Tucson skyline at sunset

A faint rainbow appears over downtown Tucson and the city after monsoon storms on July 24, 2017.

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I love Tucson.

I've lived here my entire life, I have memories of going to Reid Park Zoo during summer camp, I grew up eating Lucky Wishbone.

Even still, a few years ago I started keeping track of essential Tucson things I hadn't yet done, eaten or seen. With the help of the #ThisIsTucson team, we put together a bucket list of 19 things every Tucsonan should do, whether you've lived here for decades or just moved here last year.

1. Watch the sunset at Gates Pass

A prickly pear cactus against the sunset through monsoon showers and low clouds along Gates Pass Road on the western slope of the Tucson Mountains,  July 23, 2015.

Most Tucsonans can agree that Tucson often has stop-what-you're-doing-take-out-your-phone sunsets. While sunsets are beautiful no matter where you are in Tucson, the best spots are the ones unobstructed by telephone wires, with the silhouettes of saguaros on the horizon.

Gates Pass is a worthy choice.

2. Hike to the top of Tumamoc Hill

Low clouds shroud Sentinel Peak (“A” Mountain), as seen from Tumamoc Hill on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.

It's a workout, but the views are worth it.

Tumamoc Hill, where the University of Arizona's Desert Laboratory is located, has cultural and sacred significance to the Tohono O'odham Nation and is home to thousands of years of history, according to the UA.

The road up the hill is paved and the walk is 3 miles roundtrip, with a rise of about 700 feet in elevation from the base to the top.

3. See desert wildlife and cactus blooms at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Cruz, a 10-year-old mountain lion, sticks out its tongue while sunbathing on a ledge inside its enclosure inside the Mountain Woodland exhibit at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2021 N. Kinney Road.

In the past, we've asked readers what they think Tucson's must-visit places are. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum topped the list.

The museum is zoo, aquarium, botanical garden and art gallery all in one. If you're looking to learn more about the Sonoran Desert, this is the place to go.

You can see a mountain lion, bighorn sheep, javelinas, prairie dogs and more desert dwellers. You can touch (and feed) stingrays, see cactus blooms in spring, learn about minerals, and lots more at the fan-favorite museum.

4. Check out a local tortillería 

An employee works on packaging and placing tortillas on a rack at Tortillas de Don Juan, 1924 S. Fourth Ave. on July 20, 2021.

Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy for good reason.

By far the most difficult part of this bucket list is deciding what foodie experiences to mention. A food bucket list is a beast of its own. 

Flour tortillas are among Tucson's iconic cultural markers, synonymous with Tucson and Southwest culture. Families often send them in care packages to out-of-towners living far from a place with ones as yummy as Tucson's. 

We have a list of 18 tortillerías de harina here, and our food writer Ellice Lueders recommends the red chile burrito from Anita's Street Market or an enchilada from St. Mary's Mexican Food.

Flour tortillas are a crucial component to the delicious Sonoran food found in Tucson. Want to explore the food scene more? Start with a taco tour of 12th Avenue (La Doce) and don't sleep on the pan dulce from bakeries like La Estrella.

5. Fall in love with Tucson's murals

Each letter on this Tucson Together mural painted by Jessica Gonzales represents a local business: (from left to right) Old Tucson Studios, The Fox Theatre, Hotel Congress, Eegee's, the Gateway Saguaro sign, Hub Restaurant and Ice Creamery, Ben's Bells and the Rialto Theatre. 

New murals pop up faster than we can blink, it seems. Tucson is home to several communities of artists, and murals are just one medium we get the pleasure of seeing along walks, drives and bike rides.

We have a list of more than 100 murals here. See how many you can find in person!

6. Try every flavor of the month at Eegee's

Pictured is a strawberry and lemon Eegee. The July flavor of the month is watermelon.

Eegee's is a Tucson favorite, that's no question. It would be hard to find someone here who hasn't tried the iconic sandwich spot known for its namesake frozen slushy-like drink.

The local chain is homegrown, starting in 1971 as a frozen lemonade truck run by two best friends. There are now dozens of locations across Tucson and even a few in the Phoenix area.

The Eegee's drinks come in four standard flavors: strawberry, lemon, piña colada and skinny berry, with a new flavor popping up each month. There's been orange dream, lucky lime, cherry limeade, and the flavor that Tucsonans seem to love most: watermelon.

7. Take in the city views from the top of Sentinel Peak ("A" Mountain)

A brilliant sunset competes with the annual Lighting of A Mountain party on top of the Main Gate Garage at the University of Arizona in Tucson, on Oct. 21, 2018.

Sentinel Peak, the mountain on the west side with an "A" on its face, is a special place in Tucson. The mountain has a history that dates back thousands of years and the Hohokam and Tohono O'odham established villages in the area. The base of the mountain is considered Tucson's birthplace.

The top of the mountain offers 360-degree views of Tucson. You can drive up the mountain, bike or hike in the area.

8. See waterfalls in Sabino Canyon

Naomy Robles, 7, sits atop dad Raul's shoulder while they bask in the water cascading over Sabino Dam as visitors to Sabino Canyon enjoy a cooling-off in the abundant monsoon runoff flow near the Sabino Dam in 2017.

Hiking is popular in Tucson and Sabino Canyon is among the most treasured spots. Sabino Canyon is a must-visit, with 14 trails and opportunities to see waterfalls after the area gets some rain.

Need help navigating Sabino Canyon? We wrote an FAQ here.

9. Try a Sonoran hot dog

Sonoran Hot Dog from El Guero Canelo

Sonoran hot dogs are a quintessential Tucson food, one you can find at dozens of different restaurants and carts around town.

Sonoran hot dogs are similar at surface level (bun, hot dog, bacon, pinto beans, tomato, onion, condiments), but everyone in Tucson has their favorite spot. You could ask 10 different people where their favorite spot is and you could get 10 different answers.

Here's a map of south-side spots to get you started.

10. Celebrate the fusion of cultures at Tucson Meet Yourself

Elif Demirbas grills up gözleme, a Turkish flatbread filled with cheese, spinach or beef, at the 2018 Tucson Meet Yourself.

The annual Tucson Meet Yourself event, dubbed a folklife festival, was founded in 1974 by the late folklorist Jim "Big Jim" Griffith and his wife Loma Griffith. It typically takes place each October.

Tucson Meet Yourself is a three-day festival celebrating the beautiful diversity of Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico's ethnic and folk communities through food, art, dancing and music. 


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11. Stargaze on Mount Lemmon

Julia Vining and her husband Bob Vining walk their golden retriever Riley along a hiking trail in Bear Wallow in the Catalina Mountains in October 2021.

Mount Lemmon is a Tucsonan's getaway. It's where you can see leaves change color in fall, build a snowman in winter and escape triple-digit temperatures in summer. There are hiking trails, camping opportunities and restaurants to enjoy a tasty meal. 

Or you can stay late to look up at the twinkling night sky. Mount Lemmon is also home to Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter. If you didn't know, Southern Arizona is a hub for astronomy, thanks to the clear skies, dry weather and dark sky ordinances.

12. Put a wish on the Wishing Tree at Winterhaven

Kathleen Bethel, left, staples some of the longer wishing links together at her family's "Wishing Tree" in Winterhaven, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011, where folks who stroll through the decorated neighborhood, can stop and make a wish on a colored piece of paper and attach it to the wishing tree. 

The Wishing Tree in the Winterhaven Festival of Lights started as a seventh-grade science project more than two decades ago with Liz Baker-Bowman, who wanted to figure out if people were as bad as they seemed in the news.

To find the answer, she set up an experiment — featuring strips of colorful construction paper, staplers and pens. Passersby in the Winterhaven neighborhood, popular for its incredible light show during the holiday season, write down their wish, then loop it onto a tree outside Baker-Bowman's childhood home.

Years later, the iconic Wishing Tree continues to make an appearance at the annual festival. Winterhaven in itself is a must-do during the holiday season, but make sure to stop by the Wishing Tree to scribble a wish of your own.

13. Visit San Xavier Mission 

San Xavier Mission in Tucson

San Xavier Mission, also called the White Dove of the Desert, is a historic landmark — and it's intricate and beautiful. It was founded by Father Eusebio Kino, who visited the Tohono O'odham village Wa:k in the late 1600s, with construction on the church beginning in 1783.

The church still stands today and recently went through the second phase of a restoration project.

"The Mission was created to serve the needs of the local community, the village of Wa:k (San Xavier District) on the Tohono O'odham reservation, as it still does today," the website says.

14. Sweet or bold, try a raspado 

Arizbeth Valdez adds the crowning touch, a serpentina on the straw of a Niño Mango, at Mangos Refresqueria Y Cafe, one of the many shops you can find selling raspados and icy treats around Tucson.

Raspados are among my favorite treats. Lucky for us, Tucson's weather is almost never too cold for a raspado, which is similar to shaved ice, usually with fruit juice, fruit chunks and lechera (sweetened condensed milk) on top and ice cream in the middle. Some are bolder, with Mexican candies and chamoy.

You can find lots of raspado shops in Tucson. While you're there, try some antojitos, too. Some common menu items: Tosti-Locos, elote and fresas con crema. 

15. Learn about Tucson's history

Linda Matson and volunteer Erik Schmahl walk past the entrance to Mission Garden, 946 W. Mission Lane, in Tucson, Ariz. on Nov. 18, 2020.  The garden's mission is to preserve, transmit and revive the region's agricultural heritage by growing gardens which represent more than 4,000 years of continuous cultivation in the Tucson Basin. 

Tucson was founded in 1776, but the area has history that extends much further than that. 

The Hohokam both lived and farmed in the area for 4,000 years before Spanish soldiers arrived in the late 1600s, according to Visit TucsonPima County says that archaeological digs along the Santa Cruz River suggest that the Tucson area is one of the "oldest continuously inhabited areas of the United States."

Where can you explore Tucson's history today? The answer: A lot of places.

There's Mission Garden, which is located at Tucson's birthplace at the base of "A" Mountain, at a spot sacred to the Tohono O'odham named S-cuk Son. The mission of the garden is to preserve and honor cultural heritages and teach traditional agriculture and culinary history.

There's also Barrio Viejo, a charming and historic neighborhood that has experienced a fraught history of development and displacement. 

Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum, a reconstruction of the presidio built in 1775, hosts a number of monthly events that explore Tucson's history.

You can also taste history at El Charro Cafe, which celebrated its 100th birthday this year, and retrace the steps of the infamous Dillinger Gang at Hotel Congress.

16. See the city from your bike

Maria Moreno, of El Rio Health, blows bubbles as cyclists ride down South Stone Avenue during Living Streets Alliance’s annual Cyclovia.

Hop on your bicycle and see the city. You can join a community group like FUGA, which hosts monthly bike rides, or wait for an annual cycling event like Cyclovia or El Tour de Tucson.

Always accessible is The Loop — 136 miles of car-free paths. Not only is The Loop bicycle-friendly, it's also in close distance to lots of things to do and eat including the Mercado District, home to restaurants and shopping; Tacos Apson's flagship location, where you may eat some of the best tacos you've ever had; Saguaro Corners, where you can dine with nature views; and St. Philip's Plaza, where you can often catch live music, among other events.

17. Pick up something special at the annual gem show

Matthew Schmalz browses through polished agate geodes as he's framed by a slice of amethyst quartz in the Western Woods tent at the Pueblo Gem and Mineral Show at the Riverpark Inn, 777 W. Cushing Street, on Jan. 24, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz.

The Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase is a BIG deal here. Thousands of people from allover the world flock to Tucson and there are all kinds of shows — big and small — that pop up around the city to sell all things rocks, gems, fossils and jewelry. And not everything is expensive either. You can pick up treasures for just a few bucks at some shows.

The showcase is usually in town at the end of January through early February.

18. Smell the desert

The top of a Saguaro begins to bloom along the Agua Caliente Hill Trail, 3700 N. Camino Cantil, in Tucson, Ariz., on May 10, 2020. 

Tucsonans love the monsoon. It's the cloudy sunsets, the moments of cool air during summer and the smell of creosote (among other things). It's easy to cross this one off your bucket list during the summer — all you have to do is walk outside, really. 

But let's take things up a notch. Have you ever smelled a saguaro bloom?

Peak season for saguaro blooms is from early May to early June. The blooms, which sit atop saguaros and their arms, have a scent similar to a sweet melon. They can be difficult to smell, since saguaros are tall, but look for a low-hanging arm and you might be in luck.

19. Cheer on the Wildcats 

Cate Reese and Aari McDonald celebrate other teammates as the Arizona Wildcats defeated UConn to advance to the NCAA Women's National Championship game.

Bear Down, Arizonaaaa 🎵

The University of Arizona is a big part of Tucson. Throw on your best red and blue gear and head to a game to cheer on the Wildcats. Sports not your thing? Catch a show at Centennial Hall or support student films at the annual I Dream In Widescreen showcase.

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