The People of Tucson: Performer Gigi Chanteuse

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

You can't miss Gigi Chanteuse. This petite  performer packs a vocal and visual punch as the front-woman for Gigi and The Glow. Arizona’s favorite dance music cover band draws a crowd at entertainment venues around Tucson, performing happy, upbeat, nostalgic music from the 50s to today’s hits, with cumbia and Latin songs sprinkled into each set.

Her passion for performing was sparked by her grandma, who would make her perform for friends. At five, she started dance classes, and at 15, her professional career began. She formed Gigi and The Glow with her husband Daniel, a seasoned drummer from Los Angeles, CA, when the pair recognized a need for high-energy dance music in Tucson. The couple also works with various musicians to perform other musical styles, including jazz.

She moved from California to Tucson in 1993, raising four children and welcoming a grandson in the Old Pueblo. While her band takes her to gigs in California and Texas and a beach home to Mexico, she’ll always take the five-hour trek to return to Tucson.

Follow Gigi Around Tucson

It should come as no surprise that a performer would seek out local theater. One of her favorites is The Gaslight Music Hall of Oro Valley, where audiences enjoy concerts and revues spanning every musical genre. Guests are treated to the finest family entertainment in Arizona, and a full menu with pizza, wings, sandwiches, salads, and a wide variety of beverages, including cocktails and milkshakes.

Outdoor adventures take Gigi to Sabino Canyon and all the hiking trails found in Southern Arizona. She also enjoys the Omni Tucson National Resort golf course that hosts PGA tournaments and The Westin La Paloma Resort golf courses, noting they’re not only a great place to play golf but also for walking.

Plus, Tucson is known for bike riding. It is the home to one of the premier bicycling events in the country—El Tour de Tucson—that has been part of the community for nearly four decades and welcomes more than 7,000 cyclists annually.

“We performed for them, and it was so much fun. El Tour de Tucson is a tradition here, and we were very honored to do that,” says Gigi.

Tucson is also home to The Chuck Huckelberry Loop, recently voted Number 1 on USA Today’s 2022 “10 Best Reader’s Choice List” for Best Recreational Trail. The 131-mile loop connects the communities of Tucson, Oro Valley, South Tucson, and Marana and provides a safe place to walk, bike, skate, and even ride a horse.

“Riding those bike trails, you’ll see so much beauty. The Tucson desert has so much breathtaking scenery, especially during monsoon season when everything turns green and pops with color. It’s a work of art, like tapestries that unfold overnight,” says Gigi.

Finally, she can’t say enough about the sunrises and the sunsets. When you’re in Tucson, look to the sky for a real treat.

“I grew up in California, and I love California, but there’s nothing like Tucson. The weather here is amazing, and the sunsets are the most beautiful you’ll ever see,” she says.

GIGI’S TASTES OF TUCSON

“Where can I begin? Everything is good here!” says Gigi. “I’m not a big eater, and I love that in the last five years, Tucson now has more and more vegan venues and menus.”

Of course, St. Philips Plaza is high on her list; Gigi and The Glow regularly perform on the patio surrounded by Proof Artisanal Pizza & Pasta, Reforma Modern Mexican, and Union Public House. Guests can choose to dine on handcrafted artisanal pizza and house-made pasta, authentic Mexican food with a modern and playful twist on fresh local ingredients, and made-from-scratch American fare using local and sustainable ingredients. Each restaurant serves clever libations and is a happy hour and brunch staple.

“I could go on and on; Tucson is packed with delicious restaurants. Tavolino Ristorante Italiano and Wild Garlic Grill in the Foothills are some of my favorites. Another is HiFalutin, and inside the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa is Azul Restaurant. Not to mention all the Mexican food; there are just so many options here,” says Gigi.

The People of Tucson: Food Photographer and Author Jackie Alpers

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

Thirty years ago, aspiring photographer Jackie Alpers found her way to Tucson after graduating with a photography degree from an art college in Columbus, Ohio. Her first job was teaching an after-school art program, which didn’t entirely pay the bills, so she got a job at El Charro Café as a busser and bartender. Eventually, she earned her way to server, and under the tutelage of Carlotta Flores and her family, she learned how to present food not only to guests but also to the camera lens. Flores also taught her about food and the history of food that implanted in Alpers a deep love of Sonoran cuisine.

She made her way to Swanstock, a stock photography company, as a photo editor responsible for sourcing photographs for book publishers and advertising agencies that honed her skills as a photographer. Eventually, she became a freelance photographer and food writer, leading to a recipe blog (at her husband’s encouragement), Jackie’s Happy Plate, showcasing her culinary adventures as a Midwesterner transplanted to the Sonoran Desert.

This led to her authoring two cookbooks; Taste of Tucson:Sonoran-Style Recipes Inspired by the Rich Culture of Southern Arizona and Sprinkles!:Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicous Desserts, plus a monthly column with Food Network.

Taste of Tucson is an official selection of UNESCO’s Tucson City of Gastronomy and a RUSA and Eating the West Award winner. Not to mention Alpers is a 2022 Taste Award winner for food photography, a 2022 gold Muse Photography Award winner in the food photography category, and she has multiple awards from American Photography, The Lucie Awards, the International Photography Awards, The Color Awards, and the ADDY’s. All of her success continues to stoke her passion for food and Tucson. Lucky for us, she’s sharing her favorite places to go in her own words.

Jackie’s Secret Insider Tips

DON’T FORGET TO LOOK UP!

And I’m not just talking about the amazing starry skies above. See the “meat cage” at El Charro Café downtown, where thinly sliced beef is dried by the heat of the Tucson sun in a screened cage hoisted 40 feet in the air above the restaurant. The results are carne seca, and it’s not to be missed.

EAT A CACTUS!

Prickly pear, barrel cactus, cholla, and even saguaros produce edible fruit, buds, and/or pads. And don’t stop there! The desert is chock-full of edible delights that you’ll find on restaurant menus throughout Tucson. Look for dishes featuring mesquite, chiltepín, creosote, hackberries, chia, and amaranth, which grow wild. Learn more at desertharvesters.com.

EAT OFF THE BEATEN PATH!

Tucson has hundreds of amazing restaurants to explore, including some on the now-famous 23 Miles of Mexican Food. Some of my favorites, like El Torero and Aqui Con El Nene, may be a bit challenging for visitors to find. Luckily, visittucson.com has a comprehensive list.

The People of Tucson: Public TV Executive & Notecard Creator Enrique Aldana

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Enrique Aldana immigrated to New York State when his mother remarried. He was five when he arrived and was enrolled in kindergarten without speaking English. Bullied in school, his haven was watching shows like Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and The Electric Company on PBS. He credits the shows with helping him learn American culture and the language. At 12, the family relocated to Tucson, Arizona, where he graduated from Amphitheater High School and began a career.

His then-girlfriend-now-wife encouraged him to continue his education. At age 28, Aldana enrolled in the Eller School of Business at The University of Arizona—earning his degree in three years and becoming a sales manager at Tucson Newspapers, Inc. Life was good, but it was going to get better.

Aldana had two daughters by now, and his wife, Katie, volunteered at their school. As fate would have it, their daughter’s teacher was married to Jack Gibson, CEO of Arizona Public Media, Tucson’s PBS station and NPR radio licensed through The University of Arizona. He took a chance and asked for an introduction to Jack as a resource for job opportunities. The meeting paid off: Aldana received an offer to join the very organization that gave him comfort as a child. Today he is the senior director of development at Arizona Public Media and won the Association for Fundraising Professionals "Outstanding Fundraising Executive" for 2021.

“I grew up watching public media; it gave me a strong foundation to succeed. I get to pay it forward for people who want to continue to learn or have children who need a safe place to watch quality educational television,” he says.

Tucson Through Aldana's Lens

Not only does Aldana connect to his community through public media, but he also creates notecards. At his daughter Sophie’s encouragement, he started Yours Truly Notecards, marrying his passion for photography with the city he loves. Many of his notecards feature the Tucson landscape and the charm of the Southwest.

“People don’t realize that The University of Arizona has a beautiful botanical garden open to the public. It’s a hidden gem where you can walk around campus enjoying hundreds of species of plants,” says Aldana.

The UA Campus Arboretum houses plants from arid and semi-arid climates around the world. In-person guided tours start at The University of Arizona Memorial Fountain. Tours range from Arboretum History to Sonoran Native Plants, each tour lasting 60–90 minutes.

Aldana recommends Agua Caliente Park, a lake area with spring-fed ponds and ducks, herons, turtles, and fish.

“This is a great place to spend time with family and have a picnic. You’ll feel like you aren’t in Tucson anymore it’s so green,” he says.

He also says to explore Mt. Lemmon, an hour from Tucson. The peak of Mt. Lemmon is the highest in the Santa Catalina Mountains at 9,171 feet. The temperature there averages 30° cooler than in the valley, offering a respite from the desert heat, complete with tall trees, brooks, and streams. Hikers, rock climbers, campers, cyclists, and skiers flock here.

ALDANA’S TASTES OF TUCSON

“Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, so there is no shortage of delicious food here,” says Aldana.

His favorite restaurants include The Little One and Boca Tacos y Tequila. The Little One is a Tucson staple and has been around since the 80s, serving healthy and authentic Mexican food for breakfast and lunch in a little space in downtown Tucson. Boca Tacos offers authentic Sonoran Mexican cuisine developed by the founder, owner, and award-winning executive chef, Maria Mazon.

“The Little One is tiny, quaint, loud, colorful, and delicious. I never order the same thing twice. Bring cash here, and be prepared to get a hug with your dish,” says Aldana. “At Boca Tacos each of Maria Mazon’s salsas taste unique and imaginative. The flavors she creates are a taste explosion in your mouth. You must try them all.”

Of all the places to get great food in Tucson, the ultimate for Aldana is not a restaurant at all but a food truck. For more than 25 years, El Manantial Tacos Y Hotdogs has served Tucson from the corner of 36th Street and Park Avenue.

“I’ve been eating their burritos, hot dogs wrapped in bacon, and quesadillas for at least 20 years. I even had them cater my 50th birthday party; they pulled right up in my front yard,” he says.

South-of-the-Border Sweet Treats

By C. Jill Hofer

Visitors and residents agree. In Tucson, life is sweet. Picture-perfect weather, arts, music, culture, nature, and abundant culinary choices make Tucson a top spot to live and vacation. It doesn’t hurt to have easy access to many treats from south of the border without leaving the Old Pueblo. Explore a world of Mexican sweets with no passport required.

What’s so Sweet? Raspados

This cool concoction is enjoyed around the globe. Known as shaved ice, snow cones, Italian ice, and more, by any name, they are refreshing and delectable. Crafted from a variety of freshly chopped fruits and a myriad of toppings, raspados can be creamy with condensed milk and ice cream or non-dairy with just fruit and ice. Add chamoy syrup, chili powder, a squeeze of lemon, and tangy tamarind candies for a distinctively south-of-the-border sweet and sour twist.

Where to Find the Treat? OASIS FRUIT RASPADOS

Since 1983, the Carrizosa family has delighted Tucson with authentic raspados at Oasis Fruit Raspados. Pick your passion from a dozen or more raspados varieties, including banana, coconut, pineapple, and mango, or venture off the beaten path with plum, tamarind, or cantaloupe. Amp up the experience with a Picosito — the combination of tamarind, plum flavoring, and chili powder goes down surprisingly smoothly through the (also delicious) tamarind-dipped straw. Order yours macedonias-style to substitute ice cream for ice. Try an escamocha (loosely translated as “leftovers”): a Mexican fruit salad crafted with variable, flexible ingredients, such as creamy yogurt and a sprinkling of granola for an added crunch. Iced coffees and a broad selection of snack foods ensure everyone goes home happy.

What’s so Sweet? Pan Dulce

The subject of pan (bread) dulce (sweet) conjures images of the pastries offered to ancestors on the Day of the Dead. The most iconic example found in every Mexican bakery is the concha, thus named because it looks like a seashell. Soft bread is baked with colorful cookie dough designs on top. Other classics include bandera (flag) cookies in red, white, and green, and pretty pink niño envuelto (sponge cake jelly rolls) coated in coconut sprinkles. Ever-popular empanadas are tasty filled turnovers, beloved around the world.

Where to Find the Treat? LA ESTRELLA BAKERY

For a pan dulce taste tour, head to a La Estrella Bakery. Sample their showy conchas, taste the bandera shortbread cookies, and bite into the almost too-cute-to-eat cohitos (little pigs) made with molasses and cinnamon. Delight in a variety of classic doughnuts, jelly rolls, and specialty cakes, and don’t miss their top seller: empanadas. Regulars line up for these petite turnovers filled with pineapple, mango, apple, Bavarian cream, and their most popular: pumpkin. The family-operated bakery opened in 1986 on 12th Avenue: both locations also offer bread, tortillas, tamales, and menudo to satisfy sweet and savory cravings of Mexico.

What’s So Sweet? Loca Diced Fruits

Fresh fruit cups (vasos de fruta), found in cities and towns across Mexico, have been a beloved street food for generations. They’re a symphony of seasonal fruits, often topped with tangy chamoy syrup, chili powder, and lemon juice. These colorful cups are a simple, healthy snack full of flavor and zing. As beautiful as they are delicious, unique versions of this Mexican street fare can be sampled at select Tucson raspado shops.

Where to Find the Treat? FUNLAND RASPADOS AND MUNCHIES

This colorful establishment has a jam-packed menu, but Funland’s loca diced fruit treats can’t be beat. Available in Sandia Loca (watermelon) and Piña Loca (pineapple), they are a fiesta de fruitas. It’s easy to see why they’re named “loca” (crazy). Fruit lovers are lured in by the gorgeous presentation of a whole watermelon or pineapple, cored and filled to overflowing with fruit, Japanese peanuts, and tamarind candies, then topped with a tamarind straw, a single saladito (salted dry plum), and a tiny umbrella. They’re a feast for the eyes, and their generous size makes them suitable to share with the whole family.

What’s So Sweet? Specialty Cakes

Grown-ups and kids on both sides of the border share an affection for confection and a love of celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions with a cake. When we think of Mexican-inspired cake flavors, tres leches (three milks) most often come to mind. Give this moist, luscious cake a try, or choose from an endless variety of familiar favorites, from cheesecakes to good old-fashioned chocolate.

Where to Find the Treat? SUSPIROS PASTELERÍAS

Now the largest bakery in Mexico with outposts in Tucson, this family business began in Hermosillo in 2003. The name Suspiros (sigh) refers to desserts so good they “don’t last as long as a sigh.” Artfully decorated and almost too pretty to slice, customer favorites are strawberries and cream, piña colada, black forest, oreo, plum, coconut, and quatro leches.

It’s a step beyond tres leches, and the fourth leche is yogurt! For a taste of old Mexico, the bakery serves coyota cheesecake with a sampling of coyota pastries on the side. Coyota was the name given to the women of Mexican and native heritage who visited cities and towns to sell their round pie-crust goodies. Eventually, the famous pastries were also called coyotas. To this day, they provide a decadent taste of history.

What’s so Sweet? Paletas

At first glance, these frozen delights look a bit like an ordinary Popsicle. One bite reveals a world of difference. Refreshing and simple, paletas are handcrafted from a dizzying array of ingredients, from natural fruits to nuts and cookies. The contents are blended with condensed milk or water, poured into a mold, and chilled. A bit like a mosaic on a stick, paletas are delicious works of art.

Where to Find the Treat? PALETERIA Y NEVERÍA LA MICHOACANA

Named for Michoacán, the Mexican state where paletas originated in the 1940s, this bustling pink-striped paletería offers a tantalizing variety of flavors. La Michocana’s strawberries and cream paleta is numero uno, and among the dairy-free selections, their watermelon and mango paletas top the list in popularity. Several varieties are dipped in chocolate and coated in coconut, pistachios, walnuts, or pecans for an added flavor sensation. The spicy Diablito features Mexican candies and chamoy syrup for a tangy twist. Variety, freshness, and innovative paletas keep customers returning again and again.

What’s so Sweet? Mexican Candies

To most American palates, the mix of tangy, spicy, sweet, and sour tastes aren’t expected in a candy. One brave bite will pucker your mouth, open your eyes, and tantalize your taste buds. At first odd and intriguing, the flavor combinations may have you reaching for more. You might find yourself dreaming about complex, nuanced Mexican candies long after your taste-test expedition.

Where to Find the Treat? FOOD CITY, MOM & POP MARKETS

A quick trip to the grocery store or corner market can feel like a mini-vacation in Tucson. Add a little spice to life at any Food City grocery store or one of the many Hispanic mom and pop markets around town, where bountiful candy aisles transcend the standard Snickers and traditional Twix. Tried-and-true favorites include dried mango strips coated in spicy chili powder, mysterious wrinkled saladitos (dried plums), colorful bandera coconut bars, and off-the-chart sweet marzipan varieties. Tamarind-based snacks abound, served in plastic spoons, on drinking straws, and in the spiraling serpentina candies often found atop raspados and diced fruits. Mexican candies are often presented in clear packaging to reveal a glimpse of what’s in store, so grab the ones that catch your eye.

The People of Tucson: Fitness Instructor Ron Holland

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

After a distinguished career in the United States Air Force — where he trained SWAT members and helped overweight airmen meet physical fitness standards — Ron Holland looked for a warm place to retire. Tucson’s intimate community feel was just what this officer ordered, and he moved here in 1988. He joined The University of Arizona Police Department, starting one of the first bicycle patrols in the nation, which led to his fitness certification. Before he knew it, he was a personal trainer, eventually opening his fitness business, Tucson Transformation Gym, where he used his military background to develop one of the earliest fitness boot camps in the nation. In addition to getting you in shape, he has plenty of recommendations on how to spend your time in Tucson.

RON’S OUTDOOR FITNESS + FUN

Tucson’s climate offers almost limitless opportunities for outdoor fitness, and Holland knows where to go for a walk or run. Just west of “A” Mountain is Tumamoc Hill, a 3.1-mile paved out-and-back trail that gains 800 feet in just 1.5 miles, delivering an exceptional workout and spectacular city views. You can skip the incline for the Loop River Path, offering 131 miles that follow along Tucson’s river beds. For those in central Tucson, Gene C. Reid Park is a 131-acre urban park that offers paved paths that wind around a 9-500-seat baseball stadium, two man-made ponds, public pools, a 24-acre zoo, and much more.

Holland’s Taste of Tucson

When Holland is looking to fuel his body, he has a few suggestions for a variety of cuisines. He visits JPS Seafood Fish Market and Restaurant for their reasonably priced, delicious, and always fresh authentic Mexican seafood.

“The ceviche is my favorite dish. Also, the shrimp cocktail, the 7 Sea Soup—really everything is just good there,” said Holland.

According to Holland, the best pho in town is found at Lee Lee International Supermarket. This superstore is the largest of its kind in Arizona, bringing you flavors from more than 30 countries and regions around the world. You can shop for all sorts of groceries, including produce and seafood you won’t find anywhere else, and get prepared dishes at the deli. You’ll also find a wide variety of saki and other Asian beverages. And when you’re looking for a relaxed vibe, he says The Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress is the way to go.

“This place is really laid back. They have a great espresso martini, and the fish tacos are delicious. It’s in Hotel Congress that’s a great place to stay and has live music in Club Congress,” said Holland.

The People of Tucson: Wine Importer Dale Ott

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

Dale Ott knows the alcohol and spirits business. This fifth-generation Arizonan grew up on a little farm in Coolidge, Arizona, before arriving in Tucson for college. She left and came back five times — the sixth time, she thought she might as well stay. Eventually, she married Steven Ott, a fifth-generation Tucsonan, and the two embarked on careers in the alcohol industry that led them to wine importing. The pair are opening Nossa Imports this spring, an import and distribution company that gives a platform to underrepresented wine regions of the world. They often travel to Mexico and the Iberian Peninsula to meet with small vineyards to help them break into the tricky US market while simultaneously bringing what has been an inaccessible luxury item to everyone.

“Why do we need inaccessible things? We need things that bring people together, especially now, and landscape and food and beverages do that. It’s the things that make us all the same,” said Ott.

THE LANDSCAPE

While these two are often off traveling the world, Tucson is always where they return, a place filled with culture. She points to South Tucson with its different municipality, vibrant style, and the native reservations, most notable the Tohono O’odham Nation, as examples.

“The coolest thing about Tucson is that we are such a multicultural place. The Borderlands is one of the most diverse regions with our mix of cultures across the region and all the history that goes along with it,” said Ott.

Ott says unique geographical spots around town are what tie cultures to its community. Gates Pass is one of her most special places. According to Ott, the land was part of Mexico, and now it’s in the US.

“Going up to Gates Pass, there’s a little rock house that’s kind of up on top. It’s a two-second hike up from the parking lot and has the best view of the sunset in town. When we’ve accomplished something big, we’ll take a bottle of champagne and go watch the sunset with our dog,” said Ott.

Another place that has been part of Mexico is the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission located about 10 miles south of downtown Tucson, on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation. And, of course, there are hiking trails with three noted favorites. The Finger Rock Trail leads to Finger Rock, a 100-foot-high formation that marks Finger Rock Canyon located in the Santa Catalinas. Seven Falls is a trail found in Sabino Canyon that boasts seven waterfalls, and 25 miles south of Tucson is Madera Canyon Nature Trail that features beautiful wildflowers.

Ott’s Tastes of Tucson

When it comes to food, Ott has praise for two of the most talented chefs in her eyes, both born and raised in the Old Pueblo. Mike Hultquist Jr., the fourth generation to run the family-owned-and-operated El Torero with his dad, Mike Hultquist Sr., commands the kitchen inside the pink restaurant that opened in 1956. He blends old school and new school that Ott says is beautifully unified.

The other notable chef is John Martinez of Tito and Pep, a contemporary neighborhood bistro that encompasses the spirit of Tucson and the Southwest. After starting restaurants in New York and along the East Coast, Ott says that he returned with a completely different level of understanding internationality and hospitality that he brought back to his hometown of Tucson.

Of course, Ott has a bevy of places to get a cool drink across town. She loves dive bars, including Danny’s Baboquivari and The Shelter in midtown. On the west side is The Wagon Wheel and Nevada Smiths Steakhouse Saloon on Miracle Mile, where you can toss peanut shells over your shoulder onto the sawdust-covered floor. Downtown, her favorite is one of the oldest bars in Tucson, Arizona, The Buffet.

“This is really where my husband and I courted each other. We both worked till four in the morning, and then we would find a place for breakfast before going to The Buffet at 6 a.m. for a hot dog and to say hi to all the rest of the hospitality community with the same schedule. Talk about part of the community. It’s a place where everybody is the same, you know,” said Ott.

The People of Tucson: Photographer Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli

TUCSONANS PUT THEIR SPIN ON PLACES TO VISIT.

By Stacey Gregory

Tucked away in a Tucson neighborhood is a magical home where almost life-size dinosaurs made of weathering steel stand guard over a firepit encircled by sheered-in-half clawfoot bathtubs for benches. Inside resides photographer and artist Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli and his trusty perrito Petey.

Originally from Spokane, Washington, Bonuccelli’s career took him on a wild ride that began with shooting assignments for Seattle magazines to touring the Old World with Rick Steves Europe to getting lost in Melbourne, Australia, only to stumble into a job for Lonely Planet. He’s also been to France, Slovakia and Slovenia, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, and even Tibet, to name a few. Yet, it is Tucson that captured his heart and where he put down his roots.

“I’ve been lucky to hit so many places around the globe, and those I loved the most are authentic like Havana, Cuba. People survive on $30 a month there, so they focus more on food, music, family, art, and color. It’s a lot of what Tucsonans focus on, too. I love this city because it just feels authentic, and it’s rife with real characters, artists, and ferals,” said Bonuccelli.

FOLLOW BONUCCELLI TO DISCOVER MORE OF TUCSON

One of Bonuccelli’s favorite things to do is wander and see where the winds take him. Favorites he’s come across on Tucson walkabouts include mosaic masterpieces on tile risers and magical alter shrines. Using this technique before an assignment at the Tucson Rodeo in 2020, he parked far away and walked the train tracks in, coming across Tucson photog Scott Griessel doing the same thing. Of the rodeo, he has the fondest memories of stumbling upon a ghost atop his steed.

“I was on a side street, and there was this rider in the distance calming his horse who looked like Pancho Villa, solo and noble amid the mailboxes. I captured a black and white shot that transported me to 1896,” said Bonuccelli.

There’s more to explore on foot, with seemingly limitless places to hike around the mountain ranges of Tucson. His favorite: Pusch Ridge Trailhead. The fairly grueling three-hour hike—that he compares to the spines of a stegosaurus—takes you to the very top. Your reward is amazing 360-degree views up to Mt. Lemmon and across the city. If that’s too much for you, there are alternatives.

“One-third of the way up, there’s a kind of Eagle’s nest that you can perch at with about a 270-degree view that takes about 45 minutes to reach. You don’t see many people on the trail, but you might see someone on horseback on the lower loop or even a bighorn sheep or two up top,” said Bonuccelli.

A burrito, a band and coffee

Bonuccelli’s Tastes of Tucson

The coolest restaurant in town for Bonuccelli is LaCo Tucson (previously La Cocina), where a tree of life springs from the center of a sprawling patio aglow in twinkle lights. It’s located in the El Presidio Historic District across from Tucson’s original Spanish fort. The outdoor restaurant is surrounded by adobe and brick buildings in Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American, and eclectic architectural styles, many adorned with knickknacks and funky tchotchkes.

“They have the most fantastic three-color smothered burrito that recalls the Mexican flag. It’s the best burrito in town, and it’s about the size of a suitcase,” said Bonuccelli.

For a night out, it’s a dive bar for Bonuccelli. The Shelter is the area’s only 60s retro lounge. The inside is a sight to behold with red-and-black tiger-striped decor, lava lamps, vintage paintings (some are velvet), and lots of JFK paraphernalia that he thinks makes for the ideal George Jetson man cave. And if coffee is more your speed, Exo Roast Co. is his go-to and not only for a tasty cup of joe.

“You never know who you will be in line with when you walk into that coffee shop. One day it’s a mariachi trumpeter, the next an old prospector, and the next can be any one of the colorful people who haunt downtown,” said Bonuccelli

The People of Tucson: Artist, Nadia Hagen-Onuktav

The People of Tucson put their spin on places to visit.

By Stacey Gregory

When you’re looking for inspirational places to explore around Tucson, who better to share insights than artist, designer, choreographer, and creator Nadia Hagen-Onuktav? This Tucson transplant was born and raised in New York City, moved to the West Coast, and discovered the Old Pueblo traveling cross-country to visit her grandmother, eventually settling here in 1992. Hagen-Onuktav founded Flam Chen Pyrotechnic Theater Co. in 1996 (producing daredevil acrobatics, pyrotechnics, and new circus arts), was named artistic director for The All Souls Procession in 1998 (the largest ceremony honoring the dead in North America), and became a founding board member of Many Mouths One Stomach in 2006 (an umbrella nonprofit that inspires and manifests modern festival culture)—all roles she continues to hold today.

 A woman in a colorful costume and yellow hat walks across stage holding a flaming circle in one hand.
Photo courtesy of Nadia Hagen-Onuktav

Nadia’s Tastes of Tucson

Hagen-Onukatav spends a lot of time at the MSA Annex; Flam Chen Pyrotechnic Theater Co. is the artist-in-residence producing shows at the MSA Annex festival grounds. So, she recently discovered Kukai Japanese Kitchen. Her go-to dish is the Mt. Fuji Don rice bowl served with spicy tuna, cucumber, avocado, masago, tempura flakes, and eel sauce.

“I would eat here every day even if I wasn’t right there all the time,” she said.

Outside of the MSA Annex, other favorites include La Chaiteria Neighborhood Cafe, which serves Latin-inspired dishes with vegan and vegetarian options, and Barista Del Barrio, an authentic and local coffee shop with a menu boasting award-winning breakfast bowls, quesadillas, and tamales including hemp tamales.

“I love Barisa Del Barrio’s breakfast bowls. You have to get there early to get one; they sell out quickly,” Hagen-Onukatav said.

Nadia’s Must-Do Experiences

Of course, a talented artist would be drawn to artistic endeavors. One of Hagen-Onuktav’s favorite places to visit in Tucson is Creative Machines, a multidisciplinary design and fabrication firm that creates interactive exhibits, kinetic rolling ball machines, site-specific sculptures, and public artwork. While they are not open to the public, those interested in design, engineering, and fabrication careers or those who have a strong interest in this art form, can e-mail the shop for a tour.

“They build some of the most amazing sculptures and installations in the country and ship them all over the world,” she said. You can see some of their creations around town, like the Toby the Griffin sculpture at Broadway Boulevard and Scott Avenue and the light-up doughnut in front of the Tucson Museum of Art.”

For those willing to travel to see more sights, she recommends The Arcosanti Project, an experimental town in the high desert of Arizona, 70 miles north of metropolitan Phoenix. Visitors can tour the world’s first prototype “arcology” structure consciously integrating architecture and ecology into its design, learning about its rich 50-year history that continues to influence young architects, urban planners, and designers from around the world.

Grab & Go

Enjoy Tucson’s best takeout in picnic-perfect settings

Experience a year-round phenomenon in Southern Arizona...picnics! Let local delis and markets do the heavy lifting so your crew can stay in vacation mode. And stay outside. Because really, what’s more Arizonan than sharing a meal surrounded by the beauty of the Sonoran Desert? Up your alfresco game with these local favorites.

Vantage Point

A blue tray sits on a wooden table filled with a burger, sweet potato fries and a salad.

Provisions: Take your pick from the many portable food options at Mercado San Agustín and MSA Annex. The open-air plaza and shipping-container shopping complex along Santa Cruz River Park serves up street tacos from Seis Kitchen, veggie burgers from Beaut, and sushi rolls from Kukai. Be sure to add a box of Mexican pastries from La Estrella Bakery. With lunch in hand, drive up to "A" Mountain, just a few blocks away.

Setting: Sentinel Peak, or "A" Mountain, offers a quick urban getaway with the best views in town. The mountaintop park has a few picnic tables and ramadas, but it sees steady traffic during the day so prepare to tailgate. Rocky paths lead to the “A”—built by University of Arizona students in 1916—and full-circle views of the metro and surrounding mountain ranges.

Calories In, Calories Out

A toasted club sandwich cut in half sits on a Baggins wrapper.

Provisions: Ask anyone in Tucson if they know where Baggin's Gourmet is, and they’ll mention two or three nearby. They might even reveal that the Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese enters uncharted territory and that cream cheese on any sandwich just makes sense. For almost four decades, Tucson’s favorite sandwich shop has grown to 11 locations. No need to bring extra sweets to the picnic—each bag comes with a chocolate chip cookie hidden inside. 

Setting: The Baggin's location at Speedway and Kolb is almost six miles south of another Tucson tradition, Sabino Canyon. Pack in gourmet sandwiches and ride the tram into the canyon. Many picnic tables dot the winding route through the Santa Catalina foothills. Hop off the tram when the mood strikes and enjoy a waterside picnic surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the Coronado National Forest. Hike off lunch on any of the marked trails before hopping back on the tram.

A Tucson Twofer

A close up of a tamale sitting on a colorful placemat with a side of beans.

Provisions: At Tucson Tamale Co., choose from green chile pork, chipotle beef, or red chile chicken tamales, plus vegan options such as blue corn veggie or black bean tamales. These steamed packages of regional flavor add a punch to picnic spreads, especially when dabbed with housemade chile sauces. Add sides of pinto beans and Spanish rice to eat like a local. Sneak in some pumpkin tamales for a sweet finish that will remind the crew of Thanksgiving.

Setting: From Tucson Tamale Co.’s eastside location on Tanque Verde Road, head 15 minutes east to a desert oasis near Saguaro National Park East. Agua Caliente Park, named for the warm-water ponds formed by springs below, is a hidden gem perfect for a family picnic. Find plenty of shaded tables or spread a blanket on the grass, and look for the native critters that congregate under a canopy of mature mesquite trees and towering palms. After lunch, visit the art gallery, visitor center, and Tucson Audubon Society Nature Shop on-site.

Points of Pride

A close up of a gourmet pizza

Provisions: Sandwiches taste better with locally sourced produce and bread baked in house. At Time Market, the wood-fired pizzas are heaped with housemade ingredients, too, such as mozzarella and fennel sausage. Within walking distance of The University of Arizona campus, this local gem combines a deli, bakery, coffee shop, and market to help visitors picnic like pros. 

Setting: Any trip to Tucson should include a visit to The University of Arizona campus. From the market, stroll east a few blocks on University Boulevard and enter the campus through Main Gate. Grab the covered picnic ramada next to Centennial Hall if it’s available. Or, find pockets of shade and patches of grass along the mall or around Old Main, the original building at Arizona’s first university, established in 1891.

Sunset Seekers

A close up of a deli sandwich sitting on a counter with a blue moon beer with an orange wedge on the rim.

Provisions: The “sausage” in Sausage Deli dates back to the shop’s roots as a German grocery store in the 1970s. In the decades since, students at The University of Arizona have made this tasty midtown sandwich shop a local staple. Today, sausage and peppers are on the menu on Wednesdays, but plenty of hearty choices like the Reuben or meatball sub are always available. Other options, smeared with grainy mustard, horseradish, or sauerkraut, make these grown-up, dinner-worthy sandwiches perfect for a sunset picnic.

Setting: Take Speedway Boulevard about 10 miles west until the cacti in the dense saguaro forest outnumber the houses. As you approach the crest in the Tucson Mountains, pull over at the Gates Pass scenic overlook. From there, rugged trails lead to places to perch on rocks and watch the best sunsets in town. Plan a return trip to visit two of Tucson’s iconic attractions, Old Tucson and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, located in the valley below.

The Patio, Please: 10 Perfect Restaurant Patios

By Elise McClain

Tucson is home to some of the Southwest’s most breathtaking outdoor spaces. Why not take it all in over a delicious meal? From bohemian patios to epic courtyards, enjoy stunning views, great food, and unparalleled ambiance at one of these 10 spectacular restaurant patios.

Caruso’s Italian Restaurant

Dine on a patio that has served fine Italian food to the Tucson area for more than 60 years. Caruso’s, located in the Historic Fourth Avenue District, is a family-owned and -operated community favorite. Pass through the green wrought iron entrance from the hustle and bustle of downtown and enter the welcoming and secluded patio. Enjoy traditional Zagona family recipes complete with handmade sauce that has been made by a family member for three generations at tables adorned with red and white checkered tablecloths, under romantically lit trellises.

The Cup Café 

The Cup Café, located in the historic Hotel Congress, has served Tucson residents for three decades. Situated in the heart of downtown, The Cup (as locals call it) offers a wide array of dishes from their all-day menu (breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast anyone?). Enjoy the relaxed patio atmosphere, paired with world-class huevos rancheros, fresh-baked pies, and locally sourced coffee. 

Noble Hops Gastropub

Admire the sweeping mountain views of Pusch Ridge at Tucson’s original gastropub, Noble Hops in Oro Valley. This spacious, 750-square-foot, rustic patio is perfect for any season. With built-in heaters, large gas firepits, and cooling water misters, guests can enjoy near-panoramic views of the Santa Catalina Mountains year-round while sipping on locally brewed craft beer and devouring gastropub fine fare.

Tavolino Ristorante Italiano 

At Tavolino Ristorante Italiano, enjoy access to a chic, comfortable, and secluded patio in the Santa Catalina Foothills. Dine on fresh, award-winning Italian fare while taking in the stunning desert surroundings from this European-style porch. Known for its sophisticated atmosphere, Tavolino Ristorante Italiano serves as the perfect date night spot. 

Cafe Passé

This bohemian patio is located on the historic Fourth Avenue, and is accessible through Cafe Passé, which bills itself as a café and drinkery. In the back, visitors will find a private and intimate patio shaded by mesquite and palo verde trees. On any given day, guests can enjoy some of Tucson’s best caffeinated brews and craft cocktails — with or without breakfast, brunch, or lunch, as well as live music and poetry readings. 

The Boxyard

Ever been to a shipping container food hall before? Check out The Boxyard, located on Fourth Avenue and constructed entirely of recycled cargo containers. Inside this complex are four restaurants, two bars, a coffee shop, and both ground-level and rooftop patio spaces. Perfect for groups, the Boxyard caters to all types of tastes and culinary interests, using an epic courtyard to tie it all together. Enjoy the airy outdoor space surrounded by murals and local public art, while indulging in delicious brews and chews. 

St. Philip’s Plaza

Perhaps one of the most iconic patios in the Tucson area, St. Philip’s Plaza serves as a large, communal drinking and dining space for local-favorite restaurants Union Public House, Reforma, and Proof Artisanal Pizza. Grab some grub from any of these establishments and spread out beneath the shaded eucalyptus trees and twinkling patio lights to drink and dine. Plus, you’ll find boutique shopping, galleries, and professional offices, as well as live music, and a weekend farmers market.

Tohono Chul Garden Bistro

Picture The Secret Garden, but paired with a world-class restaurant that serves locally sourced ingredients and craft cocktails—that’s Tohono Chul Garden Bistro. Nestled away in the lush and verdant landscaping of Tohono Chul park, this bistro patio is the perfect place to steal away for brunch. Enjoy a dish from their seasonal menu, sip on their signature Prickly Pear Margarita, and recharge. After dining on the patio, tour the gardens, visit the galleries, or check out the gift shop and on-site nursery.

The Mercado San Agustín and MSA Annex

The Mercado San Agustín offers a wide array of shopping and dining experiences in one spot. Boasting local coffee roasters, boutiques, bakeries, and restaurants, this Spanish Colonial-style courtyard is always bustling with activity. Dine on tacos from the local favorite Seis Kitchen while enjoying live music outside. Or indulge in Agustín Kitchen for a candlelit date night under the stars. And with the MSA Annex located just down the street, patrons can experience beautiful open-air dining and shopping from recycled and modified shipping containers. Relish in the juxtaposition of these two spaces as you dine on delicious delicacies and shop from local merchants.

Locale Neighborhood Italian 

Locale Neighborhood Italian opened its doors in December 2020 in a 1939 historic farmhouse located near Alvernon Way and Broadway Boulevard in midtown. It took a year to transform the 8,000-square-foot space into a modern Italian restaurant, complete with an expansive wrap-around patio. The menu is inspired by the deeply rooted culinary traditions of Italy and enriched with ingredients grown by Arizona family farms. It should come as no surprise the lasagna is their most popular dish. You’ll also find a variety of salads, appetizers, pasta dishes (some served family-style), Roman-style pizzas, sandwiches, and entrées, including American classics such as the Locale Burger and a rib eye. Sit inside or outside, where centuries-old palm trees dot the landscape for a perfect place to stop for a meal or to simply have a cocktail in this urban oasis.