Arts & Culture Team Reviews: Chillin at the Chul

Arts & Culture Team Reviews: Chillin at the Chul

Arts & Culture Team Reviews: Chillin at the Chul 2000 2000 Tucson Young Professionals

Chillin at the Chul – by Celine Lucas

Are you looking for something unique to do on a Friday or Saturday night?

Do you enjoy learning more about the Sonoran Desert, listening to live music, and enjoying food and drinks?

If so, Tohono Chul’s event, “Chillin and the Chul”, is for you and your family. It is a refreshing and enjoyable way to spend a Friday (or Saturday) evening. Chillin at the Chul is on Fridays and Saturdays from 5pm – 8pm and runs through September 3rd. Even better, admission is free! Saturday events are created to be family friendly.

About 20 minutes from downtown Tucson, between all the shops, new construction sites and busy streets, sits Tohono Chul: one of Tucson’s best concealed treasures.  Travel + Leisure Magazine also gave Tohono Chul the title of “One of the World’s Ten Best Botanical Gardens.”


A little backstory on Tohono Chul…

According to Tohono Chul’s website: Tohono Chul started as a 37-acre lot. It’s initial advocates, Richard and Jean Wilson bought the 37-acre property in 1966.  Since then, there’s been many changes.  After opening the “Haunted Bookshop” in 1979, the Wilson’s started creating a path and marking the names of the plants and bushes in the vicinity. After being formally dedicated in 1985, an additional 11-acre lot was added in 1995 and in 1997 the Haunted Bookshop was closed, adding another acre – turning the property into the 49-acre area we know today.

Upon arriving at Tohono Chul, we were greeted by one of their docents. She pointed us in the right direction of the event.  The original path that was created in 1979 is now paved and metal placards line the walkway with the names of the plants behind them.  There are unique metal sculptures that were created by local artists sprinkled in the natural foliage.

After a short walk, we approached the event and heard DJ Halsero playing lo-fi beats. Almost every table was taken.  Kids were playing jenga and cornhole was available too.  Before grabbing a bite to eat and something to drink, we went into the La Galeria Museum Shop and Exhibit House.  The gift shop had many southwestern inspired gifts and the gallery contained archives from Tohono Chul’s private, permanent collection and artwork done by local artists.

One of the exhibits is called “Queen of the Night” celebrating the peniocereus greggi: The Night Blooming Cereus; a cactus species native to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Tohono Chul possesses 400 of these cacti, making it the largest collection in the world. Typically, this cactus looks like a bundle of dead sticks; however, there is one night a year when a fragrant white flower appears and fades as the day progresses. Many art pieces in this room were inspired by this plant; ranging from beaded sculptures, to paintings, to tactile ribbon art; each piece nothing short of exceptional. This exhibition runs from June 3rd to July 31st. Tohono Chul also hosts an event called “Bloom Night” where you can attend and see the bloom in real time.  This year, it bloomed on June 25th.  You can sign up here for additional information.

Another exhibit was the “The Elements.”  Air was the second exhibition in the series. According to the gallery: “the series reveals how artists utilize the elements of earth, fire, water and air as mediums, processes and subjects. And how, as subjects, these elements reflect some of the social, economic, political and environmental issues Arizona currently faces. Earth was first; the exhibitions Fire and Water follow.” This exhibit had pieces similar to the first, but one piece was metal crow sculptures suspended in the air by clear wires to make it appear as though they were flying, as well as paintings and other art pieces.

After enjoying the artwork in the gallery, we walked back outside to enjoy food, drinks and music.  They had a few options in terms of food.  I enjoyed the street tacos and my husband got the Sonoran dog. They also offered “Street Esquites,” and watermelon with tajin and mint. For drinks, I selected the Prickly Pear mimosa – and he got the Chillin Chul made of rum, tropical juices and bitters.  They also offered a Prickly Pear margarita, wine, local beers and non-alcoholic drinks, such as the Prickly Pear Lemonade and agua fresca.

We found a table close to the stage.  It was nice to listen to the music and see everyone enjoying a Friday evening.  All age groups were there, from seniors to kids in strollers.  After enjoying the food, we went on the dirt trail closest to the stage and walked for about a half a mile in the desert. We could hear the music as we walked along, drinks in hand. (Side note: do not wear flip flops on this rocky and sandy trail)

I was hoping to see the Streamside Gardens, however, that exhibit was closed. There are also many other themed gardens that would be worthwhile to explore when visiting Tohono Chul again. They have a Garden Bistro as well that offers brunch from freshly sourced and in season local foods. There is also a greenhouse on the property that allows you to purchase Tucson friendly plants to adorn your home and backyard. It may take a few trips to really soak in and marvel at the beauty that is Tohono Chul … even more reason to go back another time.

All in all, Chillin at the Chul was a fun and special event.  It was a great way to unwind after a long and busy workweek.  If you’re looking for something off the beaten path to do on a Friday or Saturday night that is family friendly and cost effective, check out Chillin at the Chul. You’ll have memories that will last a lifetime and a greater respect and admiration for the desert.


Photos and article by Celine Lucas
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About the Author:
Celine received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona in 2017 and her Master of Education in Human Relations from Northern Arizona University in 2018. This fall, she is attending Arizona State University to pursue her Master of Science in Technical Communication.  Currently, she is a Senior Enrollment Counselor for The University of Arizona Online and writes blogs and articles for Tucson Young Professionals Arts and Culture team. In her free time, she enjoys writing, editing, doing makeup, singing and spending time with her friends, husband and dogs.