Tuscon Vacation
March 17, 2010 10:39 AM   Subscribe

We are going for a vacation in Tucson from March 28th to April 5th. We are staying in a condo near Sabino Canyon.

I have looked at previous metafilter posts about Tucson, but all of them are pretty old. We are looking for nature activities, fun stuff to do, excellent places to eat, fun places to shop, and anything original not to be missed. I think I am going to sign up for a week membership at the gym next to the condo, Sierra Fitness - any info on that place would be great.
posted by marlys27 to Travel & Transportation around Tucson, AZ (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This AskMe from last week, Tucson on the Cheap, had some (IIMSSM) good answers. You need to go out to the Sonoran Desert Museum.
posted by carsonb at 10:49 AM on March 17, 2010

But ok, to make some more suggestions that aren't cost-restricted:

El Corral (or its kitschy cousin, Pinnacle Peak) will serve you the absolute best western prime rib you've ever eaten. Guadalajara Grill makes incredible table-side salsa, and while I haven't been since they moved locations, I imagine it's still a very good Sonoran Mexican restaurant. Further south there's Mi Nidito and pretty much every corner restaurant south of downtown for great SM food. There's a special Sonoran dish that doesn't seem to exist outside of the southwest—try a chimichanga.

For shopping check out the areas surrounding the UofA campus. Bookman's is one of those stacks to the (warehouse-sized) ceilings bookstores. Zia Records is still the best record store outside of Amoeba I've been to (between the three of them). University Blvd. and 4th Ave are the collegiate and cultural shopping centers (respectively). There's ultra high-end shopping up near where you are at the relatively new mall at Sunrise & Campbell. St. Phillip's plaza (Campbell & River) is also good for the high-end southwest shopping aesthetic.

Check out the lineups for Hotel Congress and The Rialto (managed by a mefite!) while you're in town. They're both great venues (in different ways), and whichever you wind up at make sure you leave room for dinner at The Cup (in Congress) and aftersnacks (tots!) at Grill. Also downtown: the warehouse arts district (including Solar Culture and the HangArt, etc.) is hanging on by the skin of its teeth and likely won't be around in a decade. Also, I'm sure James at Tucson Scene still has some good tips on what to do nightlifewise.
posted by carsonb at 11:08 AM on March 17, 2010

Ooh, also, there's a chance nothing will be going on there, but if you're lucky enough to be in town during a show at The Matt Bevel Institute, go!
posted by carsonb at 11:10 AM on March 17, 2010

Sabino Canyon itself has some magnificent views on some easy hikes. (My grandparents owned a home near Sabino Canyon for about 20 years, and we made a couple of winter pilgrimages to visit them over the years.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on March 17, 2010

Wow, carsonb covered just about everything, but I'll add a few.

The University has some good museums including The Arizona State Museum (southwestern anthropology), the UA art museum and the Center for Creative Photography. Just a warning though, CCP has only one rotating exhibit hall, all of their good stuff is in the archives. If there are some things you want to see, like the Ansel Adams collection, you must make an appointment.

The DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun is amazing.

For outdoors activities I would add in Saguaro National Park East and West as well as Mt. Lemmon. If you need some more gear for your adventures stock up at The Summit Hut.

And now for my favorite part, food. In your area I would recommend The Eclectic Cafe and Magpies Pizza. In the university area I would suggest Miss Saigon, No Anchovies! and the Fat Greek. On 4th Avenue I like Bison Witches and the B Line. For more suggestions take a look at Tucson Originals and the restaurant reviews in the Tucson Weekly (the local paper does horrible restaurant reviews).

La Encantada has all your high end shopping and restaurants, but do us a favor and spend your money at local stores. Some great places are found in The Lost Barrio.

If you want to take some day trips I recommend Tombstone and Bisbee.

Your guide for all the goings on in Tucson should be the Tucson Weekly, available free in red boxes all over the town and on the internet. Memail with any questions, I love this town and am glad to help.
posted by nestor_makhno at 12:32 PM on March 17, 2010

Seconding pretty much everything carsonb suggests...at least the food and shopping options to which I can speak. I I'm going to be in Tucson at the end of the month for a couple of days, and will probably manage to do most of the things he listed .

And for the first time, I'm not flying back... which means I'll probably spend WAY too much money at Bookman's, as I have the last two times I was there. (Yes, we have plenty of used bookstores in Chicago, but there's just something about buying stuff cheap on vacation that's more fun for me.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:33 PM on March 17, 2010

Pima Air and Space Museum if you like airplanes.

Definitely take the tram up Sabino Canyon, although I don't know how far up it goes anymore because of past flooding and damage.

Lunch at Beyond Bread on Speedway and Wilmot is a Tucson favorite. Huge sandwiches on unbelievable bread. Usually one will take the other half home for dinner!

I second the Eclectic Cafe.

The Cup Cafe at The Hotel Congress is very good as well.

Lastly, I second the Sonoran Desert Museum esp. if you like nature. It'll take about an hour to get there from where you are.
posted by teg4rvn at 12:47 PM on March 17, 2010

If I could piggyback on this thread for a moment, since I too am headed to Tucson - any nice outdoor cafes &/or neighborhood strolls one can do with one's dog?
posted by judith at 12:58 PM on March 17, 2010

Special Event! See Calexico, Tucson's hometown pride, and friends, in a special neighborhood block party/concert in the Barrio Viejo, Tucson's oldest neighborhood, on April 3.
posted by Tufa at 1:03 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

judith - Walk through the Sam Hughes neighborhood to the east of the UofA campus. If you start at Benteley's on Speedway (with a double chocolate chip mud cookie and some coffee) you can head south from there, cross Campbell in front of the UofA Medical Center/Hospital, and head into the neighborhood that way, via Elm. Wend northwards between Tucson and Campbell, all the way up towards 6th St, where you can either pop into Bob Dobb's for a beer or go next door to Rincon Market for a sandwich and more coffee. With your dog.
posted by carsonb at 1:08 PM on March 17, 2010

Oh yeah, and walk through the campus on your way back (to your starting point). See Old Main, the new poetry building, and the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre.
posted by carsonb at 1:14 PM on March 17, 2010

I've heard people say Cafe Poca Cosa has gone downhill, but it could be half as good as it used to be and still be one of the best (fancy) Mexican places I've ever eaten at.

Bookman's is indeed inspiring.

Tucson has great miniature golf if you've got a kid with you.

Finally, about 20 minutes south you can see a decommissioned nuclear missile silo in Green Valley.
posted by escabeche at 1:20 PM on March 17, 2010

Came back to mention Calexico, but I see Tufa took care of it. Also, the New York Times did a "36 hours in" article recently.

University Blvd has two places with patios for outdoor dining, Frog n' Firkin and No Anchovies! I prefer No Anchovies! and it is dog friendly and in the same area as carsonb's suggested route. Blue Willow has a nice outdoor patio, but the wait can be long during peek hours.

head south from there, cross Campbell in front of the UofA Medical Center/Hospital
Actually, the hospital is north of Bentley's. You want to head south through the campus and then take 3rd street east into the neighborhood. Protip: to find north in Tucson just look around, the biggest mountain range is due north.
posted by nestor_makhno at 4:06 PM on March 17, 2010

Pretty much just seconding what others have said. Great hiking abounds so take advantage of being near sabino canyon. 7 falls should still have a good bit of water from the snow melt. I also did the Babad Doag trail recently (Off of the Mt. Lemmon highway) and it is nice and green back in there. The desert museum is a must do, though as mentioned in the other askme it is not pet friendly. It is a great place to find out some history, see cool animals, and finally figure out what the name of that one cactus is. If you swing by there early in your trip check out the store for some local trail guides (asking around summit hut is also a good way to pick up local hike information).

I was going to recommend hiking in the Aravaipa wilderness reserve, but apparently it is also no pets allowed.

Mt. Lemmon can get crowed on the weekends if it is hot in town so be sure to keep that and other weather appropriate things in mind when you plan your hiking days/trails. Unless we get some more precipitation it looks like the snow up on Mt. Lemmon will probably be gone by the time you get here.

If you are headed south for other things, there is also good hiking in the mountains that direction.
posted by Feantari at 4:41 PM on March 17, 2010

If you like a nice, serene outdoor patio, I'd suggest Dakota Cafe on Tanque Verde. It is absolutely lovely. Their only down side is that they are closed on Sundays.

Also, check out LeBuzz for great treats (bakery goods), quiche and outdoor seating. Perfect for breakfast or lunch...although they are open for dinner too.

If you would like to enjoy some outdoor music, have dinner at Ric's Cafe on River and Craycroft on Friday night. A fountain, acoustic guitar....very nice.

If you are going to La Encantada, AJ's is located there and they have a fairly simple grill and you can eat under their shaded patio. They also have a salad bar, deserts, sandwiches, etc. and yes, it's a grocery store.

El Sur on 22nd is a great, inexpensive Mexican food restaurant. Great service. Small.

There are lots of good sping training games and UA baseball if you like baseball. Cheap! Fun! Check it out!

Enjoy Tucson! It is beautiful this time of year.
posted by hollygirl at 9:18 PM on March 17, 2010

Actually, the hospital is north of Bentley's.

Ha! Yep, all of my directions are upside-down. I don't know why that happens to me with Tucson; I'm pretty good everywhere else I've been.
posted by carsonb at 10:12 PM on March 17, 2010

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