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For a weekend getaway with a touch of culture, head to Tubac, Ariz., where art reigns supreme

Much of the credit for Tubac's prominence as an Arizona artist colony goes to landscape painter Dale Nichols, who opened an art school here in 1948. Before long, struggling artists were hanging their works on barbed wire fences, hoping passing motorists would stop to admire — and buy — them. Those humble beginnings have evolved into a village full of delightful galleries. The tab for two (without an art purchase): $209 for a room at the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa and $60-$75 for dinner for two at Elvira's.

The bed

Bing Crosby, an avid golfer, led the group of businessmen who bought a cattle ranch in 1959 and turned it into the Tubac Golf Resort (1 Avenue de Otero Road, Tubac; [520] 398-2211, www.tubacgolfresort.com). Cows still graze on the golf course, near which are 99 rooms and suites featuring Spanish Colonial architecture in deference to the 18th century presidio (www.tubacpp.com/presidio.html) that still stands about a mile away. Weekend rates from $209 a night.

The meal

It's no surprise to find an excellent Mexican restaurant in Tubac because it's just 25 miles from the border. Elvira's (2221 E. Frontage Road, Tubac; [520] 398-9421, www.elvirasrestaurant.com) offers an authentic and classy dining experience. The place is named for chef-owner Rubén Monroy's grandmother, who opened a restaurant in 1927 in his native Nogales, Mexico. Some familiar fare is missing from the menu, replaced by what Monroy calls "more inventive" dishes such as his chile poblano Frida Kahlo ($21.95), named for the famous Mexican artist, and hazelnut mole ($18.95). Hundreds of hand-blown glass ornaments decorate the ceiling.

The find

Art reigns supreme, as evidenced by the splendid Tubac Center of the Arts (9 Plaza Road, Tubac; [520] 398-2371, www.tubacarts.org), which has exhibits rivaling those in much larger museums. Begun in 1972 to showcase local talent, it now includes a Master Artist Gallery featuring the work of seven people whose art defines the community. Among them is Tom Hill, a respected artist who is still painting at age 90. His work — and that of his wife, Barbara — can be found at K. Newby Gallery (15 Tubac Road, Tubac; [520] 398-9662, www.newbygallery.com).

The lesson learned

If you don't like crowds, you may not want to visit during the Tubac Fall Arts & Crafts Festival (Nov. 6-8, www.lat.ms/1KqSiXI) or the Festival of the Arts (Feb. 10-14, www.lat.ms/1MrQZdy). Both draw hundreds of artists and tens of thousands of visitors. Many of them end up overnighting in Tucson, 40 miles north.

travel@latimes.com

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