In the course of becoming a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner and the subject of a forthcoming biopic set to star Selena Gomez, Linda Ronstadt has packed theaters around the globe. But her favorite sits on a one-way side street in Tucson, Ariz.
With a courtyard draped in vines and string lights and a main stage the size of “a good little opera house,” the 1927 Temple of Music and Art is “just magic,” said Ms. Ronstadt. Before the onset of progressive supranuclear palsy — a Parkinson’s-like disorder that ended her singing career in 2009 — she could fill the auditorium with her unamplified voice (little surprise to anyone who’s ever heard her belt out “Blue Bayou” or “Long Long Time,” for the legions who may have just discovered her on “The Last of Us”). She also loves the theater’s proscenium: a stage-framing arch that instantly focuses the eye — “like that fireplace,” she explained, gesturing toward a wall near the sofa where we chatted in her cozy San Francisco living room.
At 77, Ms. Ronstadt now lives in the Bay Area, close to her kids, but the Sonoran Desert borderlands where she was born and raised will always be home. And despite the changes she sees when she returns every six months or so, plenty of familiar local pleasures remain, for starters: bubbling-hot cheese crisps at El Minuto Cafe, ice-chilled shrimp cocktail at Hotel Congress, giant saguaros at every turn and live entertainment of all kinds at the Fox Tucson Theater, where her father — a businessman with a renowned baritone — used to perform as Gil Ronstadt and His Star-Spangled Megaphone.
The Ronstadts have been part of the Tucson music scene since her grandfather arrived from Mexico in 1882 and helped found the Club Filarmónico Tucsonense civic band. And perhaps no place highlights the family’s cultural legacy like the former Tucson Music Hall, rechristened the Linda Ronstadt Music Hall in May 2022. The naming ceremony took place during a mariachi spectacular that featured Jesús “Chuy” Guzmán, who’d recorded with Ms. Ronstadt on the 1987 “Canciones de Mi Padre” — still the best-selling non-English album in U.S. history. This ode to the borderland classics she’d grown up on was remastered and rereleased last fall, and there may be no better soundtrack for exploring her hometown.
Here are five of her favorite places to visit in Tucson:
1. Barrio Bread
Her first stop is a relative newcomer: a 15-year-old artisanal bread company that earned its owner, Don Guerra, the James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker in 2022. “I always go there straight from the airport,” said Ms. Ronstadt, who used to bake her own bread (the loaf pictured on the back of the “Feels Like Home” album is one of her creations). She loves the heritage grains Mr. Guerra uses (white Sonoran wheat, for one), and especially in her go-to order: the Cubano with sesame seeds, which is so flavorful, she prefers it unadorned.
“It’s my favorite hotel in the world,” said Ms. Ronstadt of the 1930 Spanish Colonial Revival landmark where she stays when she’s in town. The place is rich in family history — both her own (she’s been attending celebrations there since she was a girl) and that of the owners. Isabella Greenway, Arizona’s first congresswoman and Eleanor Roosevelt’s bridesmaid, opened the inn’s doors four generations ago. Beyond the lore, Ms. Ronstadt loves the native landscaping, the piano-equipped Audubon Bar & Patio, and the fireplace and sunlight that illuminate her favorite guest room.
Planted at the site of an ancient Indigenous settlement, this ode to more than 4,000 years of local agriculture is several kinds of gardens in one — some born of the region, others imported through migration. Native mainstays such as corn, beans and squash grow in the O’odham, Yoeme and Hohokam plots, while citrus trees scent the Spanish colonial orchards, jujube adorns the Chinese garden and leafy greens thrive in the Africa in the Americas fields (to name a few of the hundreds of crops on site). Docents are generous with samples of whatever looks ripe during the guided tours, but there are also dedicated tastings and food events on the calendar. “I love going over there to get a mouthful of something fresh,” Ms. Ronstadt said. Tip: If the garden-made orange marmalade is in stock, buy some.
4. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
In the 1950s, when her father was a founding member and her mother was one of the original docents, the Desert Museum, as locals call it, was “just a little roadside attraction,” Ms. Ronstadt said. “I’d go to see George L. Mountainlion,” the first in a series of adopted mountain lions to live there. The place has since grown into a renowned zoo, botanical garden, aquarium, gallery and natural history museum, but still feels refreshingly untamed. “You’re not looking at some perfect geometry imposed on the desert,” she observed of the animals’ habitats. “Nature hates perfect geometry.”
5. San Xavier del Bac Mission
Completed in 1797 (though restoration is ongoing), this national historic landmark on Tohono O’odham land is Arizona’s oldest intact European structure — and still an active church. “I’m an atheist, but I baptized my children there,” said Ms. Ronstadt, citing the magic she feels behind the mission’s white walls. In the kaleidoscopic interior — all ornate carvings, frescoes and trompe l’oeil — she’s lit candles with Ry Cooder, sought mid-recording respite with Emmylou Harris and adjusted the patron saint’s prayer-charm-studded blanket “to make sure he’s comfortable.” Atheist or not, she finds something sacred there. To borrow from the Latin choral classic on her recently rereleased Christmas album: Life is full of “mysterium.”
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