Tucson's monsoons create some spectacular views.

Summer is my favorite season. It always has been. I love the quiet that settles on Tucson when all the birds have flown north for the season, the excruciatingly bright sunshine, the sauna effect of getting into a hot car.

While I have reported on how hard summers can be for people without cooling systems, and on the people who repair those systems, I can’t help but relish the onslaught of heat.

But my favorite part of every summer, as it is for most Tucsonans, is monsoon season. Rare humidity builds in a slow arc toward spectacular thunderstorms and life-giving rain. After last monsoon season left us frustrated, I, for one, am especially looking forward to this year’s redemption.

When I heard that this week forecasted some of the first rains of the year — in perfect accordance with Día de San Juan festivities — I knew my inaugural article would be about the best places to watch the storms.

Before you depart, please make sure it is safe to do so. Pima County has safety guidelines for monsoons on their website. Be sure to avoid driving through washes or overflowing dips. Flash floods can happen suddenly even if it's not raining where you are. Don't hang out in low areas. Monsoons, like most of Tucson's rugged desert environs, can be as dangerous as they are breathtaking. 

The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, is nestled in the Tortolita Mountains. Its covered patio gazes over the Tucson basin below.

The most obvious answers to this proposition are the most expensive — the views at Starr Pass, the Ritz Carlton, or Vivace are hard to beat. While Starr Pass is one of my go-tos for a special occasion, I wanted to share places with views where Tucsonans could stretch a budget rather than break it.

Surprising finds

Flight Grill diners at the Pima Air and Space Museum can look through windows that run the length of the restaurant.

While few restaurants with a view are actively cheap, some of the more accessible places to watch a monsoon also happen to be the most unique. Topgolf, 4050 W. Costco Drive and Flight Grill at the Pima Air and Space Museum, 6000 E. Valencia Road offer expansive views from floor-to-ceiling windows. 

Sheltered views

Blanco, Tacos + Tequila’s covered patio and floor-to-ceiling windows offer some of the best views in the Catalina Foothills.

If a meal at Vivace is out of your price range, try the nearby Blanco Tacos y Tequila, 2905 E. Skyline Drive, where you can cozy up to a bar and witness — yet feel sheltered from — the majesty of nature, for the slightly-inflated price of a cocktail. Similarly, the new Moonstone at The Graduate Hotel — a reader suggestion (Thanks @davis.allen!) — gives you panoramic views from the heart of town and simple bar eats. The restaurant and bar is located on the top of the hotel right behind Main Gate Square on the UA campus, 930 E. Second St.

Desert setting

Saguaro Corners embeds diners in the Sonoran Desert.

While neither of these places are cheap, per se, I had to mention Tohono Chul’s bistro at 7366 N. Paseo del Norte (hot tip, check out the bottomless $14 prickly pear margarita or mimosa deal they have right now) and Saguaro Corners, 3750 S. Old Spanish Trail as well. There’s nowhere better to feel like you are an integrated part of the desert we love so much.

Safe in the wild

Tucson's monsoons can be as powerful as they are beautiful.

If watching the monsoon from your car is more your speed, and the roads are safe, I’d suggest the Sweetwater Preserve, Babad Do'ag or Agua Caliente trailheads to watch the storms come through. Pack a picnic, or pick up some pastries from Tucson institutions like La Estrella Bakery or Le Buzz Cafe.


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