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We all have one of those weekends where we have no idea what we're doing.
You're too restless to stay home and those funds to go anywhere are low. (Thanks, holidays.) Lucky for us Tucsonans there's a place nearby where you can roam around in a picturesque countryside and not break the bank. We're talking about a wine weekend.
Arizona's most "underrated" wine region is just an hour southeast in the lush pastures of Elgin and Sonoita. With soils that have been compared to Burgundy, France, this high-elevation area produces complex wines in a casual atmosphere. The two towns have more than a dozen tasting rooms in addition to two distilleries and a soon-to-be brewery. Sign up for a wine tour or head out there yourself with this handy guide!
How to get there:
From Tucson, head down I-10 East and take exit 281 to scenic Arizona Highway 89. It's really hard to describe how scenic this drive is without using the word "beautiful" about a million times. Somewhere along the way the desert landscape is replaced with perfect rolling hills of tall grass that make you feel like you're in the middle of Tuscany — wait, could Sonoita be the Italy of the West? Keep a look out for wildlife as you might spot longhorns, antelope, horses and cattle along the way.
Travel south for about 25 miles till you reach a crossroad to Arizona State Route 82 — it's like a little junction/activity hub for the area and your lifeline to some great eats and wine tastings nearby.
When you get there:
After all the sightseeing, you might wanna grab some food before you hit the wine trail. The Cafe in downtown Sonoita is a step above what the name implies. The wine-driven casual gourmet restaurant might remind you of Pastiche in Tucson.
The Cafe is open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner Thursday through Saturday from 5-8 p.m. — there's happy hour from 3-5 p.m. those days too.
Basic sandwiches and Southwestern chicken salads make up the lunch menu, but we were intrigued by the chef's choice APE burger. They don't tell you what's on it until it comes to the table. Surprise! Your hamburger has eggplants and salami ... 😵😵😵 Apparently it's different every single time so you're kind of taking a chance here. It's in your hands now.
If mystery burgers aren't your thing, try The Vineyard Cafe. It's got a similar vibe, with breakfast options and fun eats from a classically-trained chef. The Vineyard Cafe is open Thursday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Destination wine ...
The sister towns of Sonoita and Elgin boast more than a dozen tasting rooms, most of which are open Thursdays through Sundays. You can find a detailed map of all the wineries here, but the most popular stretch is along Elgin Road that leads to the town of Elgin.
Here you'll find Elgin's most approachable winery Arizona Hops and Vines: just turn when you see the hand-painted advertising "Tasters Wanted." Sisters Shannon Zouzoulas and Megan Haller have made the place a family destination with a petting zoo, live music and wine pairings like Cheetos and Cocoa Puffs on the counters. (Also check out the bathroom, you may be in there for awhile.)
Down the street you'll find the grandfather of the Southern Arizona wine scene, Callaghan Vineyards, which has an airy tasting room and a vibe that reminded us more of Sonoma than Sonoita (minus the pretension). Winemaker Kent Callaghan was onhand that day and led us through a tasting of several award-winners including a standout 2015 Greg's Petit Manseng, a white varietal from Southwestern France.
If you can pull yourself away from excellent wines at Callaghan, your last stop should be Flying Leap Vineyards, which has a tasting room at St. Philip's Plaza in Tucson. Their spiffy complex next door to Callaghan includes a distillery as well as a winery, where you can taste a grape vodka as well as an Apple Schnapps distilled by its German-born distiller Rolf Sasse.
Other tasting rooms we think you'll love:
After you're nice and toasty from sipping wine all day, it's time to treat yourself — and your designated driver — to some pizza and Italian food fare at Tia Nita's Cantina. Don't let the name confuse you, there are no tacos or chimichangas here, but you will find a find a friendly dive-bar atmosphere that is perfect for everyone from your retired RV road tripper to locals looking for a bite.
There's also Barrio Brewing Co. beers on tap to make you feel like you never left Tucson. The best part is that this place stays open after the wineries are closed — its hours are Thursday and Friday from 3-10 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where to stay:
We're all about staying where the wine is. So when it came to lodging we wanted to find something that was both serene — this is a vacation after all — and close to the action.
The Xanadu Ranch GetAway is exactly what we were looking for.
It's located at 92 Los Encinos Road in Sonoita, just about a mile-and-a-half away from the main cross streets in town — so you won't have to worry about getting lost on the way to the wineries.
With a beautiful view of the nearby mountain ranges and expansive country, this ranch is a great spot to unwind for the weekend. They have a cute courtyard area where you can hang out with koi fish and enjoy a bottle while you watch the sunset.
The owners of the ranch are also very helpful and accommodating. Bring your room key for discounts to some wineries in town or take a wine glass from the ranch and save a few bucks during your wine tastings.
Other spots to stay:
• Rancho Milagro Bed and Breakfast: 11 Cam Del Corral, Elgin. Room rates range from $129 to $139 for one night, and $99 to $109 for two and more nights. To make a reservation, book on their website at ranchomilagrobnb.com
The next day — head to Patagonia
Don't head back to Tucson too fast, there's plenty more to do in this area of Southern Arizona — and dang it, we're here to adventure.
Just take a 15-minute drive west on Arizona Highway 82 to Patagonia for a small-town experience.
With a population of less than 1,000, this charming place includes a large town park and little shops that will make you feel like you're walking through Stars Hollow.
Gathering Grounds looks and sounds like a coffee shop, but this cafe in downtown Patagonia has a full breakfast menu. The decadent biscuits and gravy came highly recommended by the staff, but they've also got some pretty decent omelets. You choose your own ingredients here, so we kept it light with some fresh avocado, spinach and tomatoes. It really hit the spot.
If you're walking around the main drag, stop by Ovens of Patagonia and grab some pastries for later in the day. The bakery's selection of handpies is sizable, with flavors like cherry, apple, blueberry and more. You can also pick up some fresh-baked bread for a picnic at the lake! You'll find cheeses and other accoutrements at the nearby Patagonia Market, 292 Naugle Ave.
Other places to eat:
Go to the Paton Center for Hummingbirds
After filling up for the day, it's time to break out that beige utility vest and bucket hat to go bird watching.
Patagonia sits in a region of Arizona that has some of the best bird watching spots in the world. Take advantage of this wonderful fortune and visit The Paton Center for Hummingbirds, located on the outskirts of town at 477 Pennsylvania Avenue.
About 213 bird species have been spotted here, including a large majority of humming birds.
The gates are open from dawn to dusk and entry into the center is free. Just find a spot to sit in the newly-constructed pavilion and get to birding.
You can also donate money to the "Sugar Fund" which goes to bird food and maintaining the grounds.
Spend the rest of the day by Patagonia Lake
If you grew up around Tucson, chances are you might have paid a visit to Patagonia Lake sometime during your childhood. Don't worry, it's still as awesome as you remembered with its giant curving foot bridge and sandy beach area.
To get there just take a 15-minute drive out of town west on Arizona Highway 82 till you see the turnoff to the lake, it's hard to miss.
There's plenty of recreation to do once you're there. Go fishing, paddle on a boat, take a swim, hike it up, or just hang out by the lake.
Day passes are $15 a car, so bring a picnic and stay till sunset — who doesn't like a good end-of-the-day photo by a lake?
And that is how you have the perfect weekend in Southern Arizona wine country. Fully relaxed, fully wined, and just a little sunburnt 💖
Get a tune up before you hit the road