Travel Review: My Top Picks in Tucson, Arizona

By on February 1, 2014

I’ve just returned from 6 days in Tucson, Arizona to check out the spa, wellness, dining and travel scene. If you’re a lover of all things desert, this is your kind of place! The October weather was ideal – crisp and clear nights, cool mornings and hot days characterized by blue skies. It’s a perfect location for a girlfriend getaway: great food, craft cocktails, history and culture and a spectacular spa or two. Here’s where we slept, ate and played:

STAY

Hacienda Del Sol

Tucson is chock full of mega-resorts. But for an experience that’s as authentic southwest as they come, Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort is a home run. Originally built as a ranch school for girls in 1929, Hacienda Del Sol opened as a guest ranch in 1948. This property embodies true Tucson character: majestic views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, gated mission-style entrance, thick adobe walls, and hand painted tiles in a Spanish Colonial Style.

Miraval Arizona Resort

Miraval Arizona is set on 400 plus acres at the base of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains. The foothills become your trails for the guided hikes and mountain biking; the challenge course sits in the shadow of the mountains. On the gorgeous grounds, which are landscaped to perfection, sit 116 casually elegant casita-style accommodations.

Standard, deluxe and premium guest rooms are supremely comfortable but not luxurious; however, there are more plush options if you choose to stay in a Catalina Room, a suite or a Miraval Villa. Catalina Rooms offer unparalleled views, private outdoor showers and large soaking tubs. You have to see Miraval’s ultra-luxurious villas to believe them, with some boasting more than 6,000 square feet of combined indoor/outdoor living space. In all the guest rooms, the beds are near perfection.

There are no bad choices at Miraval Resort, only mindful and balanced ones. Yes, they have a full bar where some destination resorts opt to be alcohol free. But it’s easy to go your entire stay without imbibing if that’s your choice. The smoothies, iced teas and fresh juices are so good you may not miss the alcohol anyway.

If weight loss is your intention, the tools are certainly in place with portion sizes under control, calorie counts listed for each dish and minimal use of unhealthy fats and refined sugars. But the food was utterly delicious and I personally did not lose weight. Menu items are fresh and light and served in a way that is artfully composed to feast with your eyes before enjoying with your taste buds. There was frequent use of such trendy and local ingredients as sunchoke, prickly pear and grass-fed meats. The dish that seems to draw the most attention is the wood fired flatbread pizza served nightly; ask your server what tempting variety is being served that day.

Activities are abundant, the programming is mostly exceptional and Miraval Life in Balance Spa with Clarins is worth the trip alone for it’s wide range of unique treatments, stunning indoor/outdoor setting and excellent facilities.

EVENTS

Don’t miss Hacienda Del Sol’s annual Argentina Heart & Soul. This evening of Argentinean food, wine and live music was a high point of my visit to Tucson. The grilled pizza with potato, tomato, fresh mozzarella and balsamic syrup flew off the serving platter every time; all the food was sensational. We met a wide variety of interesting and friendly people out for a beautiful evening of good food, good friends, great wine and some tango dancing!

EAT

The Grill at Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch

The hotel’s primary restaurant, The Grill, was a delicious and convenient spot for breakfast each morning of our two-night stay at the guest ranch. Constantly on a quest for an exciting variation of Eggs Benedict, the Hacienda Buffalo Benedict held a few spicy surprises with a bold and unexpected ingredient or two. The Grill is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch and offers stellar views of the Catalina Mountains.

Teresa’s Mosaic Café

Tucson is said to be home to the largest concentration of Mexican
restaurants in a 23 mile radius North of Mexico’s border. It’s known as “The Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food.” We had one shot to get a perfect Mexican meal and we agonized over the decision, polling everyone in our path: “Where should we go for Mexican?”

There were several authentic Mexican restaurants recommend that are family-owned and decades old, where both English and Spanish are spoken and where visitors and locals intermingle. This was our exact criteria! We opted for Teresa’s Mosaic Café’, opened in 1984 by the Matias family. One of the signatures of this beautiful restaurant is the mosaic tile tables – all handmade by Lifestylist® Suzanne Felber and the Lifestylist Design team. The primary reason we choose Teresa’s was that we’d heard about the fresh corn and flour tortillas made right in the restaurant in full view of patrons. Just our luck, the tortilla lady was off on the day of our visit. Still, the food was fresh and authentic and the tortillas worth the trip.

DO

Scenic Horseback Trail Riding

No trip to Tucson would be complete without a trail ride. Spanish Outfitters has two locations: one at Westward Look Resort and one within a 5-minute walk of your guest room at Hacienda Del Sol. Our energetic Wrangler, Karisa – a natural around horses, paired us with the most fitting horse for our experience level and within minutes we were off for a one-hour leisurely-paced ride through the nearby desert trails. Stopping to take pictures at the top of Sunset Hill was a highlight. You might even have a few opportunities to trot if you’re a bit more adventurous. Me? I made sure my horse had three feet on the ground at all times.

Saguaro National Park

What’s unique about Saguaro National Park is that it’s characterized by two districts lying 30 miles apart and separated by the city of Tucson. We visited Saguaro West for a bit of hiking, a multi-media presentation showcasing the flora, fauna and animals of the Sonoran Desert (spectacular finale!) and to see some of the 91,327 acres of saguaro cactus. If you have just a short amount of time stop at the Red Hills Visitor Center to watch the audio-visual presentation, pick up a trail map and then drive the scenic 5-mile Bajada Loop. Along the dirt road that’s partially one-way you’ll encounter several short hikes. Follow the Signal Hill Trail to the summit to see many fine petroglyphs (rock art) created by the prehistoric Hohokam people.

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Kids will love this combination museum, zoo and botanical garden that puts its surrounding splendor to good use. Even if you don’t have kids in tow, it’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours or an entire day. Admission rates are reasonable and include the entire facility – there are no upgrade charges for any of the exhibits. We couldn’t stay for the twice-daily Raptor Free Flight but were told by many that it was an impressive show not to be missed.

HAPPEN UPON

St. Philip’s Plaza hosts a farmer’s market each Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 am. We happened to pass by on our way to Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch and couldn’t resist taking a peek. While we never did come across any farm fresh produce there was plenty of unique shopping, vendors and live music to keep our interest for more time than we had. This is where I stumbled across Alfonso Gourmet Olive Oil & Balsamics. Shy at first with the tastings, I soon discovered a whole world of infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars in every gourmet flavor you could imagine. The coconut white balsamic vinegar was good enough to drink and the dark chocolate left a culinary impression that I won’t soon forget. Gracious and knowledgeable owners/employees made the experience special and unique. So glad we happened upon this gem of a shop along the way; my salads will never be the same!

As is common in the travel industry, some portions of the writers trip were sponsored or discounted The opinions are the writers’ own and were not influenced by any sponsorships or discounts.

 

Originally posted on Examiner.

Michele McIntyre

About Michele McIntyre

Michele McIntyre is a freelance writer who covers spas, travel, fitness, wellness, beauty and healthy living/eating. She is happiest when lying face up on the treatment table, writing about her spa and travel experiences or testing new products to share with her readers. She lives near Syracuse, NY with her husband and son. Michele is a regular travel contributor to LivingBetterat50+ and has written for Today’s Central New York Woman Magazine and online at Tripology, TripAtlas, and Splash Magazines Worldwide. Michele blogs about the spa and travel industry, and anything else she can think of, at everythingspa.wordpress.com. When she isn't writing about or visiting spas, Michele loves traveling, hiking, skiing, camping, yoga and reading. If any of these pursuits can be combined with a visit to the spa, even better! Michele can be reached at [email protected]

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Travel Review: My Top Picks in Tucson, Arizona