Tucson can't match Phoenix-Scottsdale for quantity of top-tier hotels and golf courses, but it stacks up well where quality is concerned. Off-course, Tucson's nearby hills are perfect for mountain biking or horseback riding. And for those in need of some R&R, it's the luxury-spa capital of the Southwest. Life in Balance at Miraval and the Canyon Ranch Spa have both been rated among the nation's best. There aren't quite as many diversions down here, but Tucson delivers great buddy golf in a relaxed atmosphere.
Westin La Paloma
520-742-6000; westinlapalomaresort.com; from $349/night. You can't go wrong with Loews Ventana Canyon or the Hilton El Conquistador for a first-class golf experience, but overall, the Westin gets the nod as much for its Catalinas location as for its three beautiful (and brutal) Nicklaus nines.
The Gallery, North Course
520-744-4700; gallerygolf.com; $175. Tucson's best-kept secret is that the public can play at the Gallery on a space-available basis. One day the John Fought and Tom Lehman–designed North course is totally private; the next day it opens its doors to savvy travelers. The same holds true for the newer South course, a Fought solo job.
520-299-1500; westinlapalomaresort.com; $195. Not a single water hazard touches La Paloma's twenty-seven Jack Nicklaus holes, but there's no shortage of trouble. Deep bunkers, huge mounds, heavily contoured greens, cactus-choked chasms—it's all there, in a gorgeous and extremely challenging package.
520-670-0400; starrpasstucson.com; $190 through April 30, then rates fall. In 2004 the premier course on Tucson's west side was reworked by Arnold Palmer into twenty-seven holes, though the saguaro-framed greens remain.
Ventana Canyon, Mountain Course
520-577-4061; thelodgeatventanacanyon.com; $225. Coyotes, horned owls, bobcats and a plethora of other critters share in the fun at this 1984 Tom Fazio design. The calendar-worthy par-three third, a flip wedge to a putting surface engulfed by saguaro cacti, is unforgettable.
McMahon's Prime Steakhouse: 520-327-7463. Tucson may have
more-historic meat-eating meccas, but none are better than
this clubby enclave. McMahon's features an outstanding wine
list and cigar bar.
Vivace (Italian): 520-795-7221. Chef Daniel Scordato has been pleasing Tucson palates for decades. This spot, with its handsome, Tuscan-style setting, is his best yet. The penne with sausage and sweet roasted red pepper is a classic.
Miraval, Life in Balance: 800-232-3969, miravalresort
Michael Jordan is just one famous patron of this monument
to well-being. It's not just grooming and massage, either.
Check out the golf fitness and nutritional programs.
University of Arizona Men's Basketball: TickCo, 800-279-4444, tickco.com. Home games of coach Lute Olson's perennial powerhouse Wildcats at McKale Center are the toughest tickets in the state.
*ALL LODGING PRICES BASED ON DOUBLE OCCUPANCY