Known for its desert landscapes and spectacular sunsets, there are a lot of things to do in Tucson when you visit. Whether you golf, hike, bike or horseback ride, you’ll find a wide array of fun things to do in Tucson. There are also a lot of activities in the Tucson area for those who are more into food, museums, and culture.
Little sister to Arizona’s sprawling Phoenix/Scottsdale area, Tucson’s small-town feel is warm and infectious. People smile at you and say, “hello.” A laid-back, relaxed feeling permeates.
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I’m what’s called a “semi-native” Tucsonan. Not born and raised here, I’ve spent the last 43 years in love with the Sonoran Desert and all Tucson offers. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Things to Do in Tucson That Are Super Fun
Tucson lures baby boomers retiring from the North who realize how nice it would be to live in a place where they could be outdoors almost every day of the year. The friendly, casual vibe is strong and a great reason to plan your visit to Tucson today.
Outdoor Activities & Hikes in Tucson
Tucson is famous for its wide-open spaces that make for a beautiful desert climate. This Arizona town is one of the best places in the Southwest for rock climbing, hiking, bird watching, biking trails, horseback riding trails, and even skiing.
Here are some of the can’t-miss things to see, do & experience in the outdoors of Tucson.
1. The wide-open skies provide spectacular sunsets. Get outside and watch as the Catalina Mountains turn pink as the sun sets in the west.
2. You’ll find hiking for every skill level. There are 5 mountain ranges ringing Tucson’s Valley Floor that provide 216 hiking trails in and around town. Some of the best hikes in Tucson are; Seven Falls, Tumamoc Hill, Mt. Lemon, Wasson Peak Trail, Yetman Trail, Tanque Verde Falls, Blackett’s Ridge, and The Window.
3. Water is uncommon in this desert, so the hike to Romero Pools is a treat. Romero Canyon Trail is a 5.5 mile back trail to Romero Pools. It is rated as moderate and a great way to get up close to the desert landscape. Horses are also able to use this trail.
4. Play golf at one of Tucson’s 36 golf courses. From exclusive courses like those at Dove Mountain to the highly-rated 8 public courses, there is something for every level golfer.
5. Tucson is bike-friendly all year. The Chuck Huckleberry Loop is a 120-mile bike trail that winds through the entire town. Each November, the 100 Mile Tour de Tucson race attracts 7000-10,000 riders, including special categories for kids and tandem bikes.
6. Visit Pima Prickly Park at 3500 W. River Road to see prickly pear cactus in person as well as other desert blooms, cacti and desert trees.
Tip: you can identify prickly pear cacti by their flat, circular pads.
In the summer, the prickly pear cactus yield copious amounts of purple fruits that provide the base for jelly, jam or syrup. Or think Prickly Pear Margaritas!
7. Catalina State Park on 5500 acres northwest of town offers hiking, camping, horseback riding and contains over 5000 saguaro cacti.
8. Cowboys are part of Tucson’s heritage. Go horseback riding for an afternoon or play cowboy by staying at a dude ranch like Tanque Verde Guest Ranch.
9. Yes, we have snow and skiing! Take a drive to Mt Lemmon. It is home to the most southern ski area in the USA.
10. Take a Drive with the top down in January! Climate is one of the 5 C’s Tucson is renowned for. Cotton, cattle, citrus, and copper are the other four. The Loop drive at Saguaro National Park is a perfect overview of the Sonoran desert landscape. A few additional scenic drives in Tucson are Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway, Cactus Forest Drive and Hohokam Road.
11. Take the tram or walk up the 3.8 miles of paved road up Sabino Canyon crossing over 9 stone bridges on your way. Running creek water and stunning views will convince you the desert is beautiful.
12. Visit Tohono Chul Gardens. This 49-acre park has beautifully landscaped desert gardens with a wide variety of cactus, including saguaros, flowers, and trees. It is considered one of the world’s great botanical gardens. Have lunch in their Bistro after wandering the many trails and visiting the greenhouse and gift shop. The bistro is renowned for its Prickly Pear Lemonade.
13. “A” Mountain (or Sentinel Peak) looms just west of downtown sporting a large red, white and blue A, a tribute to the winning U Of A teams. Take the short drive to the top for the view.
14. Rock climbing indoors or outdoors is popular year-round. One of the most popular rock-climbing spots is Mt. Lemmon in Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains. Mount Lemmon, has thousands of established rock climbing routes of all grades and difficulties.
15. At the Tucson Botanical Garden, you’ll meander trails through specialty gardens devoted to plants of our Sonoran Desert. The annual butterfly exhibit is one of the best things to do in Tucson in October. Every October, the Cox Butterfly garden offers an exclusive opportunity to see some of the world’s most beautiful and exotic butterflies. There are no native butterfly species in the Sonoran desert, so each year they are imported as chrysalises from Malaysia, Africa, Australia, and eight Central and South American.
16. Instead of trees, the Saguaro National Park features tall saguaro cactus and ancient Hoboken petroglyphs. The park is over 93,000 acres, divided between two sections on either side of the city. Saguaro National Park is home to the natural habitats for Roadrunners, horned lizards, Gila monsters, kangaroo rats, and collared peccaries and black-tailed gnatcatche.
17. Colossal Cave is a 2400 acres park with a crystal-filled cave. The temperature is always 70 º. A great place to visit when it is 110º outside. Colossal Cave also has nice picnic areas with a shade in a wooded and narrow, walled canyon.
18. Look up! Stargazing in Tucson-the astronomy capital of the world-is spectacular due to the dark sky ordinances and the dry climate. You’ll find lots of telescopes available from a bar, libraries, Kitt Peak and Mt. Lemmon.
Things to do in Downtown Tucson
The Congress Street district is the heart of downtown Tucson. In downtown, you’ll find the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, the Children’s Museum Tucson, the 1850s Cathedral of Saint Augustine and the Turquoise Trail.
Adjacent to downtown is the Tucson historic district of the Presidio which includes the site where the City of Tucson was established as a Spanish military fort in 1775.
19. Downtown’s Historic Hotel Congress was built in 1919 and is the hub of the chic downtown scene. In 1934, bank robber, John Dillinger was captured here. The hotel is a popular place to visit for the history and while you are there, stop into one of the seven bars for a Dillinger Sidecar; a cocktail created especially for the hotel which is an old-fashioned with a cowboy twist.
20. When downtown, notice the 14-foot infamous bronze statue of Pancho Villa on his horse in Veinte de Agosto Park.
21. Visit the quirky and eclectic shops and restaurants on Fourth Avenue. Twice a year, in December and March, hundreds of vendors set up in the middle of the streets for The Fourth Avenue Street Fair. The streetcar runs through it!
22. Shop Tucson’s Farmers Markets for organic veggies and meats, local honey and salsas, and crafts. The Friday Udall Park Farmers Market is a great market for locals and visitors to connect with Arizona farmers and food producers each week.
23. A perfect place to make your wishes come true is the El Tiradito Shrine tucked away downtown. This Historic Site is the only shrine in the United States dedicated to the soul of a sinner buried in unconsecrated ground.
Best Restaurants in Tucson & Other Foodie Fun
The Tuscon food scene is famous for salsas, tacos, margaritas, and Sonoran hot dogs. Food in Tucson revolves around Mexican and Southwestern cuisine and dishes such as Cheese crisps, Chimichangas, and Navajo tacos, but it encompasses much more. Visit the Old Pueblo village for authentic Mexican Food. Or head to the downtown districts of Main Gate, Fourth Avenue, Congress Street, Presidio, Convention, and Sentinel for some of the best restaurants in Tucson.
UNESCO designated Tucson as a “capital of gastronomy.” Today you can sample desert foods such as amaranth, cactus pads, tepary beans, cholla buds, dried cactus flowers, and escabeche at local eateries and food trucks.
Here are some of the top-rated foodie things to do in Tucson, AZ.
24. Enjoy A Margarita is the traditional Tucson cocktail. On the rocks with a salted rim is standard. Or try a frozen one! El Charro Café is known for its authentic house margaritas. La Botana Tacos and Guadalajara Original Grill are great options for a delicious frozen Margarita.
25. Eat a Chimichanga where they were invented at the historic El Charro Cafe. A chimichanga is a crispy, wonderful burrito-invented when a burrito was accidentally tossed into a vat of oil.
27. Eat fresh Seafood from the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. Charro Steak & Del Rey is a local favorite for salmon and other seafood from nearby Mexico.
28. Enjoy out of this world, handmade Chocolate at Monsoon Chocolate. They are known for making the best hand-crafted in the American Southwest. Enjoy their uniquely flavored beautiful little pieces of chocolate art. Don’t forget to try their amazing drinking chocolate; its a thick and rich chocolate that is perfect for any winter day.
29. Check out the Tucson Craft Beer scene. There are currently 20 local breweries. During a visit to Tucson, head to Borderlands Brewing Company. Located in a 100-year-old produce warehouse in downtown Tucson with veers such as the Arizona Ale, Cashmere Cactus ale and the Prickly Pear Wheat. Another great choice is Arizona’s Oldest Brewery; Barrio Brewing Co. They specialize in microbrews with up to 12 beers on tap including Tucson Blonde Ale, Santa Rita Jefeweizen and Citrazona IPA.
30. When the mountains turn pink, it’s time for a drink…Enjoy one of Tucson’s great Happy Hours. A favorite is at Maynard’s Kitchen at the train depot. Another great happy hour option with live music every weekend is Dante’s Fire.
Museums in Tucson
Tuscon has more than 40 museums that visitors can explore today.
31. The Sonoran-Desert Museum sprawls over 98 acres. It’s a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium all wrapped into one.
32. Miniatures of all kinds create the magical displays at the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
33. Visit the graveyard of old aircraft at The Pima Air and Space Museum. Spanning 80 acres, the dry atmosphere of the Sonoran Desert provides the perfect storage conditions.
34. Famous Tucson artist, Ted Degrazia, designed and built his Gallery of the Sun to showcase his paintings and honor the desert setting in the Tucson Foothills. The Degrazia Gallery is a 10-acre museum site that includes an adobe gallery with permanent and rotating exhibits, a mission with interior murals, a gift shop, a cactus courtyard, and beautiful grounds.
35. With 2 locations, one downtown and one in Oro Valley, Children’s Museum Tucson is the place kids under 5 will delight in the hands-on exhibits and fun.
More Fun Things to Do in Tucson
While Tucson is the 2nd largest city after Phoenix, it is the largest city in the Arizona Sun Corridor and the largest city in southern Arizona. There is a a wide variety of more fun things to do in Tucson, as we continue our list below.
36. Ride the streetcar from the University of Arizona, up Fourth Avenue to Downtown Tucson and back.
37. Shop Tucson’s Farmers Markets for organic veggies and meats, local honey and salsas, and crafts. The Friday Udall Park Farmers Market is a great market for locals and visitors to connect with Arizona farmers and food producers each week.
38. The University of Arizona was founded in 1885, and was the first university in the state. Take a stroll around campus or visit one of the campus museums, student and professional performances, science and astronomy attractions, or sporting events.
39. Step back to the Wild West with a visit to Old Tucson. The site of over 400 films and Western movies, Old Tucson has daily shootouts, entertainment, and rides for the kids.
40. In Oracle, about 13 miles north of Tucson, Biosphere2 is a tightly sealed glass and steel structure on 3.15 acres. It the largest laboratory for global Ecology ever built.
41. Tucson is home to world-renown destination spas, such as Miraval and Canyon Ranch.
42. The Catholic missionaries built some beautiful Missions. The dove of the desert, San Xavier established by Father Kino in 1692. Its interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. Mission San Xavier Del Bac is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.
43. The Indian reservations around Tucson boast casinos with gambling and events.
44. La Encantada is the place for Upscale Shopping and Fine Dining.
45. Located on the U of A campus, you’ll see the skies and delight in the exhibits at the Flandreau Science Center and Planetarium.
46. For music, food, libations, and crafts, Monterrey Court is an old motel repurposed into a Tucson Hotspot.
47. The horses run in the Spring at the historic Rillito Race Track. Quarter horses have been racing here for over 50 years.
48. The Valley of the Moon is an enchanted Mecca presenting tucked away in mid-Tucson that presents a variety of events to delight all ages. It was built by George Phar Legler in the 1920s to promote kindness, imagination, and mental health.
49. The beautifully restored Fox Theater is the site of approximately 150 musical performances each year. Built as a dual vaudeville/movie house in 1930, it was reopened in 2006. Reserve the balcony couches that allow you and your date to cuddle.
50. The historic, pink Spanish Colonial Courthouse was built in 1929. Its mosaic dome is one of Old Pueblo’s most recognizable structures. A portion of the east wall of the original Presidio of Tucson runs through the courtyard and is marked with a strip of granite.
51. Have you ever petted a porcupine or a capybara? You can do that and more at the Funny Foot Farm and Tucson Petting Zoo. If you love zoo’s you can also check out The Reid Park Zoo; it is a 24-acre non-profit zoo with more than 500 animals.
52. A wonderful place to stay mid-town is the historic Arizona Inn. It has been family owned and operated since its creation in 1930 by Isabella Greenway, Arizona’s first congresswoman.
As travel today remains uncertain, please keep your safety and the safety of others in mind at all times. If you are comfortable with traveling, please travel responsibly and within regulation as any travel is at your own risk. If you do decide to travel at this time, here are a few recommendations:
- Wear a face mask.
- Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands on a regular basis. Click here for a DIY Hand Sanitizer Recipe
- Check official websites before your trip for the latest updates on policies, closures, and status of local businesses and Tucson Travel alerts..
- Book a hotel with free cancellation in case you need to change your plans at the last minute.
This baby boomer hippie chick was bitten by the travel bug decades ago and has never recovered. Joeann has adventured through over 30 countries and 4 continents and can often be found on a warm island beach. Sharing tips and experiences to inspire others to live their dreams fills her with joy. Subscribe to her adventures at www.JoeannsView.com