Looking for a winter getaway? Thinking ahead to Spring Break? Tucson delighted us with genuine nature and wilderness, a lively, historic downtown, which has been newly revitalized, and resorts with all the amenities for a sunny vacation. We’ll definitely be back!
What to do in Tucson with kids:
This park of desert landscapes has two entrances, and two ‘sides’. Its two sections are on either side of the city of Tucson. The park is named for the large saguaro cactus, native to its desert environment. And yes, this is the type of cactus you picture when you think of the Southwestern desert. On the west side, Signal Hill Trail leads to petroglyphs of the ancient Hohokam people.On the east, Cactus Forest Drive is a loop road with striking views of the desert landscape. There is a robust array of ranger-led programs and junior rangers at the park; they even have Not-So-Junior Rangers, catering the the retirees who visit.
If you can’t make it into the park, try Sabino Canyon, just outside of town. This awesome hiking park has a tram system to take families to the top of a canyon loop, which they can then hike down (or stay on the tram). For families with kids ready to do more hiking, there are many loops that don’t necessitate the tram at all. Just be sure to take plenty of water, and a hat/sun protection. There are bathrooms and drinking fountains on site.
Open 8:30 am until 4:30 pm daily, the botanical garden is a great spot to hit in the morning, while the desert sun is still mild. There’s a butterfly garden, and plenty of meandering walking trails, plus tours if you’re up for it (the bird tour is a good one). It’s $13 for adults and $7.50 for kids; consider becoming a member if you think you may visit more than once a year.
Check out Houston’s Horseback riding with kids. There are many options in and around Tucson, however, as well as several dude ranches, should you want to make an entire vacation of it. On average, two-hour rides are around $60.
See raptors, visit the ‘Cat Canyon’, check out a desert garden, feed birds in an aviary, and hike short nature trails and loop trails at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, celebrated as one of the top museums in the Southwest. Kids can easily spend half a day or more here, so plan accordingly! There are indoor and outdoor attractions, so bring sun protection and water. Check out the hours of operation here. Adults are $20 (age 13 and up), kids are $8 (under three are free).
Where to eat:
Tucson has been recently awarded with the UNESCO designation of World City of Gastronomy. The city’s cultural heritage is celebrated in its food, which is very multicultural. For a memorable meal, head to Downtown Kitchen, the Flying V, or, especially with kids, the Tucson Tamale Company and Cup Cafe. Many restaurants are within a few blocks of each other in Tucson’s downtown area, so make an evening out of it and wander a bit after dinner, keeping an eye out for ice cream and cocktails (if desired).
Where to stay:
Stay at a resort…in hot, dry Arizona, the place you lay your head becomes your oasis as well. We made our home at the Westin La Paloma, which is located about 25 minutes from downtown and only 10 minutes from Sabino Canyon. This proved to be a pretty good central location for all we wanted to do, and provided the necessary ways to keep cool, too. The La Paloma caters to families with numerous pools, sport facilities, and golf.
Azul Restaurant is the main dining venue, with indoor and outdoor patio seating overlooking the pool complex. It’s pricey but wonderful food. I met the executive chef, and in addition to be a delightful person, he is committed to farm-to-fork, sustainable dining. The selections are seasonal and thoughtfully sourced. There’s a healthy kids’ menu as well. In addition to Azul, La Paloma has a small deli by the health club, a coffee bar off the main lobby, and poolside dining/bar.
Families are well-entertained at La Paloma. The resort features what it calls a ‘pool oasis’: five separate pools and a 177-foot waterslide. Parents, there is an adults-only pool and 40-degree mineral pool (brrr), next to an adult-only hot tub, but kid-friendly offerings are right next to it, so it’s definitely possible to soak while keeping an eye on older kids (obviously, you know your child and his or her safety needs). I appreciated all the fire pits and seating around the pool deck, as well as ample umbrellas and cabanas.
There are tennis courts, a fitness center, and an entire workout club with classes. The La Paloma is tied to a country club and golf course, so golf is also available, and guests will share the workout space with members. The cardio and weigh-lifting rooms were spacious and well-appointed.
There is a Red Door salon and spa on-site; if you don’t know Red Door, I can tell you it’s fabulous, but not exactly economical. Plan accordingly! There is a Westin Family Kids’ Club, should you need childcare for day time care (and until 9 pm on weekend nights).
La Paloma is a Starwood hotel, so be sure to get your SPG points. Rooms feature rainforest shower heads, bathtubs, wi-fi (free at the basic level, fee for video streaming levels), and private balconies. Room rates start on average at $155 in on weeknights, but look for specials, such as AAA deals or room credits/SPG points for going green: during our stay, we could opt for ‘green housekeeping’ (lighter) in exchange for 1500 SPG points.