26 Best Things To Do in Tucson – A Complete Guide to the Desert Southwest

If you’re looking for things to do in Tucson, look no further. This comprehensive guide will show you all the best places and things to see in the area.

Tucson is a beautiful city with a lot to offer its visitors. From historic sites to outdoor adventures, there is something for everyone in this vibrant southwestern town. So pack your bags and get ready for some fun!

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Seven Falls at Sabino CanyonPin

Sabino Canyon is a beautiful place to go hiking. The canyon is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains, northeast of Tucson, Arizona. There are many different trails to choose from, ranging from easy to difficult.

One of the most popular trails is the Seven Falls Trail, which takes you to seven different waterfalls. The trail is about 8.5 miles long out and back and can be a bit challenging in places, but it is well worth it when you reach the falls.

You can take a shuttle from the parking lot to the trailhead, which cuts off about 1 mile each way, but where is the fun in that?

The hike should take about 3-4 hours. The best part is swimming in the pools of water, cooling off and relaxing by the beautiful waterfalls. Sabino Canyon has several trails for all levels of hikers; Seven Falls Trail is just one of them.

So take plenty of water, good hiking shoes, sunblock, and a trail map. Whichever trail you choose, you are sure to have a great time hiking in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.

Sabino Canyon is one of the best things to do in Tucson if you love to be outdoors.

Related: Things to Do In Phoenix

Pima Air and Space Museum

Pima Air & Space Museum entrance signPin

There are many fun things to do in Tucson, and the Pima Air and Space Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in aviation.

It is one of the world’s largest non-government-funded aviation and space museums. The museum is located just south of Tucson and has over 400 aircraft on display.

You can also see many different types of missiles and rockets and various other aerospace memorabilia. The museum sits on 80 acres and has been open since 1976.

The museum offers guided tours, a great way to learn about the different aircraft and see things you might not otherwise notice. Tickets for one day range from $12 – $18, depending on age.

A typical museum visit will last approximately 3-4 hours. The Pima Air and Space Museum is a great place to spend a day if you are interested in aviation or aerospace.

Related: Things To Do In Flagstaff

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro cactus at Saguaro National ParkPin

Saguaro National Park is one of the most popular National Parks in Arizona. Situated near Tucson, the park is home to a unique desert ecosystem.

The park is home to the world’s largest concentration of saguaro cacti. The average saguaro reaches up to 40 feet tall, but some can be as tall as 75 feet. They can live up to about 175 years.

Among its many attractions, the park also features beautiful hiking trails and stunning vistas. Visitors can also explore the park’s rich cultural history, including 800-year-old petroglyphs.

The petroglyphs of the Hohokam people are along the Signal Hill Trail in the Western Tucson Mountain District. Whether you’re looking for adventure or simply want to enjoy a day in the desert, Saguaro National Park is sure to delight you.

Local Restaurants

Tucson is the place to be if you want an authentic and unique dining experience. The city is home to a wide variety of local restaurants that offer a taste of the Southwest.

From traditional Mexican dishes to creative fusion cuisine, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. With the beautiful weather, many of these restaurants have patio dining perfect for soaking up the sun.

Some local favorites are Tito and Pep, a Southwestern bistro with original cocktails and local beers. The Quesadillas is a small restaurant that serves fast, authentic Mexican fare.

Finally, 5 Points Market and Restaurant is an ample open indoor space that serves New American dishes and sells local produce, eggs, and cheese. It’s one of a kind and worth checking out.

So next time you’re in Tucson, check out some of these local gems. You won’t be disappointed!

Related: Things to do in Scottsdale

Tohono Chul

Tohono Chul is a unique botanical garden at the base of the Catalina Mountains. Tohono Chul means “desert corner” in the O’odham language and is truly a hidden gem in the desert.

The gardens are beautiful and full of cacti and other native plants. In addition to the gardens, there is also an art gallery on-site with rotating exhibitions.

The gardens have unique art sculptures complimenting the desert landscape. The Garden Bistro is delicious and has a menu that changes depending on the local produce in season.

Make sure to leave time to explore the gift shop, where you can find unique gifts made by local artists. The gardens and galleries cover about 50 acres, plan to spend a few hours here.

Tohono Chul is a great place to learn about the desert and escape the heat for a little while.

Related: Things to do in Sedona

Reid Park Zoo

Reid Park Zoo is one of the best places to visit in Tucson, especially if you have kids. The zoo is home to more than 500 animals, including lions, tigers, and bears.

My favorite animals to watch are the meerkats. They have so much personality. In addition to seeing the animals, you can also learn about their habitats and how they live.

Feeding a giraffe is an experience you’ll never forget. The zoo also has several educational programs, making it a great place to visit for families.

If you’re looking for a place to cool off on a hot day, the zoo has a splash pad and a café with ice cream and other treats. Reid Park Zoo is extremely affordable, only $6-$10 daily.

Whether you’re a local or a tourist, Reid Park Zoo is one of the best things to do in Tucson.

Tucson Botanical Gardens

The Tucson Botanical Gardens are a hidden gem in the middle of the desert. The 16 residentially scaled urban gardens cover about 5.5 acres.

Some gardens include a Zen Garden, a Prehistoric Garden, a Barrio Garden, and a Children’s Gardens. There is always something new to see, with rotating exhibits and special events throughout the year.

The tropical butterflies from around the world are at the Cox Butterfly and Orchid Pavilion from October – May. Edna’s Eatery is a way to experience some local, fresh foods for breakfast or lunch.

It is located in the peaceful Xeriscape Garden Patio. The cost is only $8-$15, depending on age. Plan to spend about 2 -3 hours at the gardens.

Whether you are looking for a place to escape the heat or simply want to enjoy some time outdoors, the Tucson Botanical Gardens are an ideal destination.

Gaslight Theatre

The Gaslight Theatre is one of Tucson’s most beloved landmarks. Nestled in the city’s heart, the theatre has entertained locals and visitors for over 40 years.

Today, the Gaslight puts on musical comedy melodramas six nights a week. The show changes about five times a year.

Ghostblasters and The Wizard of The Rings are some hilarious spoofs they perform. They even have their own version of Christmas Vacation during the holidays.

The actors and actresses are in fantastic costumes, and the band makes the show even more fun. Enjoy drinks, snacks, and loads of popcorn while laughing the night away.

Tickets cost $15-$27, depending on age. No matter what your taste, there’s sure to be a show that will lift your spirits.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway

Winding through the stunning Santa Catalina mountains, the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is one of the most impressive drives in Tucson. 

The scenic byway begins in the desert foothills and ascends over 9,000 feet to the top of Mount Lemmon. The 27-mile pass will take you through various ecosystems along the way.

From cactus-studded hillsides to maple, oak, and aspen forests, the scenery is constantly changing and always beautiful. Along the way, numerous pull-offs and vista points allow you to stop and enjoy the view.

The Byway also passes by several popular recreation areas such as Sabino Canyon and Ski Valley. You will be surprised by the temperature change at the top of Mount Lemmon.

It is usually about 25 degrees cooler. So if you’re looking for a leisurely drive, the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is sure to please.

Tombstone

Tombstone ArizonaPin

A little over an hour southeast lies the historic town of Tombstone.

A former silver mining town, Tombstone is best known for its role in the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” a notorious showdown between lawmen and outlaws in 1881.

Today, Tombstone is a popular tourist destination, offering a glimpse into the Wild West. Visitors can explore the town’s many historic sites, including the O.K. Corral, Boothill Graveyard, and Bird Cage Theatre.

They can also enjoy various Old West-themed activities, such as stagecoach rides and reenactments of the showdown. You also can enjoy a gunfighter and ghost tour.

Tombstone is a great day trip and fun for the whole family. There is no admission fee for entering Tombstone, but some attractions and shows have a fee.

Attractions range from $5-$15, depending on the show or event. With its rich history and unique atmosphere, Tombstone is an excellent day trip if you stay in the Tucson area.

University of Arizona Museum of Art

The University of Arizona Museum of Art is one of the best places to view fine art from the Renaissance Era to the present. The art museum contains over 5,000 pieces of art.

The museum has something for everyone, from painting and sculpture to photography and video. Its commitment to education makes the University of Arizona Museum of Art truly unique.

In addition to the indoor museum, the campus has over 40 outdoor public sculptures. Strolling around the beautiful U of A campus is a great way to spend the afternoon.

The art museum costs $8 but is free to college students and staff.

Whether you’re a seasoned art lover or someone who’s just starting to explore the world of visual culture, the University of Arizona Museum of Art is sure to have something for you.

Golf

Tucson, Arizona, is well known for its many golf courses. With over 300 days of sun per year, it’s no wonder that so many people flock to Tucson to golf.

The mild winter climate also makes it an ideal destination for those who want to avoid the cold weather. In addition to the great weather, Tucson also offers a variety of courses to choose from.

Some local favorite public courses are The Gold Club at Dove Mountain, Ventana Canyon Golf, and Sewailo Golf Club. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced golfer, you’ll be able to find a course that suits your level of play.

With so many courses near each other, you can easily hop from one course to the next without traveling far. With its excellent weather and abundant golfing options, Tucson is truly a paradise for golfers.

San Xavier del Bac Mission

San Xavier del Bac Mission is a beautiful example of Spanish Colonial architecture, and it’s located just a short drive from Tucson. The mission was founded in 1700, and the current church was completed in 1797.

The church’s exterior is adorned with intricate carvings and statuary, and the interior is decorated with beautiful murals and altarpieces. The mission is known as the white dove of the desert.

You feel like you are in a European cathedral when you step inside. The mission is still an active parish, and Mass is held daily. Visitors are welcome to explore the church grounds and visit the gift shop.

There is no admission to San Xavier Mission, but donations are gladly accepted.

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is a world-renowned 98-acre zoo and museum. It showcases the unique desert ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert region.

Visitors can explore the museum’s wide variety of exhibits, including a cactus garden, a live animal exhibit, and a hummingbird aviary. The museum also has an aquarium and an art gallery. 

In addition, the museum offers educational programs and tours that provide insight into the desert’s ecology and history. Admission ranges from $14-$25, and children under 3 are free.

Plan to spend several hours at the museum and come with good walking shoes. There are plenty of options for eating too. The Ironwood Terraces serve casual and kid-friendly food.

The Ocotillo Cafe is casual dining with local ingredients to give you a taste of the Southwest. The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum should be on your list of places to visit.

Wineries and Vineyards

The Sonoita wine country is just a short drive from Tucson. It offers a chance to explore some of Arizona’s best wineries and vineyards.

The region is home to a diverse range of wines, from crisp whites to full-bodied reds. There are plenty of opportunities to taste and learn about the local vintages.

Several wineries offer tours and tastings, and many also have charming restaurants and shops on site. In addition, the scenic Sonoita countryside makes for a beautiful setting to while away an afternoon.

Whether you’re a wine enthusiast or simply looking for a pleasant day trip, the Sonoita wine country is well worth visiting. The Arizona Winery Tours offers day trips to some of the best wineries and vineyards.

They travel to three different vineyards on a luxury bus. There is plenty of wine tasting, and they provide a delicious lunch. Prices start at $129, but it is a unique day trip that you won’t forget.

Catalina State Park

View at Catalina State Park in TucsonPin

If you’re looking for a beautiful place to hike near Tucson, look no further than Catalina State Park. Located just north of the city, Catalina State Park offers visitors beautiful desert vistas and miles of trails to explore.

So whether you’re an experienced hiker or just getting started, there’s a trail for you at Catalina State Park. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot some wildlife while out on the trails.

Catalina State Park is a great place to visit, especially during cooler months. The Canyon Loop Trail is a personal favorite. 

It is 2.3 miles and takes about 90 minutes for the entire loop. You can expect to see vibrant flowers and shrubs along the way.

The Canyon Loop crosses a wash several times, so bring shoes appropriate for this. It is always a treat to see water out in the desert, and the vegetation is lush compared to dryer parts of the desert.

Several hikes for all abilities ranging from less than a mile to about 9 miles.

DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun

DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun is a must-see for any art lover visiting Tucson. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the gallery showcases the work of famed artist Ted DeGrazia, who was known for his vibrant paintings and sculpture.

Visitors can tour the gallery to see DeGrazia’s work and learn about his life and work through interactive exhibits. The gallery is located in a beautiful adobe structure with permanent and rotating exhibits.

The property is 10 acres and has a gift shop and Ted DeGrazia’s home. The gallery also offers a variety of hands-on activities, such as painting and sculpture classes, making it the perfect place to spend a creative day.

Admission fees are $5-$9 depending on age; 11 and under get in free. So whether you’re an art enthusiast or simply looking for a unique experience, DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun will inspire you.

Karchner Caverns

Karchner Caverns is a U.S. National Natural Landmark and state park in southern Arizona. The park is home to a half-mile-long cave system with stalactite and stalagmite formations. 

Many of the formations you will see have been slowly growing for tens of thousands of years. Karchner Caverns is home to one of the largest straw stalactites in the world at 21 feet long.

Visitors can take guided tours of the caves, which are open year-round. In addition to the cave system, the park also offers hiking trails, picnic areas, and camping sites.

Karchner Caverns is a great place to explore the natural world and learn about the area’s geology. The Rotunda/Throne Tour is about half a mile in length and takes about 90 minutes to complete.

Depending on age, this tour costs $13-$23; children under age 7 are $5. The Big Room tour is also half a mile in length but takes almost 2 hours to complete.

The cost is the same, but children under age seven are not allowed on the Big Room Tour. 

The Big Room tour is only available from mid-April to mid-October. Reservations are not required but strongly encouraged. Visting Karchner Caverns is a unique, one-of-a-kind day trip from the Tucson area.

Valley of the Moon

The Valley of the Moon is a children’s fantasy park and a historic landmark in Tucson. It is an enchanted fairyland where kids and adults can dress up and pretend to be fairy or medieval characters.

It is an artist-created environment with a medieval castle and an enchanted forest. The Valley of the Moon puts on plays and shows too. They are only open on the first and third Sundays of each month.

Admission is only $10 for adults and $5 for students, and children are free. Plan to spend 1-2 hours there and let your imagination go wild. The Valley of the Moon is a magical place your kids will never forget.

Tucson Bike Tours

Tucson is home to a wide variety of historic districts, each with its unique style and history. One great way to explore these districts is by bike.

Tucson Bike Tours offers various tour options, highlighting different aspects of the city’s history and architecture. The tours are led by experienced guides familiar with the city’s history and can provide insights into the different districts.

Best of all, biking is a great way to see the city at your own pace and get some exercise at the same time. So whether you’re a local or a visitor, Tucson Bike Tours is a great way to learn more about the city’s history and culture.

They offer tours for all levels of bikers. The Historic City Bike Tour is about 9 miles long, and you will see historic old barrios to modern academia.

The Mural Bike Tour is about 7 miles long and takes you past 35 funky outdoor murals. Both of these tours are $5.

Fox Tucson Theatre

The Fox Tucson Theatre is a historic movie palace in Tucson, Arizona. The theatre opened its doors in 1930 and operated initially as a vaudeville venue.

In the 1940s, the theatre became a movie house and a popular destination for filmgoers in the Tucson area. Today, the Fox Tucson Theatre is one of the few remaining examples of an iconic Art Deco movie palace.

The theatre is also home to a unique collection of vintage cinema posters and lobby cards. In addition to its historical significance, the Fox Tucson Theatre is known for its state-of-the-art sound and projection system.

The theatre offers a variety of live music, such as classic rock, blues, jazz, and country. They also host several comedians and dance performances. The Fox Tucson Theatre makes you feel like you stepped back in time.

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 Pin

Biosphere 2 is a closed system consisting of five ecosystems: tropical rainforest, savanna grassland, desert, marsh, and ocean with a coral reef.

It was initially built to be an isolated environment where a team of Biospherians lived and worked on testing out the survivability of the Biosphere.

It is now open to the public as a research facility and educational center. Visitors can take tours of the different biomes, participate in hands-on activities, and learn about the ongoing research projects at Biosphere 2.

It is a unique experience to walk from tropical rainforest to a dry desert landscape, all in a sealed environment. The tour guides were very knowledgeable and shared fun facts with us on tour.

The tour takes about 90 minutes and costs $15-$25, depending on age. Kids 5 and under are free. Biosphere 2 is worth the drive and is a great day trip for the whole family.

St. Philip’s Plaza Market

St. Philip’s Plaza Market in Tucson is the best place to find fresh produce, local goods, and delicious food.

The outdoor market is open every Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 12 pm and is located in downtown Tucson’s heart. There are a wide variety of vendors, so you will find something you love.

The produce is always fresh and locally sourced, and the prices are unbeatable. In addition, to produce, the market also features a hot food section with a rotating menu of items cooked fresh each week.

Be sure to try the churros! St. Philip’s Plaza Market is an excellent place to find unique original art, including handmade jewelry, pottery, and more.

It is the perfect spot to find a souvenir or a gift that is locally made and one-of-a-kind.

Southern Arizona Transportation Museum

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is a hidden gem in the heart of Tucson. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of transportation in the region.

It features many exhibits on everything from early stagecoaches to modern trains. Visitors can explore the museum at their own pace, and there are plenty of interactive displays for kids to enjoy.

Best of all, admission to the museum is free. So whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon, the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is definitely worth visiting.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Located just outside the city of Tucson, Colossal Cave Mountain Park is one of Arizona’s most popular tourist destinations. The park is home to a massive cave system.

Visitors can explore the cave system on guided tours, which are offered daily. In addition to the caves, the park also offers hiking trails, picnicking areas, and camping sites.

The park is open year-round, and its convenient location makes it an excellent option for a day trip or a weekend if you want to go camping.

So whether you’re interested in spelunking or simply enjoying a hike in the desert, Colossal Cave Mountain Park is sure to please. Colossal Cave is one of the more unique things to do in Tucson

Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park is great for hiking, moutain biking, and horseback riding. In addition, the park is home to various desert plants and animals and covers about  20,000 acres.

Hikers can explore more than 50 miles of trails, and picnickers can enjoy spectacular city views. The park also has restrooms, picnic areas, and a campground.

Tucson Mountain Park is a favorite destination for locals and visitors, offering something for everyone to enjoy.

Wrapping Up

There are so many things to do in Tucson, that it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve highlighted just a few of our favorite places and activities in the area. Whether you’re interested in history, science, nature, or just good old-fashioned fun, Tucson has something for everyone.

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About the author
Steve
Steve is the owner of Paddle About, a blog that's all about helping people get out and enjoy nature. He loves to kayak, camp, hike and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not out exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.