We asked readers to help us define some of Tucson's best experiences.
A monsoon storm in the palm of your hand : Everyone, seemingly, likes the aroma of creosote, sometimes called greasewood or chaparral. “I wish I could bottle the smell,” says Star reader Zachary Breece. The Creosote Council, a group representing the industries that protect railroad ties and other wood products from decay, credits the odor to naphthalene, an organic compound that gives off intense aromas even at low concentrations.
See Mission San Xavier in a new way : Longtime Tucsonans are so used to the 18th century landmark, a treasure of Spanish mission architecture and baroque art, that it sometimes seems like a creation of nature, like the storm clouds that frame its bulky bell towers each summer. But take that short drive down Interstate 19 again, Star readers urge. Get off at the San Xavier Road exit, follow the signs, and have another look and listen.
Help win a game at McKale: Maybe you couldn’t play college basketball, but you’ve wrangled the city’s most precious ticket — to a men’s basketball game at McKale Center. Now what? Well, join 14,700 of your newest friends in trying to affect the outcome. The Wildcats once won 71 straight games at McKale and have been victorious in over 83 percent of its games at the arena since it opened in 1973.
UA photo center, develop that creative outlet: Founded by Ansel Adams and then-UA President John Schaefer in 1975, the Center for Creative Photography started as a repository for the works of five master photographers, including Adams. Today, it is the global nerve center for researchers and teachers of the art form, with 5 million archival objects, including letters, journals, negatives and, of course, cameras.
Tap into Tucson’s burgeoning beer scene: Remember when Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve was considered a leap forward? When Gentle Ben’s was the only brewery in town? Today, Tucson practically bubbles over with beer options, with brewers from the south side to the Foothills producing some of the best lagers and ales ever poured here. While a lot of chalkboard menus feature hop-heavy West Coast-style IPAs, Tucson’s hard water is also well-suited for the making of stouts and porters.
Shine with Ben’s Bells: Tucsonans are invited to put their kindness into action at Ben’s Bells’ downtown and Main Gate studios, or to pick up an educational to-go box with suggested activities for spreading the love. For more information, visit BensBells.org or call 622-1379. Browse other volunteer opportunities at the Volunteer Center website (bit.ly/1MSzYWD) or call 903-3977.
Arizona Inn: Taste refinement, luxury — Once on Tucson’s outskirts, the centrally located Arizona Inn is still a bastion of early-20th-century refinement, described by architect Matt Sears in the July 27 Star as an “intricately woven complex of spaces” drawing from Colonial and Mediterranean influences.
Locals gush about their Seven Falls: On a nice day when the water’s flowing, hundreds have been known to make the trek to Seven Falls, crisscrossing Bear Creek as it cuts through prime desert scenery adjacent to Sabino Canyon. Fed by spring snowmelt and summer showers, the stepped series of waterfalls creates a lasting visual memento of a can’t-miss day trip.
Tucson’s car-free days: Seems like old times: After five years’ worth of Cyclovia (bikeway) events in Tucson, we see what happens when some city streets are closed to cars and given over to bicycling, walking, and other human-powered activities: Tens of thousands of people of all ages seize the experience.
Lunch and a stroll at Tohono Chul Park: As butterflies flit among the flowering plants along Tohono Chul’s walking paths, one almost forgets how unforgiving the desert can be. And that’s partly why Star readers like to visit the 49-acre park, listed by National Geographic as one of the nation’s top “secret gardens.”
Praying for rain on San Juan’s Day: If a bunch of people put their minds to it, can they make it rain? That question is one way of looking at El Dia de San Juan, a celebration of St. John the Baptist and the beginning of the monsoon season associated with him. The traditional fiesta is June 24 on the west side of the Santa Cruz River at Mercado San Agustin from 5 to 10 p.m. Expect lots of food, games and folklorico. If a little rain should fall, there’ll be dancing like you’ve never seen.
Fascinated by flight? You’re in the right town. At 80 acres, the Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the biggest aviation museums in the world. Among the planes housed there: the Bumble Bee, listed briefly in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s smallest piloted plane, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and the speedy SR-71A Blackbird, which has flown from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in 1 hour, 4 minutes.
Float around Mexican-restaurant heaven: It’s easy to fall into a restaurant rut. Luckily for lovers of Mexican food, the Tucson area’s table is beautifully set, particularly in the corridor stretching from downtown south, encompassing Fourth, Sixth and 12th avenues. Have you tried the flautas at El Minuto lately? El Charro’s carne seca? The birria at Mi Nidito? Explore, revisit and eat yourself silly.
Feel like a kid at Reid Park Zoo: Look who’s 50. The Reid Park Zoo, founded in 1965, is more popular than ever, drawing more than 600,000 visitors a year. The birth of elephant Nandi, who turns 1 on Aug. 20, and the arrival of four lion cubs in December 2013 haven’t hurt. The 24-acre zoo — a fun outdoor classroom, really — spreads a message of conservation, offering (fairly) close encounters with grizzlies and jaguars, and a daily chance to hand-feed the giraffes. Summer hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.
El Tour de Tucson brings out Tucson’s best: The Saturday before Thanksgiving is a prime opportunity to notch a fitness benchmark while helping the community. With events from five to more than 100 miles, there’s a place for novice bicyclists and professionals alike at El Tour de Tucson. More than 7,000 race or ride for fun, and millions are raised for dozens of charitable groups.
To 4-wheelers, Redington Pass brings a grin: Northeast of Tucson, in the high crease between the Rincon and Santa Catalina Mountains, miles of ATV and jeep trails offer some of the area’s best rough-terrain recreation and plenty of panoramic views. Time it right and a running Tanque Verde Creek provides a nice spot for a picnic. From Grant and Tanque Verde roads, head east 18 miles on Tanque Verde until it turns into Redington Road, which turns into the steep dirt access road.
Fourth Avenue street fairs a community party: Life thrives on North Fourth Avenue year-round, but it’s a whole 'nother scene during the March and December street fairs, when tens of thousands of pedestrians jam the roadway just north of downtown, browsing the arts, crafts and food booths that stretch for blocks. Live music and street performers keep the mood buoyant, and the three-day events provide some of Tucson’s best people-watching. Get your wallet and stomach ready.
You deserve a Sonoran hot dog: Few pleasures are greater than the bacon-wrapped Sonoran hot dog. Mustard, tomato, jalapeno sauce, grilled and raw onions, a scattering of pinto beans and a serpentine of mayonnaise make for a whirl of colors and flavors on a puffy bun. Star readers are loyal to hot-dog trucks at Sixth and 22nd, Country Club and Lee, 12th and Drexel, Park and 36th, and oh, about 96 others. Brick-and-mortar rivals El Guero Canelo and BK’s have fierce fans, too.
Lose yourself at the Tucson Festival of Books: When this celebration of the written word takes place over two days each March on the University of Arizona campus, some 140,000 people show up. And like a good book, the festival makes the improbable inevitable. You can shake hands with J.A. Jance, exchange pleasantries with Gail Sheehy or ask Noam Chomsky what the heck “Syntactic Structures” was all about. Best of all, you can take a friend along and spark their love of literature and reading.
Take in a sunset at Gates Pass: One of life’s simplest pleasures — no app necessary — is perhaps best experienced at the city’s western gateway, in Tucson Mountain Park, where Tucsonans love to watch the continually changing light in the moments before the sun disappears. Travel west on Speedway until it becomes Gates Pass Road, and follow the twists and turns until you reach the scenic pull-off called the Gates Pass Overlook.