If you've been itching to explore more of Southern Arizona but don't know where to start, we're here to help.

There's the history engraved in Tombstone, the charm of Bisbee, the color of Nogales — pick a spot and we'll give you some ideas on where to eat and things to do.

Bonus: All these cities are less than 100 miles from downtown Tucson.

Cabins appear through trees along a mountain side as seen from North Phoenix Avenue in Summerhaven on July 20.

Mount Lemmon

Let's start with the closest option for many Tucsonans, and the spot that many of us consider our personal getaway.

Mount Lemmon, with the charming town of Summerhaven at the top of the mountain, is typically 20 degrees cooler during summer and offers snowy vibes in winter that we can't normally find in Tucson. 

Things to do:

Things to eat:

Finitos' Italian ice comes in over a dozen refreshing flavors. Pictured here is a small ($2) pineapple with Tajín — sprinkled on, complimentary!

Nogales, Arizona

On a recent trip to Nogales, Arizona — smaller than Nogales, Sonora —#ThisIsTucson food reporter Ellice Lueders fell in love with the city. She even considered, "Could I do my job remotely from here?" 

Things to do:

Things to eat:

  • El Zarape — Ellice said if she could marry a restaurant, it would be this one. Mexican food including birria, tacos and menudo.
  • Finitos — Locals will say it's "like Eegee's, but better." 
  • Cocina La Ley — Mariscos, birria and cabeza. 
  • Rancho Grande — Mexican food from pozole and menudo to enchiladas, burros and breakfast items.

The C.I.G. Art Vending Machine inside the Copper Queen Plaza in Bisbee, Ariz. on June 9, 2022. The vintage cigarette machine was repurposed to dole out palm-sized paintings, jewelry and other art pieces inside yellow cigarette cartons. The cost is $20 and half of the proceeds goes to the artist, the other half goes to the Bisbee Arts Commission.

Bisbee

Bisbee has a charm that's easy to fall in love with. You might walk through the historic Erie Street, or maybe Main Street, with the white "B" on the mountain behind you, as you explore antique shops and the Copper Queen Library, all while making the hard decision — how the heck are you going to decide where to eat?

One thing's for sure though: Like every other city on this list, simply spending time walking through Bisbee and enjoying the sights is a must-do activity in itself.

Things to do:

Things to eat:

  • Patisserie Jacqui — While it's closed until Labor Day, you can't miss this patisserie with its hot pink building and neon sign shaped like a croissant.
  • Screaming Banshee Pizza — Wood-fired pizza, plus you can build your own calzone!
  • Thuy's Noodle Shop — Vietnamese restaurant serving phở, curries and pork bún.
  • PussyCat Gelato — Throwback interior alongside assorted gelato flavors.
  • Cafe Roka — For a more fine dining option, Cafe Roka has a changing menu based on available ingredients. Currently on the menu: lobster-stuffed ravioli, short rib and steamed mussels. 
  • Old Bisbee Brewing Company — Bisbee is home to an area called Brewery Gulch so naturally we have to include a brewery on this list. (Brewery Gulch is also home to dive bar St. Elmo, which was established in 1902!)

Tombstone and Benson area

For a Western adventure, Tombstone is your place, where notorious folks like Wyatt Earp once walked. It's the town too tough to die. On the way there is Benson, a small town founded when the Southern Pacific Railroad came through Southern Arizona. The two towns are less than 30 minutes apart, with St. David in between. 

Things to do:

Things to eat:

  • Horseshoe Cafe & Bakery — An iconic neon sign on the ceiling, with a menu of breakfast, sandwiches and burgers (and the best ham steak our food reporter has ever had).
  • The Longhorn Restaurant — Said to be the oldest continually operated restaurant in Tombstone. Breakfast, sandwiches, burgers, steak and Mexican dishes. 
  • Crystal Palace Saloon and Restaurant — Burgers, sandwiches, ribs and steak at this historic spot originally known as Golden Eagle Brewery.
  • Big Nose Kate's Saloon — Go back in time at this saloon, all while enjoying American favorites like burgers and sandwiches, plus pizza and calzones. 
  • Tombstone Brewing Company — Take a break from Allen Street with a beer.
  • Puny John's BBQ — Barbecue favorites including pulled pork, brisket, chicken and St. Louis ribs.

Elgin, Sonoita and Patagonia area

You're in wine country now. If you were to Google "what to do in Sonoita," much of what you'd find is winery after winery after winery. But we aren't complaining. Sonoita and Elgin are less than 10 miles from each other, and Patagonia is also nearby, to the south.

Things to do:

Things to eat:

Tubac, Tumacacori, Rio Rico and Green Valley area

Tubac, and the nearby Tumacacori, is historical and funky, packed with a lot of character. It's where you'll find cute stores carrying artsy imports from Mexico and handmade jewelry from Indigenous artisans. Close to Tubac and Tumacacori are Rio Rico and Green Valley for more activities and eateries south of Tucson.

Things to do:

  • Tumacacori National Historical Park — The National Park Service describes this park as a cultural crossroads, with a historic mission onsite. Our food reporter says the Anza Trail along the Santa Cruz River is riparian in a way that's rare to find in Tucson.
  • Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Factory — Established in 1943, this is the spot to find chili pastes, powders and sauces. Fun fact: James Beard-nominated eatery Tito & Pep, in Tucson, uses products from this spot.
  • Madera Canyon — This oasis in the desert boasts hiking trails, picnic areas, and it's great for birdwatching. 
  • Tubac Center of the Arts — Reopening on Aug. 19, the center is home to art galleries and fine art workshops.
  • Titan Missile Museum — A historic missile site and the only Titan II site open to the public, according to the museum's website. 

Things to eat:

  • Moqah Coffee & Beyond — A cafe that got its start in Rio Rico, and has sweet and savory crepes, bistro classics and showstoppers like a matcha drink in the colors of the Mexican flag.
  • Wisdom's Cafe — The first item on the menu is the fruit burro, made with flour tortillas and your choice of fruit, deep-fried and rolled in cinnamon sugar with vanilla ice cream on the side. One of our readers says Wisdom's has the best margaritas!
  • Elvira's — If you miss when Elvira's was in downtown Tucson, its flagship is in Tubac. Contemporary Mexican dishes and five different moles. 
  • Longhorn Grill & Saloon — There's a giant steer skull outside that has long been an attraction for passersby. Burgers, sandwiches, steak.
  • Manuel's Mexican Restaurant — Customer favorites include fish tacos, enchiladas and grilled chicken breast topped with chiles and cheese.

Carolyn Blair, owner of Life Under the Oaks Lavender Farm, pulls weeds out from lavender bushes and preps the field of lavender just weeks before blooming season, at Life Under the Oaks Lavender Farm in Oracle.

Oracle and Catalina area

Heading north of Tucson, and north of Marana and Oro Valley, are Oracle and Catalina. Depending on traffic, Oracle and Catalina are about 20 minutes from each other. This time of year, Oracle is about 10 degrees cooler than Tucson — and in winter, the town may even get snow.

Things to do:

  • Biosphere 2 — Stepping inside Biosphere 2 means you're stepping into scientific research. It's the "world's largest controlled environment dedicated to understanding the impacts of climate change." 
  • Life Under the Oaks Lavender Farm — When lavender is blooming around June, this farm invites visitors for festivals, workshops and more. Stay tuned for more events from the farm this fall!
  • Arizona Zipline Adventures — Zipline across Sonoran Desert scenery.
  • Oracle State Park — Take a tour of the Historic Kannally Ranch House, enjoy a picnic, go stargazing or hike through the 15 miles of trails.

Things to eat:

  • Licks Catalina — This new ice cream shop has bubble waffle cones and cereal blends. 
  • Casa Rivera — Mexican-American spot with breakfast plates, burritos, tacos, enchiladas and combo plates.
  • Oracle Patio Cafe — Cafe menu with breakfast, soups and sandwiches, plus wine and beer.
  • Catalina Craft Pizza — Pizza options alongside live music.

Ronin Navarro, 1, reaches to pluck a vine-ripened peach with help from mom Diana Katz during the 18th annual Peach Mania at Apple Annie's Orchard.

Honorable mentions

Sierra Vista's cooler temperatures and scenic Huachuca Mountains could make a great extension to your day trip when it's a little too hot to go hiking in Tucson. Check out Brown Canyon Trail, indoor aquatic park The Cove, German deli Deutsches Eck, and Ramsey Canyon Preserve in nearby Hereford.

If you're into history, Willcox may be worth the trip. While you're there, you can pick your own produce at Apple Annie's, take a wine tour, and pay a visit to the incredible rock formations at the Chiricahua National Monument. When you get hungry, enjoy barbecue favorites at Big Tex BBQ or Mexican dishes at La Unica Restaurant and Torillería

In nearby Dragoon, there's Native American art, history and culture museum Amerind, plus the mysterious roadside attraction The Thing

North of Tucson is Eloy, which is known for skydiving. If you're feeling a little adventurous, check out Skydive Arizona


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