It’s not often we get the chance to stay at a domestic resort, but in December of 2016, I, my mother, and my toddler son stayed four nights at the El Conquistador in Oro Valley, Arizona while visiting family. What a find!
The resort is nestled under Pusch Ridge in the Santa Catalina Mountains. It’s about a one hour and forty-five minute drive from Phoenix or 30-40 minutes north from Tucson’s airport in the lovely suburb of Oro Valley. As you drive up the cacti adorned entrance (covered in lights at Christmas-time), you know you’ve arrived somewhere special. There are 45 holes of golf nearby, 31 lighted tennis courts (with grandstands!), a horse stable for trail and carriage rides, and heated pools replete with a kiddie pool and slide. The daily resort fee covers a 2-hour complimentary bicycle rental for guests interested in biking around. Ample hiking trails also enter into the adjacent national forest land.
Looking for something more relaxing? How about the spa which includes all the favorites like massage, body and energy treatments, plus classes in the fitness center. Class selections offered during our stay included a relaxing morning stretch, Hatha yoga, Zumba, and even power walks. Those wanting to get their sweat on will find the usual exercise equipment like treadmills and free weights.
Kids need not feel like they are being ignored. There is an El Con Kids Club on-site, cookie decorating during the holidays (by reservation), pool area with rock slide, and occasional activities geared towards families. Those wishing to avoid having littler kids around might want to consider booking near the Acacia Pool area since that pool is restricted to ages 16 and up.
There are a variety of guest room types and locations. We booked a mostly intro level room with mountain views. We were put in building four which was super convenient considering all the stuff we were hauling around for the kiddo. Our room was plenty spacious, clean and well decorated in browns with touches of blues and turquoise. We loved having the bathtub, granite finishes in the bathroom, and lighted mirror (which also had a backlight to it as a nightlight – very thoughtful). The balconies and patios were a nice size to relax on in evenings to listen to the flute player whose gentle sunset serenade wafted through the resort or first thing in the morning to watch the sun rise with a cup of coffee.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the decently-sized convention and event facilities on the resort. All housed off the main lobby, they are convenient for attendees to access break-out rooms and restaurants and still have easy to access to their own guest rooms. Cell service is a bit weak (at least for Verizon) in building four, so business travelers be aware.
You have a few options on-site for food and beverage which you pay for in terms of convenience like any resort: Epazote Kitchen and Cocktails (dinner only), Sundance Café (breakfast and lunch – it was a very good breakfast buffet, but pricey at $25/person), the Desert Springs Bar and Grill around the pool (lunch and dinner), room service, or the grab and go shop which offers breakfasts, Starbucks coffees, salads, sandwiches, snacks or even wine and beer. The Colibri lounge in the lobby overlooks the pools, fire pit and mountains; there’s a piano player there some nights as well. If you have a rental car, self-parking is included in the resort fee so feel free to go out and explore the Oro Valley and Tucson restaurants that are at your door step. Seis Kitchen (serving up six Mexican regional cuisines in a fast, friendly manner), Sullivan’s Eatery and Creamery (ice cream handmade right there onsite plus classic burgers hand ground and pattied by the butcher shop a few doors down), and the Crying Onion Café (GREAT selection of add-ons for your breakfast and a plate-sized sweet potato pancake you gotta try) all make our list of recommendations – but there’s SO much more! [Just be warned, if you are travelling with kids, don’t take them to Guiseppe’s Italian Restaurant – the staff and food there are good but the patrons themselves are NOT kid-friendly (we were personally run out of there by two men) and our very kind waitress said many of the patrons are mean that way.]
If you want to go adventure off-site there’s plenty to see and do, too, without going very far. Here’s just a sample:
Tucson National Park, Saguaro National Park, etc. – scenic drives, hiking and more.
The University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2
Tohono Chul Park – nice walking park with kid’s area, metal sculptures, gift shop and café.
Old Tucson Studios – movie set and tour (closed when we were there, but it’s right by the Cat Mountain Station for an easy day trip.)
Cat Mountain Station – take the scenic drive route through Tucson National Park (trust me). It’s a couple artisan shops and a yummy café just outside the Old Tucson movie set and the national park. It’s a fun half day trip at a relaxing pace.
The Happy Saguaro – LOTS of Mexican pottery, mirrors, tiles, and more. If you like to linger, you could spend a few hours here.
In summary, the Hilton El Conquistador Resort is a gem among the saguaro. If you’re looking for a vacation sans passports – with family, or a spa retreat, or for a babymoon, or a girls’ getaway – the Hilton should be on your list. It’s classy, comfortable, has stellar, friendly service, and there’s lots you can choose to do (or not do!) regardless of season.