Tucson Travel Guide

USA  #3 in Best Places to Visit in Arizona
Credit

Courtesy of David Sucsy/Getty Images

Best Things To Do in Tucson

Tucson attracts a diverse group of travelers because there are a variety of things to do while visiting. For a closer look at the Arizona desert, spend some time exploring the nearby Saguaro National Park and the hiking trails of Sabino Canyon. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum also provides an interesting (and air-conditioned) look at Tucson's flora and fauna. For a taste of contemporary Tucson, spend some time perusing the galleries in the Catalina Foothills district or mingling with University of Arizona students at bars on the historic Fourth Avenue.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated May 25, 2018

  • #1
    Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
    View all Photos
    #1 in Tucson
    Museums, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Although it's called a museum, this facility – about 15 miles west of downtown Tucson – is more of a zoo. In fact, 85 percent of what you'll experience is outdoors (so dress accordingly). The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's 98 acres host 230 animal species  including prairie dogs, coyotes and a mountain lion  and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). Walking through the museum's trails, visitors get acquainted with desert life. And if you feel hungry after your leisurely hike, you can enjoy a meal at one of the museum's four eateries, all of which have great views of the surrounding desert.

    ...Read More »
  • #2
    Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway
    View all Photos
    #2 in Tucson
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Regarded as one of the most scenic drives in southeast Arizona, the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway takes travelers to the upper reaches of Mount Lemmon and the Santa Catalina Range. Aside from the arresting canyon and mountain views, the nearly 60-mile round-trip byway offers visitors the biological equivalent of driving from the deserts of Mexico to the forests of Canada (the road begins in the lower Sonoran vegetative life zone and ascends to the high forests in the Canadian zone).

    ...Read More »
  • #3
    Saguaro National Park
    View all Photos
    #3 in Tucson
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    This 91,327-acre park pays tribute to the infamous saguaro (pronounced sa-WAH-ro) cactus, a common symbol of the American West. It's divided into two districts: The Rincon Mountain District, about 13 miles east of downtown, and the Tucson Mountain District, about 23 miles west of downtown. Each section features a visitor center, miles of hiking trails and, of course, hundreds of towering saguaro cacti.

    ...Read More »
  • #4
    Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
    View all Photos
    #4 in Tucson
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/Pools
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/Pools
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Located along the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains on Tucson's northeast edge, Sabino Canyon's numerous hiking trails and swimming spots make this recreation area popular with locals and tourists alike. Visitors can picnic among the saguaro cacti and cool down in Sabino Creek. And if you're looking to get a feel for the area without breaking too much of a sweat, take a ride on the Sabino Canyon Tram. The 45-minute ride is a nearly 4-mile narrated tour into the mountain foothills. Trams make nine stops, allowing travelers to hop on and off if they'd like to tackle any of the hiking trails in the canyon.

    ...Read More »
  • #5
    Mission San Xavier del Bac
    View all Photos
    #5 in Tucson
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    Sitting just south of Tucson near the airport, Mission San Xavier del Bac (known as the White Dove of the Desert) is a stunning example of 18th-century architecture. Influenced by Moorish, Byzantine, Renaissance and Mexican architectural styles, this active Roman Catholic Church is worth visiting just for the photo ops, according to travelers. Visitors are invited to tour this National Historic Landmark as an architectural site or sit in on weekly Mass.

    ...Read More »
  • #6
    Pima Air & Space Museum
    View all Photos
    #6 in Tucson
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Housing more than 350 aircraft and spacecraft, this is one of the largest air and space museums in the world. Visitors see some of the most historic crafts, including an X-15A-2 (which set the altitude record when it reached the edge of outer space in the 1960s) and several Russian MiGs, which have been used by the Soviet and Russian army since the 1940s. You can also tour the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). Known fondly as the "Boneyard," this facility features dozens of out-of-work aircraft, lined up under the desert sun (tours of this section of museum cost extra). 

    ...Read More »
  • #7
    Catalina State Park
    View all Photos
    #7 in Tucson
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Flanking the northern edge of the Catalina Foothills district, Catalina State Park provides spectacular views of Tucson and the surrounding mountain ranges. Inside, the park hosts 5,500 acres of canyons, streams, and hiking and biking trails that wind through the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. Along with the gorgeous views, keep your eyes open for birds; more than 150 species call the park home. Some visitors choose to hike, but you can also explore the park trails on horseback. Sitting at the eastern edge of the park, Houston's Horseback Riding offers guided trail rides.

    ...Read More »
  • #8
    Franklin Auto Museum
    View all Photos
    #8 in Tucson
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Located 5 miles north of Tucson, the Franklin Auto Museum is a must-see for both car and history enthusiasts. Franklin Automobile Company produced vehicles from 1960 to 1934 and was responsible for many innovations in the automobile industry during that period. The Franklin Auto Museum has expanded over time to include representative examples of all Franklin automobiles, as well as a library of Franklin Company research materials.

    ...Read More »
  • #9
    Reid Park Zoo
    View all Photos
    #9 in Tucson
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Home to a variety of exotic animals, ranging from elephants and jaguars to flamingos and roaches, the Reid Park Zoo in central Tucson is a favorite place for families to spend a few hours. When you're not observing the animals from afar, several activities allow you to interact with them, such as the giraffe feedings. There's also a zoo train, a wet play area and a carousel, along with daily demonstrations with zoo keepers. 

    ...Read More »
  • #10
    Tucson Museum of Art & Historic Block
    View all Photos
    #10 in Tucson
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Tucson Museum of Art & Historic Block pays tribute to the city's vibrant past not just in its name, but also in its appearance. Its galleries are housed in historical adobe homes that together make up an old-fashioned, Mexican-inspired village. Each structure is dedicated to a different artistic theme, such as the American West, Latin America and contemporary art. The museum also hosts notable traveling exhibitions.

    ...Read More »
  • #11
    Gaslight Theatre
    View all Photos
    #11 in Tucson
    Entertainment and Nightlife
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're in search of an activity the whole family will enjoy (and one that allows you to escape the heat for a few hours), attend a performance at the Gaslight Theatre. Offering everything from musical comedies and melodramas to Westerns and sci-fi spoofs, the theater receives praise from visitors for its reasonable prices and fun, family-friendly atmosphere. Plus, the theater serves beer and wine, soft drinks, pizza and free popcorn, among other kid-friendly eats.

    ...Read More »
  • #12
    University of Arizona Campus
    View all Photos
    #12 in Tucson
    Museums, Sightseeing, Sports, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing, Sports, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    This sprawling campus in central Tucson boasts several notable attractions. History and culture buffs appreciate the Arizona State Museum and the University of Arizona Museum of Art while shoppers enjoy perusing the numerous vintage and budget-friendly shops near campus. If you're visiting during the fall, head over to the Arizona Stadium to watch the Wildcats take on notable Pac-12 football rivals, while basketball fans can watch the school's team play at the McKale Center come winter and spring.

    ...Read More »
  • The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
    View all Photos
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

  • Historic Bike Tour in Tucson
    View all Photos
    Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Read More »

Explore More of Tucson

Recommended

The 20 Best Michigan State Parks

Two peninsulas, four Great Lakes and innumerable natural highlights elevate Michigan's state parks.

Zach WatsonApril 18, 2019

50 Awesome Vacation Ideas for Every Type of Traveler

Consider these vacation ideas for your next getaway.

Holly JohnsonApril 11, 2019

The 13 Best National Parks in California

You won't regret adding one of these national parks to your California itinerary.

Rachel CenterApril 10, 2019

10 Beautiful Places to Visit in the South of France

Plan a getaway to these special destinations to soak up culture, cuisine and quaint atmospheres.

Gwen PratesiApril 8, 2019

Best Carry-on Luggage of 2019

U.S. News rated the best carry-on luggage, considering recommendations from experts and consumers.

Lyn MettlerApril 3, 2019

The 11 Best Utah National Parks and Monuments to Visit

From birding to bouldering to boating, Utah's national parks have it all.

Zach WatsonApril 2, 2019

The 30 Best Zoos in the U.S.

Get an up-close look at wild creatures in natural settings at America's top animal parks.

Kyle McCarthyMarch 28, 2019

15 Scenic Train Rides to Add to Your Bucket List

Climb aboard these locomotives for jaw-dropping views.

Christine SmithMarch 26, 2019

13 Top Places to Visit in Tuscany, Italy

Ditch the crowded streets of Rome or Milan and head to Italy's picturesque countryside.

Lyn MettlerMarch 25, 2019

10 Excellent Educational Vacations for Families

Make sure your next getaway is both enjoyable and informative.

Holly JohnsonMarch 14, 2019