelo:


El Güero Canelo is the heart of Mexican food in Tucson. The Contreras family started El Güero Canelo in 1993 based on an idea from Daniel Contreras’ wife, Blanca, while on a trip to Mexico. Daniel and Blanca wanted to open a Mexican restaurant to serve both carne asada and Mexican hot dogs. The rest is history.

El Güero Canelo is so well-known that Adam Richman from the T.V. show Man vs. Food couldn’t stay away from the tasty Mexican hot dogs. Don’t believe me? Check it out! Family-owned businesses like this one make Tucson that much better. Make sure you go on this mini (but majorly delicious) excursion to El Güero Canelo before you graduate!

Fun Fact: My dad worked for El Güero when he was young. Too bad I don’t get discounts on caramelos. Luckily, the prices are reasonable on a student budget. 

If you don’t like Mexican food, don’t even sweat it. Tucson is home to restaurants that can please all tastebuds.

As a matter of fact, Tucson has an amazing Ethiopian restaurant not too far from campus.

Zemams Ethiopian Cuisine: 


For over 15 years, Zemams has served thousands of Wildcats its flavorful Ethiopian food. They use herbs and spices imported from Ethiopia to make signature dishes. Bring an appetite (this isn’t a tall order after studying), some friends (the best way to eat is family-style), and don’t forget to order the injera bread.

Fun Tip: They even have a gluten-free version of the injera bread if you call-in ahead of time. Zemams has the Outreach Facilitator stamp of approval!

Broadway and Tucson too far to walk? Head over to University Boulevard and you will find…

Vietnamese: Saigon Pho Restaurant

I like how cozy this place is. It’s perfect for a winter day when you want piping hot pho and a place to decompress.

Greek: Pelio Grill Restaurant 

This place just reopened and has a fantastic full-window view of Main Gate.

Middle Eastern: Sinbad’s Restaurant 

I love this place on a sunny day, which is a lot of the time in Tucson. The patio is perfect; the trees and fountain make for a relaxing lunch hour.

As you can see, there’s a lot to choose from in Tucson. It just takes time, and a little courage to try something new, so treat yourself after finals.

We have lots and lots of food, but sometimes it’s hard to find actual things to do in Tucson. The secret is that you have to research to find what’s out there, or what’s going on. All it takes is a little digging to find that hidden treasure.

One of my favorite things to do is visit…

San Xavier del Bac:


Beautiful right? This treasure, or as it’s nicknamed, “The White Dove of the Desert,” is pretty easy to spot in the desert.

San Xavier del Bac is a three-hundred-year-old Spanish Catholic mission located about ten miles south of downtown Tucson on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. It was founded in 1692 by Jesuit missionary, Padre Eusebio Kino. The Mission is also known as the “place where the water appears,” as there was once a natural springs in the area. The mission is situated in the center of the centuries-old Indian settlement of the Tohono O’odham located along the banks of the Santa Cruz. The Mission is also a pilgrimage site. Thousands of pilgrims visit the church each year, many of them walking or riding on horseback.

Not only is this place gorgeous, and full of history, you can buy local fry bread on-site. You know I couldn’t avoid the food element. It’s a win-win situation. 

Fun Tip: My family and I always go to the Mission on Sundays since there are vendors selling homemade Indian bread! OMG! The fry bread is to die for!!!! Food follows us Wildcats everywhere 🙂  Just be careful of local hungry bees, because they’ll also follow you around San Xavier if you order your bread with powdered sugar. They also love the fresh-squeezed lemonade, so beware. I know you Wildcats aren’t scared of a little bumblebee though, right?


Since San Xavier is a bit far, you can still find things to do closer to campus. One of my other favorites is…

“A” Mountain:


The formal name of this mountain, Sentinel Peak, came from its function as a lookout point for the Spanish, though the Pima village and cultivated fields that once lay at the base of the peak, just west of downtown, are long gone. In 1915, fans of the University of Arizona football team whitewashed a large “A” on its side to celebrate a victory, and the tradition has been continued ever since.

Fun Tip: During the day, the peak’s a great place to get an overview of the town’s layout. At night, the city lights below form a dazzling carpet. This is a perfect spot to take Instagram pictures, or a picnic (more food!). Here’s one my favorite pictures I’ve taken from “A” Mountain… IMG_7488

Here’s hoping I motivated you to go out and find your own hidden gems, whether you’re new to Tucson, or a local like me. Go out and make magic happen. Who knows? Maybe Tucson can be your ultimate BFF. Wildcats, how can you deny that skyline?

— Valeria Martinez


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