15 Best Things to Do in Tucson, AZ
Tucson, the second largest city in Arizona and the county seat of Pima County, is well-known for many beautiful things.
Before its incorporation as a city in 1877, this striking city was established in 1775 when Hugo O’Connor authorized the building of the Presidio of San Agustín del Tucson, a Spanish colonial fort.
However, it’s believed to have been originally inhabited by Paleo-Indians for more than 12,000 years.
Besides its vibrant history and diverse culture and architecture, it’s home to famous tourist spots, such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, and the University of Arizona, which houses several attractions.
Tourists and traveling families will enjoy the city’s attractions and recreational activities.
Whether you want to reconnect with nature, experience outdoor adventures, dine in great restaurants, peruse stuff from shops, or seek and learn about history, culture, and arts, there’s something enjoyable for you here.
Apart from those, you’ll meet the friendly community and touch the city’s lovely mountains and desert, giving you incredible experiences.
If you’re excited, plan your trip soon and enjoy the best things to do while in Tucson, Arizona!
View Wildlife and Plant Life at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Founded in 1952 in the west of Tucson, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is not the usual museum you think it is, as it’s more than that.
This top must-visit attraction stretches over 98 acres, featuring an art gallery, aquarium, botanical garden, national history museum, and zoo all in one place.
You’ll experience 85% outdoors here and learn about various flora and fauna in the Sonoran Desert.
It houses 241 animal species, including hummingbirds, coyotes, ocelots, and more, along with over 40,000 plants representing more than 1,200 species.
The hiking trails are perfect for strolling while viewing different exhibits, including “Cat Canyon,” “Life on the Rocks,” and “Mountain Woodland.”
You can also see the gem, fossil, and mineral collections and the aquarium exhibition called “Rivers to the Sea,” which highlights the aquatic life of the desert, including those from the Gulf of California.
After your leisurely tour, enjoy a meal, ice cream, or coffee at one of their eateries that reward scenic views of the desert.
The museum also has gift shops, with various stuff from cacti to apparel, where you can browse for remembrance.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a unique spot on North Kinney Road that attracts visitors to get acquainted with the Sonora Desert’s natural history, flora, and fauna.
See the Nation’s Largest Cacti at Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is the home of the giant saguaro, the largest cactus in the United States.
The park derived its name from this iconic cactus specie, which can grow as tall as 50 feet and reach up to 200 years.
The park comprises two sections: the Saguaro East, called the Rincon Mountain District, and the Saguaro West, called the Tucson Mountain District.
The place gives you a colorful scene of blooming wildflowers in late February and March and saguaro flowers around the last two weeks of April through the first week of June.
Besides towering saguaros, the park offers more than 165 miles of long and short hiking trails provided by the districts for hikers, who’ll likely spot wildlife during the activity.
At the same time, these districts have more than five miles of scenic loop drives available for biking.
Other activities include backcountry camping and picnicking, both available by permit, while picnic areas are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
View these magnificent saguaros silhouetted by the stunning desert sunset at Saguaro National Park.
The Rincon Mountain District is on South Old Spanish Trail, while the Tucson Mountain District is on North Kinney Road.
Marvel at Large Aircraft at Pima Air & Space Museum
Pima Air & Space Museum, one of the world’s largest aviation museums, is highly recommended for kids and aviation enthusiasts.
Opened in 1976, the museum measures 80 acres, containing a collection of more than 400 aircraft from around the world and more than 125,000 flight-related artifacts.
It has both indoor and outdoor exhibits.
Some featured exhibits in the museum include the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame, the Wright Flyer, and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The museum offers tram and private walking tours if you’re interested in the United States Air Force’s history while enjoying the sights of large aircraft.
You can find Pima Air & Space Museum on East Valencia Road.
Travel Back to the Past at the El Presidio Historic District
The El Presidio Historic District is one of the oldest inhabited sites in the nation.
Hohokam Indians once inhabited the area before Spanish soldiers built the original Spanish military fort in 1775, which led to the founding of the city of Tucson.
Now, the historic district contains a mix of adobe and brick structures in Spanish-Mexican and Anglo-American architecture.
The area teems with tourist attractions, from historic homes to art galleries, bringing you to the life of the district’s vibrant past.
Don’t miss visiting the Old Town Artisans, a restored 1850s marketplace, touring the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum, and viewing various exhibits at the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block.
If you feel peckish, enjoy a delicious meal at El Charo Café, the oldest family-run Mexican restaurant in continuous operation in the nation.
There’s more to explore in this historic district.
The El Presidio Historic District is approximately enclosed by West 6th Street, West Alameda Street, North Stone Avenue, and North Granada Avenue.
Explore the Splendor of Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a popular tourist spot in the city, best for spending fun outdoor activities.
It offers spectacular trails for walking, hiking, and jogging while naturally giving breathtaking views.
You can also have a picnic, as it has picnic tables, or go bicycling on any day except Wednesday and Saturday.
Likewise, this place is great for photography, reconnecting with nature, and viewing wildlife, including deer, tortoises, javelinas, and more.
You’ll also find Sabino Creek nearby, featuring charming waterfalls.
If you’re not into hiking, you may prefer a tram to take you through the canyon, which has several stops along the way with access to trailheads, pools, and picnic areas.
The canyon has a visitor center, bookstore, interpretive site, and other amenities so you can make the most of your stay here.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is situated in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest.
Meet the Wild Animals at the Reid Park Zoo
Create special memories with the wild animals at the Reid Park Zoo within Gene C. Reid Park.
Founded in 1965, the 24-acre zoo is home to more than 500 animals, including American alligators, bearded dragons, grizzly bears, and many others.
Exploring the entire facility takes about two hours.
The zoo boasts over 500,000 visitors annually.
Besides several attractions, the Reid Park Zoo hosts daily activities such as Zoo Train and Giraffe Encounter and events like birthdays and weddings.
Visit this wild oasis with your family for an unforgettable meeting with adorable animals.
Visit the Gardens at the Tucson Botanical Gardens
Become a botanist by visiting the Tucson Botanical Gardens on North Alvernon Way.
Horticulturist and collector Harrison Yocum originally founded the botanical gardens in 1964.
Spread over the 5.5 acres are 17 different beautifully-themed gardens.
These include Pollinator Garden, Historical Porter Gardens, Xeriscape Garden, and more.
The Tucson Botanical Gardens is perfect for those who seek a serene place to embrace the wonders of nature.
It offers various tours throughout the year for visitors who want to learn about the gardens’ history and plants.
Aside from that, it also hosts classes, programs, and events.
Be Impressed by the Historic San Xavier del Bac Mission
If you’re in the city, you shouldn’t skip the San Xavier del Bac Mission.
Father Eusebio Kino originally founded this as a Catholic mission in 1692.
It’s known as the “White Dove of the Desert” and the oldest European structure in Arizona.
Completed in 1797, the church boasts the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the nation.
Both interior and exterior are wondrous, and its charming façade draws visitors.
You’ll also see its impressive paintings and feel the 18th-century vibe.
Feel free to walk through this historic church, stroll the grounds, and glimpse its history through its artifacts.
San Xavier del Bac Mission is free of charge, and you can find it on West San Xavier Road.
Discover the Hidden Beauty of Tohono Chul
According to Travel + Leisure Magazine, Tohono Chul, or Tohono Chul Park, is one of the “World’s Ten Great Botanical Gardens.”
Nestled on North Paseo del Norte, this 49-acre realm has to offer great things for visitors.
You’ll see a beautiful collection of plants from the Sonoran Desert, with many species of shrubs, trees, cacti, succulents, and wildflowers.
You can stroll on the walking trails while hummingbirds and butterflies fill the themed botanical gardens.
View the collection of fantastic artworks by local artists in their exhibit galleries and gift shops.
You can dine in a bistro, too, plus a splendid view of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Let the Kids Enjoy the Children’s Museum Tucson
Bringing your kids to the Children’s Museum Tucson is an excellent idea as it’s especially geared for them.
Its 17,000 square feet space features ten indoor exhibits and a lovely outdoor courtyard.
From entrancing art and music to beautiful nature and exhibits, children of all ages can enjoy themselves in this museum.
Some exhibits include Bodyology, Pet Vet, Investigation Station, and more.
They can unleash their creativity and get first-hand educational experiences while having fun in the place with others.
The museum offers several exciting programs and events.
The Children’s Museum Tucson is a family-friendly museum on South 6th Avenue.
Watch Live Action Performances at Old Tucson
Head to Old Tucson, formerly Old Tucson Studios, if you want to watch stellar shows.
It’s a theme park and, at the same time, an American movie studio.
In 1939, Columbia Pictures selected the Pima County-owned site to build an 1860’s Tucson replica for the movie “Arizona.”
Since the 1940s, it has been used to shoot hundreds of movies, TV shows, music videos, and commercials.
Some movies filmed here include Rio Bravo, El Dorado, Three Amigos, and more.
An April 1995 fire destroyed Old Tucson Studios, and after 20 months of reconstruction, it reopened with new structures and other features.
Old Tucson hosts the famous “Nightfall at Old Tucson,” a Halloween event that runs Thursdays through Sundays in October, followed by “Yuletide at Old Tucson” in the Christmas season.
If you’re excited, book your tickets and tour Old Tucson on South Kinney Road!
Explore the Scenic Trails at Tucson Mountain Park
Established in 1929, Tucson Mountain Park spans about 20,000 acres with roughly 62 miles of non-motorized trails.
It’s one of the nation’s largest local government-owned and managed natural resource areas.
Its designated trails are perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Some trails here are great for kids and beginners, while others are ideal for intermediate and advanced riders.
It also offers picnicking opportunities and picturesque views of nature and wildlife.
Moreover, the enormous park has archery and shooting ranges.
When visiting Tucson Mountain Park, observe rules and regulations for fun-filled outdoor experiences.
The park is located on West McCain Loop, near the Saguaro National Park.
Soak in the Relaxing Atmosphere at Santa Cruz River Park
Santa Cruz River Park is another bodacious attraction in the city.
Tucked along the banks of the Santa Cruz River, it offers several delightful outdoor escapades.
You can take advantage of the disc golf course with your friends or bring the kids to frolic on the playground.
Joggers, hikers, and bikers will enjoy the Santa Cruz River Park Trails while enjoying the scenic views of the river, nature, and wildlife.
Don’t miss visiting Santa Cruz River Park!
Revel with the Crowds during the Pima County Fair
When it comes to entertainment, the Pima County Fair is not to miss out.
The Pima County Fairgrounds’ 640-acre event complex is home to various events and attractions that invite many locals and visitors.
This 11-day April funfair with around 250,000 visitors is one of the biggest and most anticipated annual events in Southern Arizona.
Indulge in watching outdoor concerts, fantastic car shows, livestock competitions, and incredible rodeos, viewing fascinating exhibits, eating delicious foods, riding fearless carnival rides, and joining fun games.
The fun doesn’t end with those because there are still more fun things to do with families, friends, and sweethearts, along with the lively community during this funfair.
So, create the happiest memories possible during the Pima County Fair!
The event happens at the Pima County Fairgrounds on South Houghton Road.
Tour the Attractions at the University of Arizona
There are several attractions housed at the University of Arizona in Tucson that you should add to your list.
The 1893-established Arizona State Museum is the oldest and largest anthropology museum in the nation’s Southwest, boasting exhibits such as the largest and most comprehensive collection of Native North American basketry in the world and a collection of Southwest Indigenous pottery.
The Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum, or Mineral Museum, houses an extensive collection of meteorites, gems, and minerals from around the globe and focuses on minerals from Arizona and Mexico.
Check out the Museum of Art in Tucson and Historic Block’s striking collection, including Art of the American West, Asian Art, European Art, and more.
Meanwhile, the 1975-opened Center for Creative Photography is home to a collection of more than eight million combined art, research, and archival objects, including over 110,000 works by more than 2,200 photographers.
Other attractions at the University of Arizona include the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium, the Campus Arboretum, the Poetry Center, and more.
Tucson is an excellent destination with many popular, beautiful attractions and thrilling outdoor exploration.
From enthralling museums to viewing wildlife, the city welcomes you to experience its glorious beauty.
Use this helpful list as a reference if you’re planning a trip to Tucson, Arizona!