Tucson on the cheap?
March 11, 2010 12:14 PM   Subscribe

How to have a nice mini-vacay in Tucson without breaking the bank?

My girlfriend and I are taking an impromptu drive down to Tucson tomorrow to get out of this neverending Rocky Mountain winter. We plan on staying a few days, but are short on funds. We are athletic and artsy, and have never been to that area. So my question to you is: What are the best things to do in Tucson that are dirt cheap or free? Best hikes, cycling routes (on-road or hybrid worthy), parks, dive restaurants? We'll also need somewhere to camp, so advise on that would be appreciated. And where do you go to get food when you're light on cash? We won't have cooking facilities with us but could assemble a sandwich if there aren't any $4 burritos in town.

We'll have Link the Wonderdog (a golden labrador) with us so any dog parks that might make him happy, or dog-friendly places to hike, cycle, camp or even nosh would be very much appreciated.

posted by MithrilMongoose to Travel & Transportation around Tucson, AZ (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a link to local hikes. SAMBA has some rides scheduled for this weekend if you would like a guided tour. SDMB has links to trails and a list of campgrounds.

As for food - try to get a fish taco at El Charro. Expensive, but worth the price. The taco trucks are usually pretty good. You'll see them start to set up as soon as it gets dark.

A final suggestion - Tucson is only a 4-hr drive to Puerto Penasco, Mexico. There's a couple of RV parks that will let you set up a tent and you'll be camping right at the water's edge. It's a bit of a freaky drive, but fun.

Make sure you bring sunscreen!
posted by TorontoSandy at 12:55 PM on March 11, 2010

Hiking in Arizona is a blog. There are some hikes in there pertaining to the Tucson area.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:35 PM on March 11, 2010

Mount Lemmon (N of Tucson) is nice, but tends to be crowded, and you have to pay to camp. Mt. Wrightson (S of Tucson) is equally nice, equally close, less crowded, and free.

Get a sonoran hot dog while you're down there. Weirdly delicious.
posted by Chris4d at 2:47 PM on March 11, 2010

It's been a few since I've lived there but here's a things-I-heart-about-Tucson braindump:

Gates Pass has both a little baby super-easy hill and a much bigger hike if you're up for it. Great place to catch sunsets, good parking.
Biking: Fantasy Island (if you've got mountain bike access), see also tucsonvelo.com if you want something faster.
Touristy things, but all free and awesome: San Xavier Del Bac
If you happen to go hang around downtown, be sure to stroll through the old barrio viejo and the El Tiradito. Preferably at night. This also puts you real close to St. Augustine's which is also beautiful but usually a pretty busy spot.
And yes you MUST go to Guero Canelo and get a Sonoran hot dog. Dear god yes.
Also Epic Cafe puts you right on 4th ave near the university and has excellent scones and free wifi.
posted by bhance at 3:23 PM on March 11, 2010

Catalina State Park will service many of your requirements nicely. A range of hiking trails (from a little 3-mile loop all the way up to the top of the Santa Catalinas if you want), biking trails, and campgrounds; dogs are welcome. Park entry fee is $7/vehicle or $3/person if on foot. Non electric campgrounds run $15/night, electric services are $25/night. There's a Nico's Taco Shop nearby (La Canada and, um, Naranja) for the awesomest $4 burritos in Tucson.

Also worth seeing way up on the north side of town is Honey Bee Canyon. There's some excellent rock art, and a free birding tour this Saturday. (Note the website, Tucson on the Cheap.)

If you make it down to 4th Ave following hance's advice, Epic's nice and all but Brooklyn Pizza Co. is right across the street, super cheap! and OMG greasydelicious. Order by phone (for pick-up) and tell them you have a coupon for free garlic knots (they come on all the delivery boxes, or print one out from the website) to go with your huuuuuge $9 $14 pizza. (My, how times have changed.) Make it over to The Buffet & Crock Pot around the corner on 9th by 11pm and get a magic minute 2 for 1 deal on their pissbeer pitchers (or whatever you're drinking) and play some shuffleboard with the T-locs.

Seconding San Xavier del Bac though. It's a breathtakingly beautiful cathedral, and there's loads of history there. Father Kino is quite the legend in old Sonora.

Gates Pass is beautiful indeed, but closes at sundown and there's no camping in the Saguaro National Monument. Though there's no pets allowed, and it's sort of expensive ($13/person), The Sonoran Desert Museum is hands down excellent—worth every penny.
posted by carsonb at 5:10 PM on March 11, 2010

Browsing the TotC website I also saw Music in the Canyon, which is a (donation/free) local music concert-fest a half-mile up into Sabino Canyon going on this weekend. Looks fun! =)
posted by carsonb at 5:26 PM on March 11, 2010

Oh my. Dive restaurant, you say? You must do Grill. It is amazing and open 24 hours and perfectly quirky and right on Scott & Congress: Their MySpace. It's affordable and crazy and delicious.
posted by disillusioned at 5:39 PM on March 11, 2010

Props for not calling it "The Grill".
posted by carsonb at 5:43 PM on March 11, 2010

The Center for Creative Photography is worth checking out... And definitely try the Sonoran hot dogs.
posted by sethbabo at 6:48 PM on March 11, 2010

Kitt Peak! (smallish donation suggested)
Valley of the Moon*
Tohono Chul Park
Diamondbacks Spring traininggames (via visittucson.org)

* - never actually been, but it's one of those weird quirky local crazy-guy-built-this-thing places
posted by bhance at 8:58 PM on March 11, 2010

For your share of organic fruits and vegetables you will want to check out some of the many organic markets such as The 17th Street Market, 17th St & Park Ave Tucson, AZ 85707, The Broadway Village Fridays Farmers Market, or The Rincon Market
posted by wheats at 1:39 PM on March 22, 2010

If you are going to be in Tucson here is my Tuscon AZ google map of attractions, restaurants, bike paths and activities.
posted by wheats at 5:41 AM on April 10, 2010

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