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.
Updated May 25, 2018
- #1View all Photos#1 in TucsonMuseums, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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.
Recent visitors enjoyed their time at the museum and highly recommended future travelers set aside a few hours to explore the attraction's grounds and educational exhibits. Just make sure you come prepared: wear appropriate walking shoes, sun protection and sunscreen (though, if you forget your sunscreen, there are dispensers in the on-site bathrooms). Reviewers also advised stopping by in the morning or near closing as that's when the animals are most active. Aside from the flora and fauna, visitors also praised the knowledgeable docents.
- #2View all Photos#2 in TucsonHiking, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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).
Recent visitors highly recommended making the drive, which many described as "spectacular" and a "must-do" when in Tucson. Along with the stunning vantage point, the ride up also provides a reprieve from the desert heat; travelers said the temperature drops as you climb higher along the byway. Take advantage of the scenic overlooks and rest areas by bringing along a picnic – another recommendation from past visitors.
- #3View all Photos#3 in TucsonHiking, Parks and GardensTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Parks and GardensTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME 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.
Deemed a national treasure by recent visitors, this park is the perfect place to come if you want to see some iconic southwestern landscapes. Although both sections of the park are worth your time, many recent visitors recommend the Tucson Mountain District over the Rincon Mountain area for its spectacular sunsets. Reviewers also noted that fall and spring are the best times to visit the park as the summer's heat can get quite unbearable, with temperatures climbing into the triple digits. If you're visiting in the summer, get to the park in the morning before the sun's rays get too strong. Not in the mood to hike? The Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive is a paved road that features several trailheads, scenic vistas and pullouts. You can purchase a guide to the natural and cultural history of the Cactus Forest Loop Drive for $2 at the visitor center.
- #4View all Photos#4 in TucsonParks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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.
Recent visitors said a stop here is a must if you want to take in some beautiful desert scenery while in Tucson (and not just from the seat of your car). Reviewers recommended taking the tram to the top and getting off to hike back down to the visitor center. Travelers also suggested planning your visit for the spring (when the canyon's flowers are in full bloom) or during monsoon season (mid-June to the end of September), when waterfalls form in certain areas of the canyon (especially around Hutch's Pools).
- #5View all Photos
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.
Recent visitors said that this is a must-see when in Tucson and strongly recommended taking a guided tour, offered by Patronato San Xavier, a nonprofit that raises money to preserve and restore the mission. Tours are offered Monday through Saturday; visit Patronato's website for specific tour times. Though reviewers gushed over the mission's beauty, they also warned that the neighborhood is not as nice as other parts of Tucson.
- #6View all Photos#6 in TucsonMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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).
Recent visitors described the museum as "fascinating" and praised the on-site volunteers for their extensive knowledge of each plane's historical significance. Reviewers also noted this was a great educational stop for the kids and highly recommended forking over a little extra coin to take the "Boneyard" tour.
- #7View all Photos#7 in TucsonHiking, Parks and GardensTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Parks and GardensTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME 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.
Recent visitors called the park a "feast for the eyes" and said the high bird population is "astounding." Thanks to its location about 40 miles north of downtown Tucson, the park makes for an easy daytrip, according to reviewers. Along with views and trails, travelers were also quick to praise the cleanliness of the park's facilities. In addition to restrooms, the park also offers picnic tables, grills, campsites, camping cabins and shower facilities.
- #8View all Photos#8 in TucsonMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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 the early 1900s until 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.
The museum receives positive reviews from its visitors, particularly if you consider yourself a dedicated car lover. Recent visitors suggested planning to spend around 90 minutes at the museum and warn that its hidden gem status comes at the cost of being located on a dirt road.
- #9View all Photos#9 in TucsonMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME 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.
Many recent visitors praised the diversity of the exhibits and their unique setting. However, some note that the museum's size has hindered the growth of its collections (it is currently building a large, new wing). In addition to the museum's artworks, it also receives kudos from reviewers for its on-site gift shop and cafe.
- #10View all Photos#10 in TucsonZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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.
Many family visitors said a stop at the zoo is a must and said its small size was perfect for little legs to navigate. Reviewers also praised the water park, which they said was a great way for kids to cool off in the heat. Additionally, travelers recommended paying the extra $3 to feed the giraffes.
- #11View all Photos#11 in TucsonEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME 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.
You'll find the theater about 5 miles east of downtown Tucson. From Monday through Thursday, shows and concerts start at 7 p.m.; on Friday, shows begin at 6 and 8:30 p.m. There are three shows presented on Saturday and Sunday. Reviewers said shows sell out fast, so plan to purchase your tickets in advance. Tickets cost $21.95 for adults, $19.95 for seniors, students and military members, and $11.95 for children 12 and younger. Keep in mind these prices do not include tax. Check the theater's website for more information on schedules and performances showing at the theater.
- #12View all Photos#12 in TucsonMuseums, Sightseeing, Sports, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Sightseeing, Sports, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME 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.
The University of Arizona campus also makes a great place to simply enjoy the nice weather. Some travelers suggest you visit when classes are in session because the grounds are peaceful and the palm trees and fountains on campus add to the warm-weather ambiance. And don't forget to stop by the university bookstore to pick up some Wildcat gear before you leave.
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