Phoenicians and Tucsonans can argue endlessly about who has the more mesmerizing sunsets, the better restaurants and the more ardent college sports fans, but there’s one area where our friends to the south have us beat, hands down: B&B options.
The math speaks for itself – Tucson has a welter of B&Bs and funkily charming inns, and the Valley has almost nil, due to restrictive zoning laws that generally prohibit folks from running formal boarding operations in our residential neighborhoods. “You can blame the big Phoenix resorts for that,” one Tucson insider says obliquely.
No matter. Tucson, with its older homes and more centralized urban plan, is better suited for a bed-and-breakfasting culture, anyway – just another reason to make a weekend trip to the Old Pueblo.
Royal Elizabeth B&B
Greg Flis has earned the right to scoff a little at the wave of Johnny-come-lately pseudo B&Bs that have flooded the online market in recent years. Managing this 138-year-old Victorian adobe mansion in the heart of Downtown Tucson with his partner Joseph Jaworek, the former New York graphic designer is what you might call a hospitality purist. Both men radiate profound enthusiasm for the job – good cheer as redolent as the roasted cardamom banana they just served their guests for breakfast on this fall weekday morning.
“The way some places operate, it’s like, ‘Hey, good morning – here’s your bagel,’” Flis says with a wink. “That’s sort of the Airbnb expectation. Breakfast by Walmart.”
Such notions are anathema to the Royal Elizabeth, where a two-course, savory-sweet gourmet breakfast is standard, along with friendly chitchat at the dining table. Following the roasted banana, Jaworek serves a soufflé-like green chile strata – crispy on the outside, buoyant and eggy on the inside, with lively garden notes imparted by the chile. Served with grilled hot links and fresh OJ, it’s rave-worthy. “It’s a classic dish at the Elizabeth,” he says humbly.
A stay at the Elizabeth is like role-playing in a living history lesson. Built by 18th century railroad executive Charles Rivers Drake, the property still bears the telltale details of its Territorial origins, including an underground safe room designed to shield occupants from Apache attacks. Two decades ago, a couple by the name of – no joke – Royal Henry and Yvonne Elizabeth purchased the home and converted it into a B&B, naming it after themselves, portmanteau-style.
A bit pompous-sounding, yes, but the name fits, given the Rococo stylings of the B&B’s seven impeccably maintained rooms. The property also boasts a modest but pleasant pool patio, and is mere steps from Hotel Congress, Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails and other Tucson hot spots. It’s a fairly perfect option for visitors who want to enjoy Tucson on foot.
And not an everything bagel in sight.
Location: Right in the middle of it all
Ideal guests: Opera fans, Anglophiles, foodies
Price range: $189-$229/night
204 S. Scott Ave., 520-670-9022, royalelizabeth.com
The Downtown Clifton Hotel
Imagine if your vintage-obsessed millennial hipster friend invited you to stay in his guesthouse, ride his bike around town and cook dinner on his backyard barbecue. This sneaky-stylish downtown inn is a bit like that.
Is it a B&B? Not in the strictest sense. But the owners, Nick Delisle and Hillary Faircloth Douglas, do live on premises in the manner of a B&B, and will give you a gift card for breakfast at nearby 5 Points Market & Restaurant, so close enough. More to the point: They’re engaging, attentive and affable, and have paid heed to the discrete details that make boutique inns rewarding, like free spring water in the fridge, organic snacks on the credenza and more delightful décor flourishes than you can count. Free Netflix and Hulu, to boot.
Located around the block from the Royal Elizabeth, the Clifton offers the same convenient access to the culture-packed Congress and 5 Points areas, and functions as a perfect, lower-budget companion piece to its more posh neighbor.
Location: Near the historic Barrio Viejo district, a two-minute walk from Penca, Tucson’s hottest Mexican restaurant
Ideal Guests: Laid-back 40-somethings, intense 20-somethings, vacationing slam poets
Price range: $100/night
485 S. Stone Ave., 520-623-3163, downtowntucsonhotel.com
The Big Blue House Inn
Standing on the stoop of her aptly named bungalow – it is big, it is blue – Lea Ramsey expresses the same gentle skepticism as her Royal Elizabeth colleagues of the growing community of live-in B&B strivers. “[The number of B&Bs] has really exploded recently,” says the sandy-haired proprietress. “People see it as a lifestyle, and a way to rescue a historic home. But it’s a lot of work. You can’t just shut the door and go to bed at night.”
Employing a style of cooking she calls “upgraded rustic,” which generally means biscuits and gravy made with local sausage, and a fleet of toothsome pancake options, Ramsey has been catering to satisfied customers at her campus-area B&B since 2006. They love the wraparound porch overlooking University Boulevard. They love the colorfully appointed rooms, with names like “Hemingway Traveler” and “Zen.” They love Ramsey’s fat, disarmingly compliant tomcat, Lazlo.
The location is great, too – it’s just a half-mile saunter south to downtown, or an equally refreshing walk east to campus.
Location: Equidistant between downtown and the U of A
Ideal guests: Professors, parents, cat lovers
Price range: $100-$260/night
144 E. University Blvd., 520-891-1827, 144university.com
Adobe Rose Inn
Owners Jim and Marion Hook got into the B&B lifestyle the way a lot of couples do: Jim was winding down from a career in IT, Marion was pacing to and fro in an empty nest, so why the heck not?
The Milwaukee transplants certainly made a fine go of it. Purchasing a three-building corner lot east of campus in 2003, they quickly became popular with B&B customers and fellow proprietors alike. Marion proudly displays a U.S. flag shipped from Iraq by a pair of former guests that served in the U.S. military overseas.
Marion does the cooking, and says her standby crowd-pleaser is the “beige breakfast”: steel-cut oatmeal with maple cream and homemade banana-cinnamon ice cream. But she also prides herself on her versatility and ability to accommodate any dietary restriction. “I once did 29 different breakfasts in 29 days,” she says. And those scones. Customers love Marion’s complimentary, round-the-clock scones so much, she and Jim started packaging their homemade mix and selling it commercially.
Feng shui-wise, the Adobe Rose is programmed for relaxation, with a shady interior courtyard between the main house and casita full of cozy spaces to chill and read a book. Which is something a fair number of the inn’s guests enjoy doing. “You know who we see a lot of?” Marion asks. “Astronomers. Visiting the university. We’ve had some very well-respected astronomers here.”
Location: A long field goal from Arizona Stadium
Ideal Guests: Wildcat football fans, stargazers, breakfast pastry fetishists
Price range: $140-$230/night
940 N. Olsen Ave., 520-369-4417, aroseinn.com
Tanque Verde Ranch
Is a dude ranch pushing the B&B theme too far? Located at the far east end of Speedway Boulevard – and we do mean far; you just keep driving east until it ends, and you’re there – this beloved family getaway is by no means an intimate, power-your-bum exercise in B&B pampering. But breakfast is provided, and it’s spectacular – a cookout-style flapjack spread at the end of a morning horse ride, overlooking a saguaro forest.
Originally settled in the 1600s by the Pima Indians, the 640-acre property has changed hands several times over the centuries, but has been open to guests since 1928, when the first citified Easterner paid for the privilege to get his hands dirty in its stables and bullpens. The ranch has taken recent pains to diversify its menu of experiences, including staging craft beer festivals, constructing a warren of tennis courts and other resort-style amenities. And for fitness freaks, there’s nearby Douglas Spring trailhead, offering a network of hikes leading to the top of the Aguila Tank mountain range, overlooking the whole of greater Tucson.
For views this commanding, sure, we’ll call it a B&B.
Location: Almost to New Mexico
Ideal Guests: Wannabe cowpokes, sulky teens (and their parents)
Price range: $387-$655/night, all inclusive
14301 E. Speedway Blvd., 520-296-6275, tvgr.com
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