How to Spend a Day in Oro Valley, Arizona

By Kyle & Olivia Brady | Founders of Drivin' & Vibin' | We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.

How to Spend a Day in Oro Valley Arizona

When you’re in the Tucson area in southern Arizona, a side trip up to Oro Valley is definitely in order.

In the foothills of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains, Oro Valley sets among a gorgeous landscape. It’s a young city on the move, but it has some ancient tales to tell.

Oro Valley AZ is just a few miles north of the much larger Tucson, and parts of it have a small-town feel by comparison. Recreation is big in Oro Valley. There’s an artistic bent as well because the surrounding beauty is so inspiring.

There’s so much to do in Oro Valley that it’s hard to decide what to leave out of a story like this. We’ve narrowed the list as best as we could for our suggestions on how to spend your time in Oro Valley AZ.

About Oro Valley

Oro Valley wasn’t incorporated as a city until 1974, but the name itself dates back to the 1800s. It refers to long-held beliefs that there were gold deposits somewhere near.

The territory itself has been inhabited off and on for a couple of thousands years. Its rich multicultural history is on proud display throughout the city.

Oro Valley has a population of around 45,000 and a strong tech presence. A vibrant and self-sustaining community, it’s much more than just a suburb.

There are two major seasons in Arizona – a hot summer and mild winter.  Highs can easily pass 100 in the summer months, and heat stroke is a legitimate concern. It cools down quickly at night, however. In the winter, it’s rare to have more than one hard freeze.

Are you ready to explore Oro Valley? Let’s go!

Morning in Oro Valley, Arizona

Breakfast at Sahuaro Café

Address: 12142 N. Rancho Vistoso Blvd.

Menu options: Start your day with the Southwestern flavors that are so common here, or go with something more traditional. Taste the tempting fresh-baked cinnamon rolls or tackle a three-egg omelet with your choice of ingredients. Locals love the chorizo and eggs, huevos rancheros and house-made corned beef hash.

Reasons to love it: This is the kind of place we truly wish every town had. It’s a casual, comfortable neighborhood favorite where breakfast is so popular that they serve it all day.

Tour the Honey Bee Park

Experience the unique landscape of the Sonoran Desert without leaving the city. You can hike or bike along trails that wind across 80 acres. The scenery will reveal the desert’s abundant flora and fauna. This includes scores of wildlife as well as the famous saguaro and some of its cactus cousins. The Hohokam people lived here around 450 A.D. The park contains ruins of their settlement, including petroglyphs and a few hundred houses.

How to Spend an Afternoon in Oro Valley, Arizona

Eat lunch at Harvest Restaurant

Address: 10355 N. La Cañada Dr.

Menu Options: Chef/owner Lisa Reza Shapouri’s imaginative blending of classic flavors is evident on every page of the menu. Try the pork tenderloin caprese with the honey balsamic reduction or the gnocchi chicken scallopini in a white wine and lemon beurre blanc. There are great burgers, but even the sandwich menu throws some curves. The Cobb Grilled Cheese offers flavorful bites of applewood-smoked bacon, avocado smear and gorgonzola aioli.

Reasons to love it: The terms “fresh” and “local” sometimes get overplayed a bit, but they are serious about it here at Harvest. There’s something to suit every palate, whether dressed down or sophisticated. Portions are generous.

Hike Pima Canyon Trail

Go for a walk on the edge of town for amazing views. You’ll see the canyon itself, the imposing Pusch Ridge and even the city of Tucson in the valley below. These views and the lush scenery team up to make this spectacular portal into the mountains very popular. The six-mile loop is uphill and rocky in places, so hiking boots are a good idea.

Drive the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway

There’s no better way to take in the amazing range of scenery in this area. The Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is the only paved road that reaches the mountain summit, which is 9,159 feet above sea level. From its start in Tucson (on Tanque Verde Road), you’ll roll across flat desert lands and climb through dense, hilly forests. The contrast of the terrain and its diverse vegetation is truly amazing, and it changes at every turn. The entire drive is 60 miles (there and back), and there are numerous rest areas and picnic spots along the way.

Pima Canyon Trail

Spending An Evening in Oro Valley

Dinner at Noble Hops

Address: 1335 W. Lambert Ln.

Menu Options: For the forward-thinking owners of this gastropub, local flavors should be celebrated in the glass as well as the plate. You can enjoy both here. Nibble on crispy Brussels sprouts or the signature salumi board while you mull over the full selection. Their changing selection of craft brews has something for everyone. On to the main dish, you can’t go wrong with their assortment of sandwiches or burgers (on homemade egg buns). Adventurous entrees include jackfruit carnitas, grilled Japanese eggplant and duck breast with shishito peppers, roasted vegetable and apricot chipotle miso sauce.

Other reasons to love it: There are many dining options here, but we love the fun creative energy at Noble Hops. It’s indoors and out and comfortable year round with water misters, a fire pit and built-in heaters. The centerpiece is a stunning 30-foot-long bar made from mesquite.

Drinks at The Overlook

Address: 10555 N. La Canada Dr.

Drink Options: Enjoy your after-dinner drinks in an unlikely location with an unparalleled view.  Relax and order up a beer, glass of wine or cocktail and gaze out the broad bay windows.

Reasons to love it: Time it right and you’ll catch a sensational sunset or the amazing mountain views. The Overlook is inside the old El Conquistador country club and is owned by the city. It has a community feel to it, too, like you’re part of the Oro Valley family. Is just another of the many surprises you’ll find in this cool little city.

Stargaze at Catalina State Park

 Outside the city, the skies are suitably dark for the night skies to reveal their wonders. It seems like there are more stars above Arizona – but maybe that’s just us. Catalina State Park is the perfect place to enjoy a quiet night in this magical space.

Where to Stay in Oro Valley, Arizona

South Forty RV Ranch

Address: 3600 W. Orange Grove Rd.

South Forty RV Ranch is a friendly, well-kept campground with over 200 sites, most of them crushed rock with concrete pads. Cell connectivity is good, and there is WiFi access at the clubhouse. Extras include horseshoe pits, a heated swimming pool and spa and a recreation room.

Why you’ll love staying here: There’s a relaxed atmosphere, and it’s convenient to Interstate 10 as well as many attractions. The grounds are inviting, with palm trees, azaleas, bougainvillea and cactus. Most sites have picnic tables.

A Day in Oro Valley

Though it lives a bit in the shadow of big neighbor Tucson, the smaller Oro Valley is worth a short venture. Not too big and not too small, it’s a delightful desert destination. It’s an easy commute to and from Tucson and has a personality all its own. There’s lots to see here, and there will be lots to remember.

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