While there are some advantages to summertime in this town—a whole lot less traffic, monsoon rains to dance in, the weird ghost-town quiet that settles over the city as half the population seemingly vanishes in the rapture—the season has its share of hazards, too: rattlesnakes, heatstroke, the hot concrete that blisters your feet if you step outside without your flip-flops.
So here's our survival guide with ways to have fun (mostly after dark), delicious specials in our restaurants, concerts to attend and books to read. True desert rats embrace the summer like a pac rat embraces a prickly pear: with respect but also joy in the purity of the danger.
Reid Park Zoo Summer Safari
Beginning May 19, Summer Safari Nights return to the Reid Park Zoo from 6 to 8 p.m. every Friday through Aug. 4. You'll enjoy live music, family-friendly animal features, special dining options and gift shop discounts. Bring a blanket and enjoy the concert (there will even beer or wine for purchase, but please, don't share with the monkeys). Zoo keepers will be around for chats as you wander the zoo. There will also be cool animal encounters and other activities. Remember, animals who want their evening privacy may be in for the night, while others will be out and about.
3400 Zoo Court
Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
Often the Desert Museum is listed as one of the favorite places Tucsonans love to take their out-of-town visitors. But during the summer, we get to take over. Summer is when the museum becomes a local's favorite. On Saturday nights, the museum offers special programs and exhibits so you can see all the creatures of the desert night do their nocturnal thing. One of the best scenes are those early Saturday evenings watching tourists leave scratching their heads as they watch all the locals walk in. Shhhh. Don't tell them.
2021 N. Kinney Road
Southern Arizona was an early hotspot in the space race, so it's no surprise that it's also home to the annual Spacefest, which brings astronauts, space scientists, rocketship engineers, astronomers, meteorite hunters, artists and other space cadets together for a great big confab about the final frontier. Get up close and personal with Apollo and Gemini astronauts such as Richard Gordon, Charlie Duke and Dave Scott, who was the first to drive the lunar rover. June 8-11, Marriott Starr Pass.
Mount Lemmon Sky Center
Sure, anywhere on Mount Lemmon beats being in the valley in July or August. But Mount Lemmon SkyCenter is a great spot for stargazing as well as chilling out. Find out everything the telescope compound has to offer, including 32" Schulman and 24" Phillips telescopes, science activities and much more, during a public open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 27. Schedule time for a short guided hike on Meadow Loop Trail if you need some steps on your Fitbit.
In its never-ending quest to provide us with a great experience at the movies, the gang at the Loft is putting in all-new seats in the main auditorium. Here's the downside: For about two months while those new and much more comfy seats get installed, the Loft will be showing movies on its two smaller screens as well as an inflatable screen that will pop up in the parking lot starting with a screening of Twister on May 25. The Loft will also be taking its show on the road to the Tucson Jewish Community Center with a May series of Mel Brooks films and a Mother's Day Mamma Mia sing-a-long, the latest Found Footage extravanza at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, May 27, a screening of director Alex Cox' new Tombstone Rashomon in Tombstone and a new free series call Social Justice Summer at the Global Justice Center on Wednesday nights in June. Once the big auditorium is open again, the Loft will also be hosting the Loft Kids Fest, featuring free films for the rugrat set, July 22-30.
3233 E. Speedway
Cactus Drive-InIf you grew up in Tucson, you probably remember piling into the car to see a movie at the De Anza or Rodeo Drive-In. (Our favorite was most definitely Dawn of the Dead at the old Apache.) We're immensely grateful to the gang at the Cactus Drive-In Theatre Foundation for saving one of those big screens and finding a temporary home for it at the Tanque Verde Swap Meet. You'll find screenings of classics and recent second-run flicks. Raiders of the Lost Ark will show on Thursday, May 4, and the recent animated kid flick Sing is on Sunday, May 21. In June, organizers plan to show films every Thursday (and they might have news about Friday and Saturday screenings to share in the near future).
4100 S. Palo Verde Road
Cinema La Placita
With the Pima County Courthouse getting a makeover that will bring back its original splendor, downtown's Cinema La Placita movie series has found a spectacular new home at the Tucson Museum of Art plaza. This year on Thurday nights, you'll find classics such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Thelma and Louise, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Some Like It Hot. Films start at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $3 and includes the popcorn is free. Grab a bite ahead of time at Café a la C'art, La Cocina or El Charro or bring your own picnic.
140 N. Main Ave.
Golden Pin Lanes
Local bowling alleys have been providing Tucsonans a cool place for fun, friendship, beer and summer physical activity that doesn't require tubes of sunscreen or gallons of water. Golden Pin is a great local destination of such fun. There's a summer program that allows kids to bowl for free, summer leagues are starting and there's always some fun and cool activity happening—check out the website for details. And there's beer, burgers and more. You could go on a hike, but we'd advise you to bowl and stay cool and safe.
1010 W. Miracle Mile
Hilton El Conquistador
If you look up staycation in the dictionary, chances are it's not going to be there, but if it was, it would have a picture of the El Conquistador showing a golf course and swimming pool. If you and the kids want to do something extravagant for a long weekend or the middle of the week, but you don't have a huge budget to head out of town, this is worth checking out. Go online or give them a call to see the special rates they offer this summer. If you're the pool person and your significant other is a golf person, this place is for you.
10000 N. Oracle Road
Our northern soul sister city is just a four-hour drive up the mountain. Flagstaff has an amazing indie restaurant scene—be sure to check out the Tinder Box, Marta's and Criollo, just to name a few—and the neighborhood around Beaver Street south of the railroad tracks might as well be named Little Portland. Don't miss the wonderful Museum of Northern Arizona (which will be hosting Native American celebrations throughout the summer) and the Lowell Observatory, which was founded by a guy who spent his nights on the mountain mapping what he was convinced was a network of canals built by Martians. Best of all, there's that cool, fresh mountain air. The hipster Monte Vista remains our favorite hotel, but the Weatherford is full of history and Little America is ideal for family fun.