Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The I-19 corridor south of Tucson is hard to beat for a leisurely day trip from Tucson, enjoying art, culture, history, and excellent Mexican cuisine. There is so much to see and do between Tucson and the Mexican border that we recommend you start early.
When we take guests on this, our Tucson Day Trip #1, we usually drive 55 minutes from Downtown Tucson to the furthest destination south, which is Mission Tumacácori, almost to the Mexican border. The rest of the day is a leisurely drive back toward Tucson with at least 7 worthwhile points of interest along the way. Check out the map at the bottom of this post.

Anza walking behind the Tumacacori Church

Anza Day is an annual event celebrating the Anza Expedition from Tumacacori to San Francisco: 1775-1776.

Tumacácori National Historical Park

is a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. This mission was founded by Father Kino in 1691. Take Exit 29, then turn left under the Interstate. At the frontage road, turn left. You can’t miss it. Bring your camera.
A block or two east of the mission is the Anza Trail along the Santa Cruz River where you will find dozens of bird species as well as native critters. You can hike the Anza Trail north along the Santa Cruz for 3.5 miles to Tubac.

Anza Day Mass Celebration

Anza Day Mass Celebration

It was from here that Juan Bautista de Anza organized and led a 1,200-mile expedition to California that resulted in the founding of the City of San Francisco in 1776. The expedition included 240 colonists and over 1,000 head of livestock: cattle, horses, and mules.
Even though they had to traverse an unforgiving desert sparsely populated with sometimes hostile Indians, all of the colonists arrived safe, a testament to Anza's leadership.
A mile south of the mission on the frontage road is the Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company. If you’re into cooking, this family-owned shop is worth your time.
We have 3 original videos about Tumacácori.

Tubac Village

is about 3.5 miles north of Tumacácori on the east frontage road (or Exit 34 if you get back on the Interstate). Here you will find more than 100 shops, galleries, and restaurants. Bring your credit card.
Here also is the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. This archeological site was where the first Spanish presidio (fort) in this region was established in 1752. The soldiers here protected Spanish missions & settlers from Apaches, or at least tried to. Repeatedly attacked, the soldiers and settlers abandoned Tubac in 1775 and built El Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón in what is now downtown Tucson. The park has a short self-guided walking tour that we highly recommend for reasons you will discover.

A painting depicting life at the Tubac Presidio.

Tubac Presidio before it was abandoned.

Dining In Tubac Village
Tubac has several good places to dine. (1) Tubac Deli has very good sandwiches. (2)Elvira’s is one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. (3) Shelby’s Bistro is on the south side of the village across a bridge. If the weather is good, you can get a fine view from your table on the patio.
Between Tumacácori and Tubac on the frontage road is Wisdom’s Café, one of the oldest and best Mexican restaurants in Southern Arizona. Note, however, that Wisdom’s is not open Sundays.
For more things to see and do around Tubac and Tumacacori see our Things to Do in Tubac and Tumacacori page.

Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory

There is no way to include a tour of the observatories atop Mt. Hopkins in a day trip and still see the other sites along the I-19 Corridor. From the Visitor Center, a shuttle takes visitors with reservations up a very steep, narrow, & winding road to the top. The total time to ascend, tour the observatories, and descend is about 5 hours. Two hours are required just to get up & down. But the view from the top is splendid.

However, the Visitor Center is worthwhile. Watch the short video to get an idea what scientists do here. Also, there is a pleasant picnic are here. Check out our slideshow on the Whipple Visitor Center.

From Tubac, to north on I-19 about 11 miles and get off at Exit 48 (Arivaca Road). Follow the frontage road north about 2 miles and turn right (east) onto Elephant Head Road. From here the visitor center is about 8 miles. Just follow the signs.

Madera Canyon

is about 12 miles east of the I-19 at Green Valley. It is one of the premier birding areas in the United States. Almost 300 species of birds have been spotted here. Bring your binoculars or spotting scopes.

Great Horned Owl. Photo by John Ashley.

Great Horned Owl. Photo by John Ashley.

Bring your own food! There is no grocery store or restaurant in Madera Canyon. However ...

Madera Canyon has several pleasant picnic areas between 4,000 and 5,000 feet elevation. The best one is at the top where the road ends. From there, you can take a trail to the top of Mt. Wrightson (9,400 feet above sea level). In winter, bring warm clothes.

From I-19, take Continental Ranch Road (Exit 63) east. In about a mile, turn right onto Madera Canyon / White House Canyon Road. Just follow the signs.

Titan Missile Museum

is one of the strangest & most fascinating places you will ever visit. Literally, there is nothing like it.
Get back on the Interstate heading north and exit at the Duval Mine Road (Exit 69). Turn left (west) and follow the signs.  The first reaction of most people to whom we recommend this most unique museum is one of disinterest. But all who accepted our recommendation have thanked us. Take the one hour guided tour. They might even let you turn the key that launches the missile. If you understand what this place was about, at the very least, you will leave wondering how the human race survived the Cold War.

Check out our brief video about the Titan II Missile Museum.

Mineral Discovery Center

370 Haul Truck at Mineral Discovery Center mine tour.

A new 370 haul truck used at the Mission Mine Complex. You can watch them work at the bottom of the huge open pit mine while on Mineral Discovery Center's mine tour.

Stop here for a fascinating look into the world of copper technology and copper mining as well as other minerals. This is one of the cornerstones of the Arizona economy. It also supplies the world with copper, without which our modern civilization could not exist. If it has an "ON & OFF" switch, it needs copper to work.
The ASARCO Mineral Discover Center & Mission Mine Tour is only 15 miles south of Downtown Tucson. From Titan Missile Museum, continue north on I-19 and get off at Pima Mine Road (Exit 80). Desert Diamond Casino is on the east side of the freeway. The Mineral Discovery Center & Mine Tour are on the west side. Just follow the signs.

The tour takes about an hour and is both interesting & educational. Great for school-age children. Check out our Mineral Discovery Center slideshow with photos taken while we were on tour.

ASARCO was founded in 1899 as American Smelting And Refining Company.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

is a place, both historical & sacred, that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss. Head North from the Mineral Discovery center and get off on the San Xavier Road (Exit 92). Head west and you will plainly see the magnificent church known as the White Dove of the Desert.

Old post card of San Xavier Mission in the 19th century.

Mission San Xavier as it looked in the 19th century. Little has changed since.

Mission San Xavier is on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Tohono O'odham means "Desert People". The Spanish called these American Indians “Papago” (meaning "Bean Eaters". Conquistadors were not really into PC.).

The Tohono O'odham were farming along the Santa Cruz River when Father Kino established the mission here in 1692. This functioning church is a mixture of Moorish, Spanish, and American Indian art and architecture. San Xavier is open to the public 7AM to 5PM, except during church services.

Book Early for our First Santa Cruz River Valley Tour

Mission Tumacacori

Southern Arizona Guide Presents The Santa Cruz River Valley Tour Join us Wednesday, November 12, 2014 for a pleasant day trip through the Santa Cruz River Valley and discover its rich history, cultural heritage, unique landscape, and distinctive foods. Your guide for the day will be Jim Gressinger, travel writer, photographer, … Continue reading

Historic Downtown Tucson: A Collection of Picture Postcards

Tucson, Arizona: 2013.

As a “city”, Tucson really came into its own in the first decade of the 20th century, even though the city was legally incorporated in 1877. It never amounted to anything of importance until the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1880. The railroad connected Tucson to the outside world. It brought hardware, lumber, and fresh produce at affordable prices. Even today, you can see how the architecture of the city changed after the arrival of the railroad. 

Continue reading

Tucson Attractions: The Ones Few People Know About!


Locals are generally familiar with our major Tucson and Southern Arizona attractions, such as our fantastic Desert Museum & the beautiful gardens of Tohono Chul Park. You can find the ones we recommend under “Attractions” in the Main Menu. However, very few locals know about or have been to the … Continue reading

The New Desert Museum Aquarium

Boy Watching Seahorses

On a clear Sunday morning in early February, Neighbor Roy, Ms. Karen, & I arrived at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for our 2nd Behind The Scenes tour, this time of the new Warden Aquarium. Lacey was our guide for our group of 8, including two little boys who looked to be about 4 and 6 […]

Continue reading

Carnival of Illusion – Amazing!

Carnival of Illusion Roland Sarlot & Susan Eyed

For some time, Ms. Karen and I had been wanting to see Roland Sarlot’s and Susan Eyed’s Carnival of Illusion. I had read so many rave reviews about their performance that, if the show lived up to the hype, I wanted to add it to our Things To Do In Tucson Section of our website

Continue reading

Tohono Chul Map

Tohono Chul Park: Spring Wildflowers.

Tohono Chul is a peaceful garden oasis in the midst of city and suburb. You can stroll along winding paths through several different types of gardens with hundreds of native plant species, as well as many birds, including hummers.

Continue reading

Pima Air and Space Museum Map

Pima Air and Space Museum

Here is the history of manned flight. Pima Air and Space Museum has over 300 historic aircraft on exhibit, including the Blackbird, a 1950’s design that still holds the speed record for coast to coast flight: imagine going from New York to Los Angeles in one hour.

Continue reading

Mt. Lemmon Map

mt lemmon snow

Mt. Lemmon is a recreational paradise in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest. It is 9,157 feet (2,791 m) above sea-level, and receives approximately 180 inches of snow annually. A perfect place for skiing in the winter or camping in the summer, it also has observatories that you can view through a telescope, winter or summer. Other activities are hiking, biking and hanging out to cool off in the summer.

Continue reading

San Xavier del Bac Map

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Mission San Xavier del Bac is about 15 minutes south of downtown Tucson. It is the finest example of Spanish mission architecture anywhere. It was built in the late 18th century and is today both an important piece of Baja Arizona history and an active Roman Catholic church serving the Tohono O’odham people.

Continue reading

Hiking Arizona: Boots & Burgers; A Review


For all you carnivorous hikers out there in Arizona, this book is for you. Roger Naylor, an avid hiker and unrepentant lover of all things Arizona, has written a light, witty book about some of the best, most prominent and popular hikes in Arizona. And none of them is out … Continue reading

Hiking On A Cool June Day On Mt. Lemmon

Repelling of Windy Point

June 2015. Ms. Karen, Ms. Rosemary, and I decided to get out of the dry heat of Tucson for a while and do a little cool summer hiking near the summit of Mt. Lemmon.The summit is over 9,000′ elevation, so while Tucsonans suffer in 107 degree heat in the valley, … Continue reading

Is Daisy Mae’s Steakhouse The Best In Tucson?

Daisy Mae Steak Plate

Continuing our ranking of the 10 Best Steakhouses in Tucson, Ms. Karen, Neighbor Roy, & I moseyed off to Daisy Mae’s Steakhouse near the West Campus of Pima Community College for an early Sunday dinner. I had dined at Daisy Mae’s with my mother-in-law some years ago and we had … Continue reading

Hiking Aspen #93 and Marshall Gulch on Mt. Lemmon

Mt. Lemmon Trails

One of the more popular summer hikes on Mt. Lemmon is the loop beginning and ending at the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area at the end of Sabino Canyon Park Road, the narrow paved road that runs through the village of Summerhaven. This loop sports great views of the Wilderness of … Continue reading

Check Out The Mini Museum’s Summer Classes for Children

Mini Time Machine Summer Camp

Are you looking for things to do in Tucson with children this summer? Good news! The Mini-Time Machine Museum of Miniatures has summer programs for kids ages 5 through 12 that keep them engaged and stimulated. The Mini offers both morning and afternoon programs that involve the kids in arts … Continue reading

How Tucson Got Its Name

Birds-Eye view of Tucson from One South Church looking NW over 3rd Pima County Courthouse.

People often want to know how Tucson got its name. The Tohono O’odham (Desert People) had a village and irrigated fields at Bac, about 7 miles upstream from their village of Stjucson (or Schook-shon), meaning “At The Foot of Black Hill or Mountain. Some claim that the “Black Mountain” was … Continue reading