Best Of Tucson®

Best Urban Ambiance

Fourth Avenue

Established as the community's first urban shopping area, Fourth Avenue has been Tucson's big top, the place to see and be seen for almost a century. And for many years, it has been the city's official anti-mall, a welcome relief from the corporate blandness of modern America.

An introduction to Fourth Avenue might start with its long list of fine dining opportunities, coffee shops and drinking establishments. Or it could begin with the dozens of specialty stores which sell things ranging from exotic incense to salt crystals, rustic candles to family history heraldry. Or it might originate with the custom clothes offered for anything from a costume party to a couture ball.

But another side of Fourth Avenue is its architectural character. Going north from the 1916 underpass, a visitor is struck by the bright colors of the street. The eye-catching blues, reds, greens, yellows and purples of the place give it a cozy, human feeling not found in any shopping mall.

Add to that the unusual features of the Avenue. There is a chair sitting on the roof of one building. A few stores have watchtowers and cupolas looking down on passersby. There is even a Quonset hut just off the street along with a small, quiet garden with two stone lions a block away.

The clientele of Fourth Avenue is as diverse as its design. Morning attracts aging shoppers out looking for groceries, while at noontime, the street is full of professionals seeking a place to eat. Afternoon might find kids from nearby Tucson High searching for something exciting to wear, while sunset brings out the city's hip crowd.

This eclectic mix of people, however, did not come easily. Today's commercial success of Fourth Avenue can be traced back to the 1970s, when shopkeepers and building owners decided they needed to set their own direction. Instead of relying on government assistance, they started the street fair and counted on their own ingenuity to compete with major retailers.

The results are obvious. The demand for space has long meant that even the side streets have become attractive to businesses of all sorts.

If the Avenue has one rule, it is: Sameness Not Encouraged. Following that motto, the merchants, property owners and customers of Fourth Avenue have made it a Tucson tradition worth visiting over and over again.

Runners up:

2. Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.

3. Downtown

Unclear on the concept vote: "Paris, France"

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