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Tucson or Phoenix – Which Suits You Better?

by Susan Quilty on 11 Comments

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Comparing Arizona’s two largest cities turns up many similarities as well as a few differences.

Though they are situated only about 120 miles apart, the Arizona cities of Tucson and Phoenix each have their own distinctive characteristics. Many people who have lived in both areas tend to prefer one over the other, but the reasons behind the choice often come down to personal preferences. When comparing Tucson and Phoenix, you should first evaluate what you are looking for in a retirement town.

Size, both in population and geography, is one of the more obvious distinctions between the cities of Tucson and Phoenix. Though these two cities are the largest in the state of Arizona, there is a vast size difference between the two. Sprawling over 475 square miles, Phoenix is more than double the land size of Tucson, which is reflected in the cities’ population data. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 estimate, the city of Tucson had a population of 518,956, while the city of Phoenix’s population had climbed to 1,512,986. Both cities have grown since that time.

When it comes to weather, both Tucson and Phoenix have arid, desert climates. However, Tucson’s higher elevation makes it generally cooler than Phoenix. Tucson also receives more rainfall throughout the year. Both cities experience monsoon periods with more rainfall occurring from early July to mid-September, however the rain in Phoenix is scarce in the earlier part of summer.

In Phoenix, residents can expect extremely hot summers and warm winters. Daytime summer temperatures are commonly over 100 degrees and they can easily exceed 110 degrees. Phoenix reached its record high of 122 degrees on June 26, 1990. Comparatively, Tucson’s summer temperatures also frequently exceed 100 degrees, but they do tend to be three to five degrees cooler than Phoenix.

From a recreational standpoint, each city offers many options. Tucson’s downtown area is home to a small independent music scene, but Mariachi music remains popular as well. The city has many sporting events, including following the popular Arizona University Wildcats’ various sports teams and watching NASCAR events at Tucson Raceway Park. Many annual events and festivals occur in Tucson, including the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, the Fourth Avenue Street Fair and The Tucson Rodeo.

In Phoenix, recreational facilities include performing arts centers, museums and sports venues. Many popular musical artists and bands have performed in the city, as have touring theatre groups and special events. Phoenix is home to teams from many professional sports leagues, including the Phoenix Suns (NBA), the Arizona Cardinals (NFL), the Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB) and the Phoenix Coyotes (NHL). NASCAR races and other racing events are also held at The Phoenix International Raceway.

Cost of living is an important factor when comparing cities for relocation. In general, it costs a bit less to live in Tucson than in Phoenix. Food, housing, healthcare and transportation costs are all around two to three percent less in Tucson. Yet, the cost of utilities brings the most savings, as utility rates in Tucson average six to seven percent less than the rates in Phoenix.

When it comes to finding active adult communities near each of these areas, the Phoenix area offers dozens of age-restricted and age-targeted communities. In fact, Phoenix was home to the first modern-day active adult community: Sun City by Del Webb. However, the Tucson area also has many beautiful active adult communities from which to choose.

Comparing Arizona’s two largest cities turns up many similarities as well as a few differences. The cost of living may be less in Tucson, but Phoenix offers a more urban environment as well as a greater variety of recreational pursuits. Extended visits to each city at various times of the year is the best way to get a feel for whether Tucson or Phoenix is right for you.

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11 comments

    1. I agree. We have lived in both but our wages have nearly doubled moving to Chandler (SE suburb of Phoenix)
      It’s cleaner here but we do miss all of the awesome mountain views and culture in Tucson.

  1. It depends upon where you live. I lived in Carefree – just north of Scottsdale and it’s cooler (higher elevation) and beautiful – with views of the foothills and beautiful wildlife. Easy to go into downtown for sporting events and other.

  2. Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Gilbert over Tucson any day of the year. Phoenix metro has so much more to offer. Tucson seems like the black sheep of the state. When I lived in Tucson we never heard news of Phoenix, not even sports. Now in Phoenix, we hear about the whole state, but not Tucson. It like two siblings refusing to talk at a family dinner. Very weird, but stay out of Tucson there is nothing to do there. It is hotter in the summer, but summer in AZ is best spent in Flagstaff, and Phoenix is only 2 hours away compared to Tucsons 4.5 hours, by car.

  3. I’ve lived in Arizona for 55 years. I grew up in Tucson, my husband grew up in Phoenix.There is no comparison in our minds. Tucson is tucked into a little amphitheater surrounded by beautiful, tall mountain ranges. It has a laid back, accepting attitude.
    It is a world heritage gastronomy site because of the wonderful food diversity, and because parts of it have been farmed continuously for at least 300 years.
    Phoenix was carved out of the desert where no one lived, and suffers from frequent dust storms. It is fast becoming an unsustainable heat sink due to covering every inch with concrete. Yes, it has more stores and entertainment venues, butt they are the same ones you would find in any big city. PHOENIX IS L.A. WITHOUT THE OCEAN.

  4. If you’re hoping for a long, healthy retirement you might want to consider the fact that Tucson air quality far surpasses Sun City/Phoenix area. Trying to make a decision myself.

    1. JoAnn, I’m glad I found this thread and YOUR post especially. My oldest son lives in South Tucson and every time I visit, I don’t want to leave…I LOVE seeing mountains almost anywhere you drive. My health has cost me my job recently. My son texts me when it rains there, I say what is rain? The moisture up here is non-existent except for my humidifier. I’ve been here since 98 (transplant from Ohio) and I’ve seen the monsoons decreasing at least in my area. Between having a 3 yr old handsome gson down in Tucson and the better weather, I’m pretty sure I will be looking to move!

  5. I have lived in both flagstaff and phoenix since 2001. My wife and i have gone back and forth between the two cities. Flagstaff is way overpriced and is now becoming more and more a town just for college students. In the last year they have built 4 more complexes just to help out with the student population.
    Phoenix will take you 30 minutes just to get where you want to go because the citu is so far spread out. My wife and I have decided to go and try tucson out this weekend to see what it is like. It seems like it would be more of a home town feel and also not kill us on rent.

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