CLAG 2023 Tucson Guide

 

WEATHER

January weather in Tucson typically ranges from the mid-40s F (7C) just before dawn to the mid-60s F (18C) in the late afternoon, although daytime temperatures in the 70s (20s C) are also possible during your visit.  Once the sun goes down, it can be chilly without any humidity in the air, so you should plan to bring a sweater or light jacket. Many restaurants will have outdoor heaters during the winter months.  Rain is possible but rare - you can see the long-term forecast for Tucson here

DINING

In 2015, Tucson, Arizona, became the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy designated in the United States, joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). Below are some highlights of restaurants, bars and markets.

FOOD

For Mexican/Sonoran food in Tucson ('The best 23 miles of Mexican food' as they say), check out amazing tacos from Taqueria Pico de Gallo,  Tacos Apson, El Torero, Rollie's, Boca Taco y Tequila, Ensenada Street FoodMartin's (with lots of vegetarian options), El Guero Canelo, Aqui con El Nene or anywhere along South 12th Avenue. Most restaurants on South 12th Avenue will have some outdoor seating. For a menu with a mix of Mexican, Tarascan, and Tohono O'odham food, try La Indita. For some of the best homemade tortillas in town, check out Anita’s Street Market. For a more formal sit down diner, try Mi Nidito or the famous El CharroSeis Kitchen located in the historic Tucson Mercado District has excellent food you can eat at their airy outdoor patio - grab a drink from Agustin Kitchen across the courtyard, or head there for oysters and and a more formal meal if you like.  For amazing carnitas, grab a cab or carpool to Carnitas la Yoca.  Looking for the best Sonoran Hotdog in town? Even Tucsonans can't agree, but we recommend starting at Ruiz (corner of S 6th Avenue and 22nd Street) or BK Tacos (on S 12th). 

For a meal near campus, see a more complete list of options here. Just off campus, The Dutch offers great breakfast and lunch options in an airy and comfortable dining room and some outdoor seating, Gentle Ben’s is a lively bar and has great pub food with outdoor seating, also check out Saigon Pho (eat in or take away), No Anchovies for pizza, Panda House southern of campus for authentic Szechuan, Kebabeque for curries and kebabs, or Bacio for Italian fare.  Places that normally cater to undergraduates like No Anchovies and Frog & Firkin near the Marriott will be relatively quiet over winter break and have outdoor seating.

Other Tucson gems include Anello for delicious wood-oven pizza, veggies, bread, and desserts, Five Points for great breakfasts and lunch, Agustin Kitchen for a nice meal including oysters, The Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress, The Coronet (which has some of the best patio seating, including outdoor heaters, in Tucson) for French bistro fare with a North African touch, NightjarReilly’s for pizza, Hermanos for pub fare and cocktails, Obon for sushi and ramen,  Tumerico for really amazing vegan food (try the jackfruit tacos and fresh juices!) and Raijin Ramen for excellent ramen. In addition to the Cup Cafe, The Hotel Congress also has a permanent food truck and casual outdoor dining in Downtown Tucson. For small plates and groceries, visit Time Market (they also have amazing pizza and the most expansive wine selection in town), Food Conspiracy Co-op for local produce and products, or Maynards Market.  At the popular Mercado San Agustin (MSA) Annex, you can find Westbound, Kukai, and Beaut Burger for relaxed outdoor drinks and casual counter service dinner or lunch, and Decibel for breakfast, lunch, and good coffee.  In addition to excellent local beer (see below), you can visit Borderlands downtown for tacos and Sonoran hotdogs from their permanent food truck and eat in their big outdoor space.  The Red Light Lounge at the Downtown Clifton has some outdoor seating, a casual vibe, and a menu of burgers and tacos. 

COFFEE

For your coffee needs, visit Exo (which turns into a mescal bar some evenings!), Caffe Luce (with one location right next to campus), Cartel and Ragin Sage Coffee, (both on Campbell Avenue, close to campus to the north), Decibel at the MSA Annex, and Presta both at the Mercado and closer to campus in Iron Horse neighborhood at the corner of E 9th Street and N 3rd Avenue.  In the Barrio Viejo, Meyer Avenue Cafe & Mercantile has coffee as well as breakfast until mid-afternoon on their outdoor patio. 

DRINKS

Tucson is home to an excellent and lively brewery scene, so check out Pueblo VidaBorderlands, Ten55, Iron John’s, and Dragoon.  Visit Tap and Bottle for a great variety of beers on tap, Westbound for outdoor sipping day or night plus their bottle shop (and nearby counter service at Kukai and Beaut Burger), and The Royal Room. For cocktails, visit the Owl’s Club (a hip bar in an old mortuary which now has outdoor courtyard seating and firepits),  Good Oak Bar (just reopened with food and a focus on local libations), Tough Luck Club (for cocktails), Revel (for wine), and the Red Light Lounge.  If you'd like to get a taste of southern Arizona wine, make an appointment with the tasting room for Sand-Reckoner on 7th Avenue to drink some of the best in the region, or head down to Patagonia (AZ) and Elgin for a day trip and outdoor tasting in the high desert grasslands (we particularly recommend Rune and Callaghan).

ACTIVITIES AND ATTRACTIONS

Take a tour of Tucson by bike! This tour features various historic neighborhoods of Tucson, street art, and even a stop for a taco. Check out the Tucson Bike Tours website for more information.

Tucson is also home to an extensive and famous bike path network you could explore on your own, check out some descriptions and options here. Rent a bike from a local shop like Fair Wheel, located right next to the conference center on campus.  

Consider also a visit to the Tucson Museum of ArtMuseum of Contemporary Art Tucson, the Center for Creative Photography on campus, the historic Mission San Xavier del Bac, Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens, or the Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Definitely don't miss the famed Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a world-renowned natural history museum, zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, and art gallery all in one.  The drive over Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains is spectacular in and of itself and the museum lies to the west of Tucson, about 20 to 30 minutes from the University of Arizona. Their mission is to “Inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert.” Open every day from 8:30- 5:00pm. General admission is $24.95. For more information call (520) 883-2702 or visit their website - this is a great way to see so much of what makes the Sonoran Desert such an amazing ecosystem, all in one place. 

Consider a visit to Kitt Peak National Observatory, home to one of the largest arrays of optical and radio telescopes in the world. The observatory’s Visitor Center offers an array of guided tours and evening stargazing programs. The observatory is located about an hour drive from the University of Arizona. Visit their website for more information. 

There are also abundant options for hiking and camping near Tucson. Just west of town, check out the trails in the Tucson Mountain Park. North of Tucson lies Catalina State Park and Mount Lemmon. Catalina State Park offers extensive camping, hiking, and educational programming. Nestled at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the park is a haven for desert plants, wildlife, and nearly 5,000 saguaro cacti. Park programming includes guided bird walks every Sunday at 8:00 a.m., and Nature Programs every Saturday from 10:00am to 1:00 p.m. Come learn about and see the reptiles and birds (more than 150 species!) of the Sonoran Desert. For more information call (520) 628-5798 or visit the website. Nearby, in the northern foothills of the Catalina Mountains, Oracle State Park offers extensive trail systems, day-use picnic areas, and is a designated International Dark Sky Park. This designation recognizes Oracle State Park as an exceptional place to observe the night sky. For more information, call (520)896-2425 or visit the website.  

Home to some of the world’s largest cacti, Saguaro National Park is another must see. It has two areas (East and West) separated by the town of Tucson. Each offer extensive trail systems, camping, and scenic driving loops. For more information call (520) 733-5153 or visit the website.

HOW TO GET AROUND

One option for getting around close to the conference is Tucson’s bikeshare program, Tugo Bikes. Bikes are located at 41 stations around town. You can purchase a pass online, with the app, or at a kiosk. You can ride for up to 30 minutes with a pass, beyond which time, overage fees apply. When you’re done, return the bike to any station. Tucson also has a shareable e-scooter program, accessed using either Bird or Razor app, but the scooters do not work once on campus proper. Scooters do not have to be returned to a particular spot.

Another option is Tucson’s Modern Streetcar, the Sun Link. This runs close to campus, 4th Avenue (an epicenter of bars, restaurants and shops), and downtown. There are 23 stops around town. To ride, purchase a Sun Go Card (or one day pass, or 30-day pass) from a Sun Go kiosk (drivers do not accept cash).  Tucson also has a public bus system, Sun Tran, check out the website for routes and ticket information.

Tucson also has Uber, Lyft and taxis.

WHERE TO STAY

CLAG has reserved a block of hotel rooms at the Tucson Marriott University Park at a discounted rate.

Other hotel options include:

The AC Marriott Down Town Hotel. This is right on the Modern Streetcar line, near downtown restaurants and bars. It has a rooftop pool and mountain views. Quite nice, but on the more expensive side. $$$

Hotel Congress. Cool, funky, and potentially very loud (like, really loud), depending on which bands are playing downstairs at Club Congress. The Hotel Congress was where small-town Tucson police finally caught up with notorious bank robber John Dillinger in 1934. Located right on the Modern Streetcar and in the midst of the best of downtown and the adjacent 4th Avenue’s funky shops and bar scene. Great breakfast downstairs at The Cup Cafe, great outdoor seating, several bustling bars for beer or cocktails, and one of the best music venues in Tucson. The place can be very loud, but if you want to be in the middle of the action, this is the spot. $

Downtown Clifton. A recently remodeled mid-century motel on the border of the historic Barrio Viejo and Armory Park neighborhoods, very cool large and spotless rooms with southwestern décor and a helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable local staff, cool murals, easy parking if you decide to rent a car, and record players and hip vinyl to lend. Walking distance to the Modern Streetcar, a local favorite bar The Owls Club, the best breakfast in town at 5 Points Market and Café, Ethiopian food at Café Desta, and the rest of downtown. Popular but relatively few rooms. $$

Adobe Rose Inn. This is another B&B where the university tends to host visiting faculty and faculty job candidates, nestled in the peaceful and older historic Sam Hughes neighborhood just east of campus. Good breakfast and southwestern décor, friendly owners. $$/$$$

Aloft Tucson University. Part of the Aloft chain – clean and fairly standard rooms near the northeastern corner of campus and immediately adjacent to the Sam Hughes neighborhood. $$

Arizona Inn. Old-school close-in resort, southern Arizona style. Comfortable and plush, in the quiet Catalina Vista neighborhood just north and west of campus, lots of parking, an on-site restaurant and bar, and a pool, expensive. $$$

JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa. The closest of the Tucson resort type properties to downtown, in the outskirts of the city, the JW Marriott is nestled into a corner of the Tucson Mountains (which are the remnants of a Mesozoic volcanic caldera) to the west of town. Golf of course, pools, and easy access to Tucson Mountain Park for hiking or trail running. $$$

Hacienda del Sol. Located in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, the Hacienda del Sol is a beautiful, southwestern-style resort with good food, amenities, and a tranquil setting. $$$

There are now (as of 2021) two relatively new hotels in the Downtown/Barrio Viejo/Armory Park neighborhoods available as well: the DoubleTree Tucson Downtown Convention Center and the Home2 Suites (Hilton) Tucson Downtown

OTHER LODGING OPTIONS

There are also a number of hotels located along or near Interstate 10 to the west of downtown along the Santa Cruz River and reasonably close to both downtown and the Modern Streetcar line. These hotels cater mostly to long-distance car travelers on I-10 and then to the thousands of Gem and Mineral Show attendees who come to Tucson every February. They are of varying quality, but the ones with the best reviews and/or the best access to downtown and the University are: Country Inn and Suites and the Ramada (formerly called the Riverpark Inn) which is located right at a Modern Streetcar stop and walking distance to the Mercado neighborhood with shops and restaurants, and close to the Santa Cruz River park. $/$$

AIR BNB

Tucson has a number of inexpensive yet often very nice and frequently historic AirBnB options, including entire houses, apartments, or ‘casitas’ (smaller houses behind a main home). Because of their proximity to the University and downtown, we recommend looking in neighborhoods such as: Downtown, the Mercado, the Presidio, Barrio Viejo, Armory Park, Pie Allen, Iron Horse, West University, or Sam Hughes. Below are some considerations for each neighborhood:

Mercado and Menlo Park. West side, a mix of new construction in a mixed-use work/live environment and an older close-in neighborhood. Easy access to downtown and campus via the Modern Streetcar or walking. Near the Mercado San Agustin with an open-air market, restaurants, shops, coffee, bikes, and a good bar.

Presidio. One of the oldest and prettiest neighborhoods in Tucson, immediately adjacent to downtown. Older historical properties, some bungalows, and rebuilt urban adobe.

Barrio Viejo. Historic and quiet neighborhood with beautiful old adobe houses, but depending on how far south you are you might be somewhat distant from the University on foot – a 45-minute walk or 15-minute bike/drive - and a 10- to 15-minute walk to the Modern Streetcar.

Armory Park. As with adjacent Barrio Viejo, a historic neighborhood with great old post-railroad homes and casitas, but depending on how far south you are you might be somewhat distant from the University on foot – a 45-minute walk or 15-minute bike/drive - and a 10 to 15-minute walk to the Modern Streetcar.

West University. Close to the University and the Modern Streetcar, tons of restaurants and bars.

Sam Hughes and east of the University. Larger well-appointed houses or casitas, easy walking distance or pleasant bike ride to campus, but further away from restaurants, shops, bars, and other amenities.

MORE RESOURCES FOR VISITING TUCSON 

https://www.visittucson.org/

https://www.tucsonaz.gov/hcd/tucson-update-tourism 

https://visitorcenter.arizona.edu/