The city of Tucson is soaked in history, surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains of the American west, and infused with culture and tradition. During our visit to the old west, we found award-winning golf courses, experienced ranch life, and dined on fresh, locally sourced cuisine.
TANQUE VERDE RANCH
Our Arizona excursion began with a stay at the Tanque Verde Ranch, which was as wild west as any ranch you’ll find in the U.S. With a long, hundred-year history, the ranch is family-owned, surrounded by nature, and encourages unplugging with suites that do not come equipped with televisions. Tanque Verde is located about 45 minutes outside of Tucson and sits near the base of Mount Lemmon. Mount Lemmon and the neighboring Santa Catalina mountains are an integral part of Tucson’s history and environment. The Apache natives lived, harvested, foraged, and used the mountains as shelter.
The area was also where, in the 1770s, Apaches began fighting against Spanish occupation, continuing the battles well into the era of western expansion after the U.S. took control of the area today known as Arizona.The first ranch on Tanque Verde land dates back to 1856 when Mexican native, Don Emilio Carrillo moved his family to Tucson after the Gadsden Purchase which brought southern Arizona under the control of the United States. After being injured during a robbery in 1904, Emilio’s son, Rafael took control of the ranch and later sold it in the 1920s to cattleman Jim Converse. Converse became a successful rancher in the valley and built the present-day Ramada in 1928 to welcome Eastern guests. Those same guests were willing to pay a fee for an authentic ranch-life experience that provided Jim with operational help as well as much-needed cash.
After running into legal trouble for shooting a Mexican cowboy, Converse sold the ranch to a man named Brownie Cate.Brownie had given up law school for other successful business ventures that enabled him to purchase a number of neighboring ranches, eventually including Tanque Verde in 1957. Brownie’s son, Bob, took over management in 1969 and began marketing the ranch as a country getaway. Bob and his wife Rita introduced a wide range of activities and hosted guests until retiring in 2009. Bob and Rita still live on the property and visit their ranch friends almost daily. Today the ranch owns 640 acres of land and leases an additional 60,000 acres of land from the U.S. Forest Service. With so much space, Tanque Verde offers a wide range of activities from horseback riding on trails that take in mountain and desert scenery to tennis on one of the ranch’s four tennis courts. Other options are taking an archery class, going mountain biking, sunset horseback riding, ATV rentals, Jeep adventures, and so much more. The ranch is family-friendly and also a great place for those who love to spend every day, all day, outdoors. There are weekly schedules for both adult and kid’s activities so that families can opt to explore together or apart.
LOEWS VENTANA CANYON RESORT
Our next adventure lay only 30 minutes from the airport at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. The resort is graced by towering views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, kissed by fiery Sonoran desert sunsets, and sprawls across acres of land, creating the perfect backdrop for relaxing. There are 37,000 square feet of indoor function space and nearly 40,000 square feet of outdoor space. The pool area, glistens from the unobstructed sun, and is lined with giant Saguaro cacti which are native to the area and can grow up to 40 feet tall. It takes these magnificent cacti about 100 years to grow just one arm.
Similar to trees, the larger they are the older their age. The Loews Ventana Canyon Resort boasts 398 luxury guest rooms including 27 suites that are spacious, neat, and come equipped with the most essential items, such as cotton robes, hairdryers, a safe, coffee maker, tv, and free wifi. Larger rooms come with a lovely soaking tub and patio where you can enjoy miles and miles of views on a clear day. The resort was named by USA Today as one of the 10 Best Luxury Hotels in Tucson, 10 Best Romantic Hotels in Tucson, and 10 Best Family-Friendly Hotels in Tucson from 2014-2019. Amenities also include room service, a fitness center, and a spa. In 2018, Lakeside Spa was Architectural Digest’s choice for the 8 Most Beautiful Desert Spa Destinations in America.Golf lovers will love playing on one of the resorts’ two PGA, Tim Fazio-designed courses. If golf isn’t your game there are also four tennis courts that guests can enjoy. Hotel guides offer a tour of the grounds where you’ll learn more about the area’s history or you can opt to hike on one of the nearby nature trails, enjoy a custom butterfly garden and even discover a local waterfall. Kids will love feeding the Koi fish in the nearby Koi pond and the resort also offers stargazing with a program leader from the University of Arizona who will help guide you through the stars, planets, and galaxies.
The resort itself is built with a slate grey stone that is meant to resemble the southwestern landscape. When viewed from a certain vantage point, the whole building looks like caves lining the base of the mountain. Inside however, the spaces are clean, modern, and subdued, almost like a blank canvas meant to emphasize the picturesque scenes that are found right outside the resorts’ windows.A big highlight of our stay was the Flying V Bar & Grill, which is one of four restaurants located in the resort. Executive Chef Ken Harvey, who was the winner of the Food Network’s Chopped contest and a finalist in 2019, prepares regional favorites like tacos, quesadillas, and perfectly prepared guacamole while adding his own special twist to the dishes. Flavor is another restaurant within the resort that partners with local culinary and beverage artisans to serve delicious tamales, locally-made brews, and freshly baked bread.
We went beyond the resorts to explore the city and made sure to visit a number of golf courses. Our first stop was Starr Pass Golf Club that was noticeably narrower than traditional East Coast courses, requiring very precise putts. The stunning, mountainous landscape is the perfect setting for one of the most invigorating rounds of golf you’ll ever experience. Then, just 30 minutes away from downtown is Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club, known for its award-winning greens, stunning landscape at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and comfortable amenities. This is another highly recommended spot for golf-lovers and country club-goers alike.
After a full day of golfing, we made a beeline to Commoner & Co. for a hearty dinner. Its industrial-chic setting was the perfect place to feast on pork empanadas, a classic flat-iron steak, and an order of dill potato gnocchi for the table. They also have a few pasta and vegetarian options if you’re not keen on steak or pork. We also visited Tito & Pep, an eclectic restaurant located in midtown Tucson. Owner and Executive Chef John Martinez, specializes in combining his knowledge of cuisine from the U.S. (and abroad) with local Tucson culture and history. The menu features his interpretation of traditional Mexican dishes like posole and queso fundido. We ordered the grilled octopus that was perfectly cooked and came with salsa macha, avocado, tomato, red onion, and lime. Accompanied by one of their specialty cocktails, you can’t go wrong here.
For a quick lunch, we stopped by Seis Kitchen which has two locations in Tucson and one location in nearby Oro Valley. The menu includes tacos, burritos, and salads. While this may sound simple, because of the city’s proximity to Mexico, it’s guaranteed these are some of the best tacos you’ll find in the city. Seis works in partnership with Seafood Watch and Santa Monica Seafood and Redbird Farms to ensure sustainably sourced products. They serve only Arizona-grown beef, and partners with a number of other providers to obtain the freshest, local ingredients. Seis chefs, owners, and staff are also committed to giving back to their community. They have participated in food-sourcing, food safety, and food education programs with local schools, youth programs, and events with AZ Game and Fish. If you decide to stop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner the core of the menu doesn’t change much but what makes the dishes special is the fresh, organic, locally sourced ingredients that elevate the flavors of each dish.
Overall, our first experience in Arizona can be described as nothing less than memorable. With the help of Visit Tucson, we were able to partake in activities and dining that we may have otherwise missed and there’s still so much we didn’t have time to do. If you’re eager to visit a new city with gorgeous landscapes, perfect weather, and tons of outdoor activities, Tucson is definitely a must-visit.