Enjoy Tucson’s best takeout in picnic-perfect settings
Experience a year-round phenomenon in Southern Arizona…picnics! Let local delis and markets do the heavy lifting so your crew can stay in vacation mode. And stay outside. Because really, what’s more Arizonan than sharing a meal surrounded by the beauty of the Sonoran Desert? Up your alfresco game with these local favorites.
Provisions: Take your pick from the many portable food options at Mercado San Agustín and MSA Annex. The open-air plaza and shipping-container shopping complex along Santa Cruz River Park serves up street tacos from Seis Kitchen, veggie burgers from Beaut, and sushi rolls from Kukai. Be sure to add a box of Mexican pastries from La Estrella Bakery. With lunch in hand, drive up to “A” Mountain, just a few blocks away.
Setting: Sentinel Peak, or “A” Mountain, offers a quick urban getaway with the best views in town. The mountaintop park has a few picnic tables and ramadas, but it sees steady traffic during the day so prepare to tailgate. Rocky paths lead to the “A”—built by University of Arizona students in 1916—and full-circle views of the metro and surrounding mountain ranges.
Calories In, Calories Out
Provisions: Ask anyone in Tucson if they know where Baggin’s Gourmet is, and they’ll mention two or three nearby. They might even reveal that the Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese enters uncharted territory and that cream cheese on any sandwich just makes sense. For almost four decades, Tucson’s favorite sandwich shop has grown to 11 locations. No need to bring extra sweets to the picnic—each bag comes with a chocolate chip cookie hidden inside.
Setting: The Baggin’s location at Speedway and Kolb is almost six miles south of another Tucson tradition, Sabino Canyon. Pack in gourmet sandwiches and ride the tram into the canyon. Many picnic tables dot the winding route through the Santa Catalina foothills. Hop off the tram when the mood strikes and enjoy a waterside picnic surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the Coronado National Forest. Hike off lunch on any of the marked trails before hopping back on the tram.
A Tucson Twofer
Provisions: At Tucson Tamale Co., choose from green chile pork, chipotle beef, or red chile chicken tamales, plus vegan options such as blue corn veggie or black bean tamales. These steamed packages of regional flavor add a punch to picnic spreads, especially when dabbed with housemade chile sauces. Add sides of pinto beans and Spanish rice to eat like a local. Sneak in some pumpkin tamales for a sweet finish that will remind the crew of Thanksgiving.
Setting: From Tucson Tamale Co.’s eastside location on Tanque Verde Road, head 15 minutes east to a desert oasis near Saguaro National Park East. Agua Caliente Park, named for the warm-water ponds formed by springs below, is a hidden gem perfect for a family picnic. Find plenty of shaded tables or spread a blanket on the grass, and look for the native critters that congregate under a canopy of mature mesquite trees and towering palms. After lunch, visit the art gallery, visitor center, and Tucson Audubon Society Nature Shop on-site.
Points of Pride
Provisions: Sandwiches taste better with locally sourced produce and bread baked in house. At Time Market, the wood-fired pizzas are heaped with housemade ingredients, too, such as mozzarella and fennel sausage. Within walking distance of The University of Arizona campus, this local gem combines a deli, bakery, coffee shop, and market to help visitors picnic like pros.
Setting: Any trip to Tucson should include a visit to The University of Arizona campus. From the market, stroll east a few blocks on University Boulevard and enter the campus through Main Gate. Grab the covered picnic ramada next to Centennial Hall if it’s available. Or, find pockets of shade and patches of grass along the mall or around Old Main, the original building at Arizona’s first university, established in 1891.
Provisions: The “sausage” in Sausage Deli dates back to the shop’s roots as a German grocery store in the 1970s. In the decades since, students at The University of Arizona have made this tasty midtown sandwich shop a local staple. Today, sausage and peppers are on the menu on Wednesdays, but plenty of hearty choices like the Reuben or meatball sub are always available. Other options, smeared with grainy mustard, horseradish, or sauerkraut, make these grown-up, dinner-worthy sandwiches perfect for a sunset picnic.
Setting: Take Speedway Boulevard about 10 miles west until the cacti in the dense saguaro forest outnumber the houses. As you approach the crest in the Tucson Mountains, pull over at the Gates Pass scenic overlook. From there, rugged trails lead to places to perch on rocks and watch the best sunsets in town. Plan a return trip to visit two of Tucson’s iconic attractions, Old Tucson and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, located in the valley below.