Tubac and namesake resort captivate visitors
Nestled in the high desert of the Santa Cruz Valley, in the shadow of the Santa Rita Mountains, lies one of the earliest settlements in the state of Arizona. Tubac was established way back in 1752 as a Spanish presidio. However today, artists are more prevalent than a military men. Over 100 unique shops, art galleries and restaurants inhabit the refined barrio. Just a few minutes away is the beautifully preserved Mission de Tumacácori, a national historical monument.
Located forty minutes south of Tucson, and twenty minutes north of the Mexican border town of Nogales, Tubac is surrounded by mountains and seasonal water that provide lush, high-desert vegetation along with an abundance of cottonwood and mesquite trees. Tubac is a tender breath of fresh air, far removed from the hurried world surrounding it. This lesser known destination of the Grand Canyon state is one that will captivate those on a quest to explore the last few remaining untouched discoveries of the Southwest.
My trip to Tubac started a few months earlier when I was introduced to the town at a travel conference. Living off/on most of my life in Arizona, I had heard of Tubac, but was completely unaware of the history and charm that awaited. Hollywood put Tubac on the proverbial map back in the mid-90s with the filming of the Kevin Costner movie, “Tin Cup,” which took place at the Tubac Golf Resort, the place I stayed.
While Tubac and the Golf Resort gained some notoriety from the movie “Tin Cup,” it by no means was defined by it. The quality accommodations, dining and amenities at the Tubac Golf Resort, combined with the history, art, culture and community of Tubac make the area an appealing draw for visitors. Tubac often receives national media recognition, which continues to fuel interest in the area. Condé Nast recently said that Tubac is one of 14 up-and-coming destinations—given my experience; it’s hard to disagree.
The road trip to Tubac started in Scottsdale where I picked up my girlfriend. As we drove south past Tucson we merged on to Interstate 19, where it quickly became apparent we were getting close to the Mexican border as the mileage signs turned from miles to kilometers. The drive down Interstate 19 was fairly nondescript, with what appeared to be a large mine on the western side that stretched for miles. With little fanfare and no monument signs indicating we were close, we veered off exit 40 to the I-19 frontage road and soon drove through an entrance that would lead us to the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa. Before reaching the resort, visitors wind through a housing community for perhaps half a mile.
As we made our way to the lobby after exiting the vehicle, we took notice of our surroundings. The setting was simply spectacular and felt as though we had arrived at a luxurious Mexican hacienda oasis. The grounds were lush with vibrant green and well manicured lawns, along with mature growth trees. In the distance was what looked like an 18th Century Mission façade, but later discovered it was a building…actually the wedding chapel. [Which, by the way, if you’re looking to get married, this venue would make a fantastic choice]. The resort property is encapsulated by the surrounding golf course, which offers scenic mountain views and a number of water features/golf hazards. As we looked to the far end of one of the ponds, we noticed it was full of geese. A moment later, they dotted the sky as they flew off to find another watering hole.
After checking in, we made our way to our accommodations, which was a King Hacienda Suite. At 650 square feet, the room was very spacious and nicely appointed…it featured a large living room with luscious leather furniture and rich hardwood furniture, a cozy beehive fireplace, jetted tub and separate walk-in shower. We even had a garden patio overlooking one of the holes of the golf course where we enjoyed a glass of wine that evening.
The history behind the Tubac Golf Resort is quite interesting. After a Pima Indian revolt in 1751, the Spanish began to establish presidios (fortifications) to protect their missions, people and assets. In 1787, the King of Spain granted a site for a house and four farming lots on the presidio to Don Toribio de Otero. To protect the presidio and show his appreciation, Don Otero planted fruit trees, provided soldiers with supplies and arms, and took care of their horses. This 500-acre land grant formed the core of what later became the largest cattle empire in Arizona.
The ranch changed hands several times over the years. In 1959, a group of businessmen headed by the late Bing Crosby (who was an avid golfer) acquired the Otero Ranch and began the operation, which today makes up the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa. The group painstakingly preserved the historic integrity of the original presidio, while the current owners have taken the resort to a level of sophistication that attracts guests from around the world.
On the evening of our arrival, my girlfriend and another couple dined at the Stables Restaurant and had a fantastic meal. Led by executive chef John Wooters, Stables can probably be best described as American food with a hint of the wild southwest, a dash of Italian, a touch of German and some French influences thrown in for good measure. You won’t find a lot of flair, just good quality food full of flavor. As a child, Wooters’ father was a big game hunter, so he learned at an early age how to butcher and prepare wild game. Today, you’ll see bison, buffalo and perhaps a few other game dishes on the menu, along with a several seafood and pasta offerings.
Here are some of the items we tried:
- Grilled artichoke hearts with sundried tomato campanada (pictured above)
- Rainbow Trout with heirloom tomato and French bean salad and lemon gastrique (pictured below)
- Applewood smoked bacon wrapped filet mignon with skillet browned hash potatoes, charred poblanos, mushrooms and onions
- Chocolate Molten Cake Vanilla Bean Ice Cream & Fresh Berries (pictured below)
Situated between the beautiful Fountain Courtyard and an island green of the golf course, the restaurant is named for its historic significance. Stables has a rustic, yet warm and inviting feel. The hardwood beams and hearth fireplace beckon guests to sit back and enjoy the dining experience.
The next day my girlfriend and I decided to make it a day of relaxation and so we headed to the spa for a couple of treatments. Sticking with the “hacienda” theme, we opted for the signature massage, which is described as:
A blissfully comforting full body warm oil massage gently soothing the over-stimulated nervous system, while relieving overall fatigue and nourishing the body. Traditional Indian massage techniques are combined with pure rose geranium, ylang-ylang and rosewood oils added to the effect by gently warming and calming the body. This session tends to leave guests with a profound feeling of peace and heartfelt well-being. Uh, yeah, it did.
Next, we both enjoyed a facial. I had the Gentlemen’s, while my girlfriend opted for the Customized Anti-Aging. The spa facility is relatively modest in size, but is still able to offer a wide array of both calming and invigorating treatments that focus on the mind, body, and soul.
Tubac reminds me of Taos, New Mexico with its authentic southwestern feel, quality art galleries, street-lined shops, walkable village, gastronomic restaurants and stellar accommodations. Tubac epitomizes what I look for in a road trip destination. Unfortunately, a long weekend just wasn’t enough time to take it all in. I hope to have an opportunity to return again soon.