Tucson too soon?
May 11, 2010 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Moving from the Los Angeles area to Tucson, Arizona. Will I die of boredom? I'm a nerd who doesn't get out much any way, though.

I'm considering a position in Tucson, AZ. The job would be a good step toward my engineering interests, and overall would benefit my professional career. I’m not sold on Tucson though. There seem to be two main issues: not as many good restaurants (Yelp seems to indicate mostly mexican places), and not as many sights as LA (world-class museums, beach-related things). I'm a serious foodie, restaurants are a big deal. I’m also reading that Tucson’s summers are so hot that doing anything outside is unpleasant; I like to ride my bike and play ultimate (frisbee). Additionally, I’m a bit of a shut-in and am trying to meet more people. Tucson is much less populated than the LA area, so I feel I'd be hindered in that. I'm recovering from depression so this could be significant. I don't want to be horribly lonely out there, while I've just started putting down roots here in LA.

On the other hand, I wouldn't have to deal with trafficky LA, and I could live near a major university in Tucson (driving to UCLA is pretty inconvenient for me). I hear the hiking's good, but I've done that quite a bit and it gets old weekend after weekend. Mostly I'm worried about the diversity of things to do in Tucson, and whether the city will be as discoverable as LA has been for me. I hated LA at first because I thought it was just Hollywood and ritzy drinking venues, but now, every week I find something interesting in LA to my nerdy self (just recently I took a sailing lesson). I'm worried about wasting at least a year of my youth in the Arizona desert, even if my job is very fulfilling
posted by mnemonic to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I lived in Tucson for seven years. Much of its charm is rooted in the fact that it's the sleepier, dustier, more Mexican version of Phoenix. Nature wise, I don't see how one can get tired of the sunsets or the mountains, but culturally, it's what you make of it.

The U of A has good museums and musical performances with good regularity. The Rialto and Fox theaters get good acts coming through all the time, there's yearly craziness with the Rodeo and Gem & Mineral show, there's U of A basketball, there's the Desert Museum, the "boneyard" at Davis Monthan air base, Colossal Cave, world-class golf resorts and spas, the freakshow that is 4th Avenue, San Xavier Mission, and...and... lots of other stuff.

Food wise, I can't really comment other than to say there's a good diversity of restaurants around town including Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Lebanese, Thai, Indian...and yes, Mexican.

Plenty of stuff to do. Don't worry about it.
posted by holterbarbour at 9:46 PM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: Hmmm...I moved to Tucson from Toronto a couple of years ago and I still find some things difficult. Even though I live somewhat centrally, I tell my friends back home that it's like living in suburbia. I was married when I moved here, but my general impression is that it would be difficult to meet people here and is not friendly to singletons.

That said, the sun shines every day and you do kind of lose track of the seasons - except for summer. In my book, summer is defined as too hot to do stuff outside if it's later than 9 AM and summer is usually mid-May to late September. During the summer months, Tucson is a very early-rising town. I bike and during the hot months, I'm on my bike no later than 6 AM and will ride to 0830-0900 AM, but no later.

If you're a foodie, I'd say the restaurant scene is dead. It's a little depressing, but the last good meal I had was in Toronto.

Finally, I found the people here quite conservative, even though it's considered a liberal area in AZ. In fact, a friend of mine from California who lives here has also found it very conservative.
posted by TorontoSandy at 9:53 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just read holterbarbour's comment and you may think we live in different towns - but my comments were geared toward someone moving here from an urban environment.
posted by TorontoSandy at 9:57 PM on May 11, 2010

TorontoSandy and I are indeed speaking from different perspectives. I was there for undergrad and law school-- not there "in the real world" (so to speak), which is definitely more conservative than the circles I was running in. Since you are young and single, my perspective may have some relevance, but since you'd also be a regular working resident, TorontoSandy's will also be relevant, too. As for restaurants and stuff to do, yeah, different strokes for different folks.

If I may venture a guess, an "engineering" job means a position at Raytheon, which you would probably find to be a very conservative environment as well.
posted by holterbarbour at 10:08 PM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: I grew up in Tucson but have lived in Los Angeles the past 3 years.

The biggest difference has been the variety. LA has everything, it's truly a metropolis and pretty much anything is possible, regarding food, entertainment, shopping, culture, everything. Tucson is much, much smaller and has significantly less variety, in many respects.

Selection isn't everything though, and of what is available in Tucson is often very fine. The air is dry and clear, literally a breath of fresh air compared to LA. This region of the Sonoran Desert is breathtakingly beautiful. The Mexican food is fine and in great quantity. It's also rather different (preferably so to me) from LA's varied Latino/South American cuisine. There is a thriving music/art/bar scene downtown and on 4th Ave. (Tucson Underground is weird but good for pointers for various stuff along those lines.) The local Weekly still seemed to have its head on straight the last time I picked it up; it's very good.

Much of what I appreciated about living in Tucson came from living near the University/Downtown area. The Sam Hughes neighborhood is beautiful, the west side between the freeway and the mountains between Grand & St. Mary's is a little ghetto but still really cool, downtown and Armory Park are still on my list for places to live. As you get further from downtown, things change. Big ol' suburbs have been sprouting further and further out as long as I've been alive. Oro Valley and Marana and Catalina and Dove Mountain to the north are about as cookie cutter as it gets. REALLY BIG cookie cutter, in a lot of ways. Similar sproutings out towards the Rincons in the east and again way way southeast. I don't know a lot about southwards of downtown. There's a very large Airforce base there, and more suburbs I think, some casinos on a reservation, a wicked-weird arts community or twelve, and then Mexico. Which is awesome, if you have a passport and a hankering for beaches.

The cultures sort of follow similar divisions. Suburbia is sprawling and crazy and sort of default old/conservative. The university is token liberal but often as well just a suburbia pipeline. The downtown scene is varied and probably the most culturally rich. Altogether it doesn't seem nearly as bad as Phoenix in terms of conservativeness and/or craziness, but things could have been changing. Pima county has always seemed to me a bastion against the weird forces at work in Phoenix, alas I have been away.

It's harder to see past the Neighborhood rehEateries, but Tucson has plenty of good food. Check the Weekly.

One thing that's very similar between LA and Tucson is the consistency of the weather. Except instead of it pretty much being pleasant as peaches outside all the time it's hot. Remember that scene in Dogma where Jason Lee's character takes over his suburban headquarters and turns on the AC? "There's nothing as delightfully evil or whateverwhatver etc. as Central Air Conditioning"? It's pretty much like that all the time. I lived without an air conditioner in home or car for many years, and I do not recommend it. Swamp cooling and/or windows down is just not enough for sane living. That said, it's not impossible to enjoy the heat. Hiking in extreme heat can be exhilarating, shade will never be such cool relief, water never so wet, and the desert is so beautiful. Especially so at night when it's still 96 and clear out and the moon is full.
Hey, it's a dry heat. Heh.

Winter, when it comes, is colder than LA by a lot. There's decent skiing not too far away, and often snow nearby. The Santa Catalinas are majestic. There's plenty to discover in the region surrounding the city, Bisbee, Tubac, Rocky Point, Kitt Peak, Nogales, White Sands and enough to do around to keep occupied. There's not much brash and flashy in T-town, but no end to its charm.

There's also lots of space. If you've ever played Snooker, living in Tucson is like going back to a billiards table after years of tiny pockets and rounded corners and *#%&ing toadstools in the middle of everything. Wide lanes, faster speed limits, and waaaay more traffic policing. Free parking! Everywhere! Yards and driveways and gardens and every once in a while a big patch of desert still there browning between everything else. Spread out a bit. If you've ever wanted to start a shed, and maybe build something, the space is easy to find even centrally.
posted by carsonb at 11:04 PM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Do you like the desert? I hope so, if you move there, because that's about all that there is.

Night life? What night life? They actually have city workers that roll up the sidewalks about 8:30pm. What a yawner it is. Music scene? Hardy har.

Fact is that I do love Tucson. To visit. I do love the desert, all those tiny back roads leading to nowhere and you pull off the road and turn off the motor off and listen to the quiet. It's great. It is so, so beautiful.

It is in fact pretty dang warm in summer there, as noted above, but almost no humidity, which to me makes it much more bearable than the summers here in Austin, which are maybe ten-fifteen degrees cooler on any given day but very humid. But: because there is no humidity to tangle up the suns rays, they hit you hard -- the sun is intense there, very much so.

Since Arizona doesn't dink around with changing the time twice a year it gets light very, very early in the morning, and dark early at night. That's not bad nor good, just something to know about.

Yeah, the university has museums but they are nothing to write home about, from what I've seen of them. Small halls, limited collections.

FYI, you're not going to be able to live well at all without a car, Arizona is car-centric, not too good of bus systems.

Tucson is more like an Arizona Austin, Phoenix more like an Arizona Dallas. But as noted above, Tucson is only seen as progressive because you're comparing it with other AZ cities.

Food? I hope you like corporate chain restaurants.

There is a fairly interesting restaurant in the Congress Hotel, some vegetarian dishes, pretty decent American menu but not anything a real foodie would jump up and down about; still, you can eat the food there, or I can anyways. And the Congress Hotel is quite cool anyways, and sometimes they do get touring musicians in their club that make it worth it. The rooms are not air conditioned but because of great insulation and ceiling fans and blinds on the windows it isn't uncomfortable at all. And if you're there in the off-season they rent you a room 1/2 price -- just a heads up there.

My experience of Tucson is that it just does not have much of a pulse, much less a racing heart. Maybe I just didn't know where to look but I don't think that's the case, and I've been there enough to have a fair sense of the town.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:34 PM on May 11, 2010

Of course I didn't preview and see Carsons post and I defer to his experience w/regard to food. And yes, he's dead on about the other cool places to visit not far from Tucson, in particular Bisbee for me, such a cool old town...
posted by dancestoblue at 11:42 PM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: I don't and never have LIVED in Tucson, but have spent quite a bit of time there as a visitor since I have two (single, quirky, nerdy, kinda quiet, bicycling and frisbeeing) friends who moved there for work and they BOTH LOVE IT.

When you mention finding new things every week, I promise it is something you can still do there, you just have to get connected initially. This is precisely what I really like there is the sheer quirkiness of the place and the people attracted to it.

A lot of the food is yeah nothing-much if you are used to eating out in someplace like Boston or New York, but there are memorable meals in all kinds of ethnicities at all price levels. Get a car, live somewhere very central, and life will be fine.
posted by n y my at 3:53 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tucson is a weird little chilled out town... People there are friendly. I would imagine it'd be a great place to go if you move for a job and want to spend a solid year concentrating heavily on that. It's got stuff to do, amazing Mexican food... but the real winner down there is playing outside. If that's your thing, that town is going to treat you really well -- hiking, mountain biking, running, etc...

'Course, for a somewhat more urban experience, you've got PHX 2 hours to the north. Also, Rocky Point, Mexico is just a few hours to the south.

Night life is never gonna compare to LA, but Congress and some of the other clubs down there seem to consistently book bands which skip Phoenix, for whatever reason.
posted by ph00dz at 6:48 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: It's a fool's errand to compare any city the size of LA with a city the size of Tucson - the sheer size of LA means you'll never get what you get there anywhere else. Go in with an open mind and you'll be pleasantly surprised by Tucson.

My sister and brother-in-law moved to Tucson for work in 2001 from Seattle, and after about six months of "wow this isn't Seattle what have we gotten ourselves into here" they really started to like Tucson. Sure, it's small, but it has its charms - it just doesn't have the sheer volume of charms that a major city does.

Tucson is a much more livable city than Phoenix, in my opinion, and I think you'll really dig it if you don't go in thinking that it will suffer because it's not LA. Good luck.
posted by pdb at 6:59 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Food? I hope you like corporate chain restaurants.

Only people with no imagination would eat in chain restaurants in Tucson. Yelp is probably not the best measure for the Tucson food scene - it's a much better tool for cities like San Francisco, because there is so much more participation there. I was just looking over recent Yelp reviews for Tucson, and they're all sort of MOR and dippy. I'm not Tucson's biggest cheerleader, but the food is fine if you're willing to explore and research. I had a meal at Jax Kitchen a few weeks ago that was as good as any I've had in the Bay area, including multiple meals at Chez Panisse.

I'm not sure if this is where you'll be working, but I have a very young friend who moved to Tucson to work at Raytheon a year ago. She's got piles of friends, and social activites going on every week. I've been very impressed at how many young people work at Raytheon and how networked they all are.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:12 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: if you REALLY are a serious foodie, then you will re-learn mexican cuisine all over againif you move to tucson. cafe poca cosa will introduce you to aspects of mexican cooking that you have not likely found in los angeles. there's a reason why world chefs consider mexican to be one of the world's five great cuisines, and poca cosa will show you why. but there's more than just mexican food in tucson. feast is a great example of a fine, innovative restaurant, and there are many, many more. the tucson weekly is your guide here.

in addition to the nightclub at the historic hotel congress, there's also the rialto theatre, and a fantastic independent art house in the loft cinema.

in short, tucson is a real gem, but only if you're willing to enjoy it for what it is. carsonb's advice about where to live is pretty helpful: in short, the closer you are to downtown, the more you're likely to enjoy your life. but you'll still need a car. and yeah, summer is freaking hot and slow.
posted by deejay jaydee at 7:41 AM on May 12, 2010

I currently live in Tucson, though possibly for not much longer - feel free to memail me.

I'm a transplant from Seattle and the Midwest. The first year I was here, it felt like summer well into October. Hiking is good and there are a lot of meetups (especially sports) on meetup.com. The ultimate frisbee league tends to have spillover from the UA varsity team (who can't play on intramurals so play in the city league), so even the 'noncompetitive' portion of the league has some really good people in it. That said, they have more sophisticated play than many people are used to (running drills and formations and such).

One of the biggest annoyances are the snowbirds; every year from mid-September until March/April, traffic doubles to quadruples and the roads are full of people with the worst driving habits from all over the country. My work is near a mall, so I probably see the worst of it.

The other major problem I have with Tucson is the lack of greenery and water, combined with the overabundance of spiky things that want to poke or eat you. My favorite time of the year is in the summer during monsoon season. The heat sucks, but mostly in terms of A/C bills; it's light out from about 5am til past 9pm, so you reschedule your activities around that.

People tend to be friendly (compared to Seattle) and generally happy (compared to Indiana), but I'm not sure about the opportunities for dating.
posted by bookdragoness at 10:08 AM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: Tucson is fucking awesome. Ever had Mexican food before? Wrong.

I can't remember the street near campus that's the bar strip (8th?), but it's like Austin's 6th street, but without the douchy hipsters. Well, some, but it's a much more inclusive environment. Some of my favorite bars I've ever been to are there.

Hiking in the proper southwest is a different deal from the mountains of California. The land is magical. Especially early in the morning. I don't believe in magic. You can bike, hile a different mountain every week, birdwatch, camp, ski, etc.

I'd live enar campus, though. I don't even know the town that well and I'd love there. I suspect being around the young people like that would be the best way to find out what there is to find out.
posted by cmoj at 10:34 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know a friend that recently (within the last 6 months or so, I believe) moved to that area of Arizona. I'll ask her tonight after work how she would answer your question.
posted by Green With You at 11:50 AM on May 12, 2010

@cmoj: you are probably thinking of 4th avenue, which is a great neighborhood to live in if you're just moving to the area. just watch out for the street fair . . .
posted by deejay jaydee at 12:10 PM on May 12, 2010

Best answer: I think, since you say you're not super into 'going out' - ie, clubbing and having your picture taken for the social pages - Tucson's nightlife would be fine. Much of it is centered on the University/Downtown 4th Ave/Congress area, so if you live near there (not too near, unless you love underage drunken college kids..), you'd have a pretty diverse set of options. Hotel Congress and Plush both seem to get some fairly prominent indie bands, there's some good local talent (Golden Boots, Calexico, Mariane Dissard) too. The Red Room is a smaller space (adjoining the 24hr Grill eatery) which seems to book, nightly, the local avantgarde/hipster set.

The alternative weekly (Tucson Weekly) is surprisingly good, and there's an excellent community radio station (KXCI).

As far as food (ie, restaurants) go - there's some half-dozen Indian restaurants, I've been to two good ones and one mediocre. Been to one good, very affordable Thai place (Karuna's). I don't splurge on any other restaurant cuisine, but hell, there are a lot more options than Olive Garden and TGI Friday's.

This is only my second summer here, but last summer was certainly bearable, I bicycled to class a few times each week, no sweat. Depending on where you live, living in Tucson can be a mostly pedestrian/bicyclist affair. However, apart from the downtown/university region, all the shopping/entertainment destinations are basically in strip-mall settings.

Back in February, a reporter from the local paper approached me and asked me what I liked most about Tucson, and I said something about how easy it was to leave, by which I meant, drive for 15 minutes and you'll be into open desert / ranchland. If you spend a real year here you'll come to appreciate that not only does southern Arizona barely qualify as a desert, but it can be green and positively lush. Also, Arizona's got practically every biome there is within it's borders. When I came here, I thought: cactus, tan, no real trees - but that is such a misconception. Hell, apart from exploring southeastern Arizona, there's a mountain (Mt. Lemmon) practically in town that you can drive up and be snowed on.

Also - the monsoon is awesome. Rain is always something to look forward too.
posted by unmake at 8:44 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check out this thread for more information about Tucson. I have lived here most of my life and really like it. The only comments that I can't agree with above are everything that dancestoblue says. People who say there is no night life or good local restaurants have no idea what they are talking about.
posted by nestor_makhno at 10:21 AM on May 24, 2010

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