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Winter Travel 2013: Tucson, Arizona

DESERT SANCTUARY: Where you can gaze into the night sky and let your mind rest

Villas at Miraval

Villas at Miraval

Tucson, Arizona

Where you can gaze into the night sky and let your mind rest

By Elaine Glusac

From World War I veterans to modern spa mavens, travelers have historically flocked to Tucson for rest and rehab. Embracing that spirit of reinvention, the city has emerged as a leader in the environmental scene by, for example, keeping the lights low at night so that the stars shine brightly and building a new mass transit streetcar system, set to open late this year. Add in the gorgeously sunny winter weather and doable flight from Chicago and you’ve got an even more compelling reason to go.

Taking a creative approach to urban renewal, a local couple has resuscitated a 1938 motor court as the Monterey Court Studio Galleries & Café (520-207-2429, montereycourtaz.com). It houses art galleries and local artisan stands as well as a café and an outdoor stage with live music most evenings. Development around the upcoming streetcar line includes the emerging Mercado District. There, the year-old Mercado San Agustin (520-461-1107, mercadosanagustin.com), built with LEED gold standards in mind, hosts a weekly farmers’ market, a Mexican-style snow cone shop, and the French destination restaurant Agustin Brasserie (520-398-5382, agustinbrasserie.com).

Changes are also afoot at the swanky Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa (800-232-3969, miravalresorts.com). You’ll find a new spa facility, featuring indoor and outdoor fire pits and a wall of windows framing the Santa Catalina Mountains—plus Naga, a form of Thai massage in which the therapist uses aerial silks to support her weight as she kneads your knots and stress away with her feet.

Even food, at least sometimes, has a higher purpose here. Two years ago, the celebrated chef Janos Wilder teamed with the Children’s Museum of Tucson, a neighbor of his Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails (520-623-7700, downtownkitchen.com), to plant a produce garden. The 300-square-foot plot serves as a teaching exhibit for kids and a source for seasonal salads and other dishes on the restaurant’s global menu.

How to Commune with Nature

1. CACTUS SPOTTING Tucson’s enduring appeal centers around anthropomorphic saguaro cacti, which are preserved in Saguaro National Park (2700 N. Kinney Rd., 520-733-5158, nps.gov/sagu). The park splits into two halves that bracket the city. Visit Bajada Loop Drive in early or late light for postcard snaps.

2. MUSEUM GOING Near the park’s western preserve, the 21-acre Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (2021 N. Kinney Rd., 520-883-2702) has long been the place to see native critters—such as ocelots, Mexican gray wolves, and mountain lions (above)— that you aren’t likely to see while hiking. This season, the museum opens an aquarium focusing on the Sonoran Desert’s link to the Sea of Cortez.

3. BIRDING Train your binocs on the region’s many migrants with a free urban birding tour offered by the Tucson Audubon Society (tucsonaudubon.org). Destinations vary but include daily walks at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and weekly hikes at Agua Caliente Park on the east side of town.

Where to Stay

In addition to its signature equine therapy, Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa (800-232-3969, miravalresorts.com; from $400 a person, including meals and a $150 spa credit) now offers Clarins beauty treatments. Watch hummingbirds buzz the cacti around the pool at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa (520-792-3500, jwmarriottstarrpass.com; from $249). Part historical landmark, part music club, the Hotel Congress (520-622-8848, hotelcongress.com; from $89) is Tucson’s downtown creative hive. Book here to listen in, and don’t expect an early bedtime.

Getting There

Direct flights to hassle-free Tucson International Airport aboard American or Southwest take less than four hours; round trips start at around $415. Although the downtown and campus districts are pedestrian-friendly, you’ll want a rental car to explore the parks and outdoors.

 

Photograph: Courtesy Miraval

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