A couple of years ago, I was invited to a Major League Baseball spring training game in Florida and quickly fell into the idea of traveling to a warm place to see one’s favorite team in action before the start of the season.
This year I decided to experience something similar with the New York Red Bulls preseason and went to Tucson, Arizona, for the final days of their camp. Here is an account of what to expect and what to do in the area for any RBNY fan interested in warming up for the MLS season.
Traveling, Accommodations, Transportation
I traveled from California, but anyone visiting from the east coast should expect at least one stop. I learned that some people fly direct to Phoenix, and then rent a car to drive two hours to Tucson.
In terms of accommodations, Tucson has all the options. From luxury resorts, to cheap hotels near the airport. There is also plenty of Airbnb options in the more central areas, although, they aren’t as economical as in other places due to regulations. The main recommendation is to book well in advance since Arizona is as visited as Florida during the winter and the early spring.
There is public transportation (a nice tram and buses) to move around downtown Tucson, but renting a car is the best option since there are some memorable day trips to do outside of the city.
Tucson is a place to indulge in Mexican food. The Carne Asada is on another level because of the use of mesquite wood. Restaurants usually offer three or four options of hot sauces, and most of them add pickled onions as accompaniment, which is a treat for me.
El Güero Canelo is known for the Sonora Style Hot Dogs, in which the frank, placed in a roll, is wrapped in bacon and topped with pinto beans. It wasn’t my thing, but it’s a quick affordable fun meal.
The highlight of the trip was the breakfast at La Fonda Hermanita, a spot in Barrio Viejo. I had a dish of gorditas filled with queso fresco and chipotle braised hibiscus flowers, and refried black beans. Simply delicious.
Other restaurants worth visiting are Seis in Mercado San Agustin, I tried the beer-battered crispy avocado tacos there, and Bocas in 4th avenue, which has a generous tacos menu, including six vegetarian and four seafood options. My choices were cauliflower in curry cilantro and grilled octopus.
Places to Visit
I went to Tucson with two places to visit in mind.
One was the Mission San Xavier del Bac, located in the San Xavier Indian Reservation which is part of the Tohono O’odham Nation. (The whole Tucson is Tohono O’odham land, but that is another discussion.) The Mission has a Catholic church built by the Spaniards between 1783 and 1797, which is well preserved. Next to it, there is a small hill that one can climb to have a good view of the area. The Reservation is located 16 miles southwest of Tucson’s downtown.
The second place was the Saguaro National Park in the desert, but I ended up going to Tucson Mountain, a county park next to it. It’s free and enough to have a fun desert experience. I hiked for one hour and a half and have to say that it was better than watching RBNY play. The saguaro cacti are huge, and the views from the top of the mountains are just astonishing. It is like 30 miles southwest of the Tucson’s downtown.
Around that area, there is also the Sonora Desert Museum, which has a small zoo, and Old Tucson, an old western movie studio turned into some sort of theme park.
The Visit Tucson Sun Cup is played at the Kino Sports Complex in southern Tucson. The matches are played in the North Stadium, which is a small but comfortable soccer-specific stadium. The tickets are $20, and parking is free. I recommend eating before the game because the food options are terrible and expensive. There are also three breweries nearby for pre and post-game gatherings.
The vibe at Kino is pleasant since most of the people around are committed soccer fans from other parts of the country plus the FC Tucson supporters . The atmosphere is intimate, and fans can easily access players at the end of the game.
My conclusion is that the trip is worth it as a winter break. If done in groups, it should reduce costs and leave even better memories.