Experience The Magic Of Tucson: 28 Things To Do In Tucson

Last Updated 23 Apr 2024 by Fiona Perisone

In the Sonoran Desert's heart, Tucson is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. With its rich history, stunning natural landscapes, and vibrant culture, this city is a destination that promises to leave a lasting impression. Whether you're an outdoor adventurer, foodie, or art aficionado, Tucson has something to offer for everyone. From hiking the rugged mountain trails to exploring the city's colorful art scene, there is no shortage of exciting things to do in Tucson.

Take your pick from our compilation of these unique and interesting things you can (and should) do in Tucson! So pack your bags and embark on an adventure you will never forget.

28 Things to do in Tucson 

1. Brave the Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Source: Flickr

This park is one of the largest dry caverns in North America. But apart from offering an excellent opportunity to experience the Sonoran Desert, it also served as a temporary shelter for the Hohokam, prehistoric North American Indians. 

You can opt for a cave tour to check out the calcite crystals and hear about their history and lore. The sprawling 2,400-acre park boasts an array of exciting outdoor activities to enjoy, including hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. It also has two museums, a butterfly garden, and wagon rides, along with a lovely Terrace Café where you can grab a quick bite. 

2. Check out the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniature

Mini Time Machine Museum Of Miniature

Source: Flickr

"Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional." — Liz Vassey. 

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is an interactive and educational hotspot — a must-visit for anyone who has an appreciation of all things tiny. 

The 10,000-square-foot quirky museum features over 500 displays of dollhouses, room boxes, and more from different times, adventures, art, history, and lands — a collection dating from the 1740s! It's a place brimming with exceptional artistry and craftwork, so don't be surprised if you end up spending several hours there!

3. Explore the Space at Pima Air & Space Museum

Pima Air & Space Museum

Source: Unsplash

If you're even slightly curious about space exploration, visiting the Pima Air & Space Museum is non-negotiable. Enter the museum and step back in time as you take a historical tour to learn how aircraft have evolved over the years. The gallery features a variety of exhibits and displays related to space exploration, including replicas of spacecraft, spacesuits, and space tools. Here, aero buffs can feast their eyes on over 400 historical artifacts and exhibits, from the Wright Flyer that dates back to 1903 to the record-breaking Lockheed SR-71. 

4. Stop By the Fort Lowell Museum 

Fort Lowell Museum

Source: Flickr

A visit to the Fort Lowell Museum will be a treat to history buffs. The museum initially operated as a U.S. army officer's post in the late 1800s. Today, the Arizona Historical Society oversees this museum, offering visitors a brief insight into military life during the Apache wars. 

Visitors can also indulge in soap and candle-making here, making it the perfect place to understand how history runs its course while keeping yourself rooted in the present. 

5. Go Off Road at the Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway

Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway

Source: Unsplash

Also known as Catalina Highway Scenic Drive and Sky Islands Scenic Byway, the Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway is ideal for catching a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. This 60-mile gorgeous round trip offers a quiet retreat with stunning views. 

En route, you'll get to see unforgettable views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, various ecosystems, and a wide range of flora, from cacti to towering pine trees. There are also numerous trails, climbing routes, and campaign sites along the way, some of which require a pass for you to enjoy!

6. Go on a Family Outing to Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Source: Unsplash

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a must-visit for nature lovers and anyone interested in learning about the diverse ecology of the Sonoran Desert. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum offers a complete outdoor experience of magnificent natural attractions. It is a unique attraction in Tucson that combines a botanical garden, zoo, natural history museum, and aquarium all in one. With the incredible array of flora and fauna it boasts, this is a piece of heaven on earth. It's spread across 98 acres and hosts 1,000 types of plants and 230 species of animals like foxes, hummingbirds, and coyotes, as well as endangered species like jaguarundi, margay, and Mexican wolves in their natural habitat. 

You can explore the museum's exhibits, including a hummingbird aviary, a walk-through cave, and a desert garden, and participate in daily animal presentations and guided tours. If you feel hungry, grab a bite at one of the three eateries. Remember that you'll be walking most of the time, so dress accordingly. 

If you are torn between Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Reid Park Zoo. Both are very popular Tucson attractions and offer plenty of opportunities to learn and explore, but the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum provides a more immersive experience in the Sonoran Desert region ecosystem, while Reid Park Zoo focuses on animals from around the world.

7. Keep Young Minds Thriving at the Children's Museum

Children's Museum

Source: Tripadvisor

The interactive Children's Museum has play-based, hands-on learning activities to entertain kiddos of all ages. Many exhibits, from arts to music to science to nature, help children get familiar with how the real world works in a fun way. 

There's also an enclosed outdoor space where kids can play at the water table, ball wall, or any other fun games.

8. Pay a Visit to the Garden of Gethsemane

Garden Of Gethsemane

Source: Flickr

The long-standing Garden of Gethsemane is a leafy oasis of cool featuring stonework sculptures — many depicting biblical scenes like the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. The garden features over 200 species of plants, including cacti, succulents, and trees, like olive trees, pomegranate trees, fig trees, and grapevines. You can stroll through the various paths and admire the diverse range of flora on display. There are also several water features, such as a pond and a waterfall, which add to the tranquil atmosphere of the garden.

Located beyond the bank of the Santa Cruz River on West Congress Street, this peaceful setting in the small park is open from dawn to dusk. So, if you're looking to escape the balmy hot temperatures of Tucson, this is where you need to be. 

9. Stumble in Time at Old Tucson

Old Tucson

Source: Flickr

The Old Tucson studio, nicknamed "Hollywood in the Desert," is a family-friendly destination that screams fun! Columba Pictures first built the studio in 1939. It has sprawling sets that have made it into 400+ spectacular movies and TV shows like Rio Bravo, Little House on the Prairie, and Gunfight at the O.K Corral. 

With theme park rides like stagecoaches, replica saloons to visit, live-action performances, and gunslingers, you're sure to have an enchanting experience at this wonderful Wild West delight. 

10. Take a Scroll Surrounded by Nature at the Tucson Botanical Gardens

Tucson Botanical Gardens

Source: Flickr

The Tucson Botanical Gardens is a 5.5-acre property that's the picture of calm and tranquility. You can witness a variety of lush gardens, home to bromeliads, roses, herbs, cacti, orchids, palms, and succulents. It has outdoor-themed gardens like the enchanting Barrio Gardens, the peaceful Zen Garden, and many more, each with unique landscapes and connecting paths. 

If you want to make the most out of your visit, be sure to watch the spectacular flowers at Cox Butterfly and Orchid Pavilion. You can also stop for a bite at Edna's eatery and bring souvenirs home from one of the gift shops. 

11. Unwind at Yume Japanese Gardens

Yume Japanese Gardens

Source: Flickr

Located next to Tuscon Yume Japanese Gardens is a serene and peaceful oasis. The garden was created in 2013 to honor the beauty of traditional Japanese gardens and culture.

The garden features authentic Japanese landscaping and design, including a koi pond, waterfalls, a teahouse, and a Zen garden. Here, you can stroll through the winding pathways and admire the carefully placed stones, trees, and plants.

12. Trek across the Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Source: Unsplash

Saguaro National Park is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor explorers. Visiting this park is one of the best things to do in Tucson for anyone looking to spend some time in the great outdoors. The Saguaro National park is a 20-30 minute drive from the city of Tucson and is split across two locations on each side of Tucson. The park is home to the iconic Saguaro cactus, which can grow up to 40 feet tall and live for over 200 years. In the park, you can expect to see dramatic desert landscapes through Rincon Mountains, the Tucson Mountains, and even the Sonoran Desert. The park gets its name from the gigantic indigenous cacti it is dedicated to, the tallest species in North America.

The Saguaro National park shows the extensive beauty of the southwest region through a range of hiking trails where you can also spot wildlife if you're lucky enough. It also has the Bajada loop drive, perfect for clicking some Instagram-worthy snaps.

If you want to experience the park's beauty up close and personal, camping at Saguaro National park is a must. The park offers two campgrounds: Rincon Mountain District (located on the eastern side) and Tucson Mountain District (located on the western side). Both campgrounds offer tent and RV camping, and each site has a picnic table and fire pit with a grill.

13. Unwind at the Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon

Source: Unsplash

The Sabino Canyon is the most impressive natural formation you'll lay your eyes on. Its monumental size, gorgeous scenery, and unusual desert vegetation make it one of the most popular spots for nature lovers. You can go for a hike to enjoy the ultimate Tuscan experience. 

For anyone who'd rather relax and take in the natural scenery, there's an on-site tram that'll give you a similar experience to the stunning sites. There are waterfalls nearby that are worth making the trip for! But if you are in the mood for adventure, go chase waterfalls at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.

14. Visit the San Xavier del Bac Mission 

San Xavier Del Bac Mission

Source: Unsplash

Delve deep into the history of Tuscan at one of the most beautiful churches in the area, the San Xavier del Bac Mission. Also known as the "White Dove of the Desert," the church was built in the 18th century by Jesuit Francis Xavier. This legendary monument is famous for its Baroque architecture, influenced by different architectural styles like Renaissance and Mexican. 

The white adobe facade, colorful frescoes, carvings, paintings, religious figures, and statues are a spectacle to behold. A 20-minute video is available to get you familiar with the attraction. 

15. Walk on the Wild Side at Reid Park Zoo

Reid Park Zoo

Source: Flickr

If you are looking for fun things to do in Tucson for the whole family, you must check out Reid Park Zoo. Reid Park Zoo is home to more than 250 species of animals and over 500 animals, including rhinos, giant tortoises, elephants, and lions. It is divided into four zones to make it easier for visitors to navigate. There are also interactive exhibits and activities for all ages, including a carousel, a playground, and a giraffe feeding station.

The Reid Park Zoo also hosts regular special events that allow you to get close to the animals, such as giraffe feeding and educational workshops. The gorgeous inner-city attraction is a great place for animal lovers to visit. 

16. Visit Santa Catalina Mountains

Santa Catalina Mountains

Source: Unsplash

The Santa Catalina Mountains are also known as the Catalinas or the Tucson Mountains. They are a range of mountains located in southern Arizona, just north of Tucson in Coronado National Forest. The range offers a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, picnicking, rock climbing, and mountain biking. 

The Catalina Highway is nestled in the Santa Catalinas and is a beautiful route to drive, offering a stunning display of the surrounding area's natural beauty. At the top of the highway, visitors can explore the small community of Summerhaven, which offers shops, restaurants, and lodging options for those looking to spend more time in the area.

Hiking

The Santa Catalina Mountains boast a plethora of hiking trails that showcase the stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The trails range in difficulty, from easy to strenuous, and offer hikers the opportunity to explore the mountainside and its flora and fauna.

Camping

There are several campgrounds in the Santa Catalina Mountains where visitors can pitch their tents and enjoy the area's scenic beauty. Some of the popular campgrounds include Gordon Hirabayashi Campground, Rose Canyon Lake Campground, and Catalina State Park.

Mountain biking

Santa Catalina Mountain is a popular destination for mountain bikers, with numerous trails and paths winding through the mountainside. Cyclists can enjoy a challenging ride through the rugged terrain and take in the stunning views of the surrounding desert landscape.

Wildlife viewing

Santa Catalina Mountain is home to various wildlife, including deer, javelina, coyotes, and a wide range of bird species. Here, you can observe these animals in their natural habitat and learn about the region's ecology.

Rock climbing

With its rugged terrain and challenging cliffs, Santa Catalina Mountain is a popular destination for rock climbers. Experienced climbers can take on the challenging climbs of Mount Lemmon and enjoy the breathtaking views from the summit.

Skiing and snowboarding

During the winter months, Santa Catalina Mountain transforms into a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. The mountain is home to the Ski Valley ski resort, which offers a range of runs for all skill levels.

Scenic drives

Visitors can take a scenic drive through the Santa Catalina Mountains and enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is a popular route that winds through the mountainside and offers numerous opportunities to stop and take in the scenery.

Picnicking

The Santa Catalina Mountains boast numerous picturesque picnic areas where you can savor a delicious meal while surrounded by the region's breathtaking natural beauty. The picnic areas offer tables, grills, and other amenities for a comfortable outdoor dining experience.

Horseback riding

Visitors can explore the mountainside on horseback and enjoy a unique landscape perspective. Several horseback riding trails in the Santa Catalina Mountains offer stunning views and a chance to observe the local wildlife.

Stargazing

With its remote location and clear skies, Santa Catalina Mountain is a prime destination for stargazing enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy the dark night skies and observe the stars, planets, and other celestial objects visible from the mountainside.

17. Explore the Tucson Museum of Art

Tucson Museum Of Art

Source: Flickr

The Tucson Museum of Art is a vibrant cultural institution in downtown Tucson's heart. This museum features a diverse collection of artwork by both local and international artists, including pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial, and contemporary art. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum hosts rotating exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing a variety of art forms, from painting and sculpture to photography and mixed media.

18. Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson

Source: Flickr

The Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson is dedicated solely to showcasing contemporary art. The museum features exhibitions of local and international contemporary artists, with a focus on works that reflect the cultural diversity and social issues of the American Southwest. MOCA Tucson also hosts various events, performances, and workshops related to contemporary art.

Can't decide on visiting the Tucson Museum of Art or the Museum of Contemporary Art? 

Both museums have a focus on contemporary art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson is solely dedicated to showcasing contemporary art, while the Tucson Museum of Art has a broader collection that spans different periods and genres of art. Ultimately, which one to visit is based on your personal preference.

19. Explore Downtown Tucson

Downtown Tucson

Source: Unsplash

Downtown Tucson is a bustling hub of culture and history waiting to be explored. From historic landmarks to trendy shops and delicious cuisine, there is something for everyone in this vibrant part of the city. There are plenty of unique shops, galleries, and restaurants to explore, as well as several historic landmarks and cultural attractions. You can take a walking tour of the historic downtown district, visit the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block, or attend a performance at the historic Fox Theatre.

20. Visit The Fox Tucson Theatre

Fox Tucson Theatre

Source: Flickr

The Fox Tucson Theatre is a historic theater located in downtown Tucson, Arizona. Built-in 1930, the theater features Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture and has served as a popular entertainment venue for decades. After years of decline, the theater was restored and reopened in 2006, and today, it is one of the city's most cherished landmarks.

Visitors to The Fox Tucson Theatre can take a tour of the facility, which includes a look at the theater's backstage area, dressing rooms, and unique architectural features. In addition, the theater hosts a variety of live performances, concerts, and events throughout the year, making it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Tucson's vibrant arts and culture scene.

21. Enjoy the nightlife on 4th Avenue

4th Avenue

Source: Flickr

4th Avenue is a popular entertainment district located in downtown Tucson that offers a lively and unique nightlife experience. This popular street is home to various bars, restaurants, and shops and is a hub for nightlife in Tucson. Visitors can enjoy live music, craft beer, and local cuisine while exploring the unique shops and galleries that line the street.

22. Explore the historic El Presidio neighborhood

El Presidio

Source: Unsplash

The El Presidio neighborhood is a historic downtown Tucson district home to a wealth of fascinating cultural and architectural treasures. The area was the site of the original Presidio San Agustin del Tucson, a Spanish fort built in 1775 to protect the newly established town of Tucson. Today, the neighborhood is a hub of arts and culture, with charming adobe houses, galleries, and museums that showcase the region's rich history and heritage.

23. Take a scenic ride on the Tucson Streetcar

Tucson Streetcar

Source: Flickr

This modern streetcar system provides you with an easy and affordable way to explore downtown Tucson and the surrounding areas.

24. Mount Lemmon Ski Valley

Mount Lemmon Ski Valley

Source: Flickr

Visiting Mount Lemmon Ski Valley is of the best things to do in Tucson in Wintertime. Mount Lemmon Ski Valley is a popular ski resort located on Mount Lemmon in the Coronado National Forest, just outside of Tucson. It is the southernmost ski resort in the United States and offers visitors a unique skiing experience in the Sonoran Desert. 

Here, you can ski, snowboard, sled, and snowshoeing. The resort offers a variety of ski runs for all skill levels, from beginner to advanced, with the longest run being approximately one mile. As you ski down the mountain, you can admire the best scenery of the Arizona desert below. 

During the summer, the resort offers scenic chairlift rides to the top of the mountain, where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area. There are also several hiking trails in the area for those who want to explore the natural beauty of the Coronado National Forest.

25. Visit Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park

Source: Tripadvisor

Tucson Mountain Park is a beautiful desert park located in the western part of Tucson, Arizona. The park spans over 20,000 acres and is known for its stunning scenery, diverse wildlife, and wide range of outdoor recreational activities. The park offers numerous hiking trails, ranging from easy to strenuous, which wind through the rugged terrain and offer breathtaking views of the desert landscape. 

Here, you can also go horseback riding, mountain biking, or simply enjoy a picnic in one of the many picnic areas. The Tucson Mountain Park is also home to several historic sites, including the ruins of ancient Hohokam Indian villages, which offer a glimpse into the area's rich cultural history. Wildlife enthusiasts will also enjoy the park's diverse animal populations, which include desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, and numerous species of birds.

26. A Fun Day At Trail Dust Town

Trail Dust Town

Source: Tripadvisor

Trail Dust Town is a unique western-themed attraction in Tucson, Arizona. It is a popular destination for families, as it offers a variety of fun activities and experiences for visitors of all ages.

One of the main attractions at Trail Dust Town is the miniature train ride, which takes you on a scenic tour through the park. There is also a vintage carousel that has been restored to its original condition and a Ferris wheel that offers panoramic views of the surrounding area. For those looking to shop, Trail Dust Town features a variety of boutiques and specialty shops, including a western wear store, a leather goods shop, and a candy store. Trail Dust Town also has several restaurants and eateries, including a steakhouse, a Mexican restaurant, and an ice cream parlor.

27. Visit Arizona History Museum

Arizona History Museum

Source: Tripadvisor

The Arizona History Museum is located in downtown Tucson and offers visitors a chance to explore the rich history and culture of the state of Arizona. Boasts a fascinating collection of exhibits and artifacts that showcase the rich history of Arizona, from the fascinating Native American culture to the thriving mining industry and the wild frontier days of the Old West.

Here, you can explore exhibits such as "Arizona: The Grand Canyon State," which takes visitors on a journey through Arizona's diverse landscapes, or "Pathways of the People," which explores the history and culture of Arizona's Native American tribes. The museum also offers interactive exhibits and activities, including a hands-on exploration of Arizona's mining industry and a "Voices of the West" exhibit that allows you to listen to stories and songs from Arizona's cowboys and pioneers.

28. Try Local Cuisine 

Carne Asada

Tucson is a melting pot of cultures, and its cuisine reflects that diversity. Trying new food and exploring local cuisine is one of fun things to do in Tucson. Here are some of the must-try foods in Tucson:

Sonoran-style hot dogs

One of the most popular local delicacies in Tucson is a mouth-watering bacon-wrapped hot dog, served with a delicious array of toppings such as beans, onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, and more.

Carne Asada

Grilled steak, usually served in tacos or burritos, is a staple of Mexican cuisine and is very popular in Tucson.

Chimichangas

This deep-fried burrito is said to have originated in Tucson and is a must-try for anyone visiting the city.

Menudo

A spicy tripe stew that is often served with lime, onions, and cilantro. It's a popular breakfast dish in Tucson.

Fry bread

A traditional Native American dish made from dough fried until golden brown and served with various toppings like beans, cheese, and meat.

Salsa and guacamole

Tucson is known for its fresh, homemade salsas and guacamole, and they're a perfect complement to any meal.

Margaritas

A refreshing and delicious cocktail made with tequila, lime juice, and triple sec. Tucson has no shortage of great places to enjoy a margarita.

About the Author

Fiona is a veteran travel consultant, photographer and travel writer at planetrider.com. She has spent many years as a corporate travel consultant and decided to actually live the life rather than plan it for others!

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