[From the editor: Before we begin, do you need Tucson tix? If so, contact Xavier Vasquez, from FC Tucson's FO. He is offering us tickets for nearly half price: $11.64 each.]
So you’re going to Tucson
— by John Holden
Perhaps it’s the light drizzle of snow. Perhaps it’s the need for sun. Perhaps you’re tired of watching Liverpool slowly blow it and want to watch some real friendly football. But whatever the case, you went ahead and booked this season’s best away day: Tucson, Arizona.
Scoff if you must. Tucson is one of the most underrated, forgotten cities in the country. They tried to lure the Oakland Raiders to Arizona Stadium for next season, which made several national sportswriters look at Tucson and say, “Tucson? Oh, right.” When I moved to Portland, I loved it because I thought it was a slightly more walkable Tucson with better weather. (How times have changed.)
If you’re going, you’re visiting the United States’ first and only UNESCO culinary heritage city, a city surrounded on both sides by national parks, and a city known for its bicycle routes. Here’re some tips from a former Tucsonian (who worked his remaining Tucson network to make sure you’re getting the best info).
Why the Timbers are here
(Scroll down if you want food instead of a quick backstory.) Tucson was home to Major League Baseball spring training until 2010. Phoenix had a county fund to build new spring training ballparks after almost losing baseball entirely to Florida in the early 1990s, but Tucson lacked a similar county fund. After the Diamondbacks and Rockies left, the county turned the old White Sox practice fields into soccer pitches. The soccer stadium isn’t much — it has only one fixed stand — but the Timbers are playing there, dammit.
Where to stay
You’re probably AirBnBing, but there are several nice golf resorts scattered around town. If you’re hoteling, though, pick the Arizona Inn. It opened in 1930, a project of Arizona’s first congresswoman, and is upscale, centrally located, and quaintly historical.
Where to eat
Let’s start at the top: Sonoran food. El Charro Café is the old legend; it’s the oldest family-operated Mexican restaurant in the U.S., and you absolutely cannot go wrong with the sun-dried beef. You also have Mi Nidito, which hosted Bill Clinton. You’ve got Cafe Poca Cosa, where the menu gets switched up twice a day. But you’ve also got holes-in-the-wall, like Anita Street Market, only open for lunch in a hard-to-find location, and which makes fantastic beef burritos.
You’ve got restaurants dedicated to raspados, the snow cone of the Southwest. (I don’t have a favorite spot here, but be on the lookout.) Tamales from Tucson Tamale Company. Sonoran hot dogs from El Güero Canelo. If you’re looking for something garlicky that hasn’t been on the food network, Ruiz Hot-Dogs. And Boca Tacos just generally.
Tucson cuisine isn’t limited to Mexican food, though. If you need a quick sandwich, eegee’s is known for their eponymous fruit slushes. Baggin’s is a local chain that gives you a cookie with each sandwich, and Beyond Bread is a bakery with a number of fresh options. Blue Willow has a delicious and healthy menu. It’s also the only city outside New Mexico not named El Paso with a Blake’s Lotaburger location. Obon Sushi also comes highly recommended.
If you’re not going the raspados route, The Screamery puts Salt and Straw to shame (even though it since opened a Phoenix location. Bastards.).
You’re reading a Timbers Army blog, so you probably also want to drink. Ten 55 Brewing comes recommended. Club Congress is a cool downtown hotel bar, and La Cocina has a nice patio if the weather’s cooperating.
You also have Fourth Avenue if you want to party with college students. Hub restaurant is downtown and has a bar with outdoor patio and ice cream. Hardcore Mariners fans will want to genuflect to The Hut, where former relief pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen tended bar before becoming a major league pitcher.
Also note: There’s not much to drink around the stadium itself. There is, sources say, a new In ‘n Out location, but — as noted above — you can do better than that.
For a recent list of amazing restaurants and breweries, check out this comprehensive article. You won’t be disappointed.
What to do
There’s Saguaro National Park West and Saguaro National Park East. The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is at the West Park and contains a ton of information about the desert habitat. East Park has a smaller visitor center but contains a loop road called “Cactus Forest Drive.” I recommend either. You will see a ton of saguaro cacti. Sabino Canyon is in the Catalinas north of town and contains a tram-bus thing up the canyon. There’s lots of good hiking in both of these spots.
The Presidio San Augstín del Tucson Museum recreates the Tucson Presidio as it would have appeared in 1775. (That’s not a typo on the date.)
Old Tucson Studios is where many Western movies have been filmed, including Little House on the Prairie.
Bookmans is the local Powell’s. It doesn’t have a four-story building downtown, but is still worth a stop if you’re into used books.
You can probably get University of Arizona basketball tickets relatively cheaply now that the team is under federal investigation. As a college town, there’s also a decent music scene, so I recommend checking local listings.
The newly barbed wire border fence is an hour south.
In the event you’re heading down to Tucson, I hope you have a fantastic time and enjoy the preseason!