Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Arizona Gems: Tubac and Tumacacori

Road trips never let us down.  There is always some wonderful place to be discovered when setting out; sometimes by pure happenstance and other times by recommendations of friends.  The latter is what took us to Tubac and Tumacacori, Arizona.

Our Tucson friends, Jeanie and Hal, graciously loaded us up and headed out on a spectacular day of discovery (for us) last week. And while you are trying to get your tongues twisted around those names let me tell you where you can find them. . .


The two are only about three miles apart, an hour south of Tucson along Interstate 19  not far from the Mexico/US border.  They are bordered to the east by Madera Canyon.

126Tubac, established in 1752, is today “Where Art and History Meet” according to its promotional materials. The town’s Presidio of San Ignacia de Tubac was the first military base in Arizona and  first European settlement.  In 1860 it was the largest town in Arizona.

Today the small town is an art-lovers paradise.   Galleries and showrooms, studios and retail shops fill the old adobe and wood-frame buildings. Fine art to Mexican made trinkets are to be found as you wander through the streets and plazas.

The streets and shops were pretty empty on the morning of our visit – quite a change from when they swell with the crowds who flock to its many special annual events like October’s Anza Days, December’s Luminaria Nights, February’s Car Nuts Show and also in February, the Tubac Festival of the Arts – one of the oldest art fairs in the southwest, featuring musicians and artists from throughout the United States and Canada.

For history buffs, the town’s Presidio State Historic Park, site of the oldest Spanish military outpost in Arizona,  includes the 1885 School, a visitors center and museum, picnic grounds and the Juan Bautista de Ana National Historic Trail.

While the town has numerous eateries as well, it was a place ‘just down the road’ that Jeanie and Hal recommended and are we ever glad they did!


Wisdom’s Café opened its doors along the old Nogales Highway back in 1944. Like so many mom-and-pop businesses, it closed  those  doors in 1979 when the newly opened Interstate 19 diverted traffic.  By 1980 it had come back to life with the help of owners’ Howard and Petra Wisdom’s adult children. . .it’s now a ‘destination’ place and has been written up in the New York Times.  (I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of the chicken in the parking lot.)

130Next time we’ll eat dessert first, here because we had no room for Wisdom’s World Famous Fruit Burro, a crispy burrito filled with your choice of fruit and topped with vanilla ice cream.

Then it was a bit further south for a stop at the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Co. and Ranch Museum where we stocked up on packages, jars and boxes of every kind of spice imaginable – especially the chili’s.

We didn’t have time to visit  Abe’s Old Tumacacori Bar, where octogenarian Abe Trujillo has been pouring cool ones for more than 60 years at his family’s bar.  We missed the moose head and some 1,000 empty whiskey bottles that are on display but we know there’ll be another visit to this area  one day and hopefully Abe will still be pouring. . .

Map picture

Tubac: Tubac Chamber of Commerce, 50 Bridge Road, 85646, phone 520-398-2704, www.TubacAZ.com

Wisdom’s Café, 1931 E. Frontage Rd., Tumacacori, AZ 85640, 520-398-2397 (1/2 mile north of the Tumacacori Mission and three miles south of Tubac).  www.wisdomscafe.com

Wisdom’s also has a vacation rental casita across the street from the restaurant.  We took a look and it is beautifully decorated in Southwest style. Rates: $79 – $99 per night, two-night minimum. For information:  520-991-9652 or email: celeste@wisdomscafe.com

Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Co., 1868 E. Frontage Road, Tumacacori, Arizona, 86640, 520-398-2591, www.santacruzchili.com for hours.

Abe’s Old Tumacacori Bar, 1900 E. Frontage Road, 520-398-1227, open daily from 2 p.m. – 2 a.m.


  1. We spent a night in Tubac a few years ago and loved the area. It's one place where I wish we'd had more time to explore the shops.

  2. I am with you on that one. I'd like to rent the casita at Wisdom's and just out exploring for a couple of days with that as our base.

  3. Just my kind of place for the art and the cafe! Very nicely shown in your photo series here.


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