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 8-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, is slated to 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 2022, with the renewed interiors slated for 2025.
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 is scheduled to open January 2023 in the Presidio Museum's newly-renovated 1907 duplex building, bringing vitality to the Historic Presidio District.
BLUE FRONT - A classic concept opens in the heart of downtown Tucson on Congress Street. Blue Front brings American classics like meatloaf, homemade potato chips, shakes and pies to the space previously home to a fine clothing store by the same name 100 years prior. The two-level restaurant, opening January 2023, has something for everyone - indoor/outdoor bar, pool tables, and communal tables perfect for a meal with family.
LEO KENT CONSTRUCTION IS UNDERWAY – Tucson’s tallest downtown skyscraper will be converted from shuttered office space to a 145-room boutique hotel called the Leo Kent, scheduled to debut in Spring 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.
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.
PENCA FOUNDER TO DEBUT NEW CONCEPTS – The brainchild behind the celebrated Penca, Patricia Schwabe has announced she will be opening two new businesses downtown in Spring 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.
'THE MONICA’ FEATURES A COLLECTION OF RECIPES FROM ‘SI CHARRO’ CHEFS - Flores Concepts, the culinary group that started it all with the 100-year-old El Charro Café, has brought a brand-new restaurant, The Monica, to downtown Tucson. Chef Carlotta Flores describes this new concept as a “collection of family recipes from around our table and the tables in our community curated and codeveloped by our amazing team of chefs and food-loving professionals.” The Monica is a tribute to Monica Flin, the founder of Tucson’s oldest restaurant family, and opened in March 2022 to coincide with El Charro Café’s centennial anniversary.
JAZZ CLUB & LOUNGE OPENING INSIDE HISTORIC HOTEL CONGRESS – The Century Room, Tucson’s only dedicated jazz club, opened its doors in February 2022 with a vibrant lineup of live entertainment. Century Room Music Programmer and jazz drummer Arthur Vint is booking an array of regional and national jazz artists throughout the year, with most Friday evening performances being ticketed concerts. The acoustically perfect venue is a jazz musician's ideal setting – intimate, relaxed, with comfortable surroundings and great offerings.
BATA OPENS IN WAREHOUSE ARTS DISTRICT - The culinary minds behind Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink opened their newest project, BATA, in March 2022 in Tucson's Warehouse Arts District. The small plate-format menu showcases flavors and cooking techniques from across the globe that "explore the taste and textures of cooking with fire." Bata is one of two Arizona restaurants named as Bon Appétit's 50 Best New Restaurants in 2022.
BOUTIQUE HILTON HOTEL COMING TO TUCSON'S FOOTHILLS - Construction on The Eddy Hotel, a 106- room boutique hotel conveniently located just minutes from midtown, is in its final phases. This new hotel is expected to open February 2023 and will have a buffet service in the lounge and a bar that is open to the public, along with 3,000 square feet of meeting or event space. The Eddy Hotel is a Tapestry brand, a franchise of Hilton Hotels, so guests can use their Hilton rewards and Hilton’s online site for reservations.
OMNI TUCSON NATIONAL RESORT UNDERGOING MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR TRANSFORMATION - Resting at the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the newly redesigned spaces at Omni Tucson National Resort are expected to open in Q1 2023. Host of the annual PGA Tour Champions Cologuard Classic, the newly imagined resort will feature updates to the lobby, restaurants and lounge, meeting space, spa, fitness center, casitas, and haciendas. The relaxed, yet inspired, ambiance of this southwestern destination will create an ideal backdrop for leisure guests as well as corporate or group stays. Two new meeting rooms will 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.
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, 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.
BORDERLANDS BREWING TEAMS UP WITH MARIA MAZON ON SECOND LOCATION - Borderlands Brewing Company is teaming up with James Beard Award Semifinalist Chef Maria Mazon, best known for her many appearances on Top Chef, to open a second location in January 2023 near the University of Arizona. While the menu has yet to be revealed, Mazon has hinted it will not feature tacos, but will have “authentic Sonoran cuisine.” Borderlands’ apropos partnerships and progressive thinking have put the brewery in the national spotlight in recent years. It’s pushed to employ female brewers in a largely male dominated industry, was the first brewery to develop a bi-national beer (brewed in both Mexico and the U.S.), and has collaborated on beers with Tucson’s brightest culinary stars, including the 2022 James Beard Award recipient for Best Baker Don Guerra.
LOS MILICS TO DEBUT BREATHTAKING SONOITA-ELGIN TASTING ROOM – Just over an hour outside of Tucson you'll find unassuming Sonoita-Elgin, Arizona's first federally recognized American Viticulture Area and the home of some of the state’s best wineries. Likened by some to the Napa of the ‘70s, there are non-commercialized wineries a-plenty, where tastings are paired with petting zoo experiences or sitting in makeshift outdoor living rooms under tents. One of the newer tenants to the oldest wine making regions is Los Milics, which will debut its brand-new tasting room in November. 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. Milic began producing wines under the Los Milics label in 2014 with the help of his friends and now neighbors Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks. But it wasn’t until 2019 that he owned a winery in the region, and even then, it took several years for construction on the tasting room to begin. It will be worth the wait, however, because the renowned architects at Chen + Suchart Studio will create a space that invites the outside in, with a series of reflective mirrors and steel pillars to enhance the tasting room’s 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 2023.
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. And while Old Tucson will continue to woo filmmakers, visitors will also get a chance to experience it firsthand. The ever-popular Halloween themed Nightfall will be the public’s first opportunity to visit, and see the attraction transform from a western town into a haunted one; then in November, Old Tucson will get visitors in the holiday spirit with Christmas-themed programming. Beginning in January 2023, Old Tucson will debut its Western Experience on select days through April. Visitors can take a trip back to the late 1800s for a firsthand look at the Wild West with a host of characters trained in immersive theater.
AVIAN ADVENTURES AT THE ARIZONA-SONORA DESERT MUSEUM - Get up close and personal with special birds at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's new Avian Adventures Program. This exclusive opportunity allows you to meet special birds that are not currently flying in their popular Raptor Free Flight program. The best part? You will have a bird fly to your glove for a special photo opportunity! You will also be given VIP access to interact and ask questions with our Raptor Free Flight trainers in an intimate setting. Ages 8 and older, reservations required.
TUCSON BOTANICAL GARDENS “LIGHTS UP!” - A spectacular new holiday light show with more than a million sparkling lights will premiere at Tucson Botanical Gardens on November 25, 2022 and run for 43 nights through January 15, 2023. Designed by nationally known public garden landscape architect Tres Fromme, a carefully curated and artfully sequenced series of illuminated experiences will transform the Gardens into a compelling, all new holiday show.
TUCSON JAZZ FESTIVAL - The Ninth Annual HSL Properties Tucson Jazz Festival returns to the Old Pueblo with ten days of world-class entertainment. This yearly "Jazz in January" celebration aims to help the celebration, discovery, and continued education of live jazz performance. Sink into the sophisticated sounds of live jazz at venues like Hotel Congress, the Century Room, Fox Tucson Theatre, and the Rialto. January 13-22, 2023.
GEM, MINERAL & FOSSIL SHOWCASE - With over 225 retailers, 150 special- and guest- exhibitors, a junior education area, free lectures, and more, the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase is the largest, oldest, and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world. It has enjoyed international stature since the 1970s and continues to attract exhibitors, hobbyists, curators, and professionals worldwide. January 28 - February 12, 2023.
TUCSON RODEO - Buckle up for La Fiesta de los Vaqueros® - Tucson Rodeo & Parade, one of the top 25 pro rodeos in the United States, staged at Tucson Rodeo Grounds in February since 1925. Kick off the week-long celebration by catching the 2.5-mile stream of horse-drawn carriages, outfitted riders, folk dancers, and marching bands for the world's largest non-motorized parade. Then, spend the rest of the week watching bareback riding, steer wrestling, bull riding, barrel racing, and more. February 18-26, 2023.
TUCSON FESTIVAL OF BOOKS - When the desert flowers bloom and the University of Arizona students clear campus for spring break, you'll find a literature lover's paradise on the University of Arizona Mall. The Tucson Festival of Books arrives each March allowing bibliophiles to come together, meet their favorite authors, and discover new publishing companies, resources, and, of course, books. March 4-5, 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