Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Tucson, AZ

  • Published 2022/11/17

Tucson is a city in Pima County, Arizona.

It was founded in August 1776, while the people celebrated an annual event, La Fiesta de San Agustin.

The city is among the oldest continually inhabited areas in North America.

From 1860 to 1880, the city entered the “Old West” era, becoming a battleground for dueling settlers, miners, and cattle ranchers.

In 1854, the United States bought Arizona legally from Mexico through the Gadsden Purchase.

Tucson was officially announced as part of the United States of America.

This second-largest city in the region is bordered by protected areas such as Catalina State Park, Saguaro National Parks, and Coronado National Forest.

Outdoor opportunities are endless in Tucson, which you can enjoy without burning a hole in your pocket.

While visiting the area, here are some of the free things to do in Tucson, Arizona:

Have a Fun Day at Gene C. Reid Park

Duck pond at Gene C. Reid Park

Vince Schmidt /

Known initially as Randolph Park, Reid Park was named after the city’s first Park and Recreation Director, Gene C. Reid, in 1978.

This urban park is one of the city’s essential sites spanning 131 acres that offers covered ramadas, baseball fields, and picnic areas.

You can also go on the bike trail if you are feeling sporty or visit their rose garden and duck pond for some peace.

Great egret at Gene C. Reid Park

Florence-Joseph McGinn /

The DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center is a known event venue inside the park.

You can also find other attractions such as Reid Park Zoo, Randolph Tennis Center, and Hi Corbett Field.

Pets are also welcome to Reid Park.

A waterfall at Gene C. Reid Park

Debbie Angel /

Take a Stroll around Barrio Viejo

Teatro Carmen at Barrio Viejo


Also known as Barrio Historico or Barrio Libre, Barrio Viejo is an integral part of Tucson’s community.

It has a rich history, which dramatically reflects the many experiences of living in Arizona.

Dating back to the 19th century, the place is still filled with homes and commercial buildings despite urban redevelopment during the 1960s and 1970s.

Located south of the Convention Center in Downtown Tucson, this place can give you good photos of vintage architectural styles which families have preserved.

Bright-colored house at Barrio Viejo

Albert_Cooper /

In 1971, Kelley and Sally Rollings invested in restoring and rebuilding the adobe homes, commonly called Pueblo-style homes, popularizing them.

Enjoy this Barrio Viejo’s mix of art studios, restaurants, and residences.

A house at Barrio Viejo

Nagel Photography /

Walk the Turquoise Trail

Situated in Downtown Tucson, Turquoise Trail is a two-and-a-half-mile loop where you can see historic sites and structures.

Its name came from the turquoise stripe that marks the sidewalk of this trail, created by the Presidio Museum’s former board members.

Explore the area to see murals and parks such as Downtown Public Art, the Mainly Murals, and Armory Park.

The Presidio Museum, founded in 1775, is your starting point should you want to see all of the attractions this place offers.

It is just at the corner northeast of the first Presidio San Agustin del Tucson.

Brochures detailing the area are available at popular locations such as the Visit Tucson Visitors Center, Hotel Congress, and AC Marriott Hotel.

Get to learn about some of Tucson’s history at the Turquoise Trail!

Light a Candle at El Tiradito Wishing Shrine

Daytime view of El Tiradito Wishing Shrine


The legend of El Tiradito goes back to the early years of Barrio Viejo when a manual laborer named Juan Oliveras became the lover of his wife’s mother.

Upon getting caught in the act, Oliveras’s sad demise inspired the shrine, which honors his memory.

This grotto is probably the first, if not the only, Catholic shrine in the United States dedicated to a sinner’s memory instead of a saint’s.

For almost 100 years, El Tiradito has evolved into a wishing shrine where visitors leave offerings, letters, photos, and light candles.

Legend says your wish will be granted if your candle burns through the night.

You can find El Tiradito in the neighborhood of Barrio Viejo near a city mural.

Visit the Historical Southern Arizona Transportation Museum

A train at Southern Arizona Transportation Museum

Underawesternsky /

The origin of the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum goes back to 1907 as part of the American Settlement of the West.

This museum was originally a train depot located on Toole Avenue for the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot.

The city later purchased it, restored the building to its 1940s style, and turned it into a museum in 1998.

Train engine at Southern Arizona Transportation Museum


The museum houses several historical locomotives and trolleys, including its pride and joy, an original Southern Pacific steam locomotive, 2-6-0 Mogul #1673, and trolleys from Old Pueblo Trolley, Inc.

Have fun while learning about locomotive history at the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum.

Exterior of Southern Arizona Transportation Museum

Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Learn History at W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library

The W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library is in the Esmond Station Regional Park.

The place spans 8,000-9,000 square feet and has a meeting room that can be opened to the outdoors.

It also has movable furniture and shelving that provides a more flexible space according to the needs of its visitors.

The library got its name in honof the area’s historical importance.

Anne Gibson initiated bringing the library to the greater area of Vail.

You can also find the work of Troy Neiman, a local metal artist, who created a 45-foot-long steel plate that features a timeline of local culture, history, and desert animals and plants in Vail.

Enjoy books by Frank De La Cruz on the United States and Mexico Borderland history, traditions, and culture.

Otherwise, you can find other exciting reading materials at the W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library.

Walk Down Memory Lane at Trail Dust Town

Buildings at Trail Dust Town

InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Built in 1961, Trail Dust Town has become a favorite place for the people of Tucson to repast memories.

Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse has stayed the town’s core since opening in 1962, providing various ranchhands and cowboys with great steak and beer.

After the steakhouse was rebuilt following a fire, it became more popular.

Soon enough, the town changed from having restaurants and shops to becoming an entertainment destination during the mid-1990s.

Amusements rides were added to the place, such as the Polly Anna Park, an antique carousel, a Ferris wheel, and the C.P. Huntington Railroad, built near the town.

Take a trip down the old era of Trail Dust Town, located at Tanque Verde Road.

Hike Tumamoc Hill

View of Tucson from Tumamoc Hill

Charles T. Peden /

If you want a more challenging route, take a hike at Tumamoc Hill.

This five-kilometer paved trail sits on an 860-acre ecological reservation.

The University of Arizona College of Science and Pima Country manages the reservation as a desert laboratory.

The O’odham nations called this hill Cemamagi Du’ag or ‘horned lizard mountain’ due to its resemblance to the reptile.

People hiking at Tumamoc Hill

Jennifer G. Lang /

It holds great significance to the O’odham nation’s culture and ancestry, having been a research station since 1906, preserving at least two millennia of history.

The university welcomes visitors on the paved trail to hike to the top, which can take at least an hour and a half to complete.

So if you are up for a challenge, explore Tumamoc Hill, located west of downtown Tucson.

A tall cactus at Tumamoc Hill

Moon Stone /

Enjoy the Chuck Huckelberry Loop

The 131-mile paved paths of the Chuck Huckelberry Loop (The Loop) took the number one recreational trail spot in USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice list of 2022.

The Loop began as a flood control project after a disastrous flood in 1983.

In 2018, they expanded the Loop into one continuous stretch creating a great network of paths.

The path is open for the public to do activities such as running, cycling, walking, skating, and even horseback riding if you have your horse with you!

Connected to parks, trailheads, and farmer’s markets, this trail located north of Tucson gives you reasonable access to the city.

Enjoy an active day at the Chuck Huckelberry Loop.

Learn the History of Photography at the Center for Creative Photography

Exterior of the Center for Creative Photography

Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This place is one of the world’s finest study centers and academic art museums focusing on photography’s history.

The Center for Creative Photography opened in 1975 on the grounds of the University of Arizona.

The museum began with the archives of five master photographers: Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Frederick Sommer, Aaron Siskind, and Wynn Bullock.

Since then, it has steadily grown its collection to more than 110,000 by over 2,200 photographers.

Interior of the Center for Creative Photography

Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some pieces from famous North American photographers such as Lola Alvarez Bravo, Garry Winogrand, and W. Eugene Smith are also in the museum.

Altogether, over eight million collections of archival objects are in the center, including work prints, negatives, albums, writings, and memorabilia.

Deepen your understanding of photography’s impact on society through the Center for Creative Photography.

Welcome sign of the Center for Creative Photography

Ken Wolter /

Catch Stage Performances on 2nd Saturdays

If you find yourself in Downtown Tucson on the second Saturday of the month, enjoy good music and performances on 2nd Saturdays.

This community-oriented series of events features musicians, street performers, food trucks, and local vendors, making it a music festival for all ages.

Local bands’ performances and activities fill Congress Street, stretching Toole Avenue to Church Avenue.

The inaugural monthly urban street festival occurred in May 2010 on Congress and Scott Avenue Streets.

Past performances have featured local bands such as Asphalt Astronaut, Imogen Rose, and Toros.

Stop by San Xavier Del Bac Mission

Exterior of San Xavier Del Bac Mission

Kellie L. Folkerts /

Located just nine miles away from the south of Downtown Tucson at Interstate 19, the San Xavier Del Bac Mission is a National Historic Landmark.

Founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Kino as a Catholic mission, the church is one of the oldest European structures in the state.

The church’s construction kicked off in 1783 and was completed in New Spain fourteen years later.

Interior of San Xavier Del Bac Mission

Nagel Photography /

Even now, the ambiance from that period remains, thanks to its original statues and mural paintings inside the church.

The architecture of the current church is unlike other historic Spanish missions; O’odham laborers built it according to the European style.

San Xavier del Bac Mission’s stunning Spanish colonial features are worth seeing.

Cross in San Xavier Del Bac Mission

Nagel Photography /

Look through the Glass at Philabaum Glass Gallery

As Southern Arizona’s only gallery of glassworks, Philabaum Glass Gallery is represented by over 50 artists that are recognized nationally.

As one of Tucson’s hidden gems, it features beautiful contemporary sculptures, stemware, artful jewelry, glass vases, and platters.

Philabaum Glass Gallery is the only glassworks gallery in Southern Downtown Tucson, a fixture since 1982.

Then, Tom Philabaum, father of the American Studio Glass Art Movement, took charge.

For their 40th anniversary in 2022, they have honored five classic Arizona glass artists by displaying their work.

See the pieces from Tom Philabaum, Carole Perry, Dan Enwright, Louis Via, and Michael Joplin.

Admire glass art at the hidden treasure of the Sonora Desert.

Enjoy the View from Tucson Mountain Park

Cacti at Tucson Mountain Park

Leland Jackson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tucson Mountain Park spans approximately 20,000 acres.

It is one of the largest natural resource areas managed and owned by a local government in the United States.

The park was established in April of 1929 under the management of the Pima County Parks Commission and the chairman, C.B. Brown.

Hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders frequent this place due to its 62-mile trail, which also provides a good range of outdoor activities and experiences.

Within the park is the Gate Pass, which gives you the experience of viewing historic structures and interpretive displays.

You can also picnic and view wildlife throughout Tucson Mountain Park.

Explore Cactus and Succulents at B&B Cactus Farm

B&B Cactus Farm is a succulent cacti nursery located on Speedway Boulevard.

They offer a wide variety of desert plants, perfect for anyone looking to add some life to their home décor.

Bob and Beverly White started their farm in 1981, growing native plants and selling them from their home.

Today, the farm has expanded to include greenhouses, pottery, garden art, and fully landscaped gardens open to visitors.

People are fascinated by the different types of cacti and succulents from all over the world, so they visit this nursery that has been in business for 30 years.

Their knowledgeable staff can answer any queries about taking care of these plants.

Come and have a look at this wonderful farm!

Visitors are free to roam and see how succulents are grown.

Final Thoughts

Tucson is rich with the cultural heritage of the Spaniards, Mexicans, and Western Americans.

You will have many memorable experiences visiting the state, even without spending a dime.

Explore the mostly outdoor museums, and see the many species that have lived in the city’s deserts.

Spend a wonderful budget-friendly vacation with these free things to do in Tucson, Arizona.

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