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Inside: Millers Surplus in Tucson is part military surplus store/part museum. Chat with owner Don Sloane (a very active World War II veteran 😱) while you shop for fun stuff!

Shopping for military surplus or specialty camping gear can be hit-and-miss. After scouring tons of small shops and big box stores that carried what seemed like everything BUT what we were looking for, we were resigned that we’d have to shop online. Until we found a store that was in a class by itself.

Part surplus store, part museum, this place not only had what my husband wanted, the store came with its very own goodwill ambassador . . .

. . . and this guy totally made our day.

96-year old Don Sloane, owner of Millers Surplus in Tucson
Don Sloane, the owner and “good will ambassador” of Millers Surplus in Tucson

What is Millers Surplus in Tucson?

Established in 1951, Miller’s Surplus is not just a military surplus store; it’s a mini military museum and an integral part of Tucson’s history. Owned by Don Sloane, the business has been thriving for over seven decades, displaying the dedication and passion of its (cheerful) proprietor.

What started as a post-WW II shop selling military surplus has now transformed into an unmatched collection of military paraphernalia and all sorts of camping equipment.

Located in the Tucson’s Warehouse Arts District, Millers Surplus of Tucson is big, with an incredible selection. But that’s not all the store has.

What really sets it apart is its owner, Don Sloane. He’s a World War II veteran-and one of the happiest guys we’ve had the pleasure to meet. Just chatting with him brings a smile to your face 😊.

It’s like Millers Surplus has a secret weapon: it’s the military surplus store with a heart of gold 🤩.

History of Millers Surplus

To explore the history of Millers Surplus of Tucson, you need to consider the history of Don Sloane; the two are inextricably linked. So we need to go back a little . . .

Specifically, to 1945. World War II is in its waning days, but it’s not over yet. Spry young whippersnapper Don Sloane−all of 18 years old−joins the Army.

After training Don gets sent to Europe and spends 3 years there as an M.P., dealing with post-war issues. Even though the war was “officially” over, Don got shot . . . twice! 😱. (Proving that just because the treaties have been signed, life isn’t immediately hunky-dory.)

In 1948, with his military service completed, Don returns home to America. Don’s originally from Brooklyn, NY, so he attends New York University (NYU) on the G.I. Bill and studies business.

Collection of vintage military uniforms at Millers Surplus
Part of Don Sloane’s personal collection of military memorabilia.

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But, you may be asking, what does all of this have to do with Tucson?

The answer: asthma. (Not for Don himself, but for a family member.) The family moved out to Tucson for the warm, dry, and relatively pollen-free air.

So it’s 1951. Don Sloane, World War II Vet and NYU alum finds himself in Tucson, Arizona at the ripe old age of 24. What’s a guy to do?

Don looks around for a business to buy and settles on Miller’s Surplus. He understands business, and he KNOWS the military, so it’s a natural fit.

Military tactical gear and clothing at Millers Surplus in Tucson
Plenty of military surplus clothing tactical gear (vintage uniforms on display on wall).

Originally known as Miller’s Army Surplus Exchange, the business was located on Congress St. in downtown Tucson. In the early 50s the Army had a whole lotta surplus stuff. Fortunately, Don understood it all, so he was happy to meet his customers’ needs with military gear.

The company moved to it’s current location on 6th Ave. in 1966. (Fun fact: the building is a former car dealership that sold every GM brand except Chevrolet.)

And 70+ years later Don Sloane−and Millers Surplus−is still making customers happy.

What makes this Military Surplus Store unique?

In a word: Don Sloane. (well, okay, that’s 2 words.) But there are 3 reasons Don makes this store unique.

1. A Mini Military Museum

First, Don doesn’t only sell military clothing and gear, he collects it. And he has it on display in the store.

Walking around Miller’s Surplus is like being in a mini-museum. Vintage uniforms and military artifacts line the walls and shelves above the modern-day goods for sale.

Vintage motorcycle on display at Millers Surplus-Military Surplus store in Tucson
Be sure to look for the vintage motorcycle on display at Millers Surplus in Tucson

As you browse the store, be sure to look up (and in all the nooks and crannies). You’ll find a whole range of military relics, ranging from antique military patches, pins, and medals, to unique, vintage items like gas masks, military bags, and helmets. There’s even a vintage military motorcycle! 🏍️

2. A Vast−and Varied−Selection of Military Gear & Clothing (and more!)

A walk down the store’s aisles will reveal the store’s specialization in military items, stockpiling everything from authentic uniforms of the past and present to finely crafted insignia and hard-to-find military gear.

SeaBees shirts on display at Millers Surplus Tucson
Navy “SeaBees” shirt on display amid contemporary bucket hats and vintage flags

Don respects all branches of service, and carries supplies and goods related to some of the more unique military functions, such as the Navy’s Construction Battalion, familiarly known as the “SeaBees.” 🐝

My husband was looking for a US Coast Guard t-shirt, to honor his dad, who had been a veteran “Coastie.” Sure enough, Don had a collection of Coast Guard shirts available in all sizes.

Keeping pace with current trends, Don also stocks a wide variety of camping gear and accessories (including an awesome selection of enameled coffee pots that look like they’d be right at home on a Grand Canyon campout.)

3. Don Sloane, Proprietor & Good-Will Ambassador 😊

Don Sloane or Millers Surplus, working in the store

All of the above make a trip to Millers Surplus worthwhile, especially if you’re looking for military or camping gear.

But the most interesting−and happiest−reason to visit Miller’s Surplus in Tucson is for Don Sloane himself.

Where else will you have a chance to chat with a World War II veteran? (Not to mention one who still works every day!)

You’ll find Don walking around the store, chatting with customers, making sure they’re finding what they’re looking for.

And he’s always smiling 😊.

When we asked him about his happy disposition, he told us, “my mother told me, ‘every time you smile, you extend your life by the tiniest little bit.’ So I smile as often as I can. It keeps me active.”

It must be working . . . Don is 96-years . . . young.


The Military Surplus Store worth a Special Trip

Whether you’re an ardent military enthusiast, lover of antiques, or simply a curious visitor, a visit to Miller’s Surplus promises a journey back in time, an essence of the past encapsulated in the present.

It’s one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson.

And, after meeting Don Sloane, I dare you not to smile yourself. 😊

Posing with Don Sloane, owner of Millers Surplus military surplus store
C’mon, doesn’t this guy make you smile?!

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Inside: Curious about the foods of Arizona? We share Mexican classics, Native American traditional foods, and new Arizona famous foods to try. YUM!

No matter where we travel, we always like to try local foods. It provides an added dimension on the area’s history, plus you get good eats . . . a win-win! One of the reasons we love Arizona is the strong food culture here.

Arizona’s rich culinary tapestry is woven with Mexican influences, Native American traditions, and modern classics, creating a foodie landscape that is as diverse as it is delicious. From ancient staple dishes to modern twists on classics, these foods of Arizona match it’s stunning scenery. Some might even surprise you.

Listed below you’ll find 21 foods Arizona is known for. Savoring any (or all! 🤩) of these will make any Arizona Journey taste even better (note clever way of inserting name of website here 😉).

Foods of Arizona: Exploring the Mexican Influences

There’s no denying that foods in Arizona have a strong Mexican influence. As you dive into the food scene here, you’ll quickly discover that Mexican flavors permeate everything, from street food stalls to upscale restaurants. Over time, it has evolved and adapted, incorporating ingredients and techniques from different regions and cultures.

The Mexican influence in Arizona’s food scene is a testament to the historical ties between the two regions and the cultural exchange that has taken place over the years. And while tacos 🌮 are certainly something you’ll find (as you’ll see in #5 below) , there’s more. Much more 🤩.

1. Sonoran Hot Dogs: an Arizona Famous Food

tray of sonoran hot dogs
A tray of Sonoran hot dogs-one of the signature foods of Arizona.

One of the most iconic Mexican dishes you’ll find in Arizona is the Sonoran hot dog. Even though it’s a newer arrival to the Arizona food scene, it’s certainly a rising star 🤩. In fact, it’s the only hot dog in America to be associated with a James Beard Award (Daniel Contreras, owner of El Guero Canelo, a hot dog mini-empire in Tucson).

This mouthwatering creation combines a juicy hot dog wrapped in bacon (an auspicious start!) nestled in a soft bolillo roll, topped with pinto beans, diced tomatoes, onions, mustard, mayonnaise, and a drizzle of jalapeno sauce. It’s a delicious blend of flavors that perfectly represents the fusion of Mexican and American culinary traditions and is now a staple on the foods of Arizona list. 🌭🇲🇽

  • Where to find Sonoran Hot Dogs: All over Tucson. See our post about the Sonoran Hot Dog for a comprehensive list.

2. Chimichangas: Traditional Arizona Food at its Best

plate with chimichanga, rice and beans, one of the most famous foods of arizona
The chimichanga was a “happy accident” that has become one of the most famous foods of Arizona (Photo by Getty Images)

The chimichanga is a happy accident: someone accidentally dropped a burrito into the deep fryer and created of the yummiest foods Arizona is known for. It’s typically filled with shredded beef or chicken, cheese, and beans, and then topped with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. Yes, please! 😋

The origin of the first Chimichanga is disputed: both El Charro Cafe (in Tucson) and Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen (in Phoenix) claim to be the first one to drop a burrito into the fryer, making them home to the first chimichanga. What no one disputes is that the Chimichanga was created in Arizona.

And no one disputes that they are muy delicioso! Be sure to try this Arizona famous food on your next visit.

  • Where to find Chimichangas: El Charro (4 locations in Tucson); Macayo’s Mexican Food (13 locations in greater Phoenix), and most other traditional Mexican restaurants.

3. Birria & Quesabirria Tacos

Deliciously rich birria, a traditional Mexican dish, has definitively marked its territory on the Arizona food map. This tantalizing slow-cooked beef is marinated in a medley of robust spices before braising to perfect tenderness. The resulting broth is also a joy to behold (and savor!).

quesabirria taco with broth and lime at Rollies Mexican Patio in Tucson
Rollie’s quesabirria taco with luscious slow-cooked broth for dipping . . . yea-ahhhh

Quesabirria tacos elevate this classic by folding the juicy, flavorful birria into a crispy seared corn tortilla with generous portions of melted cheese, topped with chopped onions and cilantro. (I told you tacos would show up on this list, didn’t I? 🌮)

This mouthwatering hybrid has truly encapsulated the hearts (and stomachs!) of Arizonians, cementing its status as on of the must-try foods Arizona is known for.

4. Carne Seca/Machaca

Platter of carne seca with rice, beans and limes, tradtional arizona food
Carne Seca at El Charro Cafe (Photo courtesy of Yelp)

Carne Seca (which is also known as Machaca) is a desert-dried beef delicacy, similar to beef jerky. It owes its unique flavor to the traditional drying process that includes air-drying the thinly sliced beef and a whole bunch of robust southwestern seasonings. (The Arizona sunshine doesn’t hurt either 😎.)

The resulting meat is super-tasty, sort of like a Mexican flavor concentrate. It’s used in dishes across the state, from hearty stews to spicy burritos . . . even topped on salads. Enjoying carne seca is experiencing Arizona’s heritage in every delicious bite.

Many classic Mexican restaurants serve carne seca/machaca; no foods of Arizona list is complete without it! You can also find it packaged at many carnicerias (meat markets) if you’d like to take it home to make your own goodies.

5. Tacos Rasurado

close up of taco rasurado from tacos apson-authentic foods of arizona
Grilled, juicy, meaty, messy . . . delicious! Taco Rasurado from Tacos Apson in Tucsonone of the foods of Arizona you really must try.

Time for some “taco math.” Tacos = good. Mesquite-grilled beef ribs = better. Tacos + mesquite-grilled beef ribs = WOWZA!!! 😲 (where is the “chef’s kiss” emoji when you need it?!)

That’s Tacos Rasurado: shaved rib meat on a warm corn tortilla, with a grilled chile along side. Salsa it up to your heart’s content. It’s a taco on an entirely new level.

Tacos Rasurado isn’t just a meal, it’s a tantalizing taste of Tucson tradition, passionately served, and one of the foods of Arizona worth seeking out. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this video from America’s Test Kitchen . . . I dare you not to drool! 🤤

  • Where to find Tacos Rasurado: Tacos Apson in Tucson (2 location) . . . featured in the video above.

6. Flour Tortillas

Flour tortillas are essential ingredients in such yummy mexican treats as burritos and chimichangas (see #2 above). And they have their origins in the Sonoran Desert, fully cementing them as one of the foods of Arizona.

uncooked flour tortilla on board dusted with flour, underneath rolling pin. Cooked flour tortilla in the background. Traditional Arizona food
Flour tortillas are traditionally unique to the Sonoran desert, one of the more historic foods of Arizona (Getty images)

The Spanish colonizers brought wheat with them as a crop when they came to the region 500 years ago. And the rest, as they say, is history. What began as a convenient winter crop has morphed into a staple of the Sonoran style of Mexican cooking. And it is definitely a traditional Arizona food.

Naturally they’re great when wrapped around burrito or chimichanga fixings. But they’re also pretty darned good warmed up and served with a little butter. Just sayin’ 😉.

  • Where to find authentic local flour tortillas: Tortillas Rosario in Phoenix; Alejandro’s Tortilla Factory in Tucson; also most carnicerias will carry these brands. (But if you go to the main stores you can get ’em while they’re still warm 🥰.)

7. Cheese Crisp

The cheese crisp, is a traditional Arizona food that’s especially popular in Tucson. (It’s also a fave of Tucson native Linda Ronstadt!) Essentially an open-faced quesadilla (but super-crispy!), it is a perfect fusion of its Mexican ancestry and American innovation.

This enticing dish is crafted with a large, open-faced flour tortilla, generously sprinkled with cheddar cheese, broiled to perfection.

Green chile cheese crisp at El Minuto in Tucson-Foods of Arizona
Just a lil’ bit o’ green chiles on El Minuto’s Cheese Crisp. . .perfecto! 😋

The tantalizingly crispy edges and gooey center offer a mouthwatering feast of textures. Some folks (me! ✋) like to add green chiles or (small amounts of meat) to give it some zing. The key is to not overload it with too much stuff on top, it will collapse and lose its signature crisp!

  • Where to find Cheese Crisp: El Minuto (Linda Ronstadt’s go-to when she’s in town); most other full-service Mexican restaurants in Tucson serve this classic in the foods of Arizona annals.

8. Santa Cruz Red Chile Powder

Exotic and flavor-packed, Santa Cruz Chili Powder is one of Arizona’s culinary treasures. It’s made from just one ingredient: anaheim chiles 🌶️, picked at the peak of ripeness, then dried and ground into this flavor-packed powder.

Arizona chefs and home cooks alike love this powder (including yours truly!), because it forms the basis for any proprietary chili blend. It invigorates any dish with its warm, robust flavor profile (although it’s not spicy–you can add that as part of your proprietary blend 😉).

This is one of the foods of Arizona you can experience no matter where you’re located. Grab a container of this classic chili powder, and create a taste of Arizona right at home.

  • Where to find Sant Cruz Red Chili Powder: Grocery stores throughout Arizona; mail order from Amazon.

Unearthing Native American Staple Dishes: Traditional Arizona Food

Table showing an array of native american ingredients in baskets
Native American ingredients form the basis of many of the foods of Arizona today (Getty images)

Mexican-inspired street food offers a burst of flavors and textures in Arizona, but the state’s culinary landscape got its start long before that.

The foods of Arizona also encompass an array of Native American staple dishes. Just looking at all the ancient structures in Arizona, such as Montezuma Castle, tells you that this area has been populated for millennia.

Drawing on the land’s natural resources, Native American cuisine in Arizona is a testament to sustainability and the deep connection between the people and their environment 🏜️. Many of the foods of Arizona as we know them today have their roots in Native American traditions.

9. Tamales

Although typically associated with Mexican food, the origin of tamales is traced all the way back to 7,000 B.C. in the Aztec empire. Tamales are a harmonious blend of corn dough, seasoned meat, and aromatic spices, all neatly enveloped in a corn husk.

Cutting board piled high with tamales, with avocado, lime and salsa in the foreground. native american food
Commonly associated with Mexican cooking today, tamales are one of the foods of Arizona with Native American roots (Getty Images)

When the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, this versatile and staple dish was already here. Over time tamales were absorbed into the Mexican culture throughout the Southwest US.

Tamales are a eaten all year long, but they are also a traditional Arizona food at Christmas🎄. Families gather together to prepare large batches of tamales to serve on Christmas Eve.

This delicately steamed delicacy exudes a richness that immerses the palate in a symphony of flavors. Although you can purchase frozen tamales many places (including Trader Joe’s), it’s not the same as freshly-made. (Think of the frozen pizza vs. fresh from the pizzeria comparison 🍕!)

Try a bit of of evolutionary food history on your next trip to Arizona with some authentic tamales. You’ll sample a bit of Native American and Mexican culture in every bite 😋.

10. Native American Frybread

bubbly native american frybread in foreground, with woman's hand turning frybread in background; native american foods of arizona
Despite a complex history, frybread is one of the key Native American foods of Arizona

One iconic staple is Native American frybread (also known as Navajo frybread) a delicious creation born out of necessity during times of scarcity. (And, frankly, some shameful acts by the government.)

But the resourceful Navajo (or Diné) people persevered, and frybread is one of the results.

Made from simple ingredients like flour, water, salt, and baking powder, this golden and fluffy bread is typically fried until crispy and served either plain or topped with a combination of sweet or savory toppings.

Its versatility makes it a popular choice as the base for many Native American-inspired dishes, such as Indian tacos or Navajo burgers. (But served with honey or cinnamon-sugar is pretty fabulous too! 🍯)

READ NEXT: Things to do in Downtown Phoenix

11. Posole

overhead shot of posole with pork, avocado, hominy and radish-foods of arizona
Colorful and hearty pozole has Native American roots (photo courtesy Pozoleria)

Posole, a traditional Native American stew of corn and pork, has also been commingled with Mexican food culture (where it is often spelled pozole).

This heartwarming stew, often enjoyed during celebrations, is a blend of harmonious flavors. Hominy, which is large, puffy corn kernels (that have been soaked for HOURS) forms the basis of this bracing dish.

Like the Native American peoples themselves, posole predates state (and federal) borders. As a result, posole can be found throughout the southwest, with slightly different flavor profiles. As a traditional Arizona food, the broth tends to be clear, with a robust chile zing.

Posole is often a weekend special on restaurant menus, and it’s worth trying when available. With each spoonful, you can taste the generations of history and the reverence for the land that this dish represents.

12. Tepary Beans

Side by side images of dried white and brown tepary beans, in packaging by Ramona Farms
Drought resistant tepary beans have been prized by the native peoples of Arizona for centuries for their nutritional benefits

Tepary Beans, a cherished Native American food, are a powerhouse of nutrition. Long prized for their drought-resistance, these tough little beans become amazingly creamy and flavorful when cooked.

Holding a treasure trove of proteins and fiber, tepary beans have been nourishing the population for centuries, proving that the best of nature is often preserved in its simplest forms 😇. Explore the richness of Native American heritage with every bite.

  • Where to find Tepary Beans: Served at the Courtyard Cafe in Phoenix; or purchase on Amazon & make them at home!

13. Prickly Pear Fruit

Throughout the Arizona desert you’ll find the prickly pear, with its signature flat pads telescoping out. (After the famous saguaro 🌵 it’s probably the most recognizable cactus!)

side by side images of bright pink prickly pear fruit next to a pink margarita with a salt-rimmed glass
Vivid pink prickly pear has been nourishing desert dwellers for ages; today it’s a popular ingredient in margaritas (Getty images, lma stock)

The namesake prickly pear fruit, which is a bright magenta in color, is one of the foods of Arizona that you’ll find growing wild just about everywhere. And it’s been nourishing the native peoples for centuries milennia.

You can enjoy its sweet-tart taste right off the cactus (if you’re patient enough to remove the spines–yeeouch!😫).

But you don’t need to risk a finger-piercing to taste it; prickly pear jellies, juices and syrups are available to buy. And any Arizona bar worth it’s salt should be able to whip up a yummy prickly pear margarita.🍹

  • Where to find prickly pear: Prickly pear syrup, jelly and candy made in Arizona by Cheri’s Desert Harvest is available on Amazon; prickly pear margaritas are available from fine mixologists throughout Arizona 😉

14. Mesquite Flour: foods of Arizona from the bounty of the desert

close up of Mesquite pods on a tree. Mesquite flour is one of the native american foods of arizona
The fruit of these mesquite pods makes a sweet, nutty (and nutritious) flour (Getty Images)

Mesquite flour originates from the pods of the mesquite tree, a drought-friendly plant native to the Sonoran desert. Native Americans, particularly the Pima and Tohono O’odham tribes of southern Arizona, have utilized this flour for centuries.

In addition to its sweet, nutty flavor, mesquite flour is packed with nutrients: it’s high in both protein and fiber.

The pods are ground into a flour, which is then used in baking and cooking for a variety of dishes. Traditionally, indigenous people used this food of Arizona to bake into a dry cake to carry them through the lean winter months.

Today, many southwestern chefs are using mesquite flour in place of traditional flour to create nutritious and tasty treats, including breads, tortillas . . . and cookies 🍪!

  • Where to find mesquite flour & products: Big Skye Bakers sells a range of baked goodies at Tucson Farmers Markets; flour available by mail order from Mount Hope Wholesale (despite the name they sell 2 lb. and 5 lb. bags)

15. Chiltepin

The chiltepin is a teeny tiny-yet fiery 🔥-chili pepper Sonoran Desert. (It sort of looks like a chili pepper 🌶️ and a peppercorn had a baby!)

The native peoples of these regions have been using this food of arizona for over 8,000 years, not only as a spicy food but as a potent medicine and a spiritual aid. Its intense heat and distinctive taste added zest to their food, while its medicinal properties helped them combat various ailments.

chiltepin bush, with tiny red chiltepin chilis, alongside an image of a hand holding red chiltepin chiles, which are the size of currants-one of the native foods of arizona
Tiny chiltepins are one of the native foods of Arizona . . . and hot Hot HOT! (Getty Images)

Today, the chiltepin is used in salsas, stews, and meat dishes to give them an extra zing 💥. Hotter than jalapenos and habaneros, these little fire bombs are prized for their fierce heat and smoky, citrusy notes. (I confess that I need to use them s…p…a…r…i…n…g…l…y 🥵)

  • Where to find chiltepins: Chilttepica Products sells chiltepins in a variety of sizes and mixed spice blends. Available at specialty stores throughout Arizona or by mail order (see website for details).

16. Sonoran Wheat Flour

Sonoran wheat was the first wheat cultivated in the New World. It was introduced to the Sonoran Desert by the Spanish Missionaries in the 1600s. Wait . . . you might be thinking, “doesn’t that make it more a mexican food?”

Not really. That came a little later.

The local Tohono O’odham and Pima peoples quickly realized this crop was ideal for the desert climate-Yay! 🎉 Plus, it also grew during the winter, when the planting fields were usually fallow-Yay Again! 🙌. So . . .

The indigenous folks knew a good thing when they saw it, and wheat quickly became part of O’odham cuisine. Cooks incorporated wheat berries into traditional poshol, a stew with tepary beans, as well as pinole (a kind of porridge).

Today bakers love heritage Sonoran wheat, with its slightly nutty taste and low protein for use in pastries and pastas, and blended with other heritage wheats in breads. (I’m a baker & I love it for delicate, crispy cookies! 😋).

  • Where to find Sonoran Wheat: Multiple products, including flour, wheat berries & crackers from Hayden Flour Mills (available either from Amazon or at Whole Foods); breads from [James Beard Award Winner] Don Guerra at Barrio Bread (see above) in Tucson.

Foods Arizona is known For: Modern Twists on Classic Recipes

While Arizona’s culinary heritage is deeply rooted in Native American culture and the rich flavors of the Mexico, the state’s food scene also embraces innovation and modernization. Chefs and food enthusiasts alike have found ways to put a contemporary spin on classic recipes, creating a delightful fusion of old and new.

Check out these “newer” foods of Arizona to find some mouthwatering surprises. 🤤

17. Artisan Pizza: Foods of Arizona???

I bet your thinking, wait, WHAT? What does Arizona have to do with Artisan pizza?

Chris Bianco, that’s what. (Or should I say “who”?)

Back in the 1980’s, when pizza was still relegated to bowling alleys and strip malls (remember the flimsy take out boxes?), Chris Bianco started making wood-fired pizza in the back of a Phoenix Italian grocery store. It was good-very good. People noticed.

holding a margherita pizza outside pizzeria bianco
Chris Bianco’s innovation placed artisan pizza firmly in the “foods of Arizona” category

Fast forward a few years and Chris’ Pizzeria Bianco is being hailed as “the best pizza in America” from food critics all over the country. In 2003 he was the first pizziaolo (pizza maker) ever to receive a James Beard award. A Big. Deal.

Today foodies can find wood-fired artisan pizza 🍕 all over the US, which is absolutely terrific. But it all started in a little Italian grocery in Phoenix. Cool 🤩.

  • Where to find Chris Bianco’s Pizza: Multiple locations of Bianco Restaurants in Phoenix. Each has a slightly different menu, but they all serve pizza.

18. Steaks & Burgers made from Grass-Fed Beef

grilled medium-rare ribeye steak sliced crosswise with knife alongside and parsley garnish-getty images
Steaks and burgers from grass-fed beef have been foods of Arizona since the cowboy days. (Getty Images)

Arizona has a rich ranching heritage, with cattle grazing the sprawling grasslands. So the “emerging trend” of grass fed beef 🌱 is tried and true here in Arizona.

Multiple ranches in the state have been doin’ it this way for generations (Thank ye kindly, ma’am 🤠). The good old-fashioned way: better for the cows, better for the planet, better for you.

This may be one of the most traditional foods of Arizona of the modern era. To try one of these steaks or burgers is to taste a bit of cattle ranching history 🥩 (and a baked potato alongside isn’t bad, either 😉).

19. The Tequila Sunrise

When talking about foods of Arizona, do drinks count? I think so.

Tequila sunrise (no orange juice!) with a coaster from the Arizona Biltmore--where it was invented. One of the foods arizona is famous for.
A tequila sunrise where it was invented–one of the famous foods of Arizona. (NO ORANGE JUICE!)

Despite the song of the same name, the classic rock group Eagles did not invent the Tequila Sunrise. (Although they do have a strong connection to Arizona, with Standing on the Corner Winslow Arizona!)

The honor of the drink’s invention goes to bartender Gene Sulit of the (super swanky✨) Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, waaay back in the 1930s.

Legend has it that a guest requested a refreshing drink to take poolside, and asked Gene to “surprise me.”

Mr Sulit created a concoction that was as pretty as it was delicious: a blend of soda and tequila with crème de cassis and fresh lime juice. The super-thick crème de cassis’ settled at the bottom of the glass, creating the gradient of colors that mimics a sunrise and created a name. 🍹🌅

(Curious to note that there is NO orange juice 🍊 in this original version!)

And the rest, as they say, is history (and an Eagles song 🦅).

  • Where to get a tequila sunrise: Um, well how about the Wright Bar at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel? (Which would of course be the Tequila Sunrise.)

20. The Arizona “Original” Chopped Salad: one of the more recently-created foods of Arizona

Image of chopped salad, with rows of tomatoes, corn, pepitas, aruguly, cous cous and smoked salmon; foods of arizona
The “Original Chopped Salad”, one of the newest foods of Arizona (photo courtesy the Gladly)

About 25 years ago Scottsdale chef Bernie Kantak developed a really tasty salad at a restaurant called Cowboy Ciao. In keeping with the cowboy theme he named it the Stetson.

It involved a curious combination of chopped ingredients-smoked salmon, arugula, pearl couscous, pepitas, currants, dried sweet corn, and marinated tomatoes-artfully presented in a bowl in neat little rows, that were then tossed together table-side with a buttermilk herb dressing.

People loved it. [It’s really good!]

So much so that when Kantak left his former employer to open the Citizen Public House he took his signature salad with him. But he couldn’t bring the name.

So he rechristened it the “Original,” and onto the menu it went.

Today there are replicas of the Chopped Salad scattered around Phoenix and Scottsdale. But there’s only one “Original.” Well, technically there are three: Chef Kantak has three restaurants and you can get the salad at all of them . (in case you’re fact-checking 😉)

21. The Date Shake

There are only two states in the country that grow dates: Arizona and California The dry, sunny climate mimics that of the Middle East, where dates grow natively. 🌴

Enterprising farmers imported date trees to Arizona in the early 1900s and soon began selling this nutritious, sweet fruit from roadside stands. Heck, the scientific name for a date palm is even called Phoenix dactylifera, so what does THAT tell you???

Date shake in a large plastic cup alongside an image of the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera. Getty images
Date shakes are definitely one of the foods of Arizona–the tree, Phoenix dactylifera, even has an Arizona name! (Getty Images)

Travelers passing through would stop and stock up on yummy dates to bring home as souvenirs. But there was an even bigger treatat these rest stops: the date shake. 🥤

Using 3 simple ingredients: milk, ice cream & sweet sticky dates, the date shake became a refreshing way to break up a trip through the desert. [Spoiler alert: I also like to make a “healthy” version at home with yogurt 🥰]

Today many of these roadside stands are gone, but a few remain to provide one of the historic and sweet foods of Arizona, a reminder of Arizona days gone by.

While Arizona’s culinary heritage is deeply rooted in Native American culture and the rich flavors of the Wild West, the state’s food scene also embraces innovation and modernization. Chefs and food enthusiasts alike have found ways to put a contemporary spin on classic recipes, creating a delightful fusion of old and new.

I invite you to immerse yourself in the flavors and foods of Arizona. Take a bite out of history and indulge in the vibrant cultural tapestry that flavors this state. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience these 21 must-try authentic foods of Arizona that have made their mark on the state’s culinary landscape.

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With so many mountains surrounding Tucson, it can be a challenge to pick the right hike.

Tucson is a fantastic destination for hiking. The city is ringed by mountains, with the fabulous Sonoran Desert providing endless Tucson hiking opportunities for all physical abilities. It’s one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson. Here we share our favorite Tucson day hikes throughout the area.

Tucson hikes in Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is a recreation area that is part of Coronado National Forest, just northeast of Tucson. It’s at the base of the Catalina Mountains, with excellent opportunities for exploring the Sonoran Desert landscape. One of the things I really like about Sabino Canyon is that there is something for everyone: there are trails for all fitness levels and accessibilities, making it an ideal destinations for families. There is a visitor center, which has exhibits about the local flora and fauna, along with a gift shop that sells an excellent selection of books and detailed maps of local trails. Restrooms and fresh water are also available.

Information: Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area

Hours: Recreation area always open; Visitor Center open daily, 8:30am to 4:30pm

Admission: $8/vehicle/day; $10/vehicle/week; $40/vehicle/year; National Park Passes accepted

PRO TIP: Sabino Canyon is a popular spot. There is a huge parking area, along with an overflow lot, which can fill up in the fall & spring and during holiday weekends.

pond with saguaro cactus reflected on tucson hikes

1: Sabino Tram Road (Walking Path): Accessible/Flat

This paved wide path begins near the visitor center and follows Sabino Creek for about 3.8 miles up into the canyon, with several bridges traversing the creek along the way. You can hike the entire 7.6-mile out-and-back length, or turn around whenever you’ve had enough. It’s one of the few Tucson hikes with water year-round; and there are plenty of trees that provide greenery in spring/summer and pretty foliage through the fall (and most of the winter). The path is a gradual incline, rising about 700 feet over the entire distance (so gentle that you barely notice you are climbing!). There are restrooms and picnic areas along the route.

As the route name implies, there is also a tram, called the Sabino Canyon Crawler that goes up the path (roughly every hour), with stops along the way. It’s popular to ride to the tram and hike the 3.8-mile path back as it slopes gently downward toward the visitor center. This is a lovely hike in mid-late afternoon; you can often see deer and other wildlife taking a sip in the creek.

Michael with deer at sunset in Sabino Canyon
A late afternoon encounter on the Sabino Tram Road

2: Phoneline Trail: Easy to Moderate

I like trails that offer a loop, so I don’t feel like I’m retracing my steps. The Phoneline Trail is one of the Tucson trails that offers a few different options depending on how much time (and energy) you have. As the name implies, the trail follows the historic phoneline that was once the only means of communication between the Palisade Ranger Station on Mt. Lemmon (which rises about 6,500 feet above you) and the rest of the world.

The trail climbs about 500 feet, hugging the side of the canyon and offering magnificent views of Saguaro cactus, the creek below–and of the city of Tucson in the distance. After about 2 miles, you have option of returning via a trail that descends toward the creek and back toward the visitor center. Or you can continue along the canyon ridge for an additional 3-ish miles, where it meets up with the Tram Road at its end. From there you can stroll the paved path back, or take the tram if you’re feeling particularly tired.

3: Seven Falls (via Bear Canyon Trail): Moderate

This 7.8-mile out-and-back hike along Bear Creek, which is in Bear Canyon, just east of Sabino. As the name implies, there are waterfalls along this trail, which vary throughout the year, depending on the amount of recent rainfall. Unlike the paved Sabino Tram route, this is one of the Tucson hiking trails where you actually cross through the creek as you climb. Along the way you’ll climb about 700 feet, getting stunning views of the saguaros and the Rincon Mountains to the southeast.

NOTE: It’s important to check the hiking conditions at the visitor center before you set out (and be sure to wear shoes that can handle a little water and/or mud!). While this is one of the best Tucson hikes after rain, occasionally flash flooding can make this hike dangerous.

Take a Saguaro National Park Hike

standing amid saguaro cactus on tucson hikes
There are plenty of great Tucson hikes in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park flanks the city of Tucson with two distinct sections: The Rincon Mountain District to the east of town, and the Tucson Mountain District to the west. Both sections offer an abundance of trails through desert terrain, with plenty of opportunities to view the magnificent cacti up close for hikers of all levels. The eastern section is larger, and has some longer trails that go high into the Rincon mountains, for those looking for more challenging Tucson hikes.

Information: Saguaro National Park

Hours: Vehicles, Saguaro East-5:00 am to 8:00 pm in summer, 5:00 am to 6:00 pm in winter; Saguaro West-sunrise to sunset, year-round. Park is open to hikers and cyclists 24 hours/day.

Admission: All passes are good for 1 week: Vehicle-$25.00; Motorcycle-$20.00; Individual-$15.00. National Park Passes are accepted.

4: Desert Ecology Trail & Mica Trail (Saguaro East): Accessible/Flat

There are two trails in Saguaro East that are great for those looking for flat Tucson hikes; these trails also provide access for those using wheelchairs. The 1/4 mile paved Desert Ecology trail has exhibits about the plants and animals that are found in the Sonoran Desert. Resting benches are spaced along the trail. Separately, a 0.7 mile portion of the Mica View Trail is graded to ADA standards and surfaced with a natural material that supports all types of wheelchairs. Park at Mica View Picnic Area or the Broadway Trail head.

5: Freeman Homestead Trail (Saguaro East): Easy

This 1.1 mile “balloon” trail is a one of our favorite short Tucson hikes for families. The trail is meanders through a wonderfully dense grove of saguaros and past the site of an old homestead foundation, which provides a real sense of discovery. There are interpretive signs and featuring exploration activities for little ones, making this more than just a “walk to see some cactus.” Although fairly flat, the trail has some steps and is rocky in places. Therefore strollers & other wheeled vehicles are not recommended.

back of woman in blue shirt on tucson hiking trail with cholla cactus
Many tucson hiking trails are flat and suitable for families

6: Douglas Spring Trail to Bridal Wreath Falls (Saguaro East): Moderate

This 5.8-mile out-and-back hike to Bridal Wreath Falls is popular with birders. The seasonal falls (most likely after summer monsoons or winter snowmelt) are a hit with the feathered set. Regardless of the time of year, this is one of the Tucson hikes that climbs into the Rincon Mountains and offers good views of the city of Tucson and the Catalina Mountains to the north, along with plenty of saguaros and other cactus. You might also spot a group of riders heading out from the luxury Tanque Verde Guest Ranch.

7: Tanque Verde Ridge Trail (Saguaro East): Moderate to Difficult

This trail up to Tanque Verde Peak is not for the faint of heart. With a 2,000 foot climb over 8 miles, it’s certainly one of the more challenging hikes in greater Tucson. The good news is that this is an out-and-back route, so you can turn around at any point, making the hike as long (or short) as you like.

After a fairly steep 3/4 miles, you are already up on the ridge, so views to the west and south over the Tucson basin are spectacular, and just keep getting better the higher you climb. (Be sure to take in the Boneyard, where more than 4,000 military planes are stored in the desert sun.) A good shorter hike goal is at the 2.5-mile mark, where you’ll see an example of the rare (1 in 10,000!) crested saguaro cactus. If you’re planning to hike the 8.7 miles to Tanque Verde Peak, consider camping at the Juniper Basin Campground, at the 6.9-mile mark.

8: Desert Discovery Trail (Saguaro West): Accessible/Flat

Those seeking flat terrain with interpretive signs will find it on this 1/2 mile paved trail in Saguaro West. The trail features shade ramadas with resting benches scattered along the textured pavement trail. Trail guides in braille may be obtained at the visitor center. This is also a great trail for photo ops: the views of saguaros at sunset are fabulous.

9: King Canyon/Gould Mine Trail (Saguaro National Park West): Easy to Moderate

This is one of the Tucson hikes that offers a little bit of everything: a climb up a dry wash, lots saguaros, scenic views . . . and the remains of an abandoned copper mine. All this in a 2.5-mile loop! Begin the hike scaling the King Canyon Wash bottom, which is sandy with several rocky stair-step ways to climb as you go.

After a mile or so, the trail connects to the Gould Mine trail, which passes by piles colorful copper residue piles, along with the remains of a stone cabin and a few mine shaft entrances. Although this trail is within the national park boundaries, the entrance to trail is accessible from a small parking lot in Tucson Mountain Park, which is free.

PRO TIP: The King Canyon Trail straddles Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park. Saguaro National Park charges a fee, however if you park at the Tucson Mountain Park trailhead, you can access this trail for free.

10: Hugh Norris Trail to Wasson Peak (Saguaro West): Moderate to Difficult

At 4,369 feet, Wasson Peak is the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains west of the city. You’ll climb roughly 2,000 feet over the roughly 4.5 miles to reach the peak on this out-and-back hike. But the views once you reach Wasson Peak are totally worth it: a 360-degree panorama of the entire Tucson basin.

Along the way you’ll see plenty of saguaros (natch!), plus ocotillo, barrel cactus and prickly pear. There’s also the remains of an abandoned mining shack, which is a fun (and shady) diversion. Remember to sign the log book at the top of Wasson Peak . . . if you make it this far, you certainly deserve the credit!

Hiking trails in Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park is one of the largest municipally-managed natural resource areas in the U.S. There are more than 60 miles of shared-use trails in the park’s roughly 20,000 acres, so there are an almost endless combination of trails you can take here. The park is located just south of Saguaro National Park’s Western section. As a result the scenery (i.e. Saguaros everywhere!) is very similar. And best of all, the park is FREE.

11: Hidden Canyon Bowen Loop Trail: Easy to Moderate

This 2-mile trail gives visitors a terrific snapshot of Tucson saguaros in a fairly compact loop. The trail begins and ends just behind the Marriott Starr Pass Resort, making it a great option if you’re staying at that hotel. Begin on the more southerly (and flatter) Bowen Trail, then turn off to the Hidden Canyon Trail after about 0.3 miles.

The trail will climb about 300 feet via some switchbacks, and is rocky in spots. But you’ll be rewarded with a quiet canyon full of saguaros, ocotillos, and other cacti. This trail is particularly lovely in spring, when the cactus flowers are in bloom. If you’re looking for a rich Tucson hiking experience that doesn’t take too long, this is highly recommended.

12: Rock Wren/Yetman/Bowen Trail Loop: Easy to Moderate

This is a pleasant 5-mile loop that we created ourselves by using the excellent trail map of Tucson Mountain Park. It involves a little gentle climbing on saguaro-strewn hills, plus a hike through a sandy wash that leads past the stone remains of the Bowen homestead. (Always cool to find ruins while hiking!)

Begin at the Richard Genser Trail Head and eventually exit the park behind the Marriott Starr Pass Resort. From here, the last mile-ish is an easy amble through the Starr Pass neighborhood back to the parking lot. We like to stop at the Marriott for a coffee (on chilly days) or a refreshing cool drink (when the weather is hot), enjoying the view from their patio before heading back to our car. It’s a fun indulgence at the end of an enjoyable hike.

13: Brown Mountain Trail: Moderate

woman in blue shirt hiking in tucson on Brown Mountain
Views for miles as you hike the ridge of Brown Mountain

It’s fun to be able to climb a (not too high) mountain and walk along its ridge as you take in the surrounding views. Brown Mountain offers that in this 4.5 mile loop trail in the western part of the park. All told you climb ascend about 500 feet over the course of about a mile to reach the ridge, then enjoy a few dips and bumps as you skirt along the top. After descending at the opposite end of the ridge, the return portion of the loop is along the valley floor, amid lots of cactus of all varieties. There are also restrooms and picnic tables here.

This is one of the Tucson hikes that passes along a ridge, offering great views of the valley below, including Old Tucson Studios off to the south. It’s easy to imagine you’re in some old Western movie, perched on a lookout point, a “pardner” scouting for cattle rustlers 🤠.

Catalina Foothills Hikes

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the western end of Santa Catalina Mountains and is adjacent to Coronado National Forest. The park includes some great Tucson hiking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas and equestrian trails in 5,500 acres of desert landscape, (which includes almost 5,000 saguaros!).

Information: Catalina State Park

Open: 5am to 10pm Daily; check website for holiday hours.

Admission: $7.00/vehicle; $3.00/individuals, cyclists

14: Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail (Catalina State Park): Easy

Michael standing at stone ruins on romero ruins trail


This is a fun little loop trail (3/4 mile) for those of you who like a little archaeology on your Tucson hikes. In addition to some stone remnants of the Romero homestead, this site also includes remains from a Hohokam village that’s about 1500 years old! (Wow!) There are interpretive signs along the trail explaining the the archaeology and Hohokam culture.

NOTE: Although the trail through the ruins is flat, you must climb about 80 steps to reach it, making it unsuitable for wheeled vehicles.

15: Romero Canyon Trail to Romero Pools & Romero Pass(Catalina State Park): Difficult to Strenuous

Romero Canyon offers Tucson hikes of varying degrees of difficulty, depending on how far you choose to go on this out-and-back trail. The roughly 3 mile hike to the (seasonal) Romero Pools is relatively flat for the first mile, then turns into a steep and rocky climb for the rest of the hike. Views of the canyon are magnificent, and the pools are a refreshing sight.

Those looking for more of a challenge can continue an additional 4 miles to Romero Pass at an elevation of 6,000 feet. In total you’ll scale an elevation gain of 3,300 feet, with a hike that takes about 5 hours one-way. To continue to Romero Pass, follow the trail to your right as it ascends out of the streambed. The trail then slowly climbs up-canyon to the Pass.

16: Linda Vista Trail Loop: Easy

Linda Vista is a family-friendly hike (with free access) on the western slope of the Catalinas. The 3-mile loop has just enough short climbs up and down for kids to feel like they’re on “nature’s playgym,” but never so much that it becomes a slog. Access this trail via a small parking lot behind the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy off of Oracle Road. Although adjacent to a neighborhood of upscale homes, you quickly reach a small valley where you feel you’re in the middle of the saguaro wilderness.

There are some spectacular saguaros here, including one that has over 20 arms! There are also spots with lacy green palo verde trees (the Arizona state tree), providing a dappled shade, which can be welcome on Tucson hikes. The trail is narrow at many spots, so alert young hikers to avoid “sticky” encounters with the cacti on the trail.

Tucson hikes within the city of Tucson

17: Sentinal Peak (“A Mountain”): Easy

man atop Sentinel peak with city of tucson in the distance
Standing alongside the giant “A” with a terrific view of Tucson in the distance

This is one of most popular hikes in Tucson–and it’s free to access. It’s hard to miss the huge “A” that adorns the side of a small mountain southwest of downtown Tucson. Sentinel Peak served as a sentry point to alert Tucson of impending danger during the Civil War. But after a University of Arizona football victory in 1915, students claimed it as their own by constructing a massive basalt “A” (160 feet high x 70 feet wide!) on the mountain’s face and whitewashing it for all to see.

Today there is a paved drive up to the top, with picnic tables and benches on the western side of the mountain. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, park at the trailhead lot partway up, and hike the trail that brings you across the saddle and up to the top. You pass through some lovely saguaro and cholla cactus before reaching the Big A, and are rewarded with a spectacular view of downtown Tucson (and the U of A campus in the distance). Go Wildcats! 😊

18: Rillito River Park Path: Accessible

The Rillito River Park Path is a 10-mile paved path (with free access) that follows along the Rillito River/Wash northeast of Tucson. The Park is part of the 136-mile Chuck Huckleberry Loop that is popular with cyclists. The path is flat and crosses the River periodically via dedicated bridges. There are parks and stopping points along the way, making this a nice option among Tucson hikes if you’d like to take a more leisurely stroll as well.

The Rillito River Path is accessible to everyone, photo courtesy Visit Tucson

The path is popular with cyclists as well as hikers/walkers (and the occasional horse!), so everyone should be mindful of others using the path.

PRO TIP: Take the Rillito Park Path on a Sunday morning and stop in at the Heirloom Farmer’s market. It’s a lively event with dozens of food and craft vendors, as well as some terrific food trucks offering yummy breakfast treats.

Tucson Hiking: Cienega Creek Natural Preserve

19: AZT loop via Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead: Easy

This 2-mile loop, which is (a short) part of the Arizona National Scenic Trail (AZT) is one of the more unique hikes in Tucson. Pass through serene Davidson Canyon, a riparian habitat in the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve that is free to use. Pass under shady cottonwood trees as you hike along the sand creek bed (dry in all but the summer monsoon months). Cross under an active Union Pacific Railroad bridge before climbing back up to a ridge and the return portion of the trail (which parallels a second railroad bridge). Chances are pretty good that you’ll see at least one freight train passing through during your hike, reminiscent of a scene in a Breaking Bad episode.

SPECIAL NOTE: This trailhead commemorates Gabe Zimmerman , a US congressional aide who was killed in 2011. He loved this portion of the Arizona Trail. Read more about him on the Arizona Trail website.

A poignant sign commemorating Gabe Zimmerman at the trailhead bearing his name

Want more Tucson hiking recommendations?

If you’re looking for more hikes in and around Tucson, we suggest picking up a copy of Five Star Trails: Tucson by Rob Rachowiecki. The author lives in Tucson and provides lots of detail about the area and the many hikes you can take there. As you can see from the photo, our copy is pretty dog-eared because we use it so much. Highly recommended! It’s available on Amazon.

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Photo-op classic cars parked in random spots all around Tucson. How wonderfully odd!

Truly Nolen cars are a staple in the Tucson landscape. But why are classic cars perched on random street corners with the words “TRULY NOLEN” painted on the side? We were on a mission to find out.

What are Truly Nolen cars?

Truly Nolen cars are one of the truly (yeah, we really said that) unique things about Tucson: classic cars parked all over Tucson with the words TRULY NOLEN boldly painted on them. There are more than fifty of these cars, turning the southern Arizona city into an unofficial outdoor car museum. They’re such a fixture that most locals take them for granted. Perhaps it’s because, with 350 days of sunshine per year, Tucson is one of the best cities in America to own a classic car. There’s hardly any rain and you certainly don’t have to worry about corrosive salt being put down on the roads to counter ice and snow.

1948 light blue Chevy-one of the Truly Nolen cars to be found on a random Tucson street corner

But that still doesn’t explain why they’re here. As nice as the climate is in Tucson though, we’re not sure we’d leave a classic car parked outside permanently, certainly not a collection of 50 classic cars. But then again, we’re not mid-century extermination magnates. The cars are part of a quirky marketing campaign for the Truly Nolen exterminating company, a national company founded in Tucson by the eponymous Truly Nolen–yes, that was his real name. His siblings included Really and Sincere Leigh. (Seriously. And yes, really.)

How Truly Nolen Cars Began

The whole spectacle began in 1955. Young exterminating entrepreneur Truly Nolen’s car broke down while he was driving around town on business. Truly had to leave the car parked outside a mechanic’s garage for a week while he waited for his next paycheck to cover the repairs. Fortunately for him, that car had the company name and phone number prominently displayed on the side.

We met with Michelle Nolen Senner, the company’s current head of public relations (and Truly’s daughter), who told us, “During that period he received more calls than ever for new business. He loved marketing and he loved old cars, so he got an idea.” And what an idea that was.

From an idea to a marketing classic

Truly started acquiring cars and painting his name on the side. (In the late 50s these would have simply been used cars–who knew they’d become classics?) Then he began parking them at prominent intersections throughout town; in fact, they’re now known as “corner cars.”

The landowners welcomed the classic cars to their site; the conversation piece drew in new customers for their own businesses, many of which were auto-related, such as body shops and car washes. Some of the cars are paired up with businesses that inadvertently create a happy coincidence. For example, a 1956 Pontiac—with its iconic jet-wing hood ornament—is parked in front of a Jet Wash car wash.

Due to the desert sand, this Pontiac looks like it could use a trip through the Jet Wash

Gradually the fleet expanded to more than 50 classic cars and continues to grow. At any one time you might run into a 1929 Nash Cabriolet or a 1934 Hudson and more, either parked around town or participating in various civic activities and car shows. The company gets the best response from chrome-filled cars of the 1950s and 1960s, like a 1950 Studebaker or the two-tone turquoise-and-white 1957 Nash Metropolitan.

Amazingly, all of the Truly Nolen cars are unlocked–what a great photo op!

People really like the cars with prominent tail fins that take them back to a 1950s malt shoppe.

Truly’s personal 1957 red-and-white Chevy Bel Air—his daily driver—is a valued artifact and kept at the company lot.  Senner recalls, “The first time I took it out for a drive was to a Starbucks. When I got back in the car I realized there were no cup holders!”

Sitting in Truly Nolen’s favorite car-truly a treat (even though there are no cup holders!)

“Mouse Cars”: the new classic

In 1961 the company started turning Volkswagen Beetles (no coincidence that an exterminating company used a car named after a bug) into “mouse cars,” complete with mouse ears on top and a tail in the rear. (A 1974 VW “mouse car” is one of the classics parked around town.) The next logical step? The “Mouselimo:” a stretch Beetle that made it into the Guinness World Records as the longest VW Beetle. As it’s an unusual car to stretch, there are only three in the world.

Vintage car lovers in Tucson can go on a cool scavenger hunt by driving around town seeking out these shiny classics parked on their prominent perches. While Truly Nolen passed away in 2017 at the age of 89, his legacy lives on with the corner cars.

PRO TIP: To see additional classic cars parked outside the Truly Nolen offices in Arizona, drive by 3636 E. Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716 or attend one of their car shows.

Bonus sightings: Classic cars in the Truly Nolen spirit

In a sort of homage to the Truly Nolen marketing model, other companies in Tucson also park classic cars out front with the company name on them. A first-generation Mustang painted with a Mexican flag is parked in front of the legendary Sonoran hot dog restaurant El Guero Canelo, while a 1937 Hudson Terraplane is parked outside Buck’s Automotive Repair. When asked if the latter still runs, the owner replies, “Every day. Everything still works, even the original radio.”  The car is a favorite find for kids who are playing Pokémon Go. 

When it comes to marketing exterminating services, Truly Nolen definitely built a better mouse trap and created a unique feature of Tucson that everyone can still, well, truly enjoy.


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