Tohono Chul

A botanical garden like no other…. Located near the corner of Oracle Road and Magee in Oro Valley, Tohono Chul is a vibrant place.   Tucked into a corner lot, donated by a local family, Tohono Chul means “desert elbow,” in the native tongue of the Tohono O’odham tribe.   Tohono O’odham means “desert people.”  

Tohono Chul features meandering paths through vibrant gardens such as a saguaro garden, a wildflower garden, a hummingbird garden and more. It is beautifully landscaped with fountains and water features, tiled courtyards, garden sculptures, a desert tortoise exhibit, two gift shops, a museum featuring artwork by local artists, a restaurant and a greenhouse.

There are concerts on Sunday afternoons in the performance garden, featuring accomplished jazz, classical and even mariachi bands. You can sip a prickly pear margarita, surrounded by gorgeous flowers, while listening to beautiful music.

Our favorite event is the “Chili, Chocolate and Day of the Dead” celebration held in October. It is not to be missed. There are artists and craftspeople from all over Tucson and southern Arizona, selling their wares. A few vendors sell Mexican-style chocolate. Carolina’s Chocolates (our favorite) sells chili-pepper-infused chocolate, such as Jalisco Jalapeño and Smokey Joe.

The Cinco de Mayo celebration is also a big event here. It features a weekend of artists and craftspeople selling their handiwork. Two mariachi bands played in the performance garden, including Mariachi de Atzlan, a local high school mariachi band, that had just won the international mariachi band competition here in Tucson, a couple of days before. A Latin jazz/blues band also performed.

The Native American Craft Festival is interesting. It features vendors selling silver jewelry, Navaho rugs, baskets, kachina dolls and paintings by native Americans from all over the Southwest. A Hopi artist discussed the history and importance of Kachina dolls in Hopi culture and demonstrated how they are made. We could have listened to his description of Hopi traditions for hours.

If you live in the area, it is worth purchasing a family membership. While some events are free to the public, a membership pays for itself, if you want to attend the Sunday concert series, for example. You get free guest passes too which helps defray costs when family are in town. A membership gives you a discount on classes and allows you to attend plant sales before they open to the public.