It’s hip to be weird here. Let us show you the ways.
By C. Jill Hofer
How do you describe a place that defies definition? Words like unusual, unique, strange, surprising, odd, and yes, weird come to mind. After all, it’s hip to be weird. The now-famous motto “Keep Austin Weird” was adopted by Portland, Oregon, and other quirky-cool communities looking to retain their unique identity. When we consider a few ways T-town is different, it’s easy to see why we’d like to keep it that way.
Tucsonans Put the “WE” in Weird
It’s the people that make Tucson so special. Diversity defines our municipal identity, and for this, Southern Pacific Railway deserves some credit. In the 1880s, the arrival of the railroad diversified an existing melting pot of Indigenous, Mexican, and American people. The result? A city brimming with culturally influenced dining, events, art, and music.
Tucson’s art and music scene reflects our wonderful weirdness, spans every genre, and defies categorization. For a sampling, simply stroll down Congress Street and Fourth Avenue. Tucson’s love affair with itself is on display and beautifully illustrated by the Tucson Portrait Project at the Fourth Avenue underpass. Marvel at the 7,000 individual photo tiles and consider how we combine to create one amazing community. Throughout town, large-scale professional art installations are showcased alongside a myriad of murals and a plethora of personal projects, all contributing to the collective, arty vibe. Walk, skate, or bike through a rattlesnake bridge. Appreciate the small and large-scale mosaics adorning the city of South Tucson. Cruise around town to applaud the homes, yards, and traffic roundabouts flaunting handmade creations. From sculptures and mosaics to Little Free Libraries, giving pantries, free art sidewalk galleries, and business and residential murals, Tucson’s creativity is on display.
Add a Little Weird to Your World
Tucson loves Tucson. We appreciate authenticity and prefer to express our style through handcrafted, upcycled, local goods. As a result, T-town is filled with fun, funky galleries, shops, flea markets, and a dizzyingly diverse swap meet.
Don’t miss Old Town Artisans, Why I Love Where I Live, & Gallery, PopCycle, and other T-Town merchants for a locally focused, nonstop shop’portunity. For expertly curated threads previously flaunted by stylish Tucsonans, explore the aisles of Buffalo Exchange, a thrift store with 40 stores across the US and founded right here in the 520.
“Tucson is a place where people are appreciated for being unique, individual, and creative. When I came over from Sweden at 18, I felt like I could finally be myself and express my own style, and people actually liked it,” says Buffalo Exchange Founder Kerstin Block. “Tucson is a haven for artists, creatives, and anyone who wants to forge their own path rather than just going with the flow. That’s the beauty of Tucson.”
Take a Walk on the Weird Side
The creative team behind the All Souls Procession dreams up meaningful events, remembrances, craft workshops, benefit performances, and offbeat fundraisers throughout the year. These gatherings orbit around the All Souls Procession and Ceremony, a signature event to honor the dead and celebrate the living. Well over 150,000 people join the two-mile-long human-powered procession through downtown Tucson in the fall. It ends in the ceremonial burning of a large urn filled with the photos, hopes, offerings, and wishes of those in attendance for their loved ones who have passed.
MSA Annex Festival Grounds plays host to a bevy of weird and wonderful happenings. This welcoming plaza pollinates community culture with galas, concerts, artisan markets, workshops, roller discos, dance parties, and more. Mix and mingle with a band of merry weirdos through the local chapter of the Cacophony Society. Self-described as a “randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society,” this group gives Tucson’s counter-culture a boost.
“I transplanted myself to the Sonoran Desert over 35 years ago. Every day I am re-burned by the light, impressed by the tenacity of the bumpy, toxic creatures that thrive around me, and inspired by the magical Wild West surrealism surrounding the Old Pueblo. How could this place ever NOT be weird? Viva!” says All Souls Procession Artistic Director and Founder of Flam Chen Pyrotechnic Theatre Co., Nadia Hagen-Onuktav.
Weird by Nature
Native flora and fauna must be a little weird to survive hot summers, winter freezes, and temperature fluctuations regularly topping 30° in a single day. Towering saguaros and unique species of scorpions thrive alongside the only known non-captive jaguar and ocelot in North America in Southern Arizona. Our javelinas look so much like pigs it’s weird they actually belong to the deer (peccary) family.
And if anyone tells you Tucson is weird because we don’t have seasons, let them know we do daily! Tucsonans enjoy spring before 8 a.m., mid-day summers, early evening fall, and a bit of winter overnight.
The 520 even boasts a unique fifth season identified by the Tohono O’odham. “A special time takes place around April, when the mesquite, palo verde, creosote, brittlebush, and other yellow flowering plants are in full bloom. It’s one of the 12 seasons of our lunar calendar, called s-uam masad or yellow month,” says Maegan Lopez at Mission Garden.
Try your Weird on for Size
Don’t be shy! Get out and contribute to the vibe. By exploring the more interesting side of Tucson, you might also discover a whole new side of yourself.
HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD
For some wildly weird attractions, stop by any of these fun and funky places around town. The Old Pueblo is home to El Tiradito, America’s only Catholic shrine dedicated to a sinner.
The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures packs a world of wonder into staggeringly small creations. Valley of the Moon is a unique artist-created enchanted historic fairyland that promotes kindness and imagination. The University of Arizona’s chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Tucson Steampunk Society take members back in time with gatherings, events, and an annual Wild Wild West steampunk convention.
About C. Jill Hofer
An avid appreciator of the Tucson arts, fire performance, music, and maker scenes, Jill Hofer can be spotted at galleries, restaurants, Tucson hotspots, and on a tile in the Tucson Portrait Project. Between openings and special events, she’s sculpting jewelry in her home studio overlooking the Tucson valley.