Here are our recommendations for Historic Downtown Tucson: Things To Do, Dining, Lodging, and History.
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Historic downtown Tucson has much to offer, including two areas of major historical interest. One is called the Presidio District (blue on the above map) which includes El Presidio San Agustin del Tucson, the partially restored Spanish fort that was established in 1775. Also within the Presidio District is the Historic Block which includes the Tucson Museum of Art and several original 18th, 19th, and early 20th century homes. The Sentinel Carriage Company offers tours of the historic districts, moderately priced and a great way to see downtown. See a review of the Sentinel Carriage Tours here. For more information about the downtown museums, please click HERE.
In the courtyard of the Art Museum is a really good restaurant, Cafe’ A La C’art, family-owned and operated for the past 14 years. It’s a country-style cafe’ where you order at the counter, then select a table. They will bring your meal to you. Excellent bakery goods. Open daily.
A block north of the Art Museum you will also find the Old Town Artisans, located in a 150-year-old building, and featuring the arts and crafts of hundreds of local and Southwestern artists. In the Spanish-style courtyard is La Cocina Restaurant which includes a Mexican cantina housed in what was a 1920’s gas station. Good food. Eclectic wine list. Local beer. Music & dancing! Great fun!
Congress Street District
Several blocks to the east is the Congress Street District, which features our restored Train Depot and historic Hotel Congress, built in 1919. In between the Presidio & Congress Districts are the historic Fox Theater, the Old Pima County Courthouse and Arizona Historical Society’s Tucson History Museum on Stone Avenue in the Wells Fargo Bank building (see our video). All within easy walking distance of each other.
At the west end of the depot, you will find the statues of two armed men near the train tracks: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Following the Gunfight At OK Corral, this is where the Earp Vendetta Ride began. We have that story and many others about local history on this website.
Southern Arizona Transportation Museum
If you find Wyatt and Doc, you can’t miss Ol’ Number 1673. If a docent isn’t available, just go to the adjacent Transportation Museum and ask for a tour of this lovingly restored old steam engine. And yes, you can even get up into the cab, pull a few levers, and clang the bell.
Our Transportation Museum is small and a bit of a misnomer. It really tells the story of the huge impact that the coming of the railroad had on the little, dusty, Mexican village called Tuk’-sahn in 1880. Highly recommended.
There is a map of a self-guided walking tour which you can download here. In addition to the major historical sites I have mentioned, there are many other downtown points of historical interest. Caution: the map says there is a turquoise line painted on the sidewalk. In theory, if you follow the turquoise line, it will lead you to all the points of interest. However, when Neighbor Roy and I tried to follow it in April (2011), the paint had worn off in many places. The concept is good, but the execution sometimes suffers from neglect.
Update: when I was Downtown October 2012, someone had re-painted the Turquoise Line (and had done a really bad job.)
Now, if you want a very experienced and knowledgeable guide, We suggest Van Fowers – 520-885-2502.
Downtown Tucson Dining
Downtown Tucson has many very good restaurants. Check out our Dining Reviews.
Downtown Tucson Lodging
There are two places we recommend for those who want to stay downtown. The two are historic B&Bs.
The Royal Elizabeth a 19th century Victorian home restored to perfection. A great Breakfast.
El Presidio Inn B&B. Pure southwestern history. Click HERE to read our review.