Best Of Tucson®

Best Piece of Tucson History

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Step right up to the best show on (this part of the) Earth: the Catholic conquest of converts in the Pimería Alta! It's all right here under the big top--the big white top of the mission church of San Xavier del Bac. The bright, white, frontier-Baroque church rose from the desert scrub in 1797 (except for one of its two towers, which remains domeless). Still a working Catholic parish, San Xavier serves the people of the Tohono O'odham Reservation to this day, as well as the thousands of tourists every week who thrill to the ornate interior.

Inside, in the center ring, the main altar is a highly regarded example of a Spanish retable, perhaps the best one north of Mexico. On the left, thrill to the reclining statue of St. Francis, in death-defying repose behind dozens of votive candles. And all around, nearly every inch of the interior is painted with intricate designs and murals dating from the 19th century, beautifully restored just in time for San Xavier's bicentennial.

While you're here, don't miss the sideshows. See the exterior's graceful arches and domes, providing amazing contrast with the squared-off towers! See the other little chapels and shrines on the grounds, mere Tom Thumbs compared to the main church's incredible architectural musculature!

And no visit to this stunning Circus of the Soul could end without snacks and souvenirs. To make your experience complete, purchase Tohono O'odham crafts and food at the small marketplace across the parking lot.

All circus silliness aside, San Xavier remains Tucson's most beloved landmark, and our only architectural link to the 18th century, since all traces of the Spanish fort east of the Santa Cruz in what is now downtown Tucson and the convento on the opposite bank were plowed under decades ago. Whenever you tire of Tucson's fire-breathing motorists and clowning politicians, you can always soothe your soul with a trip to San Xavier, the White Dove of the Desert.

Runners up:

2. Old Tucson, 201 S. Kinney Road

3. Fort Lowell, 2900 N. Craycroft