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 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.
TUCSON MUSEUM OF ART TURNS 100 - Originally founded in 1924 as the Tucson Fine Arts Association, the Tucson Museum of Art will celebrate its centennial in 2024. The museum plans to display retro exhibits from their archive to showcase their humble beginnings and the growth and development these past 100 years.
DOWNTOWN GALLERY FOR BLACK ARTISTS - A new non-profit gallery space has opened to the public in the heart of Downtown Tucson. The grand opening of Blue Lotus Artists' Collective (BLAC) aligned with their block party in November 2023. BLAC aims to fill the representational void of Black artists in gallery spaces. President and founder of BLAC first opened the gallery with a band of local artists and art advocates by appointment-only in March 2023 on Pennington Street.
ELITE PRIVATE DINING EXPERIENCE IN DOWNTOWN TUCSON - Tucson's first James Beard Award winner opened a new private dining experience in Downtown Tucson in September 2023. Studio Janos is the chef's latest culinary adventure, where he plans to create delectable dishes, share his extensive culinary knowledge, and create exceptional experiences for guests. In his new space, up to 12 can dine at a private dinner made by Chef Janos himself, view cooking demonstrations, participate in hands-on classes, or receive consulting for their culinary endeavors.
RESTAURANT REFRESH TO TUCSON FAVORITES - Tucson Food & Beverage classics, LaCo, and the connected bar TallBoys in downtown Tucson near the Historic Art Block unveiled their refresh in September 2023. LaCo's matriarch and founder is passing the restaurant down to her children, who have renamed the establishment Jojo's in her honor. Jojo's has completely redone their menu to offer fresh, simple food while Monsoon Room moves in to the bar area, bringing modern and classic cocktails to their vintage backdrop.
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 2024. 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 Teatro Carmen, 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 building 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.
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.
A HAUNTING GOOD STAY AT HOTEL CONGRESS - Historic Hotel Congress is embracing its dark side. Guests can now choose to book a room that comes with a roommate -- one who never leaves. Choose between four guest rooms on the second floor that have been said to show the most paranormal activity.
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.
ROOFTOP DINING OPENS IN DOWNTOWN TUCSON - A Downtown Tucson favorite, Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink, opened their rooftop dining area and bar in September 2023. Executive Chef Tyler Fenton, who is also the brains behind nearby restaurant, BATA, has provided access to Reilly's full food and beverage menu from the rooftop. Much like the adjoined basement bar, Tough Luck Club, guests can access the new spot via a set of stairs found in their beer garden.
NEW YORK STYLE PIZZA COMING TO MERCADO DISTRICT - West of downtown at the Monier Building in the Mercado District, between the Mercado San Agustin and MSA Annex, WHOLE SLVCE PIZZA plans to open in Fall 2023. WHOLE SLVCE will focus on New York style, deck-oven pizza slices, and large pies. The new venture is the brainchild of Chef Ari Shapiro, owner of successful Tucson restaurants Falora and Beaut Burger.
A GLAMOROUS AGAVE BAR ON UNIVERSITY BLVD - The newest addition to University Avenue's Main Gate Square opened in June 2023, boasting a menu of savory and spicy Mexican cuisine, themed flights, and over 100 agave-based spirits. Located right on the corner of University Blvd. and Park Ave., University Avenue's latest happy hour spot comes from the same owners as Main Gate staple, Gentle Ben's.
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 a total of five pickleball courts (three outside and two inside) a dog-friendly beer garden, plus on-site parking. Love Block Partners, who also manage Tucson favorites like The Hub and Playground, will host their grand opening on Aug. 29, 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 BORDERLANDS CONCEPTS -- Es Teran of Borderlands Brewing Co. is opening a new concept in Fall 2023. The new restaurant follows the launch of Borderlands' second Taproom in the Sam Hughes neighborhood. DOS will open near River and Craycroft roads, combining a brewery atmosphere with an upscale menu of dry-aged steaks and large, shareable plates.
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 opened their new flagship store and cafe in midtown Tucson at Copenhagen Plaza in June 2023. The new Monsoon Chocolate Cafe + Market is a cafe and retail experience, with an expanded menu and a new tasting room for classes, workshops, and private events. With the cafe's opening, 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.
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 spring 2024
SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK NAMED URBAN NIGHT SKY PLACE - As of November 2023, Saguaro National Park is now certified as the newest Urban Night Sky Place. This certification recognizes sites that are near or surrounded by large urban areas, and whose planning and design actively promote an authentic nighttime experience in the midst of significant artificial light at night. Saguaro National Park joins eight other Urban Night Sky Places around the world and is only the second National Park Service unit to receive this coveted certification.
KITT PEAK REOPENS - After nearly three years being closed to the public, Kitt Peak National Observatory reopened in November 2023. Originally shut due to the pandemic, Kitt Peak remained closed following a lightning strike-induced fire on the Baboquivari Mountain range in June 2022. The observatory is now open to the public Friday through Sunday in the daytime and evenings.
TUCSON MEET YOURSELF - Founded in 1974, Tucson Meet Yourself is an annual celebration of the living traditional arts of Southern Arizona’s and Northern Mexico’s diverse ethnic and folk communities. The free, three-day event, fondly called Tucson Eat Yourself by locals, features hundreds of artisans, home cooks, dancers, musicians and special exhibits that celebrate and honor beauty in all its diverse, informal, and everyday forms. October 13-15, 2023
ALL SOULS PROCESSION - The All Souls Procession is a people-powered Tucson tradition blending rituals of All Souls Day and Dia de los Muertos. Myriad altars, performers, installation art, and creatives of all kinds collaborate for almost half the year to prepare their costumes and offerings for this amazing event that draws roughly 150,000 participants in early November. November 3-5, 2023.
EL TOUR DE TUCSON - Every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Tucson hosts an epic installment of El Tour de Tucson. The largest perimeter bicycling event in the United States is a fun adventure ride attracting an average of 9,000 cyclists of all ages and abilities from throughout the United States and worldwide, consisting of novice, intermediate, advanced, and professional riders. November 18, 2023
TAMAL & HERITAGE FESTIVAL - Celebrate the rich tastes, smells, and variations of tamales from the Southwest and Mexico, and discover the culinary tradition of making tamales for Christmas at the annual Tamal & Heritage Fest at AVA Amphitheater at Casino Del Sol Resort. Concerts by mariachi bands, performances by Mexican folk-dancers, and a tamal contest amp up this borderland celebration. December 2, 2023
BARSTOOL SPORTS ARIZONA BOWL - Tucson's official football festival, the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl plays at Arizona Stadium on the University of Arizona campus in December. This annual post-season college football game matches teams from the Mountain West and the Mid-American conferences (teams are announced in the fall) and is livestreamed on the title sponsor’s website. December 29-31, 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