Tubac is a tiny Southern Arizona community just 25 miles north of the US-Mexican border. Tubac was established in 1752, making it one of Arizona’s oldest towns. It is home to Arizona’s 1st state park (Tubac Presidio) and the oldest Spanish Colonial Presidio Site in Arizona. Tubac is a popular daytrip destination from Tucson, particularly during the hot summer season when temps in Tubac tend to be about 10 degrees cooler. This may not seem like much, however, every lit bit helps when those desert temps start soaring into the 100’s!
The small community of just over 1000 lies just 40 miles south of Tucson, making for an easy day trip. The town is most known for being an arts colony, with over 130 art galleries and various art festivals taking place throughout the year. Tubac has become a popular Arizona destination for art lovers. It’s a must visit for any Southern Arizona locals & tourists looking to explore the regional art scene.
Although the town itself is a bit overrated (I wouldn’t recommend making a trip especially out here), it is an option if you are looking for more to do during your Tucson vacation or as a quick stop on any roadtrip through the Southern Arizona region. Those interested in art, pottery, and boutique shopping are most likely to appreciate a visit to Tubac. Here are a few interesting things to do if you find yourself in Tubac.
Shop for handmade pottery pieces
I have to admit that the shops in Tubac sell some of the most amazing handmade pottery pieces that I have ever come across. If you are looking to stock up on unique Southwestern style gifts, the local shops in Tubac definitely will not disappoint! Compared to the boring solid color plant pots you find at most home and garden shops, these pottery pieces are so eclectic and colorful!
Pictured above is one of the more interesting pieces I picked up in one of the boutique shops. If you are looking for a unique cactus for your new pot, a stop at B&B Cactus Farm in Tucson is an absolute must! This local cactus nursery has every desert plant you could ever imagine – it’s one of the hidden gems in the city!
Browse the art galleries
Tubac has been drawing in art lovers since the first art school opened in 1948. As there are over 100 galleries in town, you should be able to keep yourself busy for quite a while! One of my favorites is the K Newby Gallery and Sculpture Garden. The grounds are amazing to stroll around and the sculptures so unique and beautiful. Additionally, The Tubac Center of the Arts is worth a look. Plus, it’s free thanks to the generosity of local artists.
Be on the lookout for special art festivals throughout the year as well as the spring art walk which features special exhibits and special entertainment. And keep your calendar marked for the Tubac Festival of the Arts featuring 70 visiting artists (held in February each year) and the Fall Arts and Crafts Festival featuring more than 100 art booths (held in November each year). Check the Tubac Chamber of Commerce for this year’s art events lineup.
Dinner at Elvira’s
Elvira’s is an eclectic Mexican restaurant which originally opened in 1927 in Nogales, Sonora Mexico. As most of Elvira’s business consisted of Americans, the Sonora location eventually closed and new more convenient locations opened up in both Tubac and Tucson. The highlight of visiting Elvira’s (aside from the eclectic menu), is the beautiful interior design. The unique glass blown art design truly is enchanting, creating a setting like no other in the state.
The food here is authentic Mexican fare so you do not need to travel across the border. Although insanely overpriced, the unique selections and authenticity still warrant a visit. Try the Quesadillas Poblanas (turnovers stuffed with prickly pear, jalapenos, poblano chiles, roasted corn, and chihuana cheese, and smothered with green salsa)!
Hike the Anza Trail
In Tubac, you can hike a portion of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, a 1200 mile trail which runs from Noagales, Arizona to San Francisco. The Anza trail in Tubac includes a 4.5 mile section which runs between Tumacácori National Historic Park to Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. If you are coming from Tucson, it should be a nice break from the heat as the path is shady and home to a diverse variety of trees not found on the Tucson trails. It’s a great choice for anyone looking to escape it all for a while. Birdwatching opportunities are excellent.
Shop for hand blown glass
Many of the galleries and boutiques around Tubac feature beautiful hand blown glass art. The shops offer all sorts of unique knick knicks which make for perfect birthday and Christmas gifts. Or, pick up a few of these gorgeous glass pieces as an eclectic addition to your home collection. They sell all sorts of trinkets – wine glasses, drinking glasses, ornaments, and much more. Additionally, the Cobalt Fine Arts Gallery features the best collection of art glass in the area.
Tubac is about 40 minutes south of Tucson off I-19. The address for the official visitors center is: 1 Burruel St. Be aware that there is a border patrol checkpoint just north of the city.
Tip: If you are interested in history & architecture, stop for a quick detour at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, conveniently located right along the route from Tucson to Tubac ( 1950 W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746). This gorgeous Spanish Catholic Mission, built in 1692, is the oldest European structure in Arizona. It’s completely free to visit and will not take up much of your time.