After Phoenix, Tucson is the most largely populated city in the state of Arizona. It is in the southern portion of the state, and closer to New Mexico to the east than California to the west.
It is off Interstate 10 and the last major city on the highway until El Paso, Texas, when traveling east. Based on how the I-10 works, traveling west on it from Tucson will bring you to Phoenix before Los Angeles, California, which does mean you travel north for a time.
Tucson is located in Pima County, Arizona and is the county seat.
Tucson is the second largest city in Arizona, at roughly 240 square miles. It is the 33rd largest city in the United States, but actually only the 58th largest when it comes to metropolitan areas.
As of the 2020 census, the population of Tucson was somewhere around 543,000, with the metropolitan area surrounding Tucson totaling over one million.
The metropolitan area of Tucson, which does overflow into nearby towns, includes Catalina, Catalina Foothills, Flowing Wells, Green Valley, Marana, Midvale Park, Oracle, Oro Valley, Sahuarita, Tanque Verde, Tortolita, and Vail. Tucson and Phoenix combined make up the Sun Corridor, which is a growing conurbation.
Tucson is southeast of Phoenix by 108 miles and it takes roughly 2 hours to get from one to the other. Less if you are only driving to the southeastern outskirts of Phoenix.
Tucson is only 60 miles from the US-Mexico border. Taking the I-10 east and then branching off on the I-19 to Sahuarita and then Mexico.
The biggest employers in the Tucson area are the University of Arizona and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Tucson was founded on August 20, 1775, as a military fort by the Spanish. It was part of the state of Sonora after Mexico split from the Spanish Empire in 1821. The United States purchased the area as part of the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.
From 1867 to 1877, Tucson served as the Arizona State Capitol. It was incorporated in 1877, around roughly the same time Prescott became the state capitol again. Tucson was even the most populated city until Phoenix surpassed it in 1920.
Interesting Facts about Tucson
Tucson has light pollution laws in order to support the astronomical observatories in the region. The light pollution means that outdoor lights have a maximum illumination level and require a certain level of shielding. Street lights only face down, for example.
The Tucson Rodeo is the largest non-motorized parade in the entire world.
According to the American Lung Association, Tucson has the third cleanest air of any city in the United States.
The University of Arizona was founded twenty-one years before Arizona was even a state.
Reasons to Visit Tucson
Tucson is home to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Hotel Congress, Mission San Xavier del Bac, the Pima Air and Space Museum, Saguaro National Park. the Tucson Botanical Gardens, and the Tucson Desert Air Museum.
The city itself is very artsy, though there is a lot of industry funded by technology, primarily Raytheon. There is also a lot of manufacturing done in Tucson, particularly optoelectronics and optics, hence the nickname “Optics Valley.”
Cultural Events in Tucson
The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show draws people in from all around the world. It is one of the largest and long-running shows and runs from late January to mid-February.
The Tucson Festival of Books is held in the University of Arizona’s large grassy “mall” every spring. It celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2019. While recent events have made public gatherings hard, the festival now hosts a virtual element. The festival features readings from authors, a science fair, local entertainment, food, and exhibitors.
The Fourth Avenue Street Fair is held twice a year: once in December and once in late March / early April. Along Fourth Avenue, from 9th Street to University Boulevard, crafts booths, food vendors, and street performers set up and gather. It began as a local event, though it has now gained the attention of traveling artists as well.
The Tucson Rodeo is a big event. Students K-12 will often get “Rodeo Week” off in addition to their spring break. Some only get two days in favor of President’s Day. It is inappropriate to wear corporate dress and instead everyone is encouraged to wear Western attire.
Tucson Meet Yourself is celebrated by the city’s many ethnic groups every October. The Deaf and hard of hearing population also has a strong presence at the festival. It features local artwork, performances, and food. The University of Arizona’s Special Collections Library holds records of the past 30 years of Tucson Meet Yourself.
All Souls Procession is held on or around Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. It began in 1990 with only around 35 people, though by 2013 it had gained participation beyond 50 thousand. It is a non-motorized procession that starts at sundown featuring floats, memorials, and sculptures. There are also performances at the stage at the end of the parade.
Mount Lemmon has something for anyone with an appreciation of the outdoors. There is a 27-mile scenic byway full of switchbacks and pullouts to view the desert landscape. There’s also plenty of places for people to bike, hike, or even ski in the winter.
Thanks to the light pollution laws, Tucson is a great place to stargaze. Whether you book a night at Kitt Peak observatory, Oracle State Park, or just anywhere out of the center of the city, you will find an amazing view of the stars.
Tucson is a very bike friendly city. Most every major road has a bike lane and there is a recently completed loop system that spans 131 total miles.
There is a lot of quirkiness about Tucson. The city has a lot of charm, a lot of culture, and a lot of food. Be sure to check it out if you’re ever in the area.
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