Gastronomy Tour in Marana, Arizona

In 2015, UNESCO named Tucson, Arizona a “City of Gastronomy.” Tucson was the first city in the U.S. to earn these bragging rights, although San Antonio just joined the list in 2017, along with cities like Parma, Italy and Chengdu, China. Tucson received this honor for having the longest agricultural history of any city in the U.S and a thriving culinary culture. While Tucson’s vineyards, orchards and livestock ranching go back 300 years, there is human history and agricultural evidence here dating back thousands of years. To showcase the UNESCO designation, the town of Marana, in conjunction with Gray Line Arizona, has put together the most unique Arizona food tour you will find, which also happens to be the first tour approved by UNESCO.

The Marana Gastronomy Tour is “an epicurean journey illuminated by 4,000 years of Agriculture.”

This Arizona food tour and history lesson is offered just a few Friday’s each month, so whether you are a Tucson native or visitor, you’ll want to make a reservation for this tour as soon as you can! For $109, you will be escorted on a 6-hour gastronomy journey around the town of Marana, concluding with an exquisite sampling of local foods at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain. What is truly unique about this tour is that is it led by Dr. Suzanne Fish,University of Arizona Emerita Professor and Arizona State Museum Curator and one of the world’s experts on Hohokam foodways.

The Marana Gastronomy Tour includes 4 stops in and around the town of Marana. The entire presentation is built around 3 kinds of food: ancient wild foods, ancient farm foods and food brought by the Europeans.

Gastronomy Stop #1: Los Morteros Conservation Area

Our first stop is Los Morteros, named after the mortar holes found here, which you can see in the photo above. This is where Hohokam women would gather to grind mesquite pods into flour. This area is also rich with artifacts such as pottery sherds. (Yes, sherds, not shards – it was news to me as well!) Anytime we found something, we excitedly brought it to Dr. Fish to tell us what we’d found, hoping for a groundbreaking discovery! This is also the site of an ancient ball court, which you can still walk the perimeter of today.

(Above: Dr. Fish shows the Mayor of Marana examples of painted pottery)

Gastronomy Stop #2: Catalina Brewing Company

After walking around the desert site, we had worked up a thirst and an appetite! Luckily, our next stop was Catalina Brewing Company.

Catalina Brewing Company manufactures and distributes a variety of craft beers designed and created from local materials with the southern Arizona market in mind

Our five beer tastings included Monkey Brew, made with white Sonoran wheat, the same strain that Father Kino, a Jesuit missionary, brought to the region in the 1700’s. There is also a prickly pear ale, a mesquite porter and a mesquite agave brew.

While Catalina Brewing Company doesn’t prepare food, this stop also included a sampling of Bean Tree Farm foods, such as salsa with barrel cactus and prickly pear, desert chutney, and mesquite chocolate chile sauce.

Gastronomy Stop #3: Agave Farm

After refueling at the brewery, it was time to get back in the bus for our next stop at the Hohokam agave fields historical site. Dating back to 1100-1300 AD, nearly 20,000 acres of former agave fields have been discovered between Tucson and Phoenix. The farm system here was extensive with rock beds built to capitalize on the water flow and roasting pits also uncovered in this area. Agave has many uses for food, drink and textiles.

Gastronomy Stop #4: Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain

By late afternoon, it was time to head to our final stop at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain, which was the perfect cap to this unique food tour. As you can imagine, the resort is in the most gorgeous setting (nearby hiking trails have become my new favorite) and they also had a life-size dine-in gingerbread house which can be reserved for a private dining experience. Our tasting was specially created by Executive Chef David Serus, and featured an assortment of the ancient and wild flavors of the region. The menu changes with the seasons, so no two tours are the same!

We started with a Heritage Grain Salad made with white Sonoran wheat berries, pecans, pistachios, tomatoes, dates and bee pollen.

Marana Gastronomy TourRitz Carlton Dove MountainHeritage Grain Salad

Followed by a green corn tamale made with poblano pepper, asadero and heirloom corn masa.

Our third course is a White Sonora Cavatelli, again made with the Sonoran wheat, porchetta, pistachio and onion, followed by a White Sonora Bunuelo for dessert, drizzled with saguaro syrup.

To accompany these delicious plates, we also had red wine from Arizona’s Burning Tree Cellars and a special cocktail made from Tucson’s Del Bac whiskey.  Each course was presented by the chef, with background story on how and why the ingredients were selected.

I’ve taken several food tours, but this tour was such a unique combination of food and history. As someone intrigued by Native American history and culture, I loved the format of this tour and highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Tucson area. It’s not everyday you get to dine at the Ritz Carlton with a world-renowned anthropologist! There is quite a bit of walking through dusty fields, so keep this in mind when choosing your footwear, and you will be out in the sun, so sunscreen and a hat are a good idea!

Do you love food tours as much as I do? What’s been your favorite?

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I was a guest of Discover Marana for this tour. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.

Prescott: Arizona’s Christmas City

Just over 3 hours from Tucson, or 90 minutes from Phoenix, you’ll find the town of Prescott, Arizona. (Pronounced like press-kit, not pres-cott) At an elevation of 5300′, Prescott has a very different climate than the big cities of Arizona, and therefore makes an excellent weekend getaway if you’re looking for cooler weather, fall color, or winter snow! Additionally, Prescott is a super dog-friendly destination. You and your pup will have lots of options for pet friendly hotels in Prescott, AZ and dog-friendly restaurants in Prescott, AZ.

Arizona’s Christmas City

Prescott is known as Arizona’s Christmas City. I arrived just a week too early to see the holiday festivities, but the preparations were in full swing. Starting with the courthouse lighting on the first Saturday of December, followed by weekly events like a holiday parade, lighting parade and musical performances throughout the town, Christmas season is a big deal in Prescott!

Prescott Courthouse LightingCourtesy of Dave Veatch, provided by Visit Prescott

(Photo courtesy of Visit Prescott, photographer: Dave Veatch)

To get a feel for the town, first take a stroll around the Courthouse Plaza.

Each street around the square is lined with shops and restaurants, and many buildings have a ton of history dating back to the 1800’s, which you can sometimes spots on plaques throughout the downtown area.

Where to Eat in Prescott

Prescott has so many restaurant options, from your favorite chain restaurants to historic saloons serving up Western fare. There is no shortage of great places to eat, and plenty of dog-friendly restaurants in Prescott, AZ.

Prescott Station Grill and Bar

I treated myself to a nice dinner upon arrival in town, after 2 days of “road trip food.” Prescott Station has a very eclectic menu – everything from seafood, pasta, ramen, poke, elk fajitas and steaks. The service and food were both excellent. What slightly irked me was the 4% “service charge” added to all bills due to “rising healthcare costs.” It frustrates me when businesses pass along business expenses in hidden charges like this rather than just raise their prices to cover the cost of doing business. I worry that customers will think this is a tip and reduce theirs accordingly. End rant. Good food, questionable pricing strategy.

Dinner at Prescott Station

Prescott Station, Gurley St & Marina St, $40 for 1 entree + wine. Dog-friendly patio in season.

The Barley Hound

If you want a more hipster atmosphere, The Barley Hound has an interesting menu and a heated, dog-friendly patio. The Duck burger seemed to be the house specialty, so I went with that. It also came with duck-fat fries, which were pretty good. Even better when I realized the weird taste was from the curry ketchup and not the fries! It was pretty dark inside, so I had no idea what I was eating! An added bonus is an actual dog-menu – yep, your pup can have his own dish (chicken & rice or steak & rice) straight from the kitchen!

The Barley Hound, Prescott

The Barley Hound, Cortez St, $18 for a burger + soda, Dog-friendly heated patio

The Palace

The Palace is the oldest frontier saloon in Arizona, dating back to 1877. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are some of the famous patrons who used to frequent the saloon. Today, you’ll find the same old west atmosphere (including costumed wait staff) and a nice menu of typical American fare, including steaks and burgers. There is a dog-friendly patio out back, and they’ll even bring you a water dish for your pup.

The Palace on Whiskey Row, sandwiches $8-12, steaks $18-35, dog-friendly patio

 

Where to Play in Prescott

Prescott is an outdoor lover’s dream, and I anticipate returning here in the summer when Tucson weather gets too hot. There are tons of trails close to town, and if hiking is your jam, you’ll love this list the city put together complete with mileage and links to download maps here. If you feel like a drive, Prescott is just 1.5 hours from Sedona and 2.5 hours from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

Watson Lake Park

Watson Lake is super cool and deserves a spot on your Prescott itinerary. I first spotted this beauty on Instagram, and it was also recommended to me by several locals. The trail around the lake is just under 5 miles. Watson Lake also has a campground that is open from Spring through Fall. If you happen to visit in October, you might even partake in the Dogtoberfest celebrations.

Watson Lake, Prescott

Lynx Lake – Prescott National Forest

Lynx Lake is a beautiful National Forest property just 5 minutes off the main highway. There is a lovely path around the entire lake, which is just over 3 miles. In season, there are boat rentals as well. Parking is $5, unless you have a National Parks pass. This was my favorite hike in the Prescott area.

Lynx Lake hike, Prescott

Goldwater Lake

Goldwater Lake is another great spot to soak up some nature super close to downtown Prescott. There are concessions and boat rentals here as well.

Goldwater Lake, Prescott

Where to Stay in Prescott

Residence Inn Prescott

Marriott’s Residence Inn is one of my favorite dog-friendly hotel chains, but we don’t often stay in them because the $75 pet fee is a bit high for a 2-3 night stay. I love the consistency between properties and the layout of the suites always leaves me wanting to move in. I mean, I literally could live in one and be perfectly happy as there’s everything I need and nothing more! The Prescott location is just on the edge of town as you enter from Prescott Valley. It is close to shopping, dining and downtown Prescott is just minutes away. Add a hot breakfast, heated outdoor pool and complimentary grocery-shopping service – what more could anyone need? (Weekend rates starting at $179)

If you prefer a more historic lodging option, the Hassayampa Inn is a beautifully restored 1927 boutique hotel in the heart of historic downtown Prescott. Pets under 45 lbs stay for free! (Weekend rates starting at $179)

Getting to Prescott

Prescott is easy to access, no matter your mode of transportation. It’s an easy drive from anywhere in Arizona. (3 hours from Tucson or 90 minutes from Phoenix) Prescott’s airport has daily flights from Denver and Los Angeles, and the Arizona Shuttle can bring you to Prescott from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport.

Are you ready to start planning your visit to Prescott, Arizona? The Visitor’s Center website is a great place to start!

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I received a discounted media rate at the Residence Inn Prescott. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.

Sonoran Tasting Tours: A Tour of Tucson Wineries

While I’m not a wine connoisseur, I do enjoy a glass every now and then, and of course wanted to get to know my new hometown, so I jumped at the chance to join Sonoran Tasting Tours for a tour of Tucson’s wine region. Who even knew Tucson had a wine region? I sure didn’t! I just recently visited Southern Oregon, which is also a wine region, and the topography and climate could not be more different! In any case, it works! The Sonoita Valley, located about an hour south of Tucson, is a designated American Viticulture Area, Arizona’s first wine-growing region. Here you’ll find over a dozen vineyards and tasting rooms. In order to fully enjoy the tastings, you’ll want to leave the driving to Sonoran Tasting Tours. The Sonoita Tour ($99-$109) is the most popular, and includes 3 vineyard stops, as well as lunch and round-trip transportation from Tucson. Have a large group? You can also charter a private tour.

Our driver, Roy, picked each of us up at our homes or hotels and we were on the road around 9:30 to make the 1 hour drive to Sonoita. On the drive, Roy asked us which vineyards we’d like to visit, which threw us off guard for a minute. None of us had researched any stops ahead of time, so we had no preferences. I only mention this in case you do have a preference or want to do a bit of research ahead of time. With no suggestions from us, Roy made the decisions where to stop for the day. (Except for lunch, which was pre-ordered. Once you’ve registered, you will be contacted to provide your lunch selection.)

Dos Cabezas

Our first stop is at Dos Cabezas Wineworks. Here we received tasting glasses to use for the rest of the day, and were given a menu, from which we chose 6 wines to sample. They also had a great selection of t-shirts available. Of the 3 stops, we all agreed Dos Cabezas had the best wine, and several bottles were purchased before moving on to the next vineyard.

Arizona Hops & Vines

Arizona Hops & Vines is women-owned and has a great, eclectic atmosphere. Outside, you’ll find a variety of farm animals roaming the property, although on our visit, there was some hub-bub around the licensing/regulation of vineyards and we were not allowed to bring any alcohol outdoors. Hopefully that gets resolved soon, as it’s a great property to take in. Inside is equally fun, and you’ll want to check out the details, including the bathroom!

Sonoran Tasting ToursArizona Hops And Vines

At Arizona Hops & Vines, we also had 6 wine tastings, though they were pre-determined, unlike the other tasting rooms. This allowed the server to better explain each wine as it is being served, and the best part of this stop were the food pairings. In addition to funky labels and fun names like Ro-Sham-Bo, each wine was paired with a fun snack like pork rinds, cheesy poofs, and cocoa puffs! Sounds weird, but they all paired really well! We voted this as the tasting room with the best snack pairings!

Sonoran Tasting ToursArizona Hops And Vines

Charron Vineyards

Our final tasting of the day is at Charron Vineyards, one of Southern Arizona’s oldest vineyards. Charron has an interesting mix of wines, including white merlot and others which all have a history. The server here was super informative and had lots of stories about the history of the vineyard and the various wines. Best of all, we were able to enjoy our tastings from a beautiful patio overlooking the vines. Because of that, our group voted this stop as the best setting and best view. We sampled several wines before hopping back in the van for the ride back to Tucson.

Sonoran Tasting ToursCharron Vineyards

Lunch at the Cafe

Between wine stops #2 and #3, we had lunch at the Sonoita Cafe. Three of us were given a lunch choice when reserving our trip, while a 4th missed that option and ordered on site. Small hiccup, but it didn’t cause much delay. I had a chipotle caesar salad and the dressing had a nice kick to it. This was a great, simple and fast lunch to continue our wine tasting.

Have you done a tasting tour? What’s your favorite wine region?

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wine tasting tucson

I was a guest of Sonoran Tasting Tours. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.