Cooking Light Best Cities: Tucson, Arizona

Our 10th-ranked city offers a taste of the authentic Southwest in a desert setting that's ideal for a warm winter getaway.

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Best place to putt: More than 40 public and private courses (888-465-3125) provide golfers of all levels numerous challenges and unsurpassed panoramic views of the desert valley. One course is noted for design efforts that use the desert's natural terrain to create challenging and enjoyable play: Golf Club at Vistoso (520-797-9900), where two saguaro cacti guard the 11th hole.

Best way to travel: Maybe it's the Old West image or the ranching heritage, but horseback riding has remained a mainstay in Tucson. It's not uncommon to see entire families out for an afternoon ride from any of the city's six public stables. Arizona Horseback Experience (from $85; 520-455-5696), a short drive south of the city, makes learning the sport easy for beginners with daylong, guided trail rides. Start with their Horsemanship 101 class, then traverse the desert.

LIVE WELL

Best parks: Throughout Tucson and the surrounding areas, you'll notice enormous cacti called saguaro, often considered the unofficial symbol of the American west. Found only in the Sonoran Desert around Tucson, these majestic plants live to be several hundred years old and blossom each spring. To best see them, explore Tucson Mountain Park (520-877-6000), just west of town. Stop at its scenic overlooks and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (520-883-1380), a 21-acre natural habitat for desert wildlife and plants. Or travel a few miles farther to Saguaro National Park West (520-733-5158), where flowers, such as the wild zinnia and desert verbena, bloom beneath the cacti each March. Abundant rainfall (for the desert) in the autumn of 2006 promises a good wildflower season this spring,and the King Canyon Trail offers one of the best places to enjoy them. The seven-mile round trip trail follows an old mining road and ends atop Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Tucson Mountains.

Best bird-watching: Just 45 miles south of Tucson lies Tubac Presidio State Historic Park (520-398-2252), part of Arizona's impressive state park system, which is often compared to the national park system in its size and services. At Tubac, birders can enjoy an early morning hike along the eight-mile Anza Trailhead. Burrowing owls are among the unique creatures that make their homes here.

Best stargazing: Tucson becomes even more spectacular at night. With cloudless skies an average of 350 days a year, it is considered one of the best stargazing settings in the country. Steward Observatory on the University of Arizona Campus (520-621-2288) designs some of the most advanced telescope mirrors used by astronomers today. Tours must be scheduled in advance, but plan for the Monday evening lecture series, which is followed by stargazing through a 21-inch telescope. Kitt Peak National Observatory (520-318-8726), about 60 miles southwest of Tucson, is well worth the drive to see the universe through 24 optical telescopes that provide information for dozens of research institutions.

Where to Stay

Best bed and breakfast: Stargazers who prefer the intimacy of a bed and breakfast may enjoy chatting with owner Dave Malmquist at the Casa Tierra Adobe Bed and Breakfast (from $135, two-night minimum; 520-578-3058). Malmquist has telescopes available for guests and provides a vegetarian breakfast each morning.

Best active stay: Loews Ventana Canyon Resort (from $179; 520-299-2020) is home to two golf courses, a spa, tennis center, and pools. Access the 12.8-mile Ventana Canyon trailhead on site for an early morning walk into the Catalina Mountains. For stargazers, this resort offers a Celestial Stay package, which includes guided night hikes into the desert, a stargazing booklet at check-in, and Saturday evening stargazing with telescopes and discussion provided by University of Arizona students.

Best healthful indulgence: Located on 150 acres on the northeast side of the city, Canyon Ranch (from $4,020 for a four-night, all-inclusive; 800-742-9000) is a place where cell phones are discouraged and health and healing are enhanced through cooking classes, exercise and fitness programs, and numerous opportunities for quiet and reflection-all included in the price of your stay.

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