Al fresco comes from the Italian phrase “in fresh air.” And with 350 days of sunshine, getting to eat outside is pretty much a year-round occurrence in Tucson. Here we’ve paired some of our favorite restaurants with parks and open spaces nearby, so you can easily and safely explore while you eat.
Despite being called The Little One, this Mexican lunch spot has a big reputation. Founded by the same family that opened Cafe Poca Cosa, The Little One is a small corner cafe that specializes in delicious and authentic plate lunches. All lunches come with a generous helping of beans, rice, tortillas, chips, and salsa. Some of the local favorites include the chicken mole and the chile relleno. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the "Plato Surprise" plate, which includes three secret, speciality items from the kitchen. The Little One is only open during the week and currently only offers food to-go. So stop by, grab a packed plate, and make your way over to El Presidio Plaza.
Once you’ve grabbed your lunch from The Little One, take a three minute walk down West Alameda Street and you’ll arrive at El Presidio Plaza. This large, open-air community center is directly across from Tucson City Hall and offers plenty of space to kickback, eat, and relax. While you’re there, be sure to check out the rose garden and Spanish conquistador statue. You’ll also get a great view of the stunning, turquoise mosaic dome on top of the neighboring Pima County Courthouse.
It might feel like there are hundreds of raspado shops scattered throughout Tucson. And while there are definitely a lot, we think Marymar is one of the best. To begin, a raspado is similar to a snow cone but much more elaborate—consisting of ice, fresh fruit, sweetened condensed milk, and (usually) ice cream. The treats at Marymar are always incredibly fresh and loaded with toppings. There are some staples—like the macedonia and banana split— but the staff is more than happy to customize one to your liking. On a warm, sunny afternoon, there’s nothing better than enjoying a delicious Marymar raspado and a stroll through El Pueblo Park.
Just two blocks down from Marymar is El Pueblo Park. This 32-acre park is part of a larger complex that also includes a community center, a senior center, and a library. There are plenty of shaded, paved walking trails that snake through the whole property if you want to explore. El Pueblo Park itself—which is located on the southernmost part of the complex—has grassy lawns, a playground, horseshoe pits, sand volleyball courts, grills, and picnic tables. This particular park is also part of a program called Park Rx, a public health initiative that promotes healthier communities by prescribing nature as a means of developing an exercise routine. Anyone can walk or run the designated “Park Rx Trail” and log a few miles of exercise for the day.
Great news—you don’t have to travel all the way to the Windy City in order to get some authentic deep dish pizza! Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria—which was featured on the FoodNetwork show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in 2018—has been a Tucson staple for over 20 years. The menu of course includes a wide variety of famous deep dish pizzas, but they also serve hand-tossed thin pizza, calzones, sandwiches, pastas and salads. Be sure to get some of their award-winning chicken wings to start. And if you’re a meat-eater, the Heart Attack Special is a must. Rocco’s offers both takeout and delivery, as well as specialized meal kits for those who want to prep and cook their own pizzas at home. We recommend grabbing a picnic blanket and a pie to-go, and enjoying your slices on the lawn at Reid Park.
A few blocks away from Rocco’s (roughly a 30 minute walk or a six minute drive) sits Reid Park. More formally called Gene C. Reid Park, this place can’t really be classified as a park. While it does have all of the usual facilities (playgrounds, baseball field, picnic tables, and grills) it also has a dog park, gardens, a golf course, and a zoo. This large stretch of green space takes up multiple city blocks and is a true nature haven right in the middle of an urban environment. There are multiple ramadas scattered throughout the park if you’re looking for a place to enjoy some lunch in the shade. The Cole Peterson Rose Garden is another incredible (and fragrant) spot to enjoy a relaxing afternoon. While you’re there, definitely check out the Reid Park Zoo, which boasts an impressive roster of residents including lions, elephants, rhinos, and monkeys.
Saguaro Corners has arguably some of the best views of any restaurant in Tucson. Located less than half a mile from the entrance to Saguaro National Park, you can’t find a closer or more scenic eatery. Saguaro Corners has been serving both park visitors and locals since 1956. Many stop by here on their way out of the park for a quick drink or some bar bites but they do have a full menu, complete with a seared ahi salad, fried chicken, and classic meatloaf. If you’re in a hurry, Saguaro Corners offers mason jar margaritas and Bloody Marys to-go. We highly recommend you enjoy your meal and drinks on the heated outdoor patio though—the views of the neighboring Rincon Mountains will surely not disappoint.
Once you’ve had a chance to fuel up at Saguaro Corners, make your way over to the east side of Saguaro National Park—also called the Rincon Mountain District. This side of the park is larger and more mountainous than the west side. Additionally, the Rincon District has more hiking trails and is the only region where backpacking is allowed (time to unpack those mason jar margaritas). If you plan to drive through this part of the park, Cactus Forest Drive is an incredible loop that provides some of the best views of the surrounding landscape. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a black bear or Mexican spotted owl during your visit.
Not only do all of the places on our list offer incredible, authentic meals and dishes, but they all have open-air seating or takeout. So, what are you waiting for? Grab a seat or grab-and-go, and go enjoy some of that fresh Tucson air.
Banner Photo Credit: Danny Upshaw
Tucson (pronounced TOO-sawn) is the second-largest city in the state of Arizona, with nearly one million residents in the metro area.