#5 - Arizona
There’s a reason old folks retire to Arizona — besides the numerous golf courses, the state features virtually year-round warm and sunny weather. Even in November, you’ll barely need to bring a jacket along. This is one of the features that makes the Arizona road trip, whatever the time of year, an attractive one.
What is less attractive about this trip is the hassle it takes to get there. Yes, it is POSSIBLE to drive to Tucson, but unless you’ve got either a lot of time or a lot of dedication, as well as friends you really like spending time with in close quarters, I wouldn’t recommend it. Technically, with minimal stops, you can make the drive in around 14 hours, but that’s if you hit no traffic in LA, as if that’s going to happen. Personally, I’ve only made the drive as far as Phoenix, so I’ll cover the road route to the desert when I cover Arizona State, but I will say that unless the drive between Phoenix and Tucson turns out to be super-interesting, you’re not missing much.
OK, so, you’ve decided to fly to Tucson. Even then, this trip is a bit of a hassle. There are virtually no direct flights from the Bay Area to Tucson, and none of them are cheap. Your best option is to change planes in either Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Los Angeles; hopefully, you don’t have to change planes twice. Of the Pac-10 schools, only Washington State is more difficult to get to from the Bay Area.
Once in Tucson, you’ll definitely be able to find something to do, but not as much as one might expect for a town that used to be the state capitol. You can certainly catch a round of golf, and if you want to do some sightseeing, Tucson offers plenty of natural beauty and relics of the wild, wild west, particularly in nearby Tombstone, AZ., site of the infamous O.K. Corral.
While in Tucson, you’ll of course want to sample to local Tex-Mex cuisine. My first night there, I was steered in the direction of El Charro Café, which has a nice reputation in the area. My impression : better food than Chevy’s, but with the same sort of upscale restaurant vibe — don’t go expecting a bargain. Definitely tasty, and you can sample a stripped-down portion of their menu at stands around the football stadium. My second night there, we ended up hitting up a little dive of a place that I can’t possibly remember the name of, but had enchiladas to rival the best of what you can find in the Bay Area. The lesson : tasty Mexican food can easily be found here — you just have to look for a crowd of people who look like they can tell a good burrito from a mediocre one.
Your pregame options are pretty nice. Tucson has a rather nice bar and restaurant scene in a shopping district on the edge of campus, sort of an upscale Telegraph Avenue minus the charming vagrants. I don’t have any specific recommendations, however; look for a place with a bunch of people and some beer specials, and I’m sure you’ll do fine. My personal pregame highlight was the parking situation. About a block from the stadium stands a multi-story parking structure with ample parking, at which we were allowed to park for free because we carpooled to the game. That’s right, free parking right next to the stadium! Even now, I can scarcely believe it.
Arizona Stadium, which the Wildcats call home, is a perfectly acceptable college football stadium. As a casual fan attending a game in the visitor’s section, I had no issue with the stadium, but neither did anything about the building stand out to me as being particularly nice. My most vivid memory (besides DeSean Jackson’s big toe being slightly too large) was of the bathrooms (nicer than Memorial Stadium’s, but nothing to write home about), in which an obviously inebriated Wildcat fan nearly threw up on me during halftime, something which I hope was an isolated incident.
Congratulations Arizona Stadium, I find you perfectly acceptable in every way. Except for the vomit. Work on that.
Reasons to go out and get some sun:
- Tasty, authentic Mexican food.
- Great weather all year round.
- Lots of very attractive people attend the University of Arizona, and the warm weather certainly helps bring them out.
- Check out relics of the wild, wild west at nearby Tombstone, AZ.
- More golf courses than you can shake a 5-iron at.
- If the game is late enough in the year, you might be able to stay and catch an Arizona Wildcat basketball game. Good luck getting tickets!
Reasons to stay inside and watch the game on TV:
- Tucson is a pain in the butt to get to.
- While hardly boring, Tucson isn’t as interesting as some of the other Pac-10 cities.
- Because of the flight costs, this might be the most expensive Pac-10 road trip.
- You were a goth kid in high school and the sun burns your pale, pale skin.
Of course, while discussing Arizona, I think it’s a perfectly good excuse to show a gratuitous picture of Jennie Finch, former Wildcat softball pitcher, the 2001 player of the year, and an Olympic gold medalist in 2004. And of course, discussing Jennie Finch is a perfectly good excuse to mention that she took the loss for Arizona in the final game of the 2002 Women’s College World Series, as Cal beat Arizona, the defending champions, to win their only softball National Championship.
Look, I tried to find a good picture of Jennie Finch in a softball uniform, but it was hard. So I took this one from Sports Illustrated. I hope you like it.
Overall, I enjoyed my trip to Tucson (minus the football game). Would I go back? Definitely. Will I go back every other year? Even with friends living in the area, that seems doubtful. The hassle of getting to southern Arizona is large enough to deter me from casually making the trip very time it comes up, but I definitely want to go back, and next time, I’m bringing my golf clubs.