Graduate Students’ Highly Incomplete Guide to Getting Off Campus

Submitted on September 18, 2019

By Elizabeth Labiner

UA campus and the immediate surrounding area have a lot to offer, but sometimes, you just need to get away from the university for a little while. Tucson boasts an impressive array of local coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, many of which are within walking or cycling distance of campus. Grad students’ favorites include staples along University and 4th Avenue, as well as downtown, but they also like to head slightly further afield at times. When you’re looking for at outdoor retreat, the consensus is clear: nothing beats the hiking here. Many students head up Mount Lemmon to escape the summer heat or enjoy some snow in winter, but also love the trails in Sabino Canyon or in-town options like the River Loop. 

Here are some suggestions in graduate students’ own words: 

“My favorite weekend place is along the Loop around Tucson. While I live less than a block from an entry point, the loop is a bicycle/walking path that will (eventually) go all the way around Tucson, so it's likely there is one near most students. It's the place I walk my dog and enjoy biking to explore the edges of the city. There are parks all along and several places to diverge and see more of the city.”

          -- Marie Teemant, Art History

“It’s really great to be outdoors here for most of the year. I love walking Tumamoc Hill; there’s a nice view from the top. Also, there are a lot of cool places on Fourth Avenue and downtown, and I love second Second Saturdays. They’re always so much fun! That’s one of the things I enjoy a lot about Tucson: it seems like every weekend there’s a community event or a cultural event or a festival. It’s a really special, unique culture here, and it’s great to celebrate it.”

          -- Dylan Barton, School Psychology 

“Two suggestions:

  1. Golden Goose Thrift Store (at 15970 N Oracle Rd, Catalina AZ, 85739). While it might be a bit of a drive, you can't go wrong visiting the award-winning, not-for-profit Golden Goose Thrift Store, especially if you are looking for furniture, exercise equipment, books, or household goods. Every day there are great sales (generally 20-50% off four or five categories of goods). Moreover, on their website you can find a coupon for 20% any regular price item. Visit for a list of sales, the coupon, and more information about how this thrift store gives back to the community. NOTE: The store is not open on Sundays and Mondays, and it closes by 2 pm each afternoon.
  2. Chiricahua National Monument (12856 E Rhyolite Creek Rd, Willcox, AZ 85643). One of the most breath-taking hiking locations in Arizona is Chiricahua National Monument (roughly two hours east of Tucson). At an elevation of 5,400-7,300 feet, Chiricahua is a wonderland of otherworldly towering rock formations, grottos, ridges, and woodlands. Be sure to bring water and snacks and wear sturdy hiking attire. Visit for more information.”

          -- Sarah Fredericks, English Literature

“There are tons of great restaurants around town, but it can sometimes be hard to know where to go if you have dietary restrictions. So, here are the three best spots in Tucson for vegans: 

1. Tania's 33: a Mexican restaurant on the west side of Tucson. Bad parking, inexpensive and delicious burritos. What to order: cauliflower, beans, and potato burrito with guacamole. And be sure to try the vegan queso! 

2. Cafe Desta: Ethiopian in the outskirts of downtown. What to order: the vegan combo for two is a perfect date night, and the kik alicha is my favorite dish! (Tucson has another amazing Ethiopian restaurant, Zemam's. Be sure to try both!)

3. Le Cave's Bakery: a Tucson donut institution with a new location on 22nd street. I promise, you've never seen this many vegan donuts in your life. What to get: maple, chocolate with sprinkles, apple fritter, multiple types of jelly donuts... you do you!” 

          -- Kristen Coan Howard, History

“My favorite thing about Tucson is how easy it is to get out and experience the environment. There are great hikes in Sabino Canyon, Saguaro National Park, on Mt. Lemmon, and in Catalina State Park. If you're up for a day trip, Kartchner Caverns and the Petrified Forest are incredibly unique, as are the various national monuments in southern Arizona. Other fun things to do are to visit Kitt Peak or Mt. Graham to learn about the history of astronomy in Tucson. In town, my go-to restaurant is Miss Saigon and my favorite place to get a hot drink is Seven Cups. Tucson has so much personality, you need to explore to find what you like best!”

          -- Travis Sawyer, Optical Sciences

“As a Ph.D. student, I often find myself needing to take some time off and get a breath of fresh air; so, I take my guitar and go to Mount Lemmon, Sabina Canyon, or Madera Canyon. I hike, have a picnic with some friends, and play the guitar while we look at the landscape and tell each other stories. This is the perfect way for me to relax in Tucson!

If I can’t take a full day off, then I like going to La Indita restaurant or El Nidito restaurant to have some Mexican food. The staff is adorable and very welcoming in both places! I also love empanadas and raspados so when I feel like graduate life is too intense, I go to El Mercado downtown to get them. If there is a special occasion, I go to Ghini’s French Caffe to have brunch and stop by the French bakery - right next to it - to buy fresh baguettes and maybe un pain au chocolat or une crème brûlée. Food is of great help when you are a graduate student!”

          -- Sophie S. Alves, Mexican American Studies

“Brains & Brews by the March for Science Southern Arizona! Every week they host a science talk followed by science trivia. The talks vary from astronomy to biology to general science communication, and their trivia is a lot of fun.

Sonoran Glass School is the only non-profit full-service glass arts facility in the Southwest. They provide educational programs to school groups, veterans, and others. SGS offers a wide range of classes and make-your-own experiences, including furnace glassblowing experiences to make paperweights or vases, kiln fusing experiences to make suncatchers, and lampworking experiences to make stirrers or pendants. I've really enjoyed learning about different ways to work with glass and look forward to every opportunity I get to create glass art! On October 5-6, SGS will host their annual Pumpkin Fiesta, an open house featuring live glass blowing demonstrations and several options to experience making glass art.”

          -- Christine O’Donnell, Astronomy and Astrophysics

“There are numerous hiking trails in and near Tucson where you can explore the natural beauty of the Sonoran desert. Pima Canyon Trail, Ventana Canyon Trail, Finger Rock Trail, and the Sweetwater Preserve trail system are some of my favorites. They are all free and only a 20-30 minute drive from campus. If you’re willing to go further, consider exploring the trails on Mount Lemmon and Mount Wrightson, where it is usually 20 degrees cooler than Tucson. Just make sure to go early in the morning, bring sunscreen, and drink plenty of water! 

Tucson is full of coffee shops. My favorite cafes to work at are Black Crown and Crave, which are both 10-15 minutes east of campus. For coffee shops closer to the U of A, check out Time Market on University or Cartel on Campbell.”

          -- Sarah Wilhoit, English Literature