Cactus Heart

We feel so lucky to have the chance to discover and share Tucson with you. 

In 2022, we put together 52 lists of things to do over the weekend — one for every Wednesday of the year. We curated guides and resources to affordable eats and hiking trails. We wrote about new restaurants and businesses, and our old favorites. We wrote about incredible Tucsonans: a longtime server at Mi Nidito, a grandpa who built a rollercoaster in his backyard, muralists and artists who dedicate their talents to the city we love. 

Now, we're taking time to reflect on 2022 and the pieces we loved the most, the pieces we're most proud of, the pieces we're excited to re-share with you now. Don't get us wrong — we're happy with everything we published this year, and even happier that you were along on the ride with us. Thanks for being here.

#ThisIsTucson team, from left: Gloria Knott, editor; Ellice Lueders, food reporter; Elvia Verdugo, features reporter.

Gloria Knott, editor

My favorite part of being with #ThisIsTucson is getting to share all the things that make Tucson so special, from the food to the events to the community. I'm thankful for all the people, businesses and community members who took the time to chat with me, and thankful to you for reading.

Narrowing my favorite stories of the year down to five was hard, but here it goes.

Last year, I so badly wanted to write a story about what it's like to live in Winterhaven. Things were hectic and I never got around to it, so I promised myself I'd write it this year. It became one of my favorite stories I've ever written. Maybe it's the nostalgia of walking around Winterhaven with my mom as a kid, or the simple magic that the event brings to all of Tucson each year. Regardless, I'm happy it made it on my list this year.

I love Filipino food and I don't think Tucson has enough of it. I grew up eating lumpia made by my grandma (we call her Apo, even though that actually means grandchild in Tagalog), and I feel like I've been trying to connect more with my Filipino heritage as an adult. When I found Tita Tita on Instagram, I reached out almost immediately. The food is delicious, the owners Cody Webster and Philip Rieff are so incredibly kind, and more Filipino options are much-needed in Tucson. I fell in love with writing this story.

I love gift-giving almost as much as I love Tucson. Shopping local art markets is my absolute favorite thing to do, seeing so many talented artists packed into one space sharing their hard work with the community. I made mental notes of all the cool things I saw at markets this year and compiled many of them into this gift guide that I hope was useful to you this holiday season (and beyond).

One of my favorite things about #ThisIsTucson is that a big part of our mission is to help people. I'm not an advanced hiker by any means, so when trekking through Sabino Canyon my first few times, I started making lots and lots of mental notes: which direction to go to see Sabino Dam, where to see water after it rains, when the shuttle runs. I compiled this FAQ of Sabino Canyon, a very treasured spot in Tucson, to help anyone who may be looking for a bit more information.

I was so excited when my coworker and friend Mamta Popat told me about Plantney, a pop culture-themed plant shop named after Britney Spears. Writing this story, and meeting owner Nick Curtis, was a dream. 

Honorable mention: I went to Skate Country a lot as a kid. I have a lot of memories at Skate Country and I knew other Tucsonans would too.

Elvia Verdugo, features reporter

This year marked my first year as a full-time reporter for #ThisIsTucson. During that time, I wrote numerous stories covering all aspects of Tucson life that make our city and community so unique. As the year comes to a close, I was tasked with choosing my top five stories of the year — which is no easy feat because I feel like every story I write is special in its own way. Whether that be the story itself or the people behind it, I have found so much joy in sharing the stories of our diverse community. 

To those who gave me the time of day by chatting with me and answering my list of gazillion questions — thank you. Your voices and words helped bring these stories to life. I can’t wait to continue connecting with the Tucson community in the new year to create even more fun stories for our readers. ❤️

Without further ado, here are my top five stories (plus an honorable mention) for 2022, listed in order of publication. 🙂

This story was one of the first stories I completed as a full-time reporter, so it holds a special place in my heart. After writing many stories remotely during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, I jumped at any chance to do in-person interviews. I was able to visit the art alley gallery, hidden in the Miles neighborhood, and it was quite the experience to see in person. After spending nearly two hours in the alley chatting with Rossana Lievanos and Josie Zapata, the neighborhood residents behind the art alley gallery, and learning about what it means to the neighborhood, I just knew how special this story was going to be. And even almost a full year later, the story still means so much to me. Thanks to Arizona Daily Star photographer Mamta Popat for the story idea!

This list wouldn’t be complete without the Tucson Tome Gnome story. When I talked to Emily Walsh, Jody Hardy and Mary Ellen Flynn — the lovely “gnomes” behind the Tucson Tome Gnome — at the beginning of the year, I instantly knew Tucson’s book community was in the best hands. After writing the story, I had a feeling it was going to resonate with our readers. I mean, a group of women hiding free books in our community to help promote the love of reading, what’s not to love about that? But what I wasn’t expecting was just how much (well-deserved) attention this story would bring to the Tucson Tome Gnomes. I take great pride in being able to say that I was one of the first (if not the first) to write about the gnomes and share the story of these special Tucsonans. Did I mention that I also (remotely) reported and wrote this story while I was battling a bout of COVID-19?

I spent weeks working on this story of the BABS and it was well worth the time.  I was able to learn about the BABS, what drives them, and their impact on the Tucson community. The inclusive group has made such an impact in the traditionally male-dominated skateboarding industry and rightfully earned a spot on my five favorite stories of the year. I can’t wait to see what badass things they do next. Shoutout to Arizona Daily Star photographer Kelly Presnell who snapped photos of the BABS in action for the story, which helped bring it to life.

OK, OK, I know I keep saying that all of these stories hold a special place in my heart, but they really do. And this story is no exception. But this story almost didn’t happen. I spent days working on this story, chatting with everyone I could possibly think of to make this a balanced story that captured the importance of Tucson’s historic neon signs, while on a hard deadline. When I say that I was stressed with a capital S, I mean it. I was missing a crucial source for the story and was afraid that I wouldn’t get it in on time, but fortunately, I was able to connect with them a couple hours before my story was due. And you know what? This story made the front page of the Arizona Daily Star this summer. My first front-page story!

This story may be a recent one, but I knew it was unique the moment I stepped into the little hidden library at The Historic Y. I was instantly touched by Katrina Kerstetter’s passion for bringing cultural diversity and understanding to Tucson through Koru Library Multicultural and Diverse Library’s picture books and mindfulness classes. Plus, I can’t resist a cool international connection to Tucson. Kerstetter helped co-found the Koru Library with her friend and colleague, Mia Lee, on Jeju Island in South Korea. This fun and inspiring story was a great note to end the year on.

Honorable mention: The Rez Girls Book Club, an all-Indigenous book club located here in Southern Arizona, also deserves a shoutout on this list. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the book club president and learning about why Indigenous representation is so crucial in the book community (and in everyday life). The club’s story is so important and I think people from all walks of life can appreciate it.

Ellice Lueders, food and restaurant reporter

These aren’t all my favorite stories of the year. Some are the ones I’m most proud of; not because I enjoyed writing them but because I struggled to truly capture the subject. I had more fun writing this piece about a mead speakeasy in the back of a board game store than the week I spent past deadline, suffering each word of my profile of Jackie Tran, someone I admire.

But a couple of these were simply joyful. When I drove into Nogales and battled to find a parking spot in a lot for border crossers, I had no idea how quickly I would fall in love with the city — through its food. Nogales shared its tree-lined hills and homestyle Sonoran food with me, and for that I’m deeply grateful. I include Ajo CSA’s cafe for the same reason: the heartwarming surprise of being welcomed into a special community, outside of Tucson.

I include my stories about Barrio Viejo and Don Guerra because I believe they’re the most notable stories I wrote this year. But in writing about the contested neighborhood in the heart of Tucson, I learned so much about our community and how to cover it. I’ve wanted to write the profile of Don long before he won the James Beard Award for outstanding baker. This year gave me the opportunity.

Honorable mention: This tribute to Jo Schneider, the matriarch that made my favorite cafe, Bentley’s, a Tucson icon.

But every story this year, whether it made this list or not, was written with the same motivating spirit: a love of the corner of the world where I live and for the people who make it so special. Thank you for reading! Happy holidays.


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Digital Features Reporter

Elvia is a journalism and history graduate from the University of Arizona. She hopes to create stories that show what makes Tucson and its community special.