Explore Tucson

The Best of Tucson, According to a Former U.S. Surgeon General

Dr. Richard Carmona shares his thoughts on his travels, his career and Tucson.

Dr. Richard Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, has been a lifeguard, paratrooper, special forces medic, registered nurse, physician assistant, professor, surgeon specializing in trauma burns and critical care, and the 17th surgeon general of the United States. Today, he is chief of health innovation at Tucson’s Canyon Ranch Institute, where he focuses on emerging science, technology and other factors as tools in promoting optimal health and wellness. Having dedicated his life to improving the health of people around the world, Carmona recently shared his healthy outlook on life with Where.

Dr. Richard Carmona
Dr. Richard Carmona, former surgeon general of the United States, is a longtime resident of Tucson. (Courtesy Dr. Richard Carmona)

When you have friends visiting from out of town, where do you take them?

It depends on their interest. I would say Sabino CanyonSaguaro National Park east and west, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Pima Air & Space MuseumTubacMission San Xavier del Bac is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. I love to go there and marvel at the architecture, the history and all the people that have passed through.

Do you have a favorite restaurant?

Vivace. It’s the best restaurant in town. [Chef] Daniel Scordato is a friend of mine. It’s where I take guests when they come to town. It has the best views of the city, just a gorgeous location. There are lots of other places too. Many of the hotels have nice restaurants: the Ventana and La Paloma. There are a number of other restaurants in town. Some of the old Mexican restaurants down in the southside, like El Charro, are really good. The city’s really coming of age now. People used to bypass it, but they’ve been reading about the diversity here, especially in the inner city down on Fourth Avenue and on the southside, where there are some food entrepreneurs and innovators who are doing great things.

You’ve traveled extensively. Is there a city you’d love to revisit?

When I’m in Spain, it almost feels like home to me. There’s something special about it. My ancestors came from southern Spain, a town near Seville called Carmona. One of my ancestors, Juan Carmona, came from that area and was one of the original settlers of Tucson.

What’s the best part about travel? 

I really have this global personality and life, and I love traveling and learning about cultures and people. I think if more of us did that, there’d be less angst in the world. It’s something I’ve taught my children repeatedly. Travel allows me to look at the world through a different lens. So I really enjoy it, and it’s something I hope to continue doing the rest of my life.

What brought you to Tucson originally?

I was working at UC San Francisco in 1985 and was recruited to start the first certified emergency and trauma medical system in southern Arizona. I had passed through Tucson several times but didn’t really know anything about it. I found it to be a beautiful place.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

I’ve always been interested in public health, and by starting and building the Canyon Ranch Institute into a nationally recognized endeavor, we were able to change the lives of many impoverished communities around the country.

How did you become interested in public health?

My parents were Hispanic immigrants. I grew up in Harlem and Washington Heights in New York City, and we didn’t always have access to health care. So public health was something I learned about the hard way growing up.

Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac (©Isaac Arjonilla)