Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do with Kids in Tucson, AZ

  • Published 2022/11/04

Known for its yearly birthday parties called La Fiesta de San Agustin, Tucson offers plenty for families with kids.

Tucson is the seat of Pima County, Arizona.

The Hohokam Indians lived in Tucson for 4,000 years before the Spanish arrived and turned it into a Spanish Presidio.

Tucson is in one of the richest valleys in the Sonoran Desert in the eastern part of Pima County.

There are countless chances for outdoor adventure with five distinct mountain ranges.

Tucson is home to several family activities that keep kids entertained, such as museums, botanical gardens, and parks.

Kids can see and learn about animals in their natural habitat in these outdoor spots.

The Southern Pacific Railroad’s arrival in Tucson in 1880 made it the oldest city in Arizona, adding a historical dimension to your family trip.

Below are the best things to do in Tucson with kids for a fun family vacation.

Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Welcome sign of Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

University of College /

For an educational and fun adventure, families can visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a combination of a zoo, botanical garden, and natural history museum.

Kids will have the chance to see various animals, such as black bears, mule deer, or even Mexican gray wolves.

The museum also has an exceptional botanical display where families can learn about the plants in the Sonoran Desert, with 1,200 plant types and 56,000 specimens.

Succulents at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz /

Kids can get up close and personal with stingrays.

The pool has cow nose stingrays that undergo routine debarbing, like clipping a fingernail.

As a result, visitors can safely engage with the stingrays.

Mountain lion at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Joseph Sohm /

You can enjoy a challenging outdoor hike on the Desert LoopTrail at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

The half-mile loop features a downhill and uphill portion where you can see javelinas, coyotes, and lizards in incredibly realistic enclosures.

Along the way, you will also discover the wonders of the agave plant and recognize different local legume trees.

A carp in Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's aquarium


Explore the Tucson Botanical Garden

Entryway of Tucson Botanical Garden

Thomas Trompeter /

As one of the top gardens in North America, the Tucson Botanical Garden features various kinds of plants and flowers in five different themed gardens.

The Children’s Discovery Garden is a favorite among families, where your kids will learn about the life cycle of plants.

Kids can also enjoy the Thornville Garden Railway and marvel at the train traveling through a mini-town.

Beautiful butterfly at Tucson Botanical Garden

Ingrid Curry /

The Tucson Botanical Garden also offers educational classes, ranging from pruning, modern calligraphy, in-person botanical art in watercolor, and bird gardening.

Tucson Botanical Garden also offers tours depending on the season, including a butterfly release and bird watching.

Once you get tired, you can rest in Edna’s Eatery and have a meal or snack while enjoying the garden’s beauty.

Barrel cactus at Tucson Botanical Garden

Bill Perry /

Ride a Crawler at the Sabino Canyon

Scenic view of Sabino Canyon

Billy McDonald /

Situated at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon is a perfect destination for a family hike.

Many residents consider Sabino Canyon their second home.

Visitors may do much more, like trekking, running, and watching animals.

Since 1978, the Sabino Canyon has become off-limits to private cars.

However, you can still travel to Sabino Canyon in a Bear Canyon shuttle or open-air Sabino Canyon Crawler.

Kids will wonder at seeing water in the desert, as Sabino Canyon features waterways among towering rock cliffs and peculiar desert plant species.

Enjoy an audio tour throughout the one-hour roundtrip ride to Sabino Canyon, or hop off one of the shuttle stops.

While exploring the Sabino Canyon, you might encounter a bobcat, a Gila monster, or other animals that have adapted to the Canyon’s winters and summers.

Gentle winter showers and an intense summer monsoon are the two rainy seasons in the Sonoran Desert.

Learn to Ride a Horse at the White Stallion Ranch

If you want your kids to experience the Old West, take them to White Stallion Ranch on Twin Peaks Road.

The White Stallion Ranch offers activities, such as horseback riding for kids and adults alike.

You can also book a stay on their resort, along with complimentary breakfast.

Explore untouched desert, craggy mountains, and cacti that have attracted Hollywood directors to the ranch for more than 70 years.

White Stallion Ranch’s speed, mountain, and all-day rides are open to kids eight and older.

Meanwhile, kids aged five to eight years old will like its leisurely rides.

White Stallion Ranch also arranges a short horseback guided tour with an accompanying parent for kids under five.

Once tired of horseback riding, kids can enjoy their pool, and adults can join the ranch’s evening entertainment.

Let Your Kids Join the Scavenger Hunt at Tohono Chul Park

Exterior of Tohono Chul Park

Charles T. Peden /

Exciting activities await your children at Tohono Chul Park, a 49-acre natural desert park with plants, animals, and cultural artifacts from the Sonoran Desert region.

Your kids can join a scavenger hunt at Tohono Chul Park to discover interesting plants like penstemons and native palms, and various bird species.

They can spot hummingbirds, owls, and other birds that flit around the park.

The park also features the Saguaro Discovery Trail.

Benches along Tohono Chul Park

usiris /

This gradually ascending road, less than 1/4 mile long, passes saguaro cacti nurseries hidden beneath guarding Palo Verdes and young and older saguaros heading up a graveled slope.

Michael Chicago, a Tohono O’odham artist, designed the classic painting layouts for the trail’s explanatory signages.

Tohono Chul Park also features magnificent plants, such as the Saguaro, the main cactus of the Sonoran Dessert, and the Southwestern Coral Beans Watson’s Dutchman Pipe and Beebrush.

You can also grab a bite at Tohono Chul Park’s Garden Bistro, where you can enjoy the lush surroundings and eat at one of its patio seats.

A pretty flower at Tohono Chul Park

Lori Bonati /

Go Camping at Catalina State Park

Daytime view of Catalina State Park

Dennis Swena /

At least a few minutes from Tucson Metropolitan Area, the Catalina State Park offers a camping experience for families.

Catalina State Park features 120 campsites and tent and RV sites that are perfect for families or groups who want to spend time in nature.

Every campsite has a picnic table and a grill, and the parking spaces and the roads are all cemented.

Tall cacti at Catalina State Park

Nelson Sirlin /

RV dump stations are available in the area, and the campgrounds in Catalina State Park offer contemporary flush toilets and nice, clean showers.

The length of RV stays is not restricted in this campground, although reservations are only accepted for a maximum of 14 consecutive nights.

The Catalina State Park is open to campers all year round.

Montrose pool at Catalina State Park

Billy McDonald /

Spot the Birds at the Madera Canyon

Hummingbird perched on a tree at Madera Canyon

DV Pro Photo /

Located on the northwest side of the Santa Rita Mountains, Madera Canyon is perfect for you and your kids to observe birds.

Since it provided timber for the city of Tucson more than a century ago, this Canyon received the Spanish name “Madera,” meaning log or wood.

However, it didn’t take long for this easily accessible sanctuary to become well-known for its biodiversity and the cool respite it provided from the blistering heat.

Madera Canyon, a well-known spot for birdwatching, serves as a significant resting point for migratory species during spring and fall.

Broadbill hummingbird at Madera Canyon

DV Pro Photo /

Over 240 birds, including more than a dozen types of hummingbirds, call Madera Canyon home.

Due to Madera Canyon’s high elevation, residents of the desert get a reprieve from the heat in the summer and have access to snow in the winter.

It also features camping and picnic sites, simplifying the trek along Santa Rita Mountains’ vast trail network.

As a result, the canyon is still a favorite destination for nature enthusiasts and those interested in wildlife.

Blue jay bird at Madera Canyon

Larry Barrett /

Bring Your Kids to the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures

For fans of miniatures and tiny things, visiting the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Camp Lowell Drive is a must.

With more than 500 miniature pieces from early to modern times, kids can marvel at intricate works of art displayed in galleries.

Admire Jim Roark’s Metal Monster exhibit, which includes a handcrafted miniature car that represents the vehicles that were left to fall apart.

Since the 1980s, Roark has devoted many hours to fine-tuning the intricacies of his deteriorating vehicles.

His work provides an accurate, albeit scaled-down, representation of what were once beautiful machines.

Roark uses plastic model kits in 1:24 scale and ages the components using paint and manufactured rust.

The idea for the Tales from Min’Umbra exhibit originated with artist Tania Yager, who wanted to make shadow puppet plays that delved deeper into the mind.

Several sets of tiny cut-paper shadow puppets telling historical Czech and other European wintertime fairy stories are on display in this exhibition.

Explore the Gates Pass Road at the Tucson Mountains

Aerial view of Gates Pass Road

Charles T. Peden /

Bond with your kids while exploring the Gates Pass Road in the Tucson Mountains.

Gates Pass is a rough and rocky road that will reward you with a magnificent view of nature, historic buildings, and educational displays.

Gates Pass offers a beautiful view of the desert sunset or a late summer thunderstorm over the valley.

You may witness stunning desert scenery with saguaros growing on high mountainsides.

Scenic sunset view from Gates Pass Road

Charles T. Peden /

Likewise, you can visit Gates Pass any time of the day.

However, it shows the best views around sunrise and sunset.

You can stop at one of the plethoras of parking places and take in expansive vistas of the desert below after taking a picturesque winding drive up into Tucson Mountain Park.

The road of Gates Pass Road

Scott Prokop /

Meet the Animals at the Reid Park Zoo

Crowned crane at Reid Park Zoo

Bob Pool /

With about 500 animals in their care, Reid Park Zoo offers a fantastic opportunity for your kids to learn about animals and their habitats.

Established in 1965, the zoo’s most famous residents include African lions, black and white ruffled lemurs, Chilean flamingos, and lion-tailed macaque, among many others.

Reid Park Zoo is categorized into four zones, separated into the different habitats, such as the Adaptation Zone, South America zone, Asian zone, and the African Animal zone.

Bring your kids to Expedition Tanzania and get to know the majestic African elephants in the Reid park Zoo, namely Mabu, Semba, Lungile, Sundzu, Nandi, and Penzi.

A tiger at Reid Park Zoo

Bob Pool /

Reid Park Zoo also offers programs such as Habitats to find out how animals survive in their natural habitats.

You can join Adaptations and learn nature’s survival tips and what wild animals do to survive.

Sign them uup for the Conservation and Endangered Species for eight years old and above; younger kids will enjoy the Animal Food and Nutrition Program.

An elephant at Reid Park Zoo

Cheri Alguire /

Marvel at the Model Trains in Gadsden-Pacific Division Toy Train

If your kids love model trains, you shouldn’t miss a visit to the Gadsden Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum.

The museum, located on South Park Avenue, boasts seven operating model train displays ranging from Z scale to seven-and-a-half-inch rail gauge trains and trolley cars.

These model trains run through an intricate network of tracks, tunnels, and miniature cities, all crafted carefully and with attention to detail.

For instance, the HO scale display at the Gadsden Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum has been painstakingly designed to show just how unique and entertaining operating toy train modeling can be.

A gift shop also sells souvenirs for interested guests.

Commune with the Desert at the Saguaro National Park

Welcome sign of Saguaro National Park

Zack Frank /

Saguaro National Park gets its name from the Sonoran Desert’s iconic symbol.

It protects and preserves the giant saguaro cactus that call this area home.

This national park is divided into two sections: one on the west side of Tucson and another on the east side.

Both sections offer gorgeous hiking trails and opportunities to witness the diversity of desert plants and animals, including cacti, deers, kangaroo rats, and Gila monsters.

Giant cactus at Saguaro National Park

Andreas Stroh /

Bring plenty of water for your hike.

Keep an eye out for the ubiquitous Saguaro cacti; marvel at their magnificence and significance to the ecosystem.

In Saguaro National Park, your kids will enjoy the splendor of the Sonoran Desert, comprising 100,000 square miles of the Sonoran Desert.

Desert trail at Saguaro National Park

Milan Sommer /

Bring Your Kids to See Aircraft at the Pima Air & Space Museum

Colorful helicopters at Pima Air & Space Museum

Mia2you /

Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the world’s largest non-government-funded aviation and space museums.

It contains over 300 historical aircraft from all over the globe.

One of the most prominent aerospace museums not supported by the government is the Pima Air & Space Museum.

You can find it on East Valencia Road and covers 80 acres of land.

Aircrafts on Pima Air & Space Museum grounds

Elizabeth Iris /

Established in 1982, the museum’s enormous hangar later had two expansions, one in 2006 and the other in 2010.

Pima Air & Space Museum emphasizes pop culture and well-known aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird, F-4E Phantom II of the Thunderbirds, and many others.

You can spend the entire day in this hangar alone, thanks to its exhibits.

Interior of Pima Air & Space Museum

EQRoy /

Still, the other engaging exhibits cover Sea Planes and Amphibians, Aerial Reconnaissance, Submarine Hunting, and Arizona Aviation.

Visitors can join the 45-minute narrated Tram Tour, where they can tour the Pima Air and Space Museum’s outdoor display area.

This tour will take the visitors to a 1.5-mile loop of the museum’s 80 acres outdoor area.

Passengers of the tram will see more than 150 aircraft in the museum’s collection, and they will hear highlights of some of the more notable aircraft.

A helicopter in Pima Air & Space Museum

Danielle Beder /

Explore the Universe at Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

Exterior of Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

Noah Sauve /

Situated in the University of Arizona, Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium offers a wealth of knowledge about science through interactive exhibits, shows, and activities.

Located on East University Boulevard, this center is one of the top-rated tourist attractions for families in Tucson.

The only planetarium in Southern Arizona is at the Eos Planetarium Theater, where you can sit back, unwind, and enjoy a fantastic interactive science voyage.

North star ball displayed in Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t miss this planetarium experience because the theater has recently been remodeled with state-of-the-art projection, sound, and seats.

Your kids can also discover the extraordinary lives of insects in the Wild World of Bugs Exhibit, where they can see live insects up-close and personal.

Other exhibits include sharks, the mysterious planet of Mars, scale models of the solar system, and the fossil corner.

Get Physical with Your Kids at the Rocks & Ropes of Tucson

Initially opened in 1992, Rocks & Ropes of Tucson are a popular indoor climbing gym and sports facility for kids located on South Park Avenue.

The gym offers challenges kids can conquer, such as bouldering, top-roping, and lead climbing.

Children under 12 can climb, but parents or older siblings must climb with them.

For those who want other challenges, you can try the BLOC climbing with yoga, a 20,000-square-foot climbing gym featuring 7,000-square-foot bouldering walls.

Rocks & Ropes of Tucson also organizes BLOC parties and friendly competitions to celebrate the gym’s anniversary and thank the supportive community.

Final Thoughts

There’s no shortage of activities for kids to enjoy and learn from in Tucson.

From experiencing the wonders of outer space to admiring miniature works of art, your child will leave Tucson with a smile.

Adventure awaits, thanks to the best things to do in Tucson with kids.

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