Best Public Urban Garden
Tucson Botanical GardenREADERS' AND STAFF PICK: Tucson Botanical Garden is a 5-1/2-acre getaway, and you don't even have to leave town. Think of it as an exploration of horticultural possibilities. You'll find a backyard bird garden, including some rare avian visitors. This has been a bountiful year for lizards, and six different species can be observed as you walk the garden's paths. Sit a spell in a shady spot and listen to the subtle sounds of desert life tucked into an urban oasis. Then check out the Sensory Garden, featuring plants to sniff and rub; take an extra moment to stick your face in a patchouli plant. There's a picnic area and a Reception Garden, popular for weddings and parties; a compost demonstration site; and cactus plots from Arizona, Mexico and South America. Bring the kids and houseguests. Or sneak in by yourself for some R&R. Later this month, the gardens, will host the fall plant sale and the popular Fiesta de los Chiles.
2150 N. Alvernon Way
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: The microcosm of the Sonoran Desert, Tohono Chul Park, at 7366 N. Paseo del Norte, makes the drive north of River Road worthwhile. Relax at one of the bird stations, and watch for some of the 15 species of native birds and 25 visiting species. Hummingbirds, cardinals, woodpeckers and roadrunners will surprise and delight visitors, and if you're lucky, you may spot a coyote, a desert tortoise or a javelina. A hundred species (and 400 varieties) of arid-climate plants are featured on the 37-plus-acre park. Almost always, something's in bloom. You'll forget you're in the middle of a bustling urban district, that Oracle Road is a cactus wren's flit away. Also featured is a tea room with a Spanish colonial atmosphere. After your stroll and nibble, visit the exhibit hall, currently featuring Mexican folk arts and photographs celebrating the Day of the Dead, or the gallery, displaying a collection of votive paintings documenting the experiences of Mexican migrants to the United States