Exquisite jewelry with locally-acquired precious stones
A family business in Tombstone with a great start-up story
Wonderful Service in a welcoming town
What we bought: Gaspeite cactus-shaped earrings (because Sam loves all thing cactus-related, remember?) and a dendritic opal agate ring (photo below!)
“I’d love to send you some interview questions via email!” I gushed to Kathy Paonessa in her jewelry store, The Wizard’s Workshop.
“Oh, that won’t work,” Kathy laughed amiably, “I just got rid of my computer!”
Sam and I couldn’t help but chuckle at her admission. Her store, like much of Old Tombstone, already made us feel like we were transported back in time.
But, in any decade, this much is true: Kathy, the co-founder and owner of The Wizard’s Workshop, has some interesting stories to share. For one thing, she has made and sold jewelry with her husband Don for 44 years, working with many stones Don had mined himself. (Kathy’s husband Don mined and prospected for a little over 35 years!) At one point many years ago, the Paonessa family house burnt down and they slept on a bar floor in Gleeson while their family business was first growing. “In some ways, we started this business from below the ground up,” Kathy commented.
Sam asked Kathy what her favorite piece was and with very little hesitation Kathy showed us a ring on her hand with a gorgeous fire agate stone. Her statement ring seems to glow green and yellow. It is no wonder her store is called “The Wizard’s Workshop”, her ring (and several others in the store) appears like something out of a fantasy world.
“You can really only find Fire Agate here in Arizona and maybe some places in Mexico” Kathy reminded us as she tapped the gemstone in her ring affectionately. Kathy gushed also about the local material she works with from Bisbee and Morenci and the talented Navajo craftsmen that she has worked alongside for thirty-plus years.
A lot like Fire Agate, the store “Wizard’s Workshop” is also precious. The quaint store is located on the corner of a street less than a block away from Allen Street in the Tombstone Historic District. The selection of jewelry is truly beautiful and my only qualm with the visit was the difficult decision in picking one piece of jewelry to take home.
My family has been shopping at The Wizards Workshop for over 20 years so I was excited to take Lucy to check it out. They specialize in gems local to Arizona, my parents have often shopped there for gifts for out of town friends, family, and guests. On this visit I got a pair of sparkling labradorite and silver dangling earrings. I fear that some tourists might miss Wizards Workshop (which is not located on the main drag of Allen Street). I would recommend that anyone visiting Tombstone make Wizard’s Workshop a part of their trip (whether shopping for themselves or others). They have a huge selection of locally sourced, handmade jewelry and their prices are great to boot.
What chain restaurants like Applebees can only simulate, Triple Play does organically and authentically… it has provided a family-friendly place for the community to come together
What I always order: the hamburger with the sweet potato fries
I’ll begin by admitting that I’ve got more than a handful of great Triple Play stories (which, of course, is fun to say with or without some context). When I coached Cross Country, we hosted the sports banquet at Triple Play. Multiple times, when my coworkers and I had a long week and were looking for a place to celebrate the end of it, we’d go to Triple Play. When my husband and I went out on a double date on a weekday, we mini-golfed at Triple Play. And, more recently, when Sam and I met for lunch to discuss this very blog, we met at Triple Play.
Triple Play is close to home for me (literally and otherwise) just off Duval Mine Road in Sahuarita, south of Tucson. It serves many purposes for the community…to name a few: it is a place to watch a game, it is a place to eat good food, it is a place to host an event, it is a place to play minigolf, it is a place to play cornhole, and it is also a place that hosts fundraising events for the community.
For the record, my husband and I don’t have kids. That said, there are two things worth glowing about Triple Play. Firstly, my husband and I love date night at Triple Play because we can have a great meal and a good time when it is just us. Secondly, because many of our friends do have kids, Triple Play allows for our friends-with-kids to join us for a great time in a venue where they know their children will be just as entertained as they are and it will not cost them an arm and a leg. Heck, it is exactly that sentiment that inspired the owner to establish the place. (Check out our delightful interview with Joe Rieman here).
I’m fond of saying this, but I feel that many chain restaurants have to try very hard to give off the homegrown, family-friendly vibe that Triple Play just has.
Triple Play has cornhole, arcade games, mini golf, and batting cages… lots of fun options for young and old. My favorite dishes are the gyro platter and BLT.
Some people may think there’s not much going on in Green Valley (it does tend towards the side of sleepy, retirement community) but Triple Play is an exception. Whether you’re just passing through the area, or you live in Tucson, plan a fun night out at Triple Play (and support an awesome, local, educator-owned business in the process)!
“Honestly, I feel like the community owns this place…”
So where did the idea for Triple Play come from?
About fifteen years ago this accident near the school sparked a conversation in the community about how there is nothing for kids to do out here (in Sahuarita). People would comment on how they have to go down to Tucson or Nogales to do anything. At the time, I was coaching little league baseball and another one of the coaches and I got to talking. He said to me “Hey, I own this little sliver of land in Sahuarita and you’ve always talked about starting up some batting cages, how would you like to do something like that?” And you know we talked about it and nothing came of it until after another one of those little league games, we went to a Pizza Hut or something, and our kids are running around and we were basically told “we don’t want your kids running around” and we got to talking about those batting cages again. We said we wanted to create a place where, after a game, parents could just sit around and have a beer and let their kids have some fun. And my friend said “let’s do that”. A month and a half later we were breaking ground.
Well, it’s definitely a lot more than batting cages now. How did this all happen?
When we first started, we put in the golf course. That little kiosk out there? (Joe gestures to a building outside the size of a closet). That’s what we worked out of. And that’s really all there was out here. People would come and golf and when we got some money from the golfing course, we started building the batting cages and then when that was taking off we started constructing the building… and then while we were literally building the building, with some help from my former students, you know people just wanted to help… Anyway, as we’re literally constructing the place, I thought to myself, if I’m gonna be here all the time I want to have some TVs up to watch my Buffalo Bills play. So, then you know, we’re showing games now! And we thought, you kind of have to have beer for people who are watching their game so we got a liquor license. And then we were selling snack food and we thought to ourselves we should probably be making some real food too and then we started constructing the kitchen area. This whole thing really just built on itself, you know? I mean, then we had this area (Joe points to the cornhole boards outside where dozens of people are playing) that was just dirt and we put in only two cornhole boards… only we got lots of people who wanted to do that and so then we brought in a couple more cornhole boards. It was still super popular so at some point we thought we better take down the horseshoe pits and put in some more cornhole boards and places to play. We put out there what the people want, you know?
That sounds fantastic. Like this place really grew out of the community. Tell me about the Banquet Room! I haven’t reserved that in a while…
The Wildcat room, that is our banquet room, that’s for end of the year parties and banquets and people can just reserve it and use it. See when we were doing all this years ago, I was really involved with all of these little leagues for football and soccer, and so it was really important to me that we provide a sort of headquarters for all of that in the community. So, now, any team that needs a sign-up place for registration or a place to hang out or after-season parties, we really just open our doors and just do it. We don’t overthink it. My daughter and I own this place and we do what we want to do.
We rent it out for $30 an hour. But we just like to keep it full. We do allow people to bring their own food. We’ve done tons of baby showers. So you know, people will bring their decorations and their own food. We just ask that if you do bring your own food that the food stays in that room and we do charge a $25 clean up fee but then, you have to buy your alcohol through us. I mean it works out for us, when parents host a birthday party even if they bring their own food they usually buy wristbands for the kids so they can play.
Would that (Wildcat Room) be rented out through a website?
I don’t mind if they call our number and talk to me.
I’ve only ever mini-golfed here at Triple Play but I’ve heard so much about the Cornhole tournaments. Tell me all about them. Can anybody sign up? How much does it cost? Tell me everything.
So many answers to that. The main point of the cornhole tournaments is really the fundraising, that is our bread and butter here. Those fundraising drives are excellent. I mean, the more money we give back the more money we make and so that is our business model. And with the cornhole, we do that five nights a week. On Saturdays, we normally reserve that for fundraisers and whatever the organization wants to charge. Most people charge like $10. We also have a Tuesday night, that’s just a $5 drop-in and great for beginners. You could show up on a Tuesday at 6:30 and sign up and you’re gonna play four games and you could go as high as six or seven. And we teach people how to play. So many people have started out not knowing how to play but there is such a great “cornhole community” and they love to teach people how to play. And all those $5 entries really go back to prizes for the winners and the people who are participating. We don’t really make money off that. Monday we do a competitive night for $10. And people come with their own partner, and people really battle for that title. Some people will come over just to watch. Friday night, we call it Family night, it’s only $5, but there you get new partners every round, so you know you don’t just get two people who are gonna win at every round. And we like the little kids to play. It really is just a big family night.
I love the sweet potato fries here. Tell us what your favorite menu item is?
The wings! I’m from Buffalo so my buffalo wings, I love them. I eat them religiously. We’re pretty good. Wings are hard too you know? Because there’ll be like a huge shortage on chicken wings and the prices will jump but maybe this is why I’d make a terrible businessman, I won’t raise my prices. I feel like, I don’t want people to feel like I’m gouging them, because eventually the prices (of the chicken wings) will come back down you know? And I’d rather people just keep coming here and eating our wings.
And your favorite event / fundraiser that you’ve hosted ?
We started a non-profit here and it is called “Bags, Boards, and Blessings” and so basically, we run cornhole tournaments throughout the year and we raise money and with that money, at Thanksgiving, we feed whoever wants to come in. On Thanksgiving Day, we open for four hours and whoever walks through the door- we feed them for free. We open up the golf course and the batting cages for free and anybody in the community can play and eat for four hours. And so we use that money for that, but we also try to give out around $4000 and $6000 worth of gift baskets and stuff for Christmas. We try to help out as many families as we can. And we keep our ear to the ground, someone will tell us that ‘hey this family is going through a hard time’, or this person is unemployed, or this mother is not sure how she’s gonna get through Christmas, and we just help out as best we can. Over the last two years we’ve been able to give some families a used car. One of our mechanics that plays cornhole here works on the cars and makes sure it’s in good condition and we donate the car to a family who needs it. This year, we filled up the car with gifts for a family of six. And it was wonderful. It gives me goosebumps remembering that, and that was probably my favorite fundraising event. We keep it pretty informal you know? We find out someone needs help and we do our best. And we do this year round too we don’t just do it around the holidays, I mean just recently this mom on the Rancho page posted that she was upset someone had stolen her son’s bike, and she really just hoped someone would return it to her, and well she showed up to one of our cornhole tournaments we just brought out a brand new bike and gave it to her.
Now, odd question for you, considering that your business started as creating something for families here in Sahuarita so that Sahuarita families didn’t have to go up to Tucson. Let’s play on that a little. What does Triple Play have that places in Tucson don’t?
Honestly, I feel like the community owns this place. People who live here buy into that. I mean, I have people here today (the day of the interview) from Tucson who have never been here before and a lot of them are like “why haven’t we heard about this place?” and they’re impressed. Probably the biggest thing for them is we don’t gouge people. For $10 you can come here with your kids all day long. A kid can bat a hundred times out there for that. A kid could putt around the golf course eight times if he wants to. You know, meanwhile you go into Tucson and you pay as you go. So, when my kids were young for example, I’d take ‘em someplace in Tucson and they’d eat through nine bucks worth of entertainment in twenty minutes and then they want to play again and I‘m like… when I was thinking about what I wanted from this place…. I thought a parent should be able to spend eight dollars and spend an hour or more out here. One of the guys today even noticed I left the remote controls out too, and I was like well yeah (laughs) so if you can’t hear you can turn up the TV or if you want to change the channel, change the channel, and that’s something I don’t think you have in so many places in Tucson. We’re kinda like a handshake agreement, you walk in here and you’re gonna respect our place and I’m gonna respect you to do that. I don’t gouge people and they don’t gouge me. And if they don’t honor that, I mean, we’ll deal with that when we have to but …. man, the community really delivers. The kids can come and play all day.
One time -you know how we do everything through internet nowadays- well one of our guys who comes out to play cornhole noticed that the internet outside kept cutting out on us and three days later, he takes half an hour and he installs a booster for us out there and tells us “you won’t have an internet problem again”. And he just did that for us! Another guy who comes in and plays cornhole pointed at our cornhole boards and told us, they’re great you know but they’re all different… we’re gonna come out and make some new boards for you. He only billed me so much, he was great… and three weeks later I had brand new boards. And some other guys in the community noticed adults would kinda just hold their beers and he said it’d be cool if you could put those on a stand, he goes home and two weeks later comes back with stands and beer holders for the cornhole area. Everybody just buys into the community feel. I come here when I come home late from school…. And these people have already come here and helped me set up the boards. It’s so homegrown and just so cool. I really feel like I could be gone for a week and this place would be just fine.
We loved interviewing Joe! His down-to-earth and quick-to-laugh personality are another reason to visit Triple Play.
Click here to read more about our own experiences at Triple Play!
It’s OK if your boyfriend won’t serenade you, we found someone who will!
No such thing as too many appetizers at La Chingada Cocina Mexicana
The same night that Lucy and I completed the Haiku Hike we decided to check out ANOTHER new Tucson event… Troubadour Thursdays. I’m hoping this one becomes an annual Tucson Spring tradition. It involves a troubadour traveling to multiple Tucson restaurant patios to serenade guests over dinner. I don’t know about you, but I sure have missed live music during this pandemic. Troubadour Thursdays offers a much needed opportunity to experience live music outdoors in smaller, socially-distanced settings (and eat some stellar food in the process).
We chose to try a new Tucson restaurant called La Chingada Cocina Mexicana. The boyfriend and I were curious as to just how dirty/inappropriate the restaurant name was, we got different answers depending on who we asked. Either way, I do love a good use of the F word so this restaurant started off with automatic bonus points.
We made a reservation but because our party was on the larger side (7) we ended up having to sit inside, rather than on the patio. We ordered an unruly amount of fried appetizers (a great start to any night). Birria nachos and multiple types of mini chimichangas filled the table. We enjoyed the fried food over fun conversations with friends.
I didn’t order an Agua Fresca and I still regret it to this day… they looked amazing! Lucy got the Mazapan Horchata and her S.O. got the Agua de Sandia. (Watermelon with a tajin rim… so good!)
Even though most of us felt full after our drinks/appetizers we powered through and ordered dinners as well. Everyone loved their dishes, which ranged from enchiladas to chile rellenos to soups.
La Chingada had a fun atmosphere. It was a little on the loud side so by the time we had finished and paid our bills (without noticing any performances) I was convinced we had missed the Troubadour. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with our Troubadour-less Troubadour Thursday. Then, just as we stepped out into the cool night air, we saw him approaching… THE TROUBADOUR! We hadn’t missed the performance after all! We ended our evening on a high note, figuratively and literally. (I had to.) Go check out Troubadour Thursdays in downtown Tucson while you still have a chance… it’s great fun.
If you want to eat at a different restaurant/bar but you’re still interested in catching the troubadour tour, check out this link for a more detailed list of musical stops!
If you want to follow in our footsteps and eat La Chingada Cocina Mexicana while you listen to the troubadour, consider bringing just ONE other person with you so that you can sit out on the patio and better enjoy the music!
As Sam mentioned, we were in a party of seven at the restaurant and we all ordered different plates…. and I must reiterate that EVERY PLATE was SO DAMN GOOD.
For me, “Haiku Hike” conjured images of a long-winded hiking trail ironically named after a very short type of poem by some sadistic professional hiker. (What can I say? My mind goes to dark places.)
Luckily for all of us, my imagination ran away from me on that one and the actual “Haiku Hike” was a short, sweet, and peaceful outdoor experience.
Sam and I invited our significant others and some friends to “do the Haiku Hike” one evening a couple weeks ago. (Trust me, Sam and I had to explain this invitation multiple times…. But I’ll happily do it again!) The Haiku Hike is essentially an outdoor poetry walk along Congress and Stone Avenue. The haiku were selected from hundreds of submissions from multiple countries and they are posted on signs in flower pots scattered around downtown Tucson.
The haiku hike was a pleasant way to end our day and walk off our dinner. We ended up making it our goal to find all of them and pick a favorite. (I apologize to anybody on the street that day who had to put up with my husband yelling that he’d “found one!”).
I’ve copy-pasted a screenshot of the “haiku hike map” from the DTP website so you can see where all the haiku are posted and I have deliberately only posted ONE photo in this post (my favorite of the haiku) so you can discover the rest for yourself!
All good traditions have to start somewhere… so take a walk downtown and support Tucson’s 2nd annual “Haiku Hike” if you’re looking for something different to do. The poems will be posted until June 1st.
Before the Haiku Hike I enjoyed a Congress Margarita (it was pleasantly spicy, mixed with green chile liqueur and jalapeño ) from Hotel Congress. It made an already warm evening walk a little extra toasty (in a good way).
My favorite haiku was written by Peter A. Sutcliffe. See if you can find it!
Next time you’re looking for a cute place to stay in Tucson, do yourself a favor and ditch the overdone resort for the uniquely restored and totally retro: Hotel McCoy.
One mile away from the best spots in Downtown Tucson
A FUN place to stay that won’t break the bank
I’d passed by the “Hotel McCoy” sign on I-10 many, many times without thinking much of the place. It appeared to be a refurbished hotel for travelers, conveniently located just off of the freeway.
So, when Sam suggested Hotel McCoy for our “staycation slumber party” I have to admit, I took a moment to check my memory… “wait, that one motel we’ve driven by so many times, that Hotel McCoy?”
I reserved judgment and packed my bag for a “slumber party” with Sam and her daughter. When Sam and I first drove onto the premises, we parked under the old-fashioned A-shaped entrance and the hotel staff came to our car window (a lot like a drive-thru actually) to check us in and give us our room key. All while we were in our car, they quickly explained how the pool service works (it’s awesome, you get to order from your phone and they take drinks to you while you’re in the pool!) and about their “Oatmeal Bar” that was available in the morning.
Just in the process of finding the parking spot closest to our room, Sam’s daughter commented on all of the murals that we passed by. We passed by a dozen just driving in the parking lot! Some of the murals were simply motivational quotes painted colorfully between windows and others were more elaborate portraits. (My favorite mural was that of the lady desert birds…. I really can’t explain the mural better than that). I’d learn later that Hotel McCoy has more than 50 murals on their property all painted by local artists.
Speaking more to their local flair, Hotel McCoy boasts many locally-sourced amenities and supports Tucson-businesses, including but not limited to their beer selection, their coffee, their bookstore, and even their doormats.
Sam and I did a bit of an “art walk” around the hotel, admiring the murals and taking photos next to our favorites. I probably took more photos at Hotel McCoy than I would have at any other hotel or chain-resort in Tucson. There was a lot to admire that I didn’t want to forget.
Ah, but I haven’t even told you about the room yet! You could easily tell that the items in our hotel room had been thoughtfully curated to live up to the hotel’s “retro but modern” vibe. The mini-fridge in the room was a shocking sky-blue and the desk looked like my dream workspace. The bunk-beds (yes- they have those) were comfortable and made me feel like I was a kid again.
When I asked Sam’s daughter (later) what she liked best about Hotel McCoy the bunk-beds were at the top of her list too.
We all made good use of the pool and the poolside service. While we were still in the pool, Sam was particularly proud of herself for figuring out how to order our drinks via email only to kick herself when she realized she’d accidentally used her work email to do that.
After lounging in the pool, Sam, her daughter, and I spent the bulk of that weekend at Hotel McCoy doing typical “slumber-party” things. We gorged on snacks that we had brought in with us, we watched movies, we ordered in food, and we painted our fingernails. Sam and I both offered to paint her daughter’s fingernails but that child insisted that she could do it better. (She really couldn’t).
It is rare for me to say this…. But Hotel McCoy surprised me. I really would recommend this “oasis” to both new-to-Tucson travelers and locals looking for a unique place to hang out. Case in point, I’m hoping to convince my coworkers to forgo our annual camping trip for a weekend at Hotel McCoy instead.
If you’re looking for a fun Tucson hotel at an extremely reasonable price PLEASE choose Hotel McCoy over your typical Holiday Inn-like options.
Hotel McCoy hosts awesome events like swim-up movies (projected on a big, inflatable screen), body-positive pool parties, and comedy nights. Hotel McCoy would also be an ideal spot for a 4th of July celebration (you’d have an amazing view of the A Mountain fireworks).
Also, Lucy and I agreed it would be a perfect “home base” for a night out in downtown Tucson. Imagine it… bring 3 of your favorite friends, reserve the bunk bed room, take a very short/cheap Uber ride to downtown and enjoy a carefree, fun-filled evening.
What a relaxing oasis indeed! We’d recommend planning your visit around breakfast or lunch to enjoy a meal at Edna’s Eatery.
What we ate: the Arizona Orange Smoothie and the Avocado Toast.
Our Plant Scavenger Hunt Challenge for you: Try to find… The “scaredy cat” plant,… the plant that smells exactly like curry,… the plant that was used by Native Americans to weave baskets,… and the oldest tree in the Gardens!
We pulled into the Tucson Botanical Gardens parking lot bright and early on a Sunday morning. I was immediately filled with excitement and anticipation, even the wildflowers in the parking lot were gorgeous… a sign of what was about to come.
Another sign of what was about to come, my daughter freaking out over a bee. (She was stung by a wasp about a year ago and has never emotionally recovered… just about any flying insect sets off a threat level red.) I began to worry this might be a LONG morning.
We walked in the entrance, scanned the digital tickets we had bought, and got right to exploring. Lucy and I both noticed the almost immediate feeling of relaxation that washed over our bodies as we walked further into the gardens. We daydreamt that the gardens were our yard, what a life that would be! We passed patios surrounded by blooming flowers, cacti, and succulents.
That’s when we saw it, the cactus car… in all its bright yellow, Volkswagen-y, cactus-stuffed glory. I was infatuated… I am a self-professed cactus lover. Put a cactus on just about anything and I WILL want to buy it. (As you can probably imagine that made my trip to the gift shop a little tricky.) We continued walking down a path lined with all different kinds of cacti. My personal favorite, the saguaros, stood tall and majestic, contrasting perfectly against the solid blue sky.
At this point we decided to make a pit stop for breakfast. Edna’s eatery just opened a few weeks ago and is an exciting addition to the Tucson Botanical Gardens. The breakfast menu featured a few fresh (and fittingly garden inspired) drinks and dishes. We decided to go with smoothies and avocado toast (both of which were delicious). They also offer a lunch menu, we noticed it had a little more in the way of options and those options sounded very tasty. Edna’s eatery is run by Westward Look Resort. The chefs from the resort’s restaurant take turns rotating into Edna’s Eatery at the Gardens. (We thought that sounded like a fun job perk.) We took the remainder of our smoothies to go so we could enjoy them while we finished exploring the Gardens.
The Botanical Gardens include so many great attractions, I almost don’t know where to begin. Some of our adult favorites were the herb garden, flower draped gazebos, and plants of the Tohono O’odham path. The Gardens do a good job incorporating fun things for children as well. Each time my daughter was starting to get restless we would come upon something new that would capture her attention and imagination. Some of her favorites were the motion-activated tiny train/village, the butterfly enclosure, and the word garden (where she spent 20 minutes creating rock poems).
We found a plant called a “Scaredy Cat”… I let my daughter know that must be her spirit plant seeing as she continued to fearfully point out every bee within a 10 meter radius . We sniffed a plant that smells EXACTLY like curry (it was crazy). We stumbled across the “prehistoric plants” section and brushed against plants that lived alongside dinosaurs. The section even included a life-like dinosaur statue.
We admired the creosote bush, and I learned that if you rub its leaves between your fingers it smells like soap. This bush is also what causes that distinct desert smell when it rains (mmm, I love that smell). And don’t forget about the gift shop. I could have done some serious damage there, they sell a TON of cute merchandise!
This was the perfect way to spend a morning enjoying the ideal weather and company of a good friend. Lucy and I had a seriously great time. There are so many hidden gems scattered throughout the Tucson Botanical Gardens, we highly recommend you go explore and find some of your own!
Edna’s Eatery is kind of a big deal for me seeing how as long as I’ve visited the Tucson Botanical Gardens, there’s never been a restaurant open on site. I am more delighted still because the food was light but DELICIOUS and I was able to walk around the Gardens with a fragrant smoothie in hand. What a dream!
I love hanging out with Sam’s daughter! I too was a little worried she might not be entertained by the trip, but it is safe to say she had just as much fun as we did. And she definitely worked harder than I did on her poems in the Word Garden.
The entire walk around the Tucson Botanical Gardens was such a relaxing experience. I’m coming back with a sketchbook!
Disclaimer: there are definitely more than six excellent breweries in this city BUT if I had to pick MY favorites, here are my top six and here’s why…
1912 Brewing Co. :
I fondly think of this brewery as “my first favorite” brewery in Tucson in that it was the one on this list that I was first introduced to and have always felt at home at. 1912 Brewing Co. has something on their menu for everyone and the place makes me -paradoxically- both feel like I’m away from the busyness of the city while also (conveniently) feeling like I’m not too far from home. The place is located just off of I-10, making it a great pit stop after a trip out of Tucson or on the way into the city. The green chile pork tamales on the menu are a fairly well-kept secret I enjoy often with a pint. My favorite beer on the menu: the Forbes IPA, aptly named for the street name this steadfast brewery is located on.
Pueblo Vida is located in the middle of downtown Tucson which is great for when you want a good beer after frequenting one of the many restaurant options in that area. Their centralized location isn’t all this place has going for them though. Their beer menu is transporting. The friendly atmosphere and pile of board games available have made this place a favorite go-to for Sam and myself after “a night on the town” when we want to unwind with a good beer. Pueblo Vida also embraces the local bicyclist community and constantly has bikes in their rack outside and bicyclists inside their business. If I lived closer to Pueblo Vida Brewing Co., I would want to bike there too…
Harbottle Brewing Co.
When I suggest breweries to fellow Tucsonites, Harbottle is often the lesser-known of the options I’ve listed here… which might have something to do with the fact that this amazing brewery is hidden in a largely commercial part of Tucson. That said, it is worth seeking this place out. Harbottle Brewing Co. boasts rich beer, a laidback atmosphere, and an arcade machine you can play -for free!- until your forearm is sore. Sam and I have shared some relaxing afternoons at this diamond-in-the-rough of a brewery.
You know that feeling when you’re out to dinner where you’re undecided between the menu item you already know you love and the prospect of trying something new? That’s my conundrum at most places when they’ve got Barrio’s Citrazona on the menu. I know I love it. I’ve loved it for years. And I constantly come back to that beer. It’s harder still not to fall for something from Barrio Brewing Company… and here’s why: you can find them EVERYWHERE. If you live anywhere in Arizona, you might already have this option available to you in the local beer section of your grocery store, as an option at a nearby restaurant, etc.. Barrio Brewing Co. is located right up against the train tracks (which weirdly, seems to totally match their rustic décor). They’ve got a lot of indoor and outdoor space and they frequently host events. My favorite of which was probably the “Tails and Ales” Fundraising event… which my dog seemed to enjoy just as much as the beer-drinkers.
All my favorite sours can be found at the Crooked Tooth! Crooked Tooth’s tamarindo sour “Cloud People” comes readily to mind. That said, this place is another well-placed brewery only a couple blocks away from Historic 4th Avenue. Crooked Tooth rotates various Food Trucks on a calendar they usually post in advance. This brewery hosts a broad range of interactive events including a yoga class (which I have yet to work up the courage to join in on), an “Office” trivia night (which I was disappointed I didn’t win, but hey I had a great consolatory beer), and a Disney sing-a-thon event which culminated in a night where the entire bar erupted in the songs from my childhood. To date, the latter was one of my favorite nights out in Tucson!
The road racing theme will not be lost on you upon entering Moto Sonora Brewing Co. This brewery boasts a large outdoor area that is incredibly dog friendly. Not only are leashed dogs welcome in the outdoor space but there is a small gated area that serves as a “dog park” for dogs to socialize together while you sip your beer and supervise. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever visited Moto Sonora and not seen at least two dogs. Also, major props to this brewing company for being one of a few breweries to stay open past 9 PM on a week day. Some of us want a beer on date night, you know? Which reminds me…. my favorite beers on the menu: the Victory or Death IPA and Date Night.
To be honest Lucy is the more serious beer/brewery enthusiast out of the two of us… but she has introduced me to a couple of these spots.
We’ve enjoyed a girl’s night out at Barrio Brewing with a couple other teacher friends. Bonus: they offer a teacher discount. We ate dinner (they have a solid menu) and enjoyed the good beer and good company.
I’ve also been to Harbottle a couple times. I can vouch that they are extremely laid back. (You can even bring your kids if needed… Hey, no judgement, babysitters aren’t always easy to come by.) Although they don’t have a food menu they are kind enough to offer complimentary snacks if you ask. Try their sour beer “Too Funk to Drunk” with cheese puffs, they make for a strangely perfect combination. I also appreciated the humorous additions to their decor. (Just check out the sign about the masks posted by the entrance, you’ll see what I mean.) Oh, and one last thing… succulents planted in beer cans… that is all.
As a life-long brunch lover I was excited at the chance to write this blog post. What do I look for in a great brunch place? Well delicious food -obviously- but also the right type of atmosphere and HUGE bonus points if they have a beautiful outdoor seating area. I can’t help it, I prefer my brunch outside… especially here in Tucson where the weather is so nice for the majority of the year. So here they are -in no particular order- my top 5 Tucson brunch spots …
Baja Cafe –
So this one doesn’t necessarily have great outdoor seating options (although there are multiple locations so I can’t say that definitively)… but they make up for it in the tastiness of their food. When Lucy and I briefly discussed writing this blog post she specifically mentioned this restaurant… and it’s a FAVORITE of both of our significant others. The biggest thing you need to know about Baja Cafe: daily eggs Benedict and pancake specials… ‘Nuff said. Who doesn’t love an interesting take on eggs Benedict and fancy, dessert pancakes for breakfast? The most recent pancake I’ve tried at Baja Cafe was the lemon ricotta and it was fabulous.
Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress –
I love Hotel Congress in general and their restaurant Cup Cafe is just one of the reasons. The seating is located outside on their expansive patio, dotted with trees and plants. I always enjoy the ambiance of Hotel Congress, I feel like it’s the epitome of all things Tucson… I love that the crowd is always a mix of young and old, a little bit of a wild west feel but with the promise of a hip nightlife always lingering in the air. Enough about the vibes… let’s get on to the food. I got the cast iron baked eggs. They came in one of those tiny cast iron skillets (aw, cute). They were packed with ham, fancy cheeses, and herbs… delicious!
Prep & Pastry –
If you go, do yourself a favor and plan on getting a coffee and pastry before your meal. The pastries are out of this world… I tend to get the croissants (which you can get stuffed with things like nutella, almond spread, etc.) It’s a cute space that is open, bright, and inviting. They do have an outdoor patio, but it is next to a major road… so it’s a little more of a city feel (versus nature). One other note… it is my humble (but correct) opinion that Prep & Pastry has the best breakfast potatoes in all of Tucson. They’re so good. They’re smashed potatoes with the perfect amount of salt and fresh rosemary. I’ve tried to duplicate them using my air fryer but have never even come close (and I don’t think any other restaurants in Tucson have either).
Café a la Cart –
This restaurant is located at the Tucson Museum of Art and the outside looks very unassuming (we’re talking large, white, exterior stucco wall with nothing on it except for one random door), but the inside is anything but. Inside the door they have a huge menu posted on the wall and you order your food, drinks (they have good coffee) and baked goods at the nearby counter. The magic happens when you walk out onto their patio to choose a spot to sit… it’s a colorful outdoor space with ample decor and potted plants (they refer to it as “Monet-inspired” on their website). It’s a delightful place to eat brunch, and the food and coffee are excellent. It’s the type of place that will make you want to linger and waste away your afternoon (although relaxation and self care isn’t wasteful).
Mercado San Agustin –
Ok, this one might be cheating because it’s not exactly one restaurant… It’s an awesome Tucson area with multiple restaurants. This outdoor courtyard/marketplace might be my favorite area in all of Tucson (it’s going to need it’s own blog post soon). It’s perfect for brunch, you have so many options… I’ll go over a few. You can dine on breakfast tacos/burritos and more at Seis Kitchen (named after the 6 different culinary regions in Mexico that inspire their cooking). Seis has amazing food (again, a huge Tucson favorite of mine). You can get a little more of a fancy, sit-down meal at Augustin Kitchen. This is the type of brunch place that gives you arugula salads with your breakfast… I don’t know about you, but breakfast salad helps me feel like a better person. Another option would be to get coffee at Presta Coffee Roasters and a pastry from La Estrella Bakery. No matter what dining choice you make you get to sit out in the open air courtyard filled with sunshine and citrus trees and surrounded by cute shops selling local goods. They even have misters (so you can enjoy outdoor seating in the summer without dying of heat exhaustion). For all these reasons, and more, I consider Mercado San Agustin my number one Tucson brunch spot.
I must reiterate Sam’s advice about getting a pastry at Prep & Pastry. It’s in the name of the restaurant people! Just do it, it’s so worth it.
#4, 2, and 1 on this list stand out to me because they happen to be either “centrally located” downtown or in a place that will allow for you to window-shop or explore. (Just thought I’d point that out, in case you’re like me, and you like to walk off your meal).
Our Significant Others (my husband and Sam’s boyf) are the types of people to balk at a “tiny breakfast” especially if we’re eating out. So, it is no surprise that Baja Cafe is their favorite because the food is great and the portion-sizes are incredibly generous!
Beautiful location, wonderful wine and entertainment options
Our favorites: Yia Mas & Drag Queen
“This is not what I expected the winery to be like…” our friend visiting from San Diego admitted over a glass.
We understood where he was coming from. The pretentiousness of other wineries that might discourage the first-timer is absent from this charming place. Our visiting friend was not alone in the sentiment. He’s one of several people Sam and I have introduced to Hops & Vines. And although our friends’ experience with wine (or visiting wineries) ranges all over, they’ve all echoed an appreciation for the laid back atmosphere and delicious wine options.
I guess it is no wonder that Sam and I have frequented this winery multiple times…
I celebrated my birthday during the famous Grape Crushing event! Sam’s daughter has literally fallen into the duck pond! My husband and I have seesawed in their playground area. Sam and I had our first double date at the winery. Sam and I have visited Hops & Vines over the summer when the grape vines were at their greenest and we have visited in the winter where we made good use of the many chimineas available on the lot. (This alone should say a lot by the way, Sam and I are true desert creatures who would not brave the cold unless it was worth it).
My point put more succinctly: Sam and I have never had a bad time at Hops & Vines… and we’ve had many experiences there.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about where to find this gem of a winery.
Hops & Vines is located in Sonoita, Arizona’s “wine country”. The drive to the location is scenic, taking you through hills of pale yellow and green with a gorgeous mountain-scape. It’s simple enough to get to the winery, I’m fond of saying, it just takes a little while to get there. The Hops & Vines location itself boasts a vast outdoor area with various rustic picnic tables, pergolas, and seating areas. There is a small playground for children (though that didn’t stop us from having fun) and an enclosure for the goats and a pig that teeters from side to side as it walks. There are various chimineas scattered throughout the outdoor area and a nearby pile of firewood for people to help themselves to. A tiny duck pond near the base of some trees is surrounded by even more outdoor seating so you can sip your wine and giggle at the quacking waddlers. Finally, a peacock named Frank wanders around the winery at his leisure like he owns the place. (Learn more about Frank the peacock in our interview with Shannon, a co-owner of the winery).
The tasting room itself is reminiscent of a cabin, with paintings and “isms” drawn on the walls themselves and quaintly trimmed windows that look out on the Sonoita countryside. Sam and I have sampled various wines -with the ever-cheerful help from the ladies behind the counter- and have settled on a couple favorite bottles: the Yia Mas, the Vicki, the Sebastian, and the Drag Queen.
In an admittedly ironic twist for travel-advice, Sam and I would highly encourage you not to take our specific wine recommendations and “do the tasting” for yourselves. The owners of the winery rose to the challenges of providing wine tastings during the worst of COVID by providing visitors with repurposed cupcake tins that each hold six of their best wines thoughtfully paired with snacks to complement the wine.
There is a wine for everyone at Hops & Vines and perhaps just as impressively, there is a good time for everyone too.
The drive to Sonoita is beautiful in and of itself. You get to cut across mountains and over hills and eventually you end up at the wide open expanse that is Sonoita. It’s a fun road trip for sure!
AZ Hops and Vines offers teacher, military, and law enforcement discounts (maybe even more discounts I don’t know about). The owners are extremely kind people. For instance, they hold a supply drive for teachers in August right before the school year begins.
I always like the music they are playing at the winery… and they often have live bands on the weekends. They have a great social media presence where they post about upcoming bands and events.