Article Overview: Pros & Cons of Living in Tucson
Are you considering moving to Tucson? You’ve come to the right place.
My family has lived in Tucson for generations calling this beautiful valley city home for over a century.
In Tucson you’ll find incredible natural scenery, delicious food, vibrant neighborhoods, and abundant sunshine.
Now I must say it isn’t all sunshine and street tacos here. There are some considerable downsides to living in Tucson as well that should be taken into consideration for anyone contemplating a move here.
In this article I’ll detail the top pros and cons of living in Tucson for you to consider. Keep in mind, these are based on my own personal experience and not everyone is of the same mind.
Ready to dive in? Let’s get to it.
Table of Contents: Living in Tucson
Living in Tucson
- Pros & Cons of Living in Tucson, Arizona
- Pros of Moving to Tucson
- Cons of Living in Tucson
- Retiring in Tucson FAQ
- Cost of Living in Tucson
- Pros & Cons of Living in Tucson (Summary)
- Map of Tucson
Pros & Cons of Living in Tucson, Arizona
Pros of Moving to Tucson
1. Winters Are Pure Bliss
Few places in the US are more popular as a winter destination than Tucson, Arizona. Whereas most of the country experiences short days, freezing temperatures, and icy precipitation during this time of year, living in Tucson becomes even more enjoyable.
Winter highs are right around 70ºF (21ºC) while lows are stay around 40ºF (4ºC).
Beyond the pleasant temperatures, the abundant sunshine is in stark contrast to what most of the US experiences as well.
Living in Tucson I find the city really come alive in the winter months as folks can enjoy all parts of the day with smiles on our faces due to the weather.
2. The Active Lifestyle
It’s no secret, the Old Pueblo is full of great outdoor recreation opportunities. This in turn makes staying active while living in Tucson fairly easy most months of the year.
You can read stunning mountain environments from all edges of town! It’s no wonder why hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities among Tucsonans.
A few of my favorites Tucson hikes are up in Saguaro National Park: Wasson Peak, Loma Verde Trail, and Kings Canyon.
Beyond that, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding and birding are all very popular pastimes for locals. Over 350 different bird species have been spotted in Tucson area making the city something of a birders paradise.
3. The Low Cost of Living in Tucson
Moving to Tucson to save on living expenses? Hard to blame you. I know that most places in America are no longer affordable. Housing prices have skyrocketed across the country, and Tucson is not immune from increasing living expenses.
However, Tucson routinely ranks among the top cities with the lowest cost of living in the United States. If you land a decent paying job, you’ll find that living in Tucson is still deemed affordable.
In fact, the cost of living in Tucson is 3% below the national average. Grocery and food bills are significantly cheaper in Tucson beating the national average by more than 40%. Housing and rents are 25% below the national average as well (more on that below).
4. Great Neighborhood Vibes
If you’re looking for distinctive neighborhoods with character you’ll find plenty living in Tucson. In fact, one of my favorite parts of living Tucson is that there’s a neighborhood for every mood.
Looking for something vibrant & artsy? Check out Dunbar Springs. Fancy & expensive? Catalina Foothills. Young & lively? Try Sam Hughes. Historic? See El Presidio.
Below I’ve listed each of my favorite neighborhoods in Tucson with some adjectives & descriptors to help give you an idea of what each one is about.
Tucson Neighborhoods to See
- Armory Park: Close to downtown, family friendly, cool bars, nice cafes,
- Barrio Viejo: Near downtown, Mexican culture, cantinas, margaritas, diverse, parks
- Catalina Foothills: Expensive, beautiful mountain views, great hiking trails, great schools
- Civano: Southeast Tucson, energy efficient solar, mountain views, nature, natural desert vibes
- Dunbar Spring: North of downtown, colorful, creatives, art scene, quiet, good schools, family friendly, good restaurants & bars
- El Presidio: Historic, art galleries, vintage shops, & the oldest family-run Mexican restaurant in the country
- Highland Vista Cinco Via: Affordability, suburbs, families, retirees
- Sam Hughes: Mid-century modern homes, quiet, University of Arizona students, lots of young people, affordable
5. The Food Scene is World-Renowned (Seriously)
It can be said about Tucson that the food alone is worth the trip. My mouth waters just thinking about this major pro of living in Tucson. Where to begin…
First, there’s no denying that Tucson’s food culture is like nowhere else in America. For example, Tucson has been designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy because of the heavy Hispanic influence in the food scene. Locals can’t help but benefit from high quality food at reasonable prices.
There’s so many great local restaurants full of character and history. But don’t make the mistake of assuming the cuisines expertise stops at Hispanic-inspired fare. The diversity of cuisine spans the gamut! And while nobody would ever mistake our restaurant scene for the one in New York City, they wouldn’t mistake the prices either.
From amazing year-round farmers markets, to dozens of exciting food festivals (fairs, tastings, you name it!), you’ll never go hungry while living in Tucson.
If helpful, here’s a quick roundup of some of my favorite restaurants: La Indita (Mexican), Tanias (Mexican) Ermanos (Mexican), The Parish (southern) Anello (pizza), Flying V (expensive but worth it), Wildflower (fancy & delicious), Cafe Desta (Ehtiopian).
6. Access to the Sonoran Desert
If access to nature is a concern for you in moving to Tucson then you can rest easy. Nature abounds here, especially for those that know how to appreciate arid desert landscapes.
I think it’s fair to say that most folks don’t grow up in the desert, which has a beauty vastly unique from the oceans of Florida, the forests of the Pacific Northwest and — well, I’m still trying to figure out with New Yorkers do for nature.
As such, it takes a while for people to adjust to the desert, but damn — it’s a beautiful place in its own right. Tucson is spoiled for choice when it comes to epic natural beauty and the Sonoran Desert takes the cake.
A beauty unique to this part of the country, spend some time exploring Saguaro National Park to see what all the fuss is about. You can access the park on both the east side and west side of Tucson, each section offering a vastly different vibe.
The west side of Saguaro National Park is a bit more touristy featuring the best petroglyphs and most iconic views while the east side has more wildlife and the best biking route.
Beyond the national park, Tucson is home to the Coronado National Forest, nearly 1.8 million acres famous for its “sky islands”, scattered mountains that rise dramatically from the desert floor.
Here you’ll find conifer forests with abundant wildlife as well as the familiar forests of saguaro cacti. All this to say, those moving to Tucson will find themselves surrounded by natural beauty. From the mountains and desserts to breathtaking sunsets and incredible biodiversity. This make Tucson a very unique place to live.
For what it’s worth: Many readers reached out to let us know that one of the best things about living in Tucson is being surrounded by the mountains. There’s something magical about driving home after a workday and seeing the mountains glow pink from the sunset, it never gets old.
7. Year-Round Sunshine
Here’s a pro of living in Tucson that will surprise exactly no one but has to be mentioned. Tucson is the 2nd sunniest city in America (behind nearby Phoenix) seeing sun 85% of the time. Talk about a mood boost!
I lived in the Pacific Northwest for 5 years and had just about convinced myself that the grey was fine until moving back to Tucson and realizing it was totally Stockholm Syndrome.
Sunshine is a key ingredient (not the only one) to happiness and Tucson has it in abundance. There are some downsides to the sun as well but we’ll address those later on in the cons.
8. Inexpensive Housing
If you’re looking for a place where you might actually be able to afford a home in America (aren’t we all) then moving to Tucson could be for you.
The median home price in Tucson is just $324K, nearly $100K (or 25%) less than the national median home price of $428K.
Average rent prices in Tucson is $1,645 for a one bedroom unit which is $300 below the national median of $1938.
9. The Job Market is Stable
Tucson has a solid job market which is especially good for folks in the leisure & hospitality, defense contracting, and university spheres.
While the average salary in Tucson is just $51,380 ($5,000 less than the national average), your dollar goes further here than most major US cities.
COVID took a major toll on the job market here in Tucson as the economy skews heavily toward the hospitality & restaurant industry. I’d say the city still hasn’t fully recovered from the toll the pandemic took.
Cons of Living in Tucson
1. The Summer Heat is Oppressive
If you can’t stand the heat then moving to Tucson may not be for you, because damn — the summer heat is no joke. Average summer high temperatures are in the triple digits with low temperatures in the mid 70s. It’s draining!
Getting through summers while living in Tucson is mentally and physically draining. If you need to spend time outside (for work, staying active, gardening), you’ll find it near impossible during our notorious summer heat waves.
May – September entails getting to the car as fast as possible. It’s like the adult version of musical chairs but the winner gets to dodge a heat stroke (and if you hear music, you’ve already lost).
It seems like half my year is spent dreaming of AC, which is a reality for most folks living in Tucson. Being around water definitely helps, but it’s impossible to peal yourself out of the house when it’s 110°F.
The one advantage is the dry heat (as opposed to humid). So while you won’t sweat profusely, you will need to stay hydrated because dehydration is a real threat. Dehydration and exhaustion can strike out of nowhere if you’re ill prepared and don’t drink adequate amounts of water.
As such, performing any kind of prolonged outdoor activities during the summer is a no-go because of the dangerous heat levels. If you want to exercise or get outside the best time do so is early in the morning or after the sun sets in the evening.
2. The Scenery Gets Monotonous
I know I’ll get some push back on this con of living in Tucson but hear me out. If you’re moving to Tucson from another region of the country the scenery will likely seem to lack variety.
The desert has its own unique beauty and changes a bit seasonally with the monsoons which make everything a bit greener but all in all it’s pretty similar.
In Tucson there’s lots of sand and lots of Saguaro cacti. When you get up into the mountains the vegetation increases a bit but compared to the scenery of the east coast, the northwest, California, Utah, and more, it all just blends together after a time in Tucson.
3. Low Levels of College Educated Citizens
If you’re looking for a highly intellectual town then you may want to consider moving somewhere other than Tucson. Tucson ranks as the 8th least educated city in terms of cities with adults having a college educations in the US.
It pains me to say this, but generally speaking, education isn’t valued in Tucson, based on what I’ve seen.
According to the latest US Census numbers, only 28.2% of adults have a bachelor degree or higher in Tucson. While the University of Arizona is trying to improve those numbers that’s just the state of things right now.
4. Downtown Feels Rundown and Dirty
Here’s something most people won’t tell you before moving to Tuscon — the downtown area is rundown and dirty. Which mean you won’t be spending much time exploring or enjoying the area. This is a bummer for anybody moving to Tucson from a large city.
For example, getting after work drinks with coworkers is nowhere near as fun with you’re walking past trash and strong urine smells. Downtown restaurants have lost their allure, since having to pass dilapidated buildings kills the vibe.
Encountering trash on a daily basis is my least favorite thing about living in Tucson. There’s trash everywhere, people don’t seem to care about littering and just throw things into the street. Who does that?!
Likewise, it seems like car break-ins and theft are very common in the downtown core. I’ve lost count of the number of times I walked past broken windows, praying my car was left unscathed.
5. Seasonal Haboobs
Don’t worry, we’re running a good, clean, family friendly website here. Haboob is the local word for the dust storms the wreak havoc in Tucson.
Now whenever I hear the Johnny Cash lyric, “he asked me if I’d seen a road with so much dust and sand…”, my mind immediately goes to the terrifying dust storms of Tucson.
And when the haboobs strike they can be nasty. Think apocalyptic, dust bowl sized wall of dust that stretches from the ground to the clouds coating everything in its wake with tons of dust and sand.
The terror doesn’t stop there. Haboobs carry with them a fungus which, when inhaled can wreak havoc in the lungs causing something us locals call “valley fever” (because we can’t pronounce its real name, “Coccidioides”).
Our local PBS has detailed Haboobs and their effects if you’re interested in learning more.
6. Lack of Seasons
If you’re into the whole four distinct seasons thing then living in Tucson may not be the right fit for you.
Here we basically have two seasons: the hot season which lasts about eight months from April till November, and the mild season which lasts the other four months of the year.
Love snow? Forget about it. Fall foliage? That’s a negative.
We do get some beautiful spring blooms in the desert between February and April with some years being much better than others. But the running joke of “you’ll only know it’s fall because of the date on the calendar” definitely rings true.
7. The High Tourist Season
Tucson gets a huge influx of snowbirds – retirees and others who leave their cold locales for the warm Arizona winter – each year. This can affect everything from traffic to the ability to get a restaurant table or get to work on time.
Few cities see a greater influx of snowbirds than Tucson which saw over a million the year prior to the pandemic.
If you’re looking for a small-town atmosphere in Arizona, it’d behoove you to look at the tourist/visitation statistics before making a decision. Congestion around major attractions, such as the Grand Canyon, can be bad at any time of year.
8. Making Friends While Living in Tucson is Difficult
Now, before you start drafting an email to let me know that making friends in adulthood is hard and Tucson has nothing to do with it, allow me to elaborate. First, not all cities are reserved. Some cities thrive on transplants, most of them eager to start growing a social circle.
In my experience, that has not been the case after moving to Tucson. The daily interactions with locals doesn’t lend itself into a natural friendship. Locals aren’t keep on small talk or basic acknowledgements (like “good morning” etc.) which makes it hard to strike up conversations in general.
As such, I’ve found it hard to establish meaningful friendships while living in Tucson. In fact, this is one of the biggest reasons I would consider moving out of Tuscon.
Retiring in Tucson FAQ
Is Tucson a good place to live?
Yes, due to it’s relative low cost of living, great food, and abundant sunshine Tucson is a good place to live.
Is Tucson a good place to retire?
Yes, Tucson is a great place to retire because of its warm winters and low cost of living.
Is marijuana legal in Tucson?
Yes, adult marijuana use was legalized in Arizona in November of 2020 as part of Proposition 207.
What’s the population of Tucson?
The population of Tucson is 543,242 people.
How many days of sunshine in Tucson?
Tucson has 350 days a year of sunshine with over 290 being fully sunny days.
Cost of Living in Tucson
The cost of living in Tucson is 3% below the national average. Grocery and food bills are significantly cheaper in Tucson beating the national average by more than 40%.
Housing and rents are 25% below the national average as well.
Pros & Cons of Living in Tucson (Summary)
- Winters are bliss
- Lot of outdoor activities & recreation
- Low cost of living
- Great neighborhood vibes
- World class food scene
- Plenty of access to nature
- Abundant sunshine
- Inexpensive housing
- Solid job market
- Summers are blazing hot
- Monotonous scenery
- Low levels of college education
- Seasonal dust storms
- Lack of seasons
- Mass snowbird migration
Map of Tucson
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