Summertime in Tucson brings one loud, sweat-soaked complaint: It's too dang hot. But there's a lot to love about the Baked Apple—even during those triple-digit days.
For starters, the population drops once the snowbirds and students leave town. It's a lot easier to get around town, because the number of cars on the road declines so much that by mid-July, it sometimes feels as if you're the Omega Man when you're rolling down Speedway.
The summer exodus makes life harder for local merchants (other than pool-maintenance outfits and sunscreen shops), but it also means there are summer specials out there at Tucson's best restaurants.
Nearly all of the locally owned eateries under the Tucson Originals banner are offering some kind of $20 special. You can find out the details at tucsonoriginals.com, but I'm looking forward to joining the annual summer road trip at Kingfisher Bar and Grill, 2564 E. Grant Road. The rotating two-week specialty menus are built with dishes from regions around the United States, including the Pacific Northwest, Down South, Back East, California/Hawaii and more. It'll start this year with meals from the Great Plains and the Midwest on Memorial Day weekend. Details: kingfishertucson.com.
Kingfisher's sister restaurant, Bluefin Seafood Bistro, will be bringing diners its annual Lobsterfest between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with a one-pound lobster, starch and a vegetable for $22. Bluefin, at 7053 N. Oracle Road, also does a delightful Sunday brunch if you're in the neighborhood. Details: bluefintucson.com.
Acacia Real Food and Cocktails, 3001 E. Skyline Drive, has something special going on every night. Among the highlights: Tuesdays will feature all-you-can-eat "Cadillac" or "Mahi" tacos, plus a craft beer, for just $10. (Caveat: You'll have to enjoy it in the bar.) Fridays will feature paella for two, along with two glasses of red or white sangria, for $30. And on Saturdays, there's an all-you-can-eat fish fry for $12. Details: acaciatucson.com.
Pastiche Modern Eatery, 3025 N. Campbell Ave., is pairing two of its signature dishes—a thyme-crusted sea bass and a baby-greens salad—for just $20. As regulars know, there's no shortage of wine specials, either. Details: pasticheme.com.
My favorite low-brow option can be found at Sausage Deli, 2334 N. First Ave. You'll find a $5 special on five of its finest sandwiches until 5 p.m., daily: chicken salad, vegetarian, turkey, Black Dog (a beefed-up roast beef) or the breathtaking Omar, which combines salami, turkey and Swiss on an onion roll with peppers and onion. (Please note that the sandwiches are $5 each; you don't get all five for $5, you cheapskates.) A great local alternative to the $5 footlong. Details: sausagedeli.com.
Summer brings the Tucson Padres back to Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium. Take yourself out to the ballgame for dollar hot dogs on Wednesday nights, cheap beers on Thirsty Thursdays (co-sponsored by your friends at the Tucson Weekly), fireworks shows, zany guest stars, bobblehead giveaways and all the rest of the fun of Triple-A baseball. Learn about all the ticket specials and promotions at tucsonpadres.com.
Movie theaters offer dark and cool getaways. Bob Grimm is letting you know about all those summer blockbusters elsewhere in this Summer Survival Guide (on Page 14), but the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd., deserves a special shoutout. Along with the usual mix of newly released independent cinema, captivating underground stuff (like the currently playing Latino zombie fiesta Juan of the Dead), silver-screen classics and cult movies, the Loft has some special summer treats lined up.
Jeff Yanc, the programming director, tells us that despite the death of Kim Jong-il, we can look forward to the traditional Team America: World Police sing-along on July 4. There's a free children's film festival from July 21 to 29 that will feature, among other films, Yellow Submarine (it's a sing-along version), The Black Stallion, the '50s version of Invaders From Mars and a day of vintage Looney Tunes. (How can you pass that up?) You can catch a Beastie Boys sing-along party on Saturday, June 2; a Father's Day screening on June 17 of a restored Dr. No for its 50th anniversary; and the National Theatre Live production of Frankenstein on June 24 and July 1. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the BBC's celebrated new Sherlock series. (In one of the filmed stage productions, Cumberbatch plays Dr. Frankenstein; in another, he switches roles to the monster.)
As if that's not enough, The Loft is hosting a "summer camp" series featuring camp classics from the '50s and '60s every night in July, while August will bring a major Muppets tribute. And there's a Kiddie Cult Classic presentation of Ghostbusters this Saturday, May 26. Go down to the Loft to learn all about it, or visit loftcinema.com.
Summer Saturday Evenings at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum offer a look at the night life of the Sonoran Desert's wildlife. Mountain lions are on the prowl; all sorts of creepy-crawly bugs, snakes and lizards come out to play; and the staff and friends of the museum offer activities from stargazing to tips on night photography. It all goes down on Saturday nights through the end of August at the museum, 2021 N. Kinney Road. For more info: desertmuseum.org.
You may also want to consider sneaking into hotel pools. Getting poolside is the best way to beat the summer heat, and the best choice is visiting a friend who has a backyard pool. But there's a certain thrill to sneaking into some of the hotel pools around town, although we can't reveal the ones we like the best, because we don't want management to be on the lookout for us freeloaders. (If you want to go legit, the resorts usually offer great specials for weekend staycations.)
Finally, there's Flagstaff. OK, it's cheating because it ain't Tucson, but at some point, I have to get out of the heat for a few days for a reboot in cool air. Escaping to Coconino County is one of my favorite options.
If a four-hour drive to your getaway is out of the question, then a quick trip to Mount Lemmon is an excellent alternative.