A Cultural Road Trip: Where The Wild West Meets Arizona’s New Frontier of American Cuisine and Wine

The sun sets over a desert road. Cacti pierce the cloudy yellow sky.

If you’d guess the current food capital of the United States is New York, L.A., or San Francisco, you wouldn’t be anywhere close. The country’s most exciting culinary scene right now is in Tucson, Arizona, the very first U.S. place to earn a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy designation. What better way to explore this fascinating area than on a six-day road trip fit for a foodie? With plenty of options for exquisite fine dining and mouth-watering casual eats along the way, you can fuel nature walks through stunning landscapes, invigorating hikes in National Parks, and a detour to Patagonia’s robust arts scene.

You’ll also whet your whistle as you discover the burgeoning wine country in Southern Arizona, in between stops that take you back in time to the ghost towns of the Wild West. Come hungry…and thirsty!

The Arizona Office of Tourism is continuing to monitor the evolving COVID19 situation. Before traveling to or throughout Arizona, check for important travel and tourism updates.

Wine on a tabel looking over a green valley


Farm-to-Table Dining with a View

Savor an extensive wine list and cuisine made with ingredients from The Grill at Hacienda del Sol’s onsite apiary and garden, as well as locally sourced goods—like salmon poke with golden beets, Furikake, and Gochujan and house-made ice cream—while the sun sets and Tucson’s lights glitter in the distance.


Visit Arizona

Visit Arizona invites you to discover life on a grander scale. The Grand Canyon, one of the natural wonders of the world, defines the destination’s beauty, while diverse landscapes across the state, rich and ancient history, and thriving culinary culture offer plenty more to discover. From Tucson’s fine dining to the ski slopes of Flagstaff and the curves of the Colorado River, adventures await all types of explorers.
A gnocchi dish in a white ceramic bowl


DAY 1Arrive in Tucson

Drive into Tucson (or fly and rent a car for the week), and get ready to feast your eyes on the magnificent landscapes of the southwest and fill your belly with some of the finest, cutting-edge food in the land. You’ll spend your stay in Tucson dining at the acclaimed eateries that netted the city the UNESCO World City of Gastronomy title. Be sure to plan ahead and reserve so you get to hit all the spots that make you salivate in anticipation.

Check into the historic Downtown Clifton in Tucson, or the Hacienda del Sol, where you’ll be dining this evening, for your first few nights. (Or settle into one of these properties for the entire time if you want to have one home base—all of the destinations on this itinerary are no more than 1.5 hours from Tucson).

Head out into the wild on your first day. With all the excellent food you’re going to enjoy, you’ll want to work it off while taking in the astoundingly beautiful nature nearby. Drive to Saguaro National Park for a leisurely 6.4-mile hike along trails that will take you to past a robust cactus forest on the way to the Garwood Dam and Little Wildhorse Tank (the only perennial areas of water in the park), culminating in spectacular views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Dig into some seriously excellent Mexican food at one of the many restaurants in town or along the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food, a stretch of funky-to-fine dining options where you’ll taste what’s widely considered the top Mexican cuisine north of the border. Our picks: Guadalajara Mexican Grill or Taco Giro, a little hidden gem in one of the city’s old “Barrio” neighborhoods—don’t be fooled by the unassuming looks, this place serves up fabulous food. Afterward, hit up Raspados El Paraíso across the street, for decadent desserts like Fresas Con Crema, strawberries with el Paraíso cream, or the Macedonia, mixed fruits with pecans and cream.

Save room for dinner: Book a table at The Grill at Hacienda del Sol for an elevated experience, complete with sunsets that wow as much as dishes such as rack of lamb with mint-almond sauce.
A densely topped piece of avocado toast on a plate, encircled by a lightly drizzled sauce.


DAYS 2-3Hiking and Dining in Tucson

Begin the day as many locals do, by witnessing the sun gloriously rise over the city from Tumamoc Hill. Be forewarned: this is a pretty steep climb, but so worth it! After loading up on a hearty southwestern breakfast or lunch in town, go cave exploring at Colossal Cave, 20 miles southeast of Tucson in Vail. This expansive cave system has been around since 900 A.D. It served as a shelter for Native Americans, and later as a hideout for train robbers. Today, it’s on the National Register for Historic Places. Take the 50-minute Classic Cave Tour, or for the more daring, the Ladder Tour or Wild Cave Tour takes you deeper into the cave. There are also many beautiful trails down there (it connects to the Arizona National Scenic Trail), so enjoy the day exploring here.

For breakfast or lunch either day, hide away at Nook—literally in a small nook off of Congress, and serving southwestern spins on classics like the honey chipotle carnitas Benedict or a spicy barbecue “holla-peno burger.” For dinner, if you want to stay close to downtown, there are incredible options to please every palate: Dine al fresco on the gorgeous outdoor patio at Cafe a la C’Art for refined American entrees. You can also mix it up with some Asian food at Senae Thai Bistro, or with craft beers, creative cocktails (add a shot of CBD oil to any), and inventive bar food (Calabrian Buffalo Cauliflower to start, perhaps with a dash of fermented hot sauce, anyone?) at Ermanos Bar. And for a late-night snack, hit up Batch Café & Bar for the one-two punch of whiskey and donuts—a combo that’s not to be missed.

The sun shines brightly over rolling hills of golden grass. Puffy clouds dot the sky.

DAY 4Patagonia Arts and Nature

Just an hour’s drive away, via I-10E and AZ-83S, you’ll find a robust arts community—and flocks of birds—in Patagonia. Check out Metamorphosis Art Gallery, which showcases the finest local artists, and then stop by Grayce’s Gift and Candle Shop for handmade crafts and souvenirs from local artisans. Save some time to browse the Latin American artifacts at La Galería Día De Los Muertos Museum.

Known as a birders’ paradise, Patagonia is home to some of nature’s masterworks too. As you hike along the gentle trails of the Patagonia-Sonoitia Creek Preserve, see how many of the 300 bird species that migrate through and nest in this cottonwood-willow riparian forest you can spot. Afterward, follow state route 82, which heads southwest out of Patagonia, to check out nearby ghost towns, such as the abandoned mining towns Harshaw, Mowry, Washington Camp, Duquesne, and Lochiel. All that remains are the remnants of old buildings and foundations.

Back in Patagonia, dine at the kitschy-in-name-only Velvet Elvis, for a selection of expertly charred wood-fired pizzas. And if you’ve decided to depart from Tucson, stay at The Duquesne House, a former boarding house on the town’s original main street that’s been lovingly redone, with Mexican-style furniture and hand-stitched quits. Watch the butterflies and hummingbirds flutter by from your private patio.
A trio of friends look out over a mountain valley dotted with towering pillars of rock.

DAYS 5-6Wine Country

Driving from Patagonia along AZ-82E for a mere 15 minutes, you’ll be in Arizona’s burgeoning wine country, in the high desert grasslands of Sonoita. (It’s a little less than an hour if you’re coming from Tucson.) Start your wine tour by sampling Dos Cabezas’ Wineworks Pink, a dry blend of Garnacha, Syrah, Monastrell, Graciano and Piquepoul grapes in the winery’s tasting room.

Next, you’ll drive about 70 minutes north to Wilcox, the second American Viticulture Area in Arizona. Pop into Keeling Schaefer Vineyards’ tasting room to sample the earthy Syrah. Pillsbury Wine Company, another Willcox winery, pours a delicious red Mourvedre, and aromatic whites, such as Malvasia and Roussanne. Then head to the family-run Barrelhead Farms to taste the black cherry notes of the Magdelena and the soft fruit notes of the Sangiovese among the 40 acres of vines.

For dinner, dig into some deliciously south-of-the-border-style food at La Unica Restaurant and Tortilleria. If you’ve decided to stay over, sleep soundly at a nearby charming bed-and-breakfast, such as in 1873 adobe buildings at Dos Cabezas (unrelated to Dos Cabezas Wineworks), located in a ghost-town area about a 15-minute drive from Wilcox. It’s only another 40 minutes to Chiricahua National Monument, so you can easily get a morning tour of the magical and inspiring park grounds before heading back to Tucson to fly home the next day.
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