Follow developments related to the travel and tourism industry in Tucson and Southern Arizona.
Once joked about as being a place you went only to pay for parking tickets, Tucson’s downtown has been a focal point of revitalization during the past few years. It’s anchored by the 9-year-old light rail, which connects the University of Arizona to downtown and new mixed-used businesses and residential developments west of the freeway. It’s turned downtown from a complex of blasé civic buildings to a thriving epicenter of activity that honors the area’s cultural heritage and innovative spirit. Now, as COVID draws to a close, a new wave of restaurants, hotels, and attractions are opening in the downtown neighborhoods surrounding the light rail. Here’s a rundown of some of the most noteworthy updates.
BARRIO VIEJO NOMINATED FOR NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK DESIGNATION - One of Tucson’s downtown neighborhoods, Barrio Viejo, will receive National Historic Landmark designation (info here) by mid-2023. Barrio Viejo is the largest barrio in the U.S. and exemplifies Tucson’s connectivity to Mexico. Built in the mid-1800s largely by Mexicans, it was considered a poor neighborhood, was undervalued, and fell into disrepair for many decades in the 20th century. Then, in 1969, half of the neighborhood was bulldozed to make way for the Tucson Convention Center (which many people bemoan to this day). What saved the large, still-existing portion of the neighborhood was a small Catholic shrine called El Tiradito, dedicated to an adulterer who was, according to legend, murdered by his father-in-law. The neighborhood pushed for National Historic Landmark status for the shrine and succeeded, keeping the remainder of the neighborhood intact. Within the past few decades, there has been a renewed focus on Barrio Viejo and its historic buildings, including the restoration of Carmen Teatro, a 300-seat theatre, and the adjoining building, the one-time home of the Black Elks Club. The facades of these buildings will be restored by the end of 2023, with the renewed interiors slated for 2025.
LEO KENT OPENS IN ONE SOUTH CHURCH – Tucson's tallest and most iconic downtown build has been converted from a shuttered office space to a 145-room boutique hotel called the Leo Kent. Opened May 2023, the Marriott Tribute portfolio property will span nine of the tower’s 23 floors and draw upon the hotel’s unique location in Tucson in its design, culinary and group offerings. Nestle into a guestroom that boasts local influences. Discover elevated Southwestern cuisine at the hotel’s restaurant, St. Cruz. Or meet in the hotel’s flexible event spaces. Whether you're traveling for business, visiting the University of Arizona, exploring the town’s bustling culinary scene, or seeking adventure in the Sonoran Desert, The Leo Kent offers an ideal location in the heart of downtown and just steps from the light rail.
PENCA FOUNDER TO DEBUT NEW CONCEPTS – The brains behind the celebrated Penca, Patricia Schwabe, has announced she will be opening two new businesses downtown in Summer 2023. The first, Shirtshop, is a combination bakery, restaurant, and bar in-one, in a cafeteria style format. Inspired by her family’s preference for vegan food, the menu will be very vegetable forward, though you can opt to add meat. Next door, you’ll find Shirtshop Mercantile, a retail concept offering books, ceramics, and plates, plus a small bar where you can grab a cocktail while your kids peruse the literature. The two will open a couple doors down from her recently opened Blue Front.
DANDELION CAFE - The Schneider family, owners of LaCo, Ceres, and Noodies, bring a new addition to downtown Tucson. Dandelion Cafe offers grab-and-go sandwiches and salads, plus charcuterie boards. The cafe opened March 2023 in the Presidio Museum's newly-renovated 1907 duplex building, bringing vitality to the Historic Presidio District.
PROPER SHOPS OPEN RETAIL SPACES FOR LOCAL MERCHANTS & ARTISTS - Downtown Tucson's newest retailer opened in December 2022, just in time for the holiday season. Located on the corner of Congress St. and 5th Ave., Proper Shops is a collective of local merchants and artists featuring their best products. Shoppers can find goods from local woodworkers, cosmetic companies, boutiques, and more all in one stop.
BOUTIQUE HOTEL OPENS IN TUCSON'S FOOTHILLS - The Eddy Hotel opened its doors on February 2023 in the Catalina Foothills near St. Philip's Plaza. The new 106-room hotel is a Tapestry Collection by Hilton, with stunning mountain views. Pin + Flour, their full-service lobby bar and restaurant, features large windows that open to a spacious outdoor patio, complete with fire pits. The hotel features an outdoor pool, fitness center, and 3,000 sq. feet of meeting space, and as a Tapestry Collection by Hilton, guests can earn points in the Hilton Honors Program.
OMNI TUCSON NATIONAL RESORT COMPLETES MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR TRANSFORMATION - Resting at the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the newly redesigned spaces at Omni Tucson National Resort opened April 2023. The newly imagined resort features updates to the lobby, restaurants and lounge, meeting space, spa, fitness center, casitas, and haciendas. The relaxed, yet inspired, ambiance of this southwestern destination is an ideal backdrop for leisure guests as well as corporate or group stays. Two new meeting rooms support additional breakout requirements, providing over 25,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
LOEWS VENTANA CANYON RESORT RENOVATES FOOD & BEVERAGE OUTLETS - Loews Ventana Canyon Resort completed a renovation of its F&B outlets to enhance the overall guest experience. The remastering of The Canyon Club (formerly Canyon Café,) Bill’s Grill and Vista Barista was completed in September 2022. The new look creates modern refinement throughout the dining establishments while preserving the original intention of blending the property with its desert surroundings. The inspiration came from the natural textures and hues of the Santa Catalina Mountains, which are visible from the floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the restaurant. The design immerses guests in the beauty of the surrounding environment with ample al fresco dining, creating a serene ambience and a new sense of appreciation for the stunning variety of wildlife in the desert.
HACIENDA DEL SOL GUEST RANCH RESORT COMPLETES EXPANSION – In July 2022, Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort, a Forbes Four-Star Resort, finished a multi-year renovation on the property, that included the addition of 40 new guestrooms spanning seven new buildings with views of both the Santa Catalina Mountains and Rincon Mountains (completed May 2021); a brand-new pool area with a forty foot lap pool, an infinity edge wading pool, and a large sun deck (completed March 2022); and the debut of a new Sonoran Desert-focused spa (completed July 2022). Hacienda del Sol has a rich history as an early 20th century boarding school for girls of some of the country’s most prominent families, and more recently has made headlines for its extensive art collection of sculptures, paintings, pottery, photography, and tilework that perfectly accent the resort’s scenic surroundings.
BURGERS, BEER, AND PICKLEBALL - The decade-long vacant historic Corbett Building will soon be revitalized as the new home to a burger joint, beer garden, and five pickleball courts. Originally built in 1930 as Corbett Lumber and Hardware Co. on 7th Street and 6th Avenue near Tucson's downtown and historic 4th Avenue districts, the new build will feature indoor and outdoor gathering spaces, plus on-site parking. Love Block Partners, who also manage Tucson favorites like The Hub and Playground, plan to open the space in Fall 2023.
SCREWBEAN COFFEE – A new local brew-house opened in Tucson in May 2023. Located at 103 N. Park Ave., Screwbean Brewing Company serves house-brewed beers, hard seltzers, and coffee alongside wine and local bites. Screwbean embodies all things Tucson, taking its name from the Screwbean Mesquite native to the Sonoran desert. The taproom is building its home in the 1,000-square-foot building on Park Avenue that was once a Chinese market founded by one of Tucson's pioneer Chinese merchants nearly 100 years ago.
NEW BOCA & BORDERLANDS CONCEPTS -- James Beard Award Semifinalist Chef Maria Mazon of BOCA and Es Teran of Borderlands Brewing Co. are partnering on a new restaurant to open in Summer 2023. The new restaurant will be their second partnership, following the launch of Borderlands' second Taproom in the Sam Hughes neighborhood. DOS will open near River and Craycroft roads, showcasing Chef Maria's more elevated culinary skills by combining a brewery atmosphere with an upscale menu of dry-aged steaks and large, shareable plates. At DOS, guests will also be able to shop for SONA tortillas, canned brews from Borderlands, Maria Mazon's salsas, and more.
TUCSON'S FIRST MEADERY -- David Woods and Andrias Asnakew opened Brillé Mead Company in April 2023, bringing the first meadery brewing up local, Ethopian-style honey wine to the Old Pueblo. Both Woods and Asnakew lived in Ethopia previously, and shared excitement on the Ethopian mead known as T'ej. The name of their company, Brillé, comes from the word, berelé, a round drinking flask customarily used to drink T'ej. Mead is thought to be the oldest alcohol in the world, dating back to 7th century China, with T'ej dating back to 9th century Africa. Brillé Mead Company shares the space of Dillinger Brewing Company, having bonded with Dillinger owner Eric Sipe over the drink.
MAYNARDS MARKET REOPENING - After shutting its doors nearly 3 years ago, Maynards Market opened April 2023, debuting a revitalized menu. The new menu focuses on high-quality ingredients from small and local purveyors, featuring artisan coffee, fresh breakfast & lunch items, custom charcuterie boards, and premium beer, wine, and cocktails. The culinary spread is the brainchild of chef Nick Creamer, a native Tucsonan with over 15 years of experience who hopes to create a welcoming hang-out space for the community. A renewed menu coupled with the experienced servers at the market makes a prime setting for hanging out with friends for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
FLOWER CHILD & DOUGHBIRD -- Tucson native and mastermind behind Fox Restaurant Concepts, Sam Fox, has opened two new restaurants to Tucson. Flower Child and Doughbird opened April 2023 with Doughbird opening May 2023. Flower Child, opening in April, brings "Healthy Food for a Happy World" to Campbell Plaza in the midtown area where Fox Restaurant Concepts began. Their food focuses on convenient, nutritious food using fresh ingredients with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. Doughbird, a pizza and rotisserie eatery, is scheduled to open mid-May and will join Flower Child in Campbell Plaza in the weeks following. Patrons can expect the unexpected, like a Brussels Sprout Pizza with melted sweet potato and glazed bacon.
CHEF WENDY GARCIA ANNOUNCED AS JAMES BEARD AWARD SEMIFINALIST - Tumerico & La Chaiteria owner and chef Wendy Garcia was announced as a semifinalist for the 2023 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southwest. Chef Garcia was one of 21 semifinalists in the category. Her restaurants are known for their vegan and vegetarian food with traditional Mexican and Latin flavors.
MONSOON CHOCOLATE DEBUTS FACTORY TOURS + CAFE – Seventeen-time award-winner Monsoon Chocolate is in the final stages of completing their new flagship store and cafe in midtown Tucson at Copenhagen Plaza. Monsoon Chocolate Cafe + Market will be a cafe and retail experience, expanding its menu and opening a tasting room for classes, workshops, and private events. With the cafe's opening slated for June 2023, their original store on 22nd Street has been converted into a full-fledged factory and gift shop, opening for tours in April 2023. Groups of up to 12 can learn about Monsoon Chocolate’s bean-to-bar process in a 45-minute tour available Thursday through Sunday by reservation only.
FOOD TRUCK PARK - The appropriately named Comida Park opened on Tucson’s southeast side at Tanque Verde Swap Meet in February 2023. Comida, meaning “food” in Spanish, is precisely what you’ll find there. It will be a haven for foodies with up to 40 different food trucks in one place, cold drinks, shaded seating areas, and live music.
CHEF BRIAN'S COMFORT KITCHEN - Former reality TV chef Brian Hill of "Top Chef" Season 1 brings comfort food staples to Tucson. Located on the historic Fourth Ave, Chef Brian's Comfort Kitchen opened its doors January 2023, serving fried chicken and waffles, home-brewed sweet tea, collard greens, and more.
ROLLIE'S HEADS WEST - Tucson Mexican food institution Rollie’s quite literally rolled into MSA Annex, making its food truck a permanent fixture in November 2022. The popular restaurant’s second location on Tucson’s west side will dish up fan favorites such as Birria Rojo Cheesy and birria ramen, as well as mouthwatering new menu items such as birria bánh mì torta, potato cheesy, strawberry horchata, and sweet canela (cinnamon) iced tea. Open Thursdays through Sundays, the Rollie’s food truck will dish up Sonora Mexico cuisine alongside MSA Annex’s other food and drink tenants Kukai Fresh Japanese Kitchen, Beaut Burger, and Westbound.
TUCSON BAKER DON GUERRA WINS JAMES BEARD AWARD – In June 2022, Tucson’s very own Don Guerra of Barrio Bread was announced as the winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker Award 2022. Guerra’s legacy as a baker is tied to his use of heritage grains that date back to the 17th century when Spanish missionaries first brought them to the Tucson area. While more commonplace in bakeries now, the so-called “grain train” idea was revolutionary when Guerra began honing his skills from his Tucson garage in 2009. His business has and continues to flourish because of Guerra’s steadfast commitment to using superlative ingredients and his magnanimous spirit of feeding his neighbors. In fact, his bakery’s name stems from Guerra’s keen sense of community – barrio means neighborhood in Spanish.
LOS MILICS DEBUTS BREATHTAKING SONOITA-ELGIN TASTING ROOM – Just over an hour outside of Tucson in the Sonoita-Elgin wine region, Los Milics winery debuted its brand-new tasting room in January 2023. Los Milics is the brainchild of Pavle Milic, one of the two partners of the lauded Scottsdale restaurant FnB, featuring an Arizona exclusive wine list that's been twice nominated for Outstanding Beverage Program by the James Beard Foundation. The renowned architects at Chen + Suchart Studio designed the tasting room to create a space that invites the outside in, with a series of reflective mirrors and steel pillars to enhance the breathtaking locale in the Mustang Mountains. Next up: nine luxury casitas that pay homage to the winery's Southern Arizona roots, slated to open in Winter 2023/2024
OLD TUCSON RETURNS - In October 2022, Old Tucson re-opened its doors to the public. The Western town’s legacy is rooted in its 1890-themed buildings, which serve as the backdrop for popular movies such as the Three Amigos, El Dorado, and Tombstone. Old Tucson debuted their Western Experience in January 2023, allowing visitors to take a trip back to the late 1800s for a firsthand look at the Wild West with a host of characters trained in immersive theatre.
JOGS FALL GEM SHOWS -- One of the leading jewelry events in North America happens twice a year in Tucson. JOGS Tucson Gem and Jewelry Show brings together worldwide jewelry designers, manufacturers, miners, wholesalers, and liquidators. August 31-September 3, 2023.
HOCO FEST -- HoCo Fest at the Historic Hotel Congress is an annual boutique festival showcasing cutting-edge talent from across the borderlands. Enjoy three days and three nights of live music at the only solar-powered festival in the West. September 1-4, 2023.
EL TOUR LOOP DE LOOP -- Enjoy live music, food, drinks, and raffles at Rillito Park during this networking opportunity. Loop de Loop gives cyclists and nonprofits to connect on The Chuck Huckelberry Loop before the yearly El Tour de Tucson event. Cyclists can ride the loop, stopping at different stations to meet sponsors and charities, find new riding partners, and find training rides. September 23, 2023.
ROASTED CHILE FESTIVAL -- Taste and take home some of the best chiles in the country at the Roasted Chile Festival at the Heirloom Farmers Markets. Celebrate with live music, over 30 vendors, and fresh roasted chiles over three days. September 2023.
SONORAN RESTAURANT WEEK -- Taste what Tucson has to offer at Sonoran Restaurant Week. For 10 days, enjoy prix fixe menus with special pricing at nearly 100 participating restaurants. September 2023.
¡VIVA TUCSON! HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH -- Immerse yourself in Tucson's unique Hispanic culture during ¡Viva Tucson! Hispanic Heritage Month. Celebrate the story of Hispanic culture in Tucson through dancing, music, art, food, and more. September 15-October 15, 2023.
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For More Information, Contact:
Vice President of Communications & Tourism
1 (520) 770-2127
Director of Communications
1 (520) 770-2145