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Tucson. But it’s a dry heat, man! If you travel here in the summer, Tucson’s “low season,” you’re in luck. Prices are lower, the streets are less crowded, the evenings are glorious, and there is, I hope, good swimming for you to enjoy somewhere. The Old Pueblo, facetiously called The Armpit of the Universe during the warm season, is a terrific year-round destination; it’s never really too cold or too hot to do anything fun.
The Sonoran desert terrain, of which Tucson forms part, is so striking, so different than anything else on earth thanks to its towering Saguaro cactus, its unique desert critters and southwestern style architecture. This ain’t at all the barren Sahara. One of the most glorious aromas on earth is the scent of the desert creosote after a summer monsoon rain. But if you’re here virtually any other time, what are you waiting for? Go on… take a hike!
The best thing to do in Tucson almost any time of year is, in my opinion, hanging out at the pool. It doesn’t matter if it’s your grandma’s neighborhood pool, your stuffy hotel pool, or the city’s lone waterpark, The Breakers (which is technically in Marana, a suburb northwest of Tucson). My teens even enjoy swimming at Tucson’s extremely economical public pools, which often have a waterslide, diving board, or both, along with fun local kids to share a splash with. Staying cool and beating the heat is where it’s at.
The best Aquatics Center in the area, hands down, lies within another of Tucson’s suburbs, Oro Valley. And of course, really lucky teens staying at an area resort never really have to get out of the pool. Of the many resorts in Tucson, we prefer to splurge at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort. This gorgeous Tucson hideaway has a waterslide, lazy river, splash pads, hot tubs, and two separate and distinct sparkling pools for when sharing a large body of water with your little sister Chaedynne is Just. Not. Happening.
My kids and I aren’t into shopping much, probably because so many shops are boring corporate clones of one another no matter where you go. Fortunately, Tucson is blessed with an edgy yet historic district of unique shopping and dining experiences, easily accessed by taking the tram from either downtown or the University of Arizona Main Gate area. This easy to amble shopping district is known as Fourth Avenue. The people watching here is amazing. There is no better place in town to play a rousing game of Who can count the most facial piercings? Reward the winner with a delicious Italian meal from Caruso’s. It’s been around since forever. Dine on the patio if the weather is at all amenable!
If arts & crafts is your bag, or ever was your bag, or you wish it were your bag, or you just think little things are cute no matter what – I heartily suggest you stop by the blessedly air conditioned Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures. It seems that a cadre of dedicated folks have made a hobby of decorating miniature doll houses and figurines. Sounds like fun, but what’s truly remarkable is how the museum visitor is encouraged to examine these small structures up close, thereby essentially immersing him or herself in another place — or time — in 3D. A room that especially enchants young children features a magical array of miniature fairies and folk tale characters.
Bordering Saguaro National Park East, you’ll giddy up in style at Houston’s Horseback Riding. Trail rides with Houston’s are available no matter your horseback riding skill or experience. The vistas out here are simply phenomenal, and you’ll surely see incredible wildlife that doesn’t venture beyond the sticks. If you’re staying in Tucson for at least a week or so in the summer, why not sign up for one of their horsemanship camps? Whatever you do at Houston’s, you’ll learn a lot and have fun riding their sweet horses.
One of the most awesome day trips you’ll ever take lies right on the edge of suburbia within the northeast side of Tucson. Sabino Canyon is here, in the Coronado National Forest; it’s absolutely gorgeous, easy to get to and features hikes in levels anywhere from challenging to easy enough for your little brother. Stop first at the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the local flora and fauna, grab a tram into the belly of the beast if you like and get ready for an exhilarating adventure into a sublime desert panorama. Cool off with a dip in a refreshing, natural pool.
Get out of bed super early and head towards the most amazing outdoor museum in the southwest. We love visiting the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, part zoo, part aquarium, part natural history gallery and part botanical garden, for its comprehensive array of desert critters and beautiful desert flora. If you get here too late, especially on a warm summer day, the critters will probably be asleep out of sight. Even if this is the case you can still see the creepy lizards, snakes and spiders in the indoors exhibits, and the hummingbirds in their own covered walk-through aviary. Careful though: if you’re wearing red, you’re lunch!
Day trips are agreeable enough, but why not grab a tent and some s’mores supplies and rough it for an evening somewhere in the Coronado National Forest along the Catalina Highway, also known as the Mt Lemmon Scenic Byway? This incredible road up the Catalina Foothills (the most imposing peaks you see when you’re within the city limits) traverses through several natural biomes on your way towards the summit, culminating in alpine forest at the top. Get this: the southernmost ski area of the country is right here, above the sweltering desert valley! Even if you don’t hit the slopes, there is plenty to do, such as ride the ski lift or admire the sky island vegetation during a long hike. Future astronomers need to check out the University of Arizona’s mountaintop SkyCenter; everyone should find an appealing spot on the Byway to pull over and enjoy a night under the desert stars.
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