Most U.S. travelers have heard of Tucson, Arizona. Far fewer are aware of Marana, Az Tucson’s next door neighbor. Perhaps this is because Tucson has been around since 1775. Marana would not officially become an incorporated town until 202 years later.
Today, Marana is a vibrant community with lots of things to see and do, as well as an ancient history. Archaeologists know that people have lived here in the Santa Cruz River Valley for at least 12,000 years. About 4,000 years ago, Paleo-Indians, predecessors of the advanced Hohokam culture, began farming in the flood plain of the Rillito River where, in 2015, they discovered human footprints 2,500 to 3,000 years old.
Today, the Town of Marana is the Northwest portion of the Tucson Metropolitan Area. This area was first called maraña (Spanish for “thicket”) by railroad workers who had to clear thick brush to lay the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1880. Up until fairly recently, Marana has been mainly farmland. While farming is still important, in the 1990’s Marana’s population grew rapidly and now (2016), has about 42,000 residents.
Marana is home to major retailers, such as Costco, Target, and Home Depot. In 2015, Tucson Premium Outlets opened in Marana with stores such as Nike, Toys R Us, Old Navy, Levi’s, J Crew, Gap, Banana Republic and many more. Almost immediately, Premium Outlets became Marana’s #1 attraction.
“Puttin’ On The Ritz”
Marana is full of pleasant surprises, but none greater than to discover Arizona’s the finest resort in the rugged Tortolita Mountains 26 miles north of Tucson. The Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain is included in Travel + Leisure Magazine’s Top 100 Hotels in the World. It is also the only Forbes 5-Star Hotel in Arizona. Everything about the Ritz is first-class; from the spa, to the outstanding restaurants, to the adventure programs, and Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf course; all set in our magnificent Sonoran Desert.
Southern Arizona Guide named Caton’s Burger Bistro, the restaurant at the clubhouse, #1 on its list of The 10 Best Burgers in Tucson. From Caton’s you overlook the first fairway and, in the distance, Downtown Tucson.
With 350 days of sunshine each year, Manana offers exceptional outdoor activities. Residents and visitors bicycle for miles on the “Loop” bike path that follows the Santa Cruz River and heads North into Marana and then east. Hikers and mountain bikers enjoy 134 miles of trails through a forest of giant saguaros.
Not far is the scenic Saguaro National Park West and Sonora-Arizona Desert Museum. If you go to Saguaro National Park West, do visit the Red Hills Visitor Center for an orientation. Then ask directions to Signal Hill Picnic Area to experience thousand-year-old petroglyphs on the adjacent hill. It is a short, easy climb.
The Desert Museum is Southern Arizona’s #1 attraction. We recommend that all newcomers visit the Desert Museum at the very beginning of their stay because it is such a great orientation to the flora & fauna of our beautiful desert. If you go, plan on 3 to 4 hours to see most of what the Desert Museum has to offer. And go out of your way to attend at least one of two “Raptor Free Flight” programs offered at 10 AM and 2 PM daily in the cooler months. Also, the Desert Museum has two good restaurants.
Hiking & Biking in Marana
Be sure to check out Sanctuary Cove near Safford (Sombrero) Peak. It is a place of peace in a sea of houses.
Arizona Zipline Adventure
About 40 miles Northeast of the Ritz is the new (2016) Arizona Zipline Adventures. Here you will find 4 spans ranging from 400 to 1500 feet in length, plus a giant swing, and other family-friendly activities.
Disruptive Paintball is a team war game played on a field with lots of obstacles to hide behind. The general idea is to shoot the other team members with a paintball without getting hit yourself. The game has a referee.
Here is a link to a short paintball video.
You can rent or purchase paintball equipment.
Paintball Field: 10218 W. Tangerine Road; Marana
Store: 1015 W. Prince Road; Tucson
Some of the finest desert courses in America are found in Manana. In addition to the Ritz-Carlton’s Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, Golf Club at Dove Mountain, Marana has four fine public courses:
- Quarry Pines: This 18-hole public course offers a lot of challenging elevations. Many fairways are now lined with houses since we last played here in 2006.
- The Gallery: two unique and beautiful golf courses. The North course winds through two canyons with elevation changes, large tiered greens and stunning views. The South Course hosted the 2007 and 2008 WGC Match Play Championship with Henrik Stenson and Tiger Woods coming away as Champions.
- The Highlands at Dove Mountain: Diversity is the word here. The front nine plays through the flats, offering subtle undulations. The back nine plays through hilly terrain, wrapping around mountains and meandering by lakes. The course is laden with risk/reward opportunities.
Time-Life Books named Biosphere 2 “One of the 50 must-see wonders of the world!” Tours take you inside the world’s largest living research center dedicated to exploring future life on Planet Earth.
Marana Splash Pad
Marana has one of at least 8 splash pads in the Tucson Metro area. This one is located in Marana’s Heritage River Park. We will have to rate the splash pads this summer.
Tohono Chul Park
Southern Arizona Guide has recommended Tohono Chul since we started publishing five years ago. They call it a “crossroads of nature, art and culture”. We agree. Tohono Chul is rated “One of the World’s Ten Best Botanical Gardens” by Travel + Leisure Magazine.
Not only will you enjoy walking the meandering paths through beautiful gardens, you can also enjoy fine art exhibits, and a delicious breakfast or lunch at their Garden Bistro. On our “List of the 10 Best Burgers”, the hamburger at the Garden Bistro was second only to Caton’s Burger Bistro at the Ritz-Carlton. Of all the other offerings on their menu, we have never had a less than outstanding meal at the Garden Bistro; an experience punctuated by the acrobatic flights of delicate hummingbirds.
Dining In Marana
Marana is definitely an up-and-coming City of Gastronomy. There is a long list of restaurants to be found in Marana.
Here are some of the restaurants that we have reviewed many of them are relatively new. Marana is growing.
Baggin’s Gourmet Sandwiches: Good sandwiches and a lot of variety. Fresh bread.
Caton’s Burger Bistro at the Ritz-Carlton golf course: Best Burger In Tucson and the price is not bad.
Core Kitchen & Wine Bar: the fine dining establishment at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel & Resort. We have not eaten there. Pricey.
Barro’s Pizza: New Pizza Joint in Marana. Family-owned based in Phoenix. Best Pizza ever.
Barnfire Mesquite Grill: Great Texas Barbeque in Marana on Cortaro.
Cattlemans Cafe: Country Western dining at Marana stockyards. Live cattle auction every Wednesday make this a most unique dining experience.
Gallery Grille at the Gallery: They claim to offer “Refreshing drinks and a unique menu paired with breathtaking views of the Catalina and Tortolita Mountains.” I don’t doubt this is true, which is why I intend to write a dining review of our experience soon.
Home Plate Marana: Sports Bar.
La Olla Mexican Cafe: Wonderful. Mexican food.
L’il Abners Steakhouse: Old Mesquite Steakhouse in an old Stage Stop.
Mantis Gourmet Chinese: Good Chinese Restaurant in Marana on Cortaro.
Nana’s Kitchen: Sonoran dishes.
San Giorgi’s Coffee Shop: Organic and free trade coffees and teas. Good place for coffee and pastries. Near Costco.
Sky Rider Coffee Shop: Good food, good value. Daily specials, friendly staff. Sky Rider Coffee Shop is located near The Marana Regional Airport (AVQ) and is 5 miles west of Interstate 10 on Avra Valley Road.
Breakfast is available all day long, and ranges from pancakes to huevos rancheros. The Sky Rider specializes in omelets made to suit your personal tastes.
The Station Pub & Grille: Pub grub.
Vera Amore Dove Mountain: Vera Amore on Swan did not quite make our List of Top 10 Pizzas. We have not experienced their pizza at this location.
Marana has a new Shopping mecca, Tucson Premium Outlets on Twin Peaks Road, quite a ways North on Interstate 10. There you will find a Hampton Inn for your shopping convenience.
Off Cortaro along with the other hotels in town, is the Pavilions Shopping District.
There is bound to be one close to you.
Some Annual Events In Marana
Marana Bluegrass Festival each April.
Star Spangled Spectacular each July 4th.
Cotton Festival and Pumpkin Patch in October.
Holiday Festival & Christmas Tree Lighting in December.
You can find more events at MaranaEvents.com and DiscoverMarana.org
Lodging In Marana
Other than the very upscale Ritz-Carlton, Southern Arizona Guide has not reviewed any of the following.
Marana has no fewer than nine chain hotels ranging from budget to mid-range. All are fairly new and should live up to expectations.
Best Western; Comfort Inn & Suites; Days Inn & Suites; Holiday Inn Express; La Quinta Inn & Suites; Motel 6; Red Roof Inn; Super 8; Travel Lodge. Most of these are in the area of the Pavilions Shopping Area and Quarry Pines Golf Course.