Comparing Life in Phoenix vs. Tucson

If you’re considering moving to Arizona, chances are you’re deciding between the two largest cities in the state: Phoenix and Tucson. Both are excellent places to settle down, offering a thriving, modern setting for families, young people, and retirees alike. 

Yet the two cities are quite different in many aspects. Things such as cost of living, culture, and (you may be surprised to hear it) climate vary between Phoenix and Tucson. While no one can tell you which is better—the decision is highly personal, after all—arming yourself with the right information is the best way to figure out where to live. 

To help make your decision easier, we’re going to take a close look at both cities, including:

  • Cost of living
  • Job prospects
  • Climate
  • Culture
  • And more 

Keep reading to learn how Phoenix and Tucson compare. 

A drawing featuring the shape of Arizona. On the shape is the flag of AZ, featuring red, yellow, and blue and an orange star

Phoenix vs Tucson Overview

The two cities are located just two hours apart, but there are plenty of differences between Phoenix and Tucson. 

You can find Phoenix in Central Arizona, where it is home to a population of about 1.6 million people. The city is large and sprawls over quite an extension of land—so much so that it merges into other urban areas such as Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, and Scottsdale. Phoenix is also known for being very flat. 

Tucson is in Southern Arizona, about an hour away from the US/Mexico border, and it is a more concentrated city with fewer suburbs than Phoenix. It features the second-largest population in Arizona, though, at just 540,000 people, it’s significantly smaller than Phoenix. Tucson has a college town ambiance and may be considered a calmer environment. 

Both cities are easy to navigate, thanks to their grid system with large streets and wide avenues. Neither ranks high in terms of walkability (41 and 43), though Tucson is slightly more bikeable. However, whichever place you choose, you’ll need to take your car with you to get around.  

Phoenix vs Tucson Cost of Living

How much bang will you get for your buck in Phoenix vs Tucson? The cost of living is always a critical concern when deciding where to live. 

Because Phoenix is a bigger city, it’s generally more expensive. Rent is higher, restaurants are more expensive, and groceries are a bit higher, though comparable. If you’re looking for the cheapest cost of living, Tucson is undoubtedly a better choice. 

How do the two compare in housing costs? As you might imagine, there is quite a difference. The median home price in Phoenix has risen significantly since the start of the pandemic to  $485,000. The average home cost in Tucson has also risen, costing about $344,500. 

Phoenix vs Tucson Job Market

Unless you’re planning to retire, it’s critical to consider what your job prospects will look like in each city.

Phoenix Job Market

Phoenix has a thriving job market, which has much to do with being the largest city in Arizona and the fifth largest in the US. Because Phoenix sees so much tourism, the hospitality industry is a significant part of that thriving job market. 

Plus, in recent years, Phoenix has experienced somewhat of a tech boom. Some big names have set up shop in the city (think Apple, Yelp, and Waymo), making it an attractive place for people in this field.  But if you don’t work in tech, there are plenty of job opportunities in sectors like healthcare and finance.  

Tucson Job Market

Tucson is more of a mixed bag when it comes to employment and salary. Residents’ average salary is below the national average, though there has been growth in recent years, especially in hospitality and leisure. Many people work for employers like the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the University of Arizona.  

An aerial photo showing the cityscape of Phoenix. Tall buildings in the back, desert plants in the front.

Phoenix vs Tucson Airports

For the travel-minded, nearby airports are a vital consideration.

Phoenix Airports

Flights depart Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport daily for national and international destinations. In many cases, you can fly directly to Europe, Mexico, and Canada directly from Phoenix. And if budget travel is critical to you, you can take advantage of the nearby Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Allegiant Air operates several domestic budget flights out of this airport. 

Tucson Airports

Tucson International Airport’s offerings fall a bit short in comparison. Despite its name, no international flights currently fly out of Tucson. However, if domestic travel is your priority, you can find plenty of options through airlines such as Southwest, United, American, and Delta. 

Phoenix vs Tucson Climate

Anyone looking to move to Arizona is undoubtedly interested in the state’s sunny climate. Located in the Sonoran Desert, both Phoenix and Tucson enjoy plenty of sun. You’ll have to be prepared for warm winters and hot (really hot) summers. 

Expect a yearly average of more than 100 days with temperatures over 100 degrees. However, Tucson tends to be cooler and wetter, thanks to its higher elevation. It’s about 2,400 feet above sea level, doubling Phoenix’s 1,100-foot elevation. Both cities see freezing temperatures at night in winter, though these temperatures rise to the 70s during the day. 

If you’re moving from a region that gets months and months of dreary, cold winter weather, all this sunshine is good news. You also won’t have to expect any snow (just a few flakes that don’t usually stick), but if you like seasons, you won’t find them in Arizona. 

Both cities experience monsoons, which is intense rainfall that occurs suddenly and makes streets flow like rivers. The monsoon season, which lasts from July to mid-September, is more intense in Tucson than in Phoenix. However, in both cities, they usually abate quickly. 

Phoenix vs Tucson Entertainment & Leisure 

What about keeping busy in your free time? You won’t get bored in either place, especially if you like to golf (both boast an impressive amount of golf courses), but there are some differences between the two. 

Phoenix Entertainment & Leisure 

Looking for urban activities? Most Arizonans consider Phoenix to be the entertainment hub of the state, with plenty of opportunities for fun and leisure. Whether you’re looking for recreation, culture, or entertainment, Phoenix has it all.  

If you’re a sports fan, the city is excellent. The city hosts various sports teams, such as the Arizona Cardinals and the Phoenix Suns. It also features superb museums like the Phoenix Art Museum, the Heard Museum, and the Children’s Museum. And if your main thrill in life is a delicious plate of food, there is no shortage of mouth-watering restaurants to try.  

Tucson Entertainment & Leisure 

Despite its smaller size, Tucson is no slouch in the entertainment and leisure department. It offers easy access to all kinds of outdoor activities, especially beautiful desert hikes, and the city has a thriving independent music scene. 

Sports lovers can get their fill here, too. Venues like the Tucson Raceway Park and Tucson Rodeo host various sporting events, such as NASCAR. And foodies delight; Tucson is just one of two US cities to earn the distinction of UNESCO City of Gastronomy.  

An aerial photo of the Tucson cityscape. Mountains in the back, tall buildings in the middle, and residential homes in front

Pros & Cons of Phoenix vs Tucson

Let’s wrap things up with a quick overview of some pros & cons of Phoenix vs Tucson.  

Phoenix Pros & Cons

  • Excellent highway system. Despite the city’s large, sprawling extension, getting around Phoenix is fairly straightforward. We can thank its healthy network of highways for making it easy to get around—and for helping residents avoid nightmare rush-hour commutes. 
  • Job growth. Several sectors in Phoenix are projected to experience impressive growth through 2026, such as finance, real estate, health care, energy, and technology. If you’re starting your career or looking to grow it, Phoenix is a fantastic place to be. 
  • Not walkable. Phoenix has decent public transit, but getting around on foot is still challenging. If you value being able to walk everywhere, this city probably isn’t for you. Due to a lack of pedestrian-friendly designs, it was recently named one of the worst US cities for walkability

Tucson Pros & Cons

  • Laid-back atmosphere. Tucson is known as a liberal city, and it offers residents a quiet, easygoing lifestyle. Many people enjoy the college town atmosphere, which includes plenty in the way of breweries, a thriving downtown scene, and lots of opportunities to watch live music.  
  • Excellent for retirees. Because of a lower cost of living and sunny climate, Tucson is an attractive place for retirees. And the city is aware of this fact: it has plenty of assisted living facilities, as well as numerous active adult communities. 
  • Harder to navigate. Despite its smaller size, Tucson can be challenging to navigate. It lacks a comprehensive highway system, limiting residents to surface streets to get around the city. It has just one freeway running through it, so most of the time you’ll be limited to frustratingly slow city streets (speed limit 45 MPH).  

Related: Tucson vs Phoenix

Wrap Up

Both Phoenix and Tucson are excellent places to settle down in the sunny southwest, each with pros and cons. In general, if you’re looking for more of a city experience, Phoenix might be right for you. But if you prefer a small-town vibe that affords easy access to nature, you may want to call Tucson home.

Related: 25 Pros and Cons of Living in Arizona