Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Pima County, AZ

  • Published 2023/06/03

Situated in the south-central region of Arizona is Pima County.

It encompasses the whole Tucson Metropolitan Statistical Area, making it the third largest in the Southwestern part of the country.

With only two cities, Tucson and South Tucson, most of its population is centered around the county seat, making its eastern portion a highly urbanized area.

Being one of the state’s four original counties, Pima County’s history can be traced to the series of land acquisitions during the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.

Later, portions of the original Pima County were divided into three counties: Cochise, Graham, and Santa Cruz.

Named after the Pima Native Americans, the county is still home to several Indian communities, including Pascua Yaqui and San Xavier.

Here are the best things to do in Pima County:

Marvel at the Giant Saguaro Cactus of Saguaro National Park

Daytime view of Saguaro National Park

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Located on S Old Spanish Trail, Tucson is Saguaro National Park.

The 92,000-acre park is divided into two parcels of land: the Tucson Mountain District west of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District in the east.

It’s named after the giant saguaro cactus that can only be found in the Sonoran Desert.

TMD is where the giant cactuses are, with the red-orange hue of the sunset creating a breathtaking view that’s signature to the American West.

Giant cactus at Saguaro National Park

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Meanwhile, RMD is where most of the wildlife is, and we even had a rare sighting of coati as well as bears and cougars.

We took the scenic 8.3-mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive at TMD just before sunset, and we were greeted by a spectacular scene composed of millions of years-old rock formations and cactuses in various shapes and heights.

Horseback riding is allowed in both districts, but we opted to drive my truck.

A bird on top of a cactus at Saguaro National Park

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Watch A Raptor Flight Demonstration at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Signage of Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

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Located on N Kinney Rd, Tucson is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Founded in 1952, the 98-acre facility is a zoo, museum, botanical garden, aquarium, and art gallery in one.

It focuses mainly on the flora and fauna of the Sonora Desert, serving as home to more than 230 species of animals and over 1,200 varieties of plants.

Upon entering, we were welcomed by a knowledgeable docent who led our tour and did some interpretive demonstrations.

A hawk at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

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We chose to do the Bird Walk, as we figured since Arizona has more than half of the bird species in North America, we might as well know more about them.

We were introduced to several native species like curved-billed thrashers, Costa’s hummingbirds, and cactus wrens.

I also pre-booked the Avian Adventure for our group, where we were treated to a Raptor Free Flight show.

I even had the chance to have a 4-pound Eurasian Eagle Owl land on my arm.

An owl at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

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Live Out Your Secret Agent Dreams at Disruptive Paintball & Airsoft Field

Located on W Tangerine Rd, Marana is Disruptive Paintball & Airsoft Field.

We wanted to do something different on the one day we didn’t have a set itinerary, so we decided to try paintball.

On our way to the main office, we already saw how well-laid the obstacles are, which include drums, concrete pipes, and huge logs.

We availed the Full Rental Setup and Entry, and we were briefed by a staff member about the rules of the game.

There’s also a Self-Equipped option but do note that you’ll only be able to use paint purchased on-site.

Our referee kept the games fast-paced, so we were challenged and maintained a competitive atmosphere throughout the 2-hour game.

See Rare War Aircraft at the Pima Air & Space Museum

The grounds of Pima Air & Space Museum

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Located on E Valencia Rd, Tucson is the Pima Air & Space Museum.

The 127-acre facility houses almost 400 aircraft, making it one of the largest non-government-funded aerospace museums in the world.

As we were driving to the main hangar, we could already see a couple of fiberglass models of the Northrop-McDonnell Douglas YF-23.

Most of the collection is spread out over six display hangars that span a total of 80 acres, so be prepared to walk.

Interior of Pima Air & Space Museum

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There’s also a restoration hangar where rare aircraft acquired by the museum undergo meticulous reconditioning.

We first made out way into the main hangar where we saw an exhibit depicting the history of the US Air Force through the years as well as Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”.

At Hangar 4, our group had a little World War II history refresher as we saw training aircraft and learned about the Imperial Army Kamikaze fighters.

Helicopters at Pima Air & Space Museum

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Learn More About Copper Mining at the ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center & Mine Tours

Located on W Pima Mine Rd, Sahuarita is the ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center & Mine Tours.

Copper mining is one of Arizona’s main industries, so we decided to learn more about it by booking a guided tour of the museum.

Upon entering the property, we were greeted by trucks and other mining equipment displayed on the grounds near the Visitor Center.

The small Visitor Center has a limited exhibit of artifacts and photos depicting the early beginnings and development of copper mining in the state.

A tour bus drove us to the open mining pit, and we also had a great look at the processing facility from outside.

Our tour guide then led us across a narrow bridge that leads to the processing facility where we witnessed the refining process up close.

Get the Authentic Western Experience at Old Tucson

A saloon at Old Tucson

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Located on Kinney Rd, Tucson is Old Tucson.

Originally constructed in 1939 as a film set for Arizona, it was opened to the public in 1960 as a theme park offering an authentic Western experience to visitors.

I booked our tickets 3 months before our intended visit date in May, as tickets sell out fast for the spring season.

The tickets already included admission to most of the interactive attractions, rides, and shows.

Buildings at Old Tucson

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We wanted to try the Silver Lake Gold Panning attraction, but it was under construction at the time of our visit.

We did try the Shooting Gallery and some classic Western games such as Tic-Tac-Toe, Horseshoe, and Milk Bottle Toss.

I particularly enjoyed watching the blacksmith craft a candle holder over a coal fire pit.

People touring the Old Tucson

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Practice Your Swing at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain

Daytime view of The Golf Club at Dove Mountain

Bernard Gagnon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on W Boulder Bridge Pass, Marana is The Golf Club at Dove Mountain.

The club has 3 nines—Saguaro, Tortolita, and Wild Burro with wide fairways and perfectly manicured greens.

We went on a beautiful Saturday morning and were greeted by the gorgeous landscape and the tall saguaro cactuses in the background.

Several holes are at an elevation of 3,000 feet, so we had a stunning valley view while practicing our swings.

The course itself is in great shape, and we felt like we were playing in a tour-level facility.

There’s also a stunning 45,000-square-foot members-only clubhouse with a bar and grill offering handcrafted cocktails and scrumptious small plates.

Try Harvest Oro Valley’s Braised Short Rib

Located on N La Cañada Dr #141, Oro Valley is Harvest Oro Valley.

The American restaurant prides itself in featuring local, seasonal produce on its menu.

We went there around lunchtime, so we decided to sit on the patio and enjoy the scenic mountain view.

We started our meal with White Fish Tacos, which are made with blackened white fish and topped with house-made mango salsa roja, citrus crema, and pico de gallo.

My mom got the Truffle Mushroom Melt, made with a grass-fed beef patty with a generous drizzling of truffle oil and some roasted garlic spinach truffle aioli.

I got the famous Braised Short Rib, and its fall-off-the-bone tenderness was complemented by the richness of the twice-reduced sauce.

Observe the Honey Bee Canyon Park Petroglyphs

Desert landscape of Honey Bee Canyon Park

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Located on N Rancho Vistoso Blvd, Oro Valley is Honey Bee Canyon Park.

As part of the Sonoran Desert, the park has three miles of hiking trails that took us through thousand-year-old rock formations and various cactus species.

We took the North Trail that leads to the petroglyphs created by the Hohokam people thousands of years ago.

The terrain is rocky and does come with the hazards of the desert, so beware of encountering wildlife on your way, including snakes, desert tortoises, bobcats, and spiders.

As the name suggests, we also encountered some bees on our way to the petroglyphs, so make sure to wear a cover-up just in case.

Meanwhile, the Southern Loop Trail is where you’ll find the historic rock dam that was built by cattle and sheep ranchers in the 19th century.

Get A Special Mexican Breakfast at El Patio Mexican Restaurant

Located on W Duval Mine Rd, Sahuarita is El Patio Mexican Restaurant.

It’s known for its Mexican and Italian menu, with traditional recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.

We went there on a Sunday morning for breakfast, and it didn’t disappoint.

They have breakfast burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas on the menu, aside from the traditional all-American breakfast staples.

I got the Machaca Breakfast Burrito, which was massive and filled with shredded beef, green chile, and eggs.

We also ordered their famous Red Menudo, which is a tripe stew cooked in Albuquerque chile pepper spice, garlic, and hominy.

Peek Behind the Silo Missile Doors at the Titan Missile Museum

Exterior of the Titan Missile Museum

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Located on W Duval Mine Rd, Green Valley is the Titan Missile Museum.

Also known as the Air Force Facility Missile Site 8, it was built in 1963 and decommissioned in 1984.

Today, the former intercontinental ballistic missile site is now a museum dedicated to the country’s efforts during the Cold War.

We decided to book the 45-minute guided tour that took us 35 feet below the ground.

A missile in the Titan Missile Museum

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The tour started at the launch control center where we experienced up-close a missile launch simulation.

We were then taken down the cableway to level 2 of the missile silo and had a chance to get an up-close look at the Titan II missile.

We also took the opportunity to explore the surface of the complex and see the alarm systems and engine.

Control room in the Titan Missile Museum

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Go Camping at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Signage of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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Located on Organ Pipe Dr, Ajo is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The 512-square-mile UNESCO biosphere reserve is the sole place in the US where you’ll see the senita & organ pipe cactus species in the wild.

It’s popular among day hikers because of its rocky terrain and diverse wildlife.

We drove about a mile from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center to reach the Twin Peaks Campground where we decided to spend the night.

Giant cacti at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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The campsite is surrounded by towering cactuses and other desert plants.

There are solar-heated showers and restrooms with running water.

The night sky was clear, so we decided to stargaze until around midnight.

Just before bedtime, we heard coyotes howling from afar and it made the experience even more special.

Octopus-like cactus at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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Have A Calzone at Catalina Craft Pizza

Located on N Oracle Rd, Catalina is Catalina Craft Pizza.

It’s known for its fresh pizzas, chicken wings, sandwiches, pasta, and craft beer.

We went there on a Friday night for some drinks, and we were treated to an acoustic performance by one of the guest artists.

I had a glass of the Belching Beaver Mango IPA, which paired well with the Bighorn Fire Chicken Wings.

I also ordered the Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken, which was served with garlic toast and a small caesar salad.

But what blew me away was the Neapolitan Calzone, stuffed with house-made marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella, and ricotta.

Attend the Pima County Fair

A ferris wheel at the Pima County Fair

Ken Bosma, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The highlight of our trip was the Pima County Fair, which is held annually at the county fairgrounds on S. Houghton Rd, Tucson.

We decided to book admission tickets with a concert upgrade, so we could access the rides and other attractions during the day and enjoy live music at night.

There were plenty of stalls selling hot foods and beverages inside the fairgrounds, so you’ll never run out of options.

We even had the chance to catch a magic show on the Central Park stage.

I personally enjoyed the RV Show, where over 100 motorhomes and trailers were on display.

Get Some Eggrolls at Dove M Chinese Bistro

Located on N Thornydale, Marana is Dove M Chinese Bistro.

We were craving Chinese food and found this restaurant by chance, and it didn’t disappoint.

We started out with their famous Egg Rolls, and it turned out to be everyone’s favorite.

The outside was perfectly crispy while the inside was filled with a mixture of ground pork and vegetables that was well-seasoned.

The server also recommended General Tso’s Chicken, and its sweet-and-spicy sauce paired well with the Yang Zhou Fried Rice.

We also ordered Kung Pao Shrimp, which had juicy shrimp and nuts that gave it a great texture.

Final Thoughts

Our time in Pima County was a rich cultural experience.

Not only were we able to appreciate its unique flora and fauna, but we were also treated to some fun-filled gastronomic adventures.

So, on your next vacation, consider trying the best things to do in Pima County, Arizona.

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