By Keri Hayes

Special to the Arizona Summer Wildcat

Those of us who have to live here know that Tucson can seem a little desolate in the summertime.

But contrary to popular opinion, watching tumbleweeds blow by is not the only diversion in this place. A visit to the phenomenon known as Downtown Saturday Night, for example, can be a pleasant surprise.

What is Downtown Saturday Night, you ask? It is a happening where families, students and random Tucsonans gather twice a month to shop, eat and appreciate some of our local talent.

One good side of our lovely "dry heat" is that it doesn't really go away when the sun goes down, thus making Tucson very easily accessible to all with good legs.

Walking downtown myself, I watched people flood in around every corner, headed for the Fourth Avenue underpass and the downtown arts district. Whether on foot or on bicycles, people shouted friendly "hellos" to neighbors and friends, stopping to chat or exchange ideas for the evening.

For example, if cooking dinner over a hot stove on a Saturday night doesn't sound so great, head downtown early, maybe around 7 or 8 p.m., for dinner at one of many restaurants Fourth Avenue has some good ones. New Orleans West has great Cajun food and Maya Quetzal serves some delicious authentic Guatemalan dishes.

Downtown, try The Cup Cafe inside the Hotel Congress for a light meal, Cafe Magritte for a gourmet dinner and exquisite atmosphere, or Cafe Poca Cosa for its renowned Mexican cuisine.

And after dinner, there's plenty of strolling to do the shop and gallery owners stay open later especially for Downtown Saturday Night, and many street vendors set up shop around the Ronstadt Transit Center.

Whether you're looking for hand-made jewelry, clothing or gifts, there's plenty to see and buy.

For the kids, check out Yikes! Toy Store, an interesting collection of old and new favorites. And for yourself, some great summer reading can be found at the numerous bookstores on Fourth Avenue and downtown.

Many of the galleries downtown plan their openings around Dowtown Saturday Night, so there are usually new exhibits to take in. Special events are also planned, which are almost always free for the public to enjoy.

One Saturday, the ORTS Theatre of Dance performed an interesting piece entitled "Timewinds" in a parking lot off of Congress Street, while performers from the House of Neighborly Services combined jump-roping and dance for a spectacular show at the Ronstadt Center.

Linda Lou and the Drifters played bluegrass throughout the evening, with a crowd of weary shoppers and eager fans always present.

After the shopping and entertainment dies down, many people head to Club Congress or one of the Fourth Avenue bars like O'Malley's, Isla Tiburon and The Shanty, to name a few for drinks, dancing or socializing to end the evening.

There is one happening next Saturday, so the next time you're wondering why you stayed in Tucson for the summer, give Downtown Saturday Night a chance.

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