Tucson, Arizona

The Hottest Playground

Sabino Canyon, Tucson

Sabino Canyon, Tucson     Photo: Scott Warren

POPULATION: 520,116
MEDIAN AGE:
33
MEDIAN ANNUAL SALARY: $35,565
MEDIAN HOME VALUE:
$162,400
VOTES:
5,925 (27%)

The Grand Canyon State largely deserves its reputation as a place of unchecked sprawl and snowbird escapism. Tucson works hard to be the exception. Growing organically out of the Sonoran ­Desert, it’s by far the most forward-thinking community in the state, thanks largely to the University of Arizona. In 2010, mayor Bob Walkup declared his town the Winter Training Capital of America, and he wasn’t full of hot air: flanked by five mountain ­ranges, Tucson is prime workout ground for pro cycling teams and triathletes. ­Providing the pulse is a young population that betrays ­Arizona’s retiree stereotype: the clubs, restaurants, and vintage shops along Fourth ­Avenue are a slice of Greenwich Village, and because the Old Pueblo is eminently ­affordable, it’s long been home to a strong community of artists, writers, chefs, and envi­ronmentalists. The burritos? You could eat a different one every day of the year.

Staying Power: Last year, Tucson decided that its 700 miles of bike lanes weren’t being used effectively, so it’s now transforming 170 miles of slower streets into mixed-use bike boulevards to encourage cycling. And with a healthy tech sector anchored by defense contractor Raytheon, the university, and an ­accelerating number of solar and clean-tech startups, employment has held steady throughout the recession.

Playgrounds: Starting on the city’s northeast boundary, the road ride up Mount Lemmon goes from 2,500 feet to 9,000 in 26 miles—with the country’s southernmost ski resort at the top and 5.6–5.13 crags along the way. Sabino Canyon, in the northern foothills, has 235 miles of rolling, saguaro-studded running trails, and 30 minutes south of the city is Madera Canyon, offering some of the best birding in the country.

The Voters Speak: “Moun­tain views, big night skies, and ­lightning during the monsoons.” “El Charro: margaritas and carne seca burritos.” “You don’t have to shovel sun­shine!”

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