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 the University of Arizona students at bars on the historic Fourth Avenue.
The robust colors of centuries-old frescoes and sacred beauty of Mission San Xavier del Bac call out to you with the opportunity to explore the best example of Spanish colonial architecture remaining to be seen in America. The shining steel of a 1959 Boeing Superfortress is among hundreds of magnificent aircraft at Pima Air & Space Museum. At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, you’ll experience the wide variety of animal and plant life in the Sonoran Desert, one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. In Tucson, you’ll discover a place with more things to do than your heart and mind can imagine.
Things To Do In Tucson Today
Tucson is located in Pima County in the state of Arizona. The second-largest city in Arizona after Phoenix, Tucson has a population of over 500,000 inhabitants and is also home to the University of Arizona. The city is north of the US-Mexico border and is heavily influenced by the desert region in which it stands. On a visit to Tucson, expect beautiful architecture, leafy gardens, desert flora and fauna, traditional activities such as panning for gold, and an abundance of Mexican inspired food and beverages. Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Tuscon:
1. Head for the desert at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Sprawling over 98 acres and featuring an aquarium, zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum, and art gallery, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum can be found to the west of Tucson. The museum focuses on educating visitors regarding the various flora and fauna that can be found in the Sonoran Desert region, and houses of 200 species of desert animals and over 1,000 types of plants. This unusual museum is one of the most visited attractions in Arizona and attracts over 400,000 travelers per year, and is made up of different exhibitions that provide both historical and contemporary explanations of wildlife and plant life. Some of these include ‘Rivers to the Sea’, ‘Cat Canyon’, and ‘Life on the Rocks’.
2. Hike the Sabino Canyon
Located just north of Tucson, the Sabino Canyon is nestled in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest. The canyon offers magnificent trails, majestic views, and hiking and trekking opportunities. Surprisingly, considering that the canyon is located in the desert, there is also Sabino Creek nearby which features waterfalls that can be admired and crossed by a bridge. For visitors who prefer not to hike, there is a tram through the canyon that has nine stops along the way.
3. Explore the trails of Saguaro National Park
A member of the United States National Park System, the park is actually split across two separate locations to the east and west of Tucson. Parts of the Rincon Mountains, the Tucson Mountains, and the Sonoran Desert are all located within the park. The name ‘saguaro’ was actually given to the park after the name of an indigenous cactus that grows there and visitors can witness these cacti up close on one of the many treks available around the park. Hiking trails, long and short, are marked and available to all different levels of fitness and endurance, although the park authorities advise that visitors do not attempt long hikes in the more remote parts of the park in the summer months when temperatures rise considerably.
4. Become a botanist at Tucson Botanical Garden
For visitors wanting to go for a stroll surrounded by nature then look no further than Tucson Botanical Gardens, a large compound made up of 16 individual gardens. The garden complex is spread over 5 acres and is known for providing a moment of quiet respite in the sometimes frantic city. The gardens are themed to promote the best of the Arizona flora to visitors, including a children’s garden, a Zen garden, and a butterfly garden. There is also a gallery located within the complex that has a series of rotating exhibitions and installations on various themes regarding botanical interest in the Arizona area including desert plants.
5. Walk on the wild side at Reid Park Zoo
Established in the 1960s, Reid Park Zoo spans over 20 acres and is home to over 500 species of animals. The zoo is split into four different zones and features animals from bears, to elephants, to giant tortoises. Veterinarians also work at the faculty and the zoo is a firm favorite in the city as the local population has raised money over the years to take care of the animals and provide them with the best level of care available. Visitors can see animals from all over the world in the zoo as well as indigenous species.
Things To Do In Tucson This Weekend
Saguaro National Park is amazing but unusual as it is divided into two parts – East and West – which are separated by the city of Tucson.
Both sides of these Tucson parks offer something special and are worth visiting.
If you had to choose one, Saguaro National Park West would probably offer a little more in terms of interesting hikes and stunning landscapes.
Of course, the Saguaro National Park is home to the saguaro cactus, which I just can’t get enough of seeing, and getting up close and learning about these plants is one of the best things to do in Arizona with kids – I only wish I could hug one!
Be warned cactus can hurt, as Kalyra discovered when she was attacked by a jumping cholla.
Read more about that and our visit to these National Parks here.
Hike Sabino Canyon
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the Santa Catalina Mountains is a delightful place to spend a few hours or even a few days.
I can understand why this is a playground for the locals, and hiking here is one of the most popular things to do in Tucson AZ.
Filled with hiking trails, saguaro forests, riparian creeks, waterfalls, and swimming holes, there is plenty to do in Sabino Canyon.
We spent the afternoon hiking one of the Sabino Canyon trails through quite diverse environments and enjoying a picnic under the shade of a few trees. The girls loved the creek crossings here.
You can read more about our time and things to do in Sabino Canyon here.
What’s cool in Tucson?
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Large multipurpose museum. …
- Callaghan Vineyards. Award-winning vineyard. …
- Museum of Contemporary Art. Seasonal exhibits. …
- El Charro Café Famous Mexican cuisine. …
- Arizona State Museum. Oldest and largest anthropology museum. …
- Saguaro National Park. Large desert national park. …
Kitt Peak National Observatory.
What fun things are there to do in Tucson Arizona?
- Head for the desert at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. …
- Hike the Sabino Canyon. …
- Explore the trails of Saguaro National Park. …
- Become a botanist at Tucson Botanical Garden. …
- Walk on the wild side at Reid Park Zoo. …
- Explore Tohono Chul Park. …
- Learn all about aerospace at the Pima Air & Space Museum.
What is Tucson known for?
Catalina State Park Hiking
Catalina State Park is a gorgeous place to enjoy one of the top Tucson activities, hiking! And we also recommend staying and camping.
We LOVED the campsite here but unfortunately, it was full and we could only get one night.
I loved the natural beauty of this state park. It felt very magical with its bubbling creeks running through the valley and saguaro cactus standing sentinel on the hills.
The trails can be easily accessed from the campsite with a couple you can also bike on.
We cycled along the trail from our campsite, then hiked the Canyon Loop Trail which started by quite a large river crossing. There were a couple more creek crossings along the way.
Explore Downtown Tucson
Go mural hunting
Though we did enjoy the murals that we kept running into while downtown, so keeps an eye out for them and cameras at the ready!
So go mural hunting all over town and see the historical (and colorful) adobe homes near Five Points.
We also had quite a delicious lunch at the HUB Restaurant & Ice Creamery.
Fun Things To Do In Tucson
Pima Air & Space Museum in the United States’ largest privately funded air and space museum. The centerpiece is an 80-acre outdoor exhibition area featuring more than 300 aircraft. The collection spans the full breadth of the air age, from the days of the Wright brothers to the cutting edge of commercial aviation. (There’s a 787 Dreamliner on-site.) Free and ticketed events, including kid-friendly demonstrations and shows, round out the offerings here.
If you have time, check out the 2,600-acre military boneyard in the desert. Pima Air & Space Museum is the sole vendor approved to give bus tours of the vast, secure space; for aviation buffs, it’s a once-in-a-great-while opportunity to see decommissioned planes in every imaginable state of repair. You’ll need a two-day ticket to see the main collection and boneyard together.
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If you’re new to the desert, Tucson Botanical Gardens is a must-see. Though it’s $4 dearer, it’s worth your while to visit during the cooler months, when many of the park’s blooms make their appearance. For a slightly cooler evening experience, visit on Thursday or Friday. The Canadian Garden Council named Tucson Botanical Gardens a “top 10 garden worth traveling for,” so you know it’s legit.
In My Experience: $13 per adult is nothing to sneeze at, but full-price admission to Tucson Botanical Gardens is still just half the price of Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden. If you’re visiting both cities on your trip to the desert, but only have the budget for one world-class xeriscape, make it
Things To Do In Tucson Arizona
Proudly known as one of the largest air and space museums in the world, aerospace buffs can see over 300 aircraft and spacecraft at the facility that has a span of over 80 acres. The museum is nongovernment funded and raises revenue through ticket sales and admissions and started from humble beginnings in the 1970s with 48 aircraft to the powerhouse that it is today. For visitors interested in the history of the United States Air Force there is a historical tour through the ages, and there is even a replica of a control tower on site.
Get spiritual at San Xavier del Bac
Situated in downtown Tucson, San Xavier del Bac is a Spanish Catholic Mission that sits on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. The mission takes its name from a Christian missionary who is also hailed as the co-founder of the Jesuit Order, Francis Xavier. Built-in the 18th Century, the site is often considered some of the finest Spanish colonial architecture in the United States. It is open to the public daily and attracts over 200,000 visitors a year many of whom consider the site a pilgrimage. Still run by Franciscan members of the Christian community, tourists can savor the serene atmosphere in one of the oldest European buildings in Arizona.
Raise your sights at Sentinel Peak
Southwest of Tucson, nestled in the Tucson Mountains, lies Sentinel Peak. The peak is often wrongly perceived to be the result of a dormant volcano because the surrounding land is volcanic and said to date back 20 million years. The peak offers trekking and hiking opportunities for travelers but one of the highlights is the scenic views over Tucson Valley and across the city of Tucson.
Step onto a movie set at Old Tucson Studios
For movie buffs and fans of old school Westerns, a trip to Old Tucson Studios is not to be missed. The studios stand next to the Tucson Mountains and were built specifically as the location for the famous movies Little House on the Prairie, Gunfight at the O.K Corral, and Arizona. The studios have now also been developed into a theme park where visitors can take a tour complete with historical explanations and live-action performances that include gunfights and stuntmen and women.
Enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation at the Cathedral of Saint Augustine
Best Things To Do In Tucson
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.