Tucson: There's More to It Than Tragedy

Tucson: Isn't she a beaut?
For a long time (and possibly forever), Tucson is going to be synonymous with tragedy.

That's a shame.

You see, our neighbor to the south is much more than a place where six people lost their lives and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was severely injured. Arizona's second-largest city, which is the perfect marriage of big-city conventions with small-town attitude, boasts a heavy-hitting cultural scene that larger cities tend to swallow and quaint towns can't ever sustain.

Located approximately 120 miles from Phoenix, Ansel Adams, the most popular American photographer of our time, thought Tucson was cool enough to create a place for his archives. Today, the Center for Creative Photography, established in 1975, is the best photo archive in the States and one of the tops in the world. This is the place that you go to see both famous and obscure works by Adams, Edward Weston, and Garry Winogrand.

A work by Tucson-based artist Lisa Robinson
​The CCP is on the campus of the University of Arizona, the state's first higher-learning institution that anchors a city that was capital of the Arizona Territory from 1867 to 1877. Around the university, which was the site for the filming of 1984's Revenge of the Nerds, are a number of big-deal bands such as Calexico, writers that include Oh Pure and Radiant Heart author Lydia Millet, and artists such as Kate Breakey and Lisa Robinson.

"[Tucson's] art scene is very close-knit, supportive, and unified," says Carol Panaro-Smith, a Phoenix-based creative type who's represented by Etherton Gallery, one of Tucson's most legit contemporary art venues. "There are a number of really talented people there that I plan on showing in Phoenix."

Getting the feeling that Tucson is pretty cool?

The town can also brag about housing larger cultural institutions. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has been lauded as one of the nation's best zoos while the Pima Air and Space Museum, site of the famed "airplane graveyard" scene in Can't Buy Me Love (the 1987 flick was filmed in Tucson), displays more than 250 historic air vessels.

Richard Cummins
The scene at El Presidio Historic District, Tucson's oldest 'hood.
Then there's the outdoors in close range of the city that includes Saguaro National Park and Sabino Canyon. Because southern Arizona has some of the clearest skies in the nation, a number of stargazing sites can be found in the "Astronomy Capital of the World."

Combine that with a stroll through neighborhoods like the Spanish-built El Presidio Historic District, a bike ride through the cycle-friendly city, or a night out alongside strolling minstrels in one of the country's top mariachi hotbeds, you've basically got all that and a bag of chips in the Old Pueblo.

This is what Tucson should be known for.

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John Smith
John Smith

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As someone who has only passed through, and I am sure there are intelligent people in AZ, I do have to let you know that many outside of AZ feel that Tucson has a bunch of angry god fearing immigrant hating people in it. After the immigration law passed, I vowed to NEVER step foot in that state again and actively avoid companies that HQ there, when possible. Now, it is synonymous for a nut job killing a rare Arizonian Democrat. Yep, AZ will never be on my top ten list and interestingly, I have found many others who have a poor view of Arizonian people.


GREAT piece! Partying at the Hotel Congress, Cafe Poca Cosa, El Charo, Rosita's, Mi Nidito, Gem & Mineral Show, most beauitful neighborhoods in Arizona, cool shopping, amazing hikes . . .


This native Phoenician agrees that Tucson is a very cool place...laid back but intelligent, funky but refined, a little rough around the edges but gorgeous nonetheless. A lot of people from Phoenix head down there with the wrong mindset, born from the sameness that the sprawl has made us accustomed to. If you open your mind a little and see that Tucson has a beautiful (and sometimes maddening) originality in most things that it does, you can appreciate it for the vibrant cultural scene reflected in its art, its music, its food, and its people.


Markbrowi...you are so ignorant. From someone who has only "passed through" Arizona, your opinion is moot. In addition, your comment about "many outside of AZ feel that Tucson has a bunch of ......" sounds like such a riduculous generalization about an entire demographic group of people...very prejudicial on your part. Oh well, like I said your opinion is moot because you obviously do not know what you are taking about. Coming from someone who grew up in the great city of Tucson and left years ago....you my friend do not know what an amazing place Tucson is from the open-minded people, the food, the natural beauty, culture.......I can go on and on. BTW, Tucson always votes Democrat.

Charles Ward
Charles Ward

Actually Tucson is a nice place. Wish I could live there. An irony of all this mess is that I'd have expected the violence to break out in metro Phoenix, Mesa perhaps, long before I'd have expected it in Tucson. Why the need to paint an entire state with such a broad brush? Sure we have jerks like Russell Pearce, but there are plenty of civilized people here as well.

I suppose I shouldn't be so hard on you. There are places I avoid, too.

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