Welcome to the second post from our Southwestern vacation recap. You can read our El Paso and New Mexico recap here.
We took Amtrak from El Paso to Tucson, about a seven hour trip. Although it was not overnight, we got a roomette so that we would have our own space for the journey. Most of the trip was through the Chihuahuan Desert landscape of New Mexico. Since we were traveling in the evening, we were able to eat dinner in the dining car. Of course, I had my traditional Amtrak signature steak.
Our Airbnb was near the University of Arizona and along the route of the Tucson street car. It was a very modest home, and from the front window we would sit and watch the streetcar go by. Our Airbnb hosts were local restaurateurs and we practically lived at the nearby Time Market, a gourmet market and restaurant that they owned. The market bakes its own bread daily and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
What we ate
Tucson is a large city and home to many different types of food, especially Sonoran cuisine: a mix from Mexico (specifically the state of Sonora), Arizona and Native Americans.
For local modern-American cuisine, we found nowhere better than Augustin Kitchen, in the mixed-used neighborhood of Mercado San Augustin. Highlights included the Mustard and Melon Salad with perfectly cooked Arizona sirloin and a sarsaparilla float for dessert with Isabella’s vanilla ice cream.
We returned to Mercado San Augustin the following day to have one of their quintessential Sonoran desserts, the raspado at Sonoran Sno-Cones. Raspados are shaved ice made with real fruit and real juice and often come in sour flavors, such as chamoy lime. You can also add condensed milk and Mexican-chile candies. Marnay and got a mangoyada and I got a mango and chamoy raspado with chile candies. The chile candies were spicy, but still sweet like candy and had a chewy texture. We sat in the open-air courtyard of the mercado and enjoyed the live music and the Tucson night-sky.
South Tucson is where the best Mexican-restaurants can be found, and Los Tacos Apson did not disappoint. In fact, we had the best barbacoa tacos we have ever had! It’s hard to describe just how amazing the taste was of these tacos. They have a smoky flavor and simply melted in your mouth.
On our last day in Tucson, we had Sonoran-style hot dogs! We went to El Guero Canelo, which unbeknownst to us had just won a James Beard Foundation American Classic Award. A Sonoran-style hot dog is a bacon-wrapped dog top with beans, onions, mustard, jalapenos and a little bit of mayo. All of this is inside a special bolillo bun, a soft Mexican roll that is the most important part of a Sonoran-style dog. It’s not a Sonoran hot dog without the bolillo bun.
What we did
We weren’t sure what to expect at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, however, it blew us away. It’s a museum in name only, as it is over 80% outdoors. It also seamlessly blends in with the landscape, since it’s completely surrounded by Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park.
Our Airbnb host recommended the hike up Tumamoc Hill, on the western edge of downtown Tucson. The trail is paved and it basically goes straight up, with some very steep switchbacks. It’s a nature preserve and it shows off the most distinctive feature of the Sonoran Desert landscape, Saguaro cacti. These monarchs of the desert can grow to over 40 feet tall and live for over 150 years. This is an intense hike, but it is remarkably popular with locals. Because it is so hot in the summer, people don’t start hiking until sunset. We opted to go a little earlier so that by the time we reached the top the sun would be setting.
From the top, you can see almost all of Tucson, and if you are facing south you can see all the way to the Mexico border. I could tell because you can make out the route of Interstate 19 going from Tucson to Nogales. I think that we saw arguably the best sunset of the trip here. We loved Tumamoc Hill so much we did it twice!
This desert vacation was like nothing we had ever done. I highly recommend going to the desert, if only for the amazing sunsets. Perhaps one day we will be back!