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36 Hours- Or So-in Tucson With Books

36–or so–Hours in Northwest Tucson

[On January 3, 2010, the New York Times ran an article by Richard Woodward, called 36 Hours in Tucson, Ariz.  Some Tucson writers thought they might have a better idea of what to do in Tucson than Mr. Woodward, and we conspired to publish our own versions of “36 Hours.”]

I’m the third Tucson writer* to take up the challenge of supplementing the New York Times article by sculpting my own 36 (more or less) hours in Tucson, Arizona. My penny-pinching, relaxed version of (more or less) 36 hours in Tucson focuses on a small area on the northwest side of Tucson,  and includes a treat for lovers of travel literature and books in general.

First off, what’s this 4 pm, 9 am, 1:30 pm stuff? This is Tucson–practically Latin America. Throw away that wrist watch and let time flow, man. Do the things on this list as the spirit moves you. Whatever.

4:00 p.m. (more or less) 1) Check in at the InnSuites Best Western Foothills Motel on north Oracle Road [Having undergone several management changes, the motel is now a Best Western Innsuites. See if you can get a 2nd floor room on the west side for the sunset views.

2) Take a walk (don’t worry, it’s a little one) down Lavery Lane beside the hotel to observe the hodgepodge, variety of Tucson’s cityscape. Ranch houses stretch out on one side of the road, some with scruffy natural desert and some “improved” by scraping the desert and covering the land with white gravel. On the other side of the street, one-story, prim, townhouses exude a slight southwestern feel.

3) At dinner time, I suggest heading to the grocery store. A.J.’s is a destination grocery store in the posh La Encantada shopping center at the Northeast corner of Skyline Drive and Campbell Avenue. While at La Encantada, Tucsonans can buy stuff and get so gussied up that people won’t even know they’re from Tucson. But at A.J.’s they don’t care what you are wearing.

Half of the store is a deli (including sushi bar). If you can get past the chocolate mousse cake in the bakery, pick up a few salads and take them outdoors to the patio. From your mountainside perch, watch the spectacular sunset while you eat. I can’t guarantee a spectacle every single night, but I can tell you from experience that Tucson sunsets beat out well-publicized Oia on Santorini and Mallory Square in Key West. Munch, gaze and say Ahhhhhh!

4) Scoot back to the Innsuites for the manager’s (free!) happy hour by the fireplace, or catch up on your e-mail on the complimentary computers. Back in your room, lean back on those comfy pillow beds and read a book.

5) Next morning, after stoking up on the Innsuites breakfast, skedaddle a few blocks to Tohono Chul Park and walk through the trails marveling at the desert plants. Since you love travel books, be sure to stop at La Galaria store just crammed with beautiful books about Arizona and the West.

6) For lunch try Tucson’s version of fast food at Baggins, across from the motel and up the road a piece in a shopping center at the corner of Oracle and Orange Grove. Locally owned with branches all over town, Baggins serves unique sandwiches in a paper bag with your name on the outside and a free chocolate chip cookie inside.

7) Back up at Campbell and Skyline, you can browse a nifty collection of art galleries in charming southwestern buildings– Galleries West‘s Indian art , a couple of strictly Western art galleries, Sanders Galleries and Settlers West, and Simon Pianos and Fine Art.

8 ) Drive on up the mountain on Campbell as far as you can go. You’ll see some fine foothills homes and lovely desert. Make a u-turn and say, “Wow!” You’ll feel like one of those Spanish explorers who came here in the 18th century, discovering God’s country.  Get there at the right time (about 5:15 in early January) and you can see another Tucson sunset, a symphony of colors in the sky.

9) As a long-time Tucsonan, I don’t feel the need to cowboy up, but I can see that you are disappointed in the lack of true western stuff on my list, so let’s have dinner at High Falutin‘, which is on Oracle Road, quite close to the motel. If the bright colors, boots and barbed wire decor reminds you of Baggins, that’s because it has the same owners, but this is no sandwich place. MMMM, the aroma of mesquite smoke and barbeque sauce pulls you in the door.

10) After dinner we are drawn to the adobe buildings of Casas Adobes shopping center for  dessert and people watching. Casas Adobes shopping center lies on the southwest corner of Ina Road and Oracle Road.  There, in Frost, the real Italian gelato maker arranges each flavor with the artistry of an old master. Dark chocolate and a scoop of blueberry; lemon; strawberry champagne. Swoon. You can sit  outside and watch people on the brick sidewalks picking out a restaurant or a fancy frock.

What? The morning of departure is at hand?

11) On the way out of town: Before you hit the road (or the air), you can find a shopping center at Ina and Thornydale near the entrance to the I-10 freeway,  that houses branches of TWO establishments that are pure Tucson. No book lover can leave Tucson without a trip to Bookman’s. Here you can browse miles of bookshelves divided by subject, offering used books,including a generous travel literature section. You can pick up a stack of used travel magazines, curl up in a chair and… WAIT! You are going to miss your plane!

Buy what you can stuff into your luggage, and run across the parking lot to the 2nd Tucson Originaleegee’s (No caps).  Get the flavor of the month, but caution–brain freeze may ensue.   Originally meant to be an Italian granita,this ice took a delicious turn along the way. Have an eegee the color of the Tucson sunset. Lemon, tangerine, cranberry, blueberry. Whatever.

So now you have four people’s lists of things to do in Tucson, with very few overlaps.  Truth be told, you can’t go wrong with any of these mini guides. Feel free to comment below.

*See MyItchyTravelFeet blog post and TucsonCowgirl’s blog post AND A canine twist  on 36 Hours in Tucson at Will My Dog Hate Me blog, and maybe even check out the original New York Times article.