Souvenirs of the Southwest

Where to Find Reminders of Tucson to Take Home

By Stacey Gregory

Tucson is a magical place that beckons to people from all over the world. Whether you’re visiting the desert or you call this amazing landscape home, you surely want to purchase souvenirs for yourself and your loved ones. We’ve rounded up four one-of-a-kind shops to find mementos and keepsakes to treasure for years to come.

Why I Love Where I Live

Photography by Betsy & John Photography

What began as an exercise to seek beauty in a city she initially didn’t want to live in became a celebration of the Tucson lifestyle for transplant Kristin Tovar. It all started when she met and married Alex, a Tucson local who didn’t want to leave the Old Pueblo. Camera in hand, she set out to find beauty in the desert, posting on her Instagram page called Why I Love Where I Live. Her account struck a chord with people near and far, growing an active following. The page led to community art events, which led to a T-shirt design, which led to more products the couple sold at local markets. Eventually, they ran out of room storing wares at their home, and the 320-square-foot brick-and-mortar store opened in the Mercado Annex in May 2018.

Today, you can find a wide variety of Tucson-centric products, many of which are designed by local artists, displayed about the expanded 800-square-foot location in the Annex. The white space is the perfect backdrop for the colorful creations that adorn shirts, socks, hats, stickers, patches, ornaments, and more. There’s even a children’s section designed to infuse a love of where they live in kids through clothing, books, and games.

The Happy Saguaro

Photography by Betsy & John Photography

For more than 30 years, The Happy Saguaro has been the place where Tucsonans and visitors alike shop for Southwest home decor and unique gifts. The store itself is a sight to behold, with personally hand-selected pottery and art that is sourced directly from Mexico, Native American reservations and nearby Southwest states covering the floor, walls, and ceilings, many in bright, vivid colors that excite your imagination.  

Sacred art includes milagros (the Mexican sacred heart), crosses, statues of religious figures, and catrinas (elegantly dressed skeleton figures used as a symbol of the Día de Los Muertos celebration). For your home, discover beautiful collections of ceramic tableware, glassware, lighting, furniture, and Talavera and Native American pottery. 

The wonderland of Southwest goods spills out onto a patio filled with small to supersized pots and metal home and garden accents in all shapes and sizes from barrel cacti for your garden to kokopellis and geckos to hang on your walls. You’ll even find apparel, handbags, and jewelry.

Creative Kind

Photography by Susannah Lynn

A quest to connect with new people led Theresa Delaney to host her first workshop where people from around Tucson gathered to create a fun DIY project. She grew from hosting workshop pop-ups in restaurants to a downtown venue to what is now known as Creative Kind, a brick-and-mortar shop at the La Encantada Shopping Center in the Santa Catalina Foothills. More than a shop, Creative Kind is a place for people to gather, connect over creativity, and make or discover something beautiful through weekly instructed craft workshops, experiential online workshops, and drop-in DIY projects, as well as through curated goods for sale from small businesses and local makers.

The moment you enter Creative Kind, you are enveloped in the soft beige and orange hues of the desert. It’s a fitting spot to discover desert-inspired vinyl stickers, notepads, jewelry, postcards, candles, and even salts and cocktail mixes from Arizona. With a Creative Kind Circle membership, you can join in the fun anywhere in the world by participating in online workshops and accessing a full library of DIY downloads and mini videos, message boards, live events, and more.

& Gallery

Photography provided by & Gallery

Fourth Avenue is lined with shops, bars, and restaurants, to be sure. One eclectic shop is actually an art gallery “for weirdos” called & Gallery. The concept is pretty brilliant. The gallery is owned by Eat Sleep Work, a design and marketing company based in Los Angeles, California. The front is the retail shop where you can purchase prints and merchandise created by Tucson artists. The next section is an exhibition space for art events and shows. Even further back is the Eat Sleep Work office where web design and marketing magic happens. 

The white-and-black walls inside & Gallery are adorned with contemporary art, pop art, and unusually wild and wacky creations by local artists, including many up-and-coming young artists. Choose from high-end and limited-edition art prints, comic books, toy sculptures, and stickers. Frequently found works include Marcoso’s pop art, Gabby Vee’s loud and graphic comic punk comic books, Ben Mackey’s comic books, and soft and cartoony fun works by Sophie Mictear, a well-known nonbinary artist.

No matter which shop you choose, you’re sure to find the perfect mementos to remind you of your time exploring Tucson, to give as thoughtful gifts, or to celebrate the love you have of where you live. When you do stop by, be sure and tell them you saw it first in Tucson Guide.

The Patio, Please: 10 Perfect Restaurant Patios

By Elise McClain

Tucson is home to some of the Southwest’s most breathtaking outdoor spaces. Why not take it all in over a delicious meal? From bohemian patios to epic courtyards, enjoy stunning views, great food, and unparalleled ambiance at one of these 10 spectacular restaurant patios.

Caruso’s Italian Restaurant

Dine on a patio that has served fine Italian food to the Tucson area for more than 60 years. Caruso’s, located in the Historic Fourth Avenue District, is a family-owned and -operated community favorite. Pass through the green wrought iron entrance from the hustle and bustle of downtown and enter the welcoming and secluded patio. Enjoy traditional Zagona family recipes complete with handmade sauce that has been made by a family member for three generations at tables adorned with red and white checkered tablecloths, under romantically lit trellises.

The Cup Café 

The Cup Café, located in the historic Hotel Congress, has served Tucson residents for three decades. Situated in the heart of downtown, The Cup (as locals call it) offers a wide array of dishes from their all-day menu (breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast anyone?). Enjoy the relaxed patio atmosphere, paired with world-class huevos rancheros, fresh-baked pies, and locally sourced coffee. 

Noble Hops Gastropub

Admire the sweeping mountain views of Pusch Ridge at Tucson’s original gastropub, Noble Hops in Oro Valley. This spacious, 750-square-foot, rustic patio is perfect for any season. With built-in heaters, large gas firepits, and cooling water misters, guests can enjoy near-panoramic views of the Santa Catalina Mountains year-round while sipping on locally brewed craft beer and devouring gastropub fine fare.

Tavolino Ristorante Italiano 

At Tavolino Ristorante Italiano, enjoy access to a chic, comfortable, and secluded patio in the Santa Catalina Foothills. Dine on fresh, award-winning Italian fare while taking in the stunning desert surroundings from this European-style porch. Known for its sophisticated atmosphere, Tavolino Ristorante Italiano serves as the perfect date night spot. 

Cafe Passé

This bohemian patio is located on the historic Fourth Avenue, and is accessible through Cafe Passé, which bills itself as a café and drinkery. In the back, visitors will find a private and intimate patio shaded by mesquite and palo verde trees. On any given day, guests can enjoy some of Tucson’s best caffeinated brews and craft cocktails — with or without breakfast, brunch, or lunch, as well as live music and poetry readings. 

The Boxyard

Ever been to a shipping container food hall before? Check out The Boxyard, located on Fourth Avenue and constructed entirely of recycled cargo containers. Inside this complex are four restaurants, two bars, a coffee shop, and both ground-level and rooftop patio spaces. Perfect for groups, the Boxyard caters to all types of tastes and culinary interests, using an epic courtyard to tie it all together. Enjoy the airy outdoor space surrounded by murals and local public art, while indulging in delicious brews and chews. 

St. Philip’s Plaza

Perhaps one of the most iconic patios in the Tucson area, St. Philip’s Plaza serves as a large, communal drinking and dining space for local-favorite restaurants Union Public House, Reforma, and Proof Artisanal Pizza. Grab some grub from any of these establishments and spread out beneath the shaded eucalyptus trees and twinkling patio lights to drink and dine. Plus, you’ll find boutique shopping, galleries, and professional offices, as well as live music, and a weekend farmers market.

Tohono Chul Garden Bistro

Picture The Secret Garden, but paired with a world-class restaurant that serves locally sourced ingredients and craft cocktails—that’s Tohono Chul Garden Bistro. Nestled away in the lush and verdant landscaping of Tohono Chul park, this bistro patio is the perfect place to steal away for brunch. Enjoy a dish from their seasonal menu, sip on their signature Prickly Pear Margarita, and recharge. After dining on the patio, tour the gardens, visit the galleries, or check out the gift shop and on-site nursery.

The Mercado San Agustín and MSA Annex

The Mercado San Agustín offers a wide array of shopping and dining experiences in one spot. Boasting local coffee roasters, boutiques, bakeries, and restaurants, this Spanish Colonial-style courtyard is always bustling with activity. Dine on tacos from the local favorite Seis Kitchen while enjoying live music outside. Or indulge in Agustín Kitchen for a candlelit date night under the stars. And with the MSA Annex located just down the street, patrons can experience beautiful open-air dining and shopping from recycled and modified shipping containers. Relish in the juxtaposition of these two spaces as you dine on delicious delicacies and shop from local merchants.

Locale Neighborhood Italian 

Locale Neighborhood Italian opened its doors in December 2020 in a 1939 historic farmhouse located near Alvernon Way and Broadway Boulevard in midtown. It took a year to transform the 8,000-square-foot space into a modern Italian restaurant, complete with an expansive wrap-around patio. The menu is inspired by the deeply rooted culinary traditions of Italy and enriched with ingredients grown by Arizona family farms. It should come as no surprise the lasagna is their most popular dish. You’ll also find a variety of salads, appetizers, pasta dishes (some served family-style), Roman-style pizzas, sandwiches, and entrées, including American classics such as the Locale Burger and a rib eye. Sit inside or outside, where centuries-old palm trees dot the landscape for a perfect place to stop for a meal or to simply have a cocktail in this urban oasis.

South Tucson, a Community of Culture and Cuisine

Story and Photography by C. Jill Hofer

The city of South Tucson is a one-of-a-kind enclave, nestled entirely within the Tucson city limits. Those yet to discover this tiny municipality are in for a big surprise. Affectionately known as the Pueblo within a city, South Tucson boasts a triple crown of community, cuisine, and culture.

Community 

The sense of community begins at the borders, where colorful mosaics mark the city limits. Incorporated in 1936, South Tucson occupies just over one square mile, with these welcoming borders at 26th and 40th Streets to the north and south, 12th Avenue to the east, and 2nd Avenue and the train tracks to the west. The eye-catching mosaics welcoming drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians are thanks to the Las Artes Youth Art Program. Students ages 17 to 22 work together to create the inspiring public artworks. In exchange, the budding artists build self-confidence and receive on-the-job training as well as a stipend for their community service. 

The community is an official municipality with its own police force, fire department, schools (within the TUSD district), city council, city manager, and mayor. The area is home to supportive, community-building organizations such as the John Valenzuela Youth Center, Sam Lena South Tucson Library, the House of Neighborly Services, numerous churches, and other health and human service agencies. 

As Tucson expands upward and outward, the city of South Tucson is retaining its sense of community and unique identity while feeling nearer to downtown with each passing year. Past census data indicates the area is home to an estimated 5,700 residents and just under 2,000 households, a tiny fraction of the size of Tucson. The city is small but growing and drawing more investment, visitors, and attention than ever before. It’s gaining favor with businesses and attracting bohemians, artists, and musicians to live, work, and visit. Forward-thinking creatives are beginning to repurpose homes and buildings, and the arrival of residents seeking more-affordable housing options is reenergizing, and somewhat redefining, the community.

Cuisine

What’s bringing this attention to South Tucson? For many, the initial draw is a quest for authentic Mexican food. When it comes to cuisine, the city of South Tucson puts the “city” in authenticity. A nationally recognized food scene has for decades lured diners from Tucson, elsewhere in the state of Arizona, and beyond in search of “real deal” Mexican food. Foodies flock to well-known favorites such as 

Crossroads, Micha’s Restaurant, and Mi Nidito Restaurant, which was made famous with a 1999 visit by President Clinton.

Cuisine isn’t limited to true-to-roots Mexican heritage food. Visitors here enjoy other landmarks such as Sue’s Fish & Chips and the Café Santa Rosa which specializes in Sonoran and Native American cuisines. Diners also delight in an array of innovative twists including a growing number of vegetarian and vegan options. 

Healthy choices are rapidly multiplying as restaurants respond to a sustained wave of interest in fresh, locally sourced, healthy dining. As they have for decades, the city’s chefs and restaurant owners pioneer their own brand of Mexican, Sonoran, and Native American cuisine with a nod to current trends and interests. El Torero has drawn countless diners to the area with the lure of the original Lerua’s tamale—a regional favorite—and is leading the way with an array of creative vegan options. The University of Arizona has its own presence with The Garden Kitchen, offering seed-to-table gardening and cooking education, nutrition information, and physical activity opportunities.

Culture

Delicious food is clearly a highlight. But before or after devouring that classic tamale, flavorful Sonoran hot dog, or fluffy frybread, look beyond the menu to discover the other flavors of South Tucson. Here, culture is not synonymous with spotless, flawless, or perfect. Photogenic streets are still a little rough around the edges. Artful mosaics are appreciated through chain link fences, and colorful murals can be seen on walls with slightly crumbling corners. The rugged beauty fits well with the renegade history of the city.  

This history, a fierce sense of independence, and an easy, confident, slow-paced vibe define the culture of South Tucson. A relaxed pace of life exists alongside bustling streets and busy avenues lined with thriving businesses. A quick drive offers a glimpse of many of the more than 300 businesses operating in this relatively small area: markets and banks, printers and designers, auto repair shops, and of course, restaurants. Commerce goes beyond the expected convenience stores and chain pharmacies to include a myriad of specialty stores like Handyman’s Haven, numerous tortillerias, meat markets, and grocery purveyors, large and small.  

Overnight stays are available in the Arizona Motel and Paradise Inn Motel. Taverns such as the Saint Charles Tavern and Club 4th Avenue are known for their lively events, music, and loyal regulars. Music, heritage, and camaraderie can be found in abundance at El Casino Ballroom, with a history inextricably tied to the Latin American Social Club. Families reserve the venue year-round for private events and special occasions, and music lovers flock to concerts hosted here by KXCI Community Radio. Those who appreciate art can choose from a myriad of original creations at Galeria Mitotera, a collaborative gallery space showcasing local talent and artists of color. 

There’s a lot to discover in South Tucson. This pueblo within a city is attracting visitors and new neighbors with a sense of community, extraordinary cuisine, and an abundance of cultural offerings. Take a drive, stroll the streets, stop and shop, call for take-out, or make reservations at one of the many restaurants offering dine-in options. See, hear, and taste for yourself why the word is out about this not-so-hidden gem.

To learn more, visit southtucsonaz.gov, check out related pages on Instagram, or dive a little deeper by reading Pulido del Barrio Libre: The Life of Reynaldo M. Santa Cruz, by Renaldo Santa Cruz.