Though I’ve only been back in the Southwest for a few months, I lived in Tucson for eight years as a graduate student and learned to get pretty creative with how to spend weekends. Now that I’m back as a new mom, I wanted to look at the city from a new angle and figure out how to get creative on my Saturdays with a baby in Tucson.
So, life’s changed. I mean, we all knew that was going to happen when my son entered the world eleven months ago, but nobody could have prepared me for what life would look like a few months in—after the constant-wearing-of-pajamas and sleepless nights wore off. Those first few months were an incessant blur, my only real memories in the form of short video clips I took and look at when I’m feeling nostalgic (or just incredulous that we’ve made it this far together). I’m a restless person by nature (could this be why I became a travel writer?) and it looks like my baby inherited those genes, too, so now that we’re settling into a new rhythm, we’ve been working on venturing out more and getting to know the city I called home for many years in my freewheeling, unencumbered (aka, not-yet-a-mom) twenties.
The city’s changed, too. There’s a new streetcar that snakes through downtown, a new designation as the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States, tons of new luxury high-rise apartments across from campus (and they’re still coming), and a lot of new breweries (two dozen of them all within walking distance of each other, apparently). Plus, the city is new to me, too—the idea of going downtown at night with girlfriends sounds exotic rather than a given; the thought of hanging out at a weird coffee shop all morning sounds like something from a past life; and the memory of sleeping in and heading to brunch at noon is just that (a memory).
Instead, I’m seeing the city from a whole new lens: I’m suddenly finding myself noting that Thursday afternoons are Storytime at the local library or that the trails in Catalina State Park are a little flatter that some of the others I love—and, as such, probably better for walking and babywearing. And yet, I’m still me, the girl who loves a challenge and an adventure on the weekends and who doesn’t, under any circumstances, want to sit still.
So, to work on our restlessness and to get reacquainted with this place, my husband, our baby, and I started venturing out on Saturdays to find activities that would be baby-friendly and still our style. If you’re in—or headed to—Tucson, here are my top recommendations so far for hanging out in the city with a baby:
1. Wandering the Rillito Farmer’s Market
Going to a farmers markets on the weekends has always been a favorite activity for me and my husband. We’ve made it a ritual everywhere we’ve lived. There’s something about wandering around in a crowd of strangers and simultaneously marveling at the exquisite chiltepin peppers from a local farm or the fresh pumpkin empanadas whipped up by a street vendor you’ve never seen before. The Rillito Farmer’s Market is perfect for this, because it’s essentially one really long market under shade pavilions along the Rillito River (which, let’s be honest, is a desert wash that actually has water in it, what, once a year?). When we had Riley, we started taking him in the stroller with us and introducing him to things like the smell of fresh cheese, the taste of mild green chile tamales, the sounds of peppers turning over in a hand-cranked roaster.
2. Hiking Tumamoc Hill
Though we’d never actually hiked up Tumamoc Hill when we lived here before, we’ve recently (re?)discovered that it’s a perfect place to take an afternoon walk with a baby in Tucson and still feel like you’ve gotten a pretty decent workout. Walking up and back down the hill takes about an hour and a half and winds up being around 3 miles, which is perfect if you consider that half of those three miles are spent going up a fairly steep incline around and around the hill. Because the hill is also a research site and ecological preserve, trailgoers have to stay on a fairly large paved road as they walk up and down the hill. Tumamoc is also only a few miles from downtown, so it’s an easy ride back to town if you have to get back quickly or your little one doesn’t like being in the car for too long.
3. Picnicking at The Valley of the Moon
The Valley of the Moon is also somewhere that I never, ever thought about visiting pre-baby, mainly because the entire place is a fantasy park designed for kids. But it’s not like any kid attraction I’ve ever heard of—it’s not like Disneyland, or even somewhere like Legoland. It’s literally a park for fantasies, imagination, and dreams. The man who founded it—George Phar Legler—designed the Valley in the early 1920s to resemble an “enchanted storybook land” for children that would, as their website says, “promote kindness and spark imagination.” George himself was an artist, Spiritualist, and visionary who believed in fairies. Today, Valley of the Moon is a bizarre and beautiful entertainment wonderland for kids, with campfire sing-a-longs, whimsical theatrical performances, even teddy-bear picnics that require all visitors to bring a teddy bear with them (yes, I….am doing this next Saturday).
4. Enjoying a Flight at Casa Film Bar
This place is just so quintessentially Tucson—and such an unexpectedly cool thing to do with a baby in tow—that I couldn’t write a round-up of things to do on a Saturday in Tucson without mentioning it. Casa Film Bar wasn’t always a bar (and for the most part, it still isn’t). It’s a bar within an aging video store. On their website, they call it a place to talk about classic, foreign, documentary, indie (and yes, even blockbuster) films over local craft beer. When I first arrived in Tucson ins 2007, most of us still had a DVD player somewhere in our homes, and my husband and I spent many of our first dates going here and combing through the racks of dusty films and talking to the incredibly passionate staff about which weird or eccentric film they’d recommend. There was no beer at the time—just two floors of DVDs.
Today, Casa Film Bar still has two floors of DVDs, but the section of the store that used to be devoted to TV shows is now, luckily for many of the patrons who love film but no longer have a DVD player, a bar. And it’s kid-friendly, too—there is a whole bookshelf full of games and toys for kiddos to play with while the adults imbibe. We bring our little guy here sometimes on Saturday afternoons, sit in the oversized chairs, and tell him all about all the movies we can’t wait to show him some day.
5. Strolling the River Loop with a Baby in Tuscon
The Loop was built over the last few years as a kind of “urban trail,” designed to connect the car-centric city with biking, hiking, and walking trail alternatives. Today, the paved trails now total 131 miles, all of which run along the riverbeds and through the city and are built for cycling, horseback riding, walking, running, or skateboarding. It’s completely pedestrian-friendly (except for the horses, I guess), and there’s always room to jump on the trail somewhere. I love it because the paved ground is spongy and firm—perfect for rolling a stroller over. Plus, there are rumored to be nearly 50 public works of art along the pathways, so there’s always something to see along the natural backdrop of the Sonoran Desert.
I could probably add ten more ideas to this list (maybe next time, I will!). So if you’re not local and something here piques your interest, there are so many accommodation options in this dusty desert town—from immaculate bed-and-breakfasts to quirky motels to 5-star resorts in the foothills to more dude ranches than you could ever possibly cover in one trip, there’s really something for everyone here.