A fascinating place to explore, the charming city of Tucson certainly has a lot going for it. Set in the scorching Sonoran Desert with magnificent mountain ranges rising nearby, it’s a stone’s throw away from stunning scenery. There are countless outdoor activities and other active things to do in Tucson for locals and tourists alike to enjoy.
Home to the University of Arizona, the state’s second-largest city has a lively yet laid back feel to it, plus a thriving arts and culture scene for you to delve into. Additionally, it has beautiful botanical gardens and historic neighbourhoods with many sights and tourist attractions relating to the Wild West.
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Trail Dust Town
Nestled in the northeast of the city is Trail Dust Town, a unique outdoor shopping center. Rumored to have once been a movie set, it has Wild West-themed shops. Other sights for you to check out include a quaint old carousel, ferris wheel, and miniature train.
Since its opening in 1961, the tiny town has been a popular tourist attraction. People come from all around to sample the sizzling steaks at Pinnacle Peak, watch a Wild West stunt show or try their hand at panning for gold.
16. Tucson Mountain Park
Sprawled across a huge swathe of the sun-scorched Sonoran Desert is the lovely Tucson Mountain Park, just to the west of the city. Besides boasting breathtaking scenery, the pretty park and its prominent peaks offer up a wealth of outstanding outdoor activities.
Popular among nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike, the park was established in 1929 to protect the remote range. Within its wonderful wilderness, you can spy splendid saguaros with spellbinding views and photos to be had from up high. In total, it has over 100 kilometers of trails to hike, mountain bike or horseback ride.
15. University of Arizona Campus
Covering a huge part of the city center is the University of Arizona’s colossal campus. Thanks to its sizable student population, it has a lively yet laid back feel, with gorgeous grounds and beautiful old buildings for you to explore.
One of the most prestigious universities in the States, it was founded in 1885. Many of the buildings in its historic heart date to the early 20th-century. As well as appreciating the array of architectural styles, visitors can stop by the excellent Arizona State Museum and the magnificent Museum of Art.
14. DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum
Located on the northeastern outskirts of the city is the delightful DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum. What started as a small site in 1951 has since grown into an incredible National Historic District. Its adobe edifices now house a captivating collection of artworks.
Designed by acclaimed Arizona artist Ettore DeGrazia, the sprawling series of beige buildings look a treat with the standout sight being its permanent collection of paintings. These highlight the history of the native cultures of the American Southwest, with many of DeGrazia’s astonishing abstract and Impressionist pieces being on display.
13. Gaslight Theatre
If you’re after a family-friendly evening out, then look no further than the Gaslight Theatre in the east of the city on Broadway Boulevard. Here you can enjoy unforgettable performances of melodramas and musical comedies to wild Westerns, Christmas specials and sci-fi shows.
Since opening in 1977, the theater has been popular with locals and tourists alike due to its enticing entertainment and welcoming ambience. While watching a show in the wonderful Wild West-themed theater, you can also enjoy a meal, drink, and popcorn as you boo the villain and cheer the hero of the play.
12. Tucson Botanical Gardens
A peaceful and picturesque place to stroll around is the Tucson Botanical Gardens, just a short drive from the city center. An oasis of calm and tranquility, the gorgeous gardens are home to orchids, bromeliads, and succulents with countless cacti and palms dotted about.
Once the private property of the Potter family, the historic home and its grounds were turned into a beautiful botanical garden in the 1970s. Since then it has expanded to include everything from herb, barrio and children’s gardens to a serene Zen section and butterfly greenhouse.
11. Madera Canyon
Situated just 45 minutes’ drive south of Tucson is the majestic Madera Canyon. Nestled amidst the soaring Santa Rita Mountains, it boasts fabulous fauna and flora. Its rugged reaches are widely regarded to be one of the best places to go birdwatching in the States.
Thanks to its serene and secluded setting, a myriad of migratory birds stop off in the craggy canyon to rest. Over 250 species have been spotted to date. Madera Canyon also has lovely hiking trails which take you alongside a charming creek and through patches of ponderosa pine before emerging at prominent peaks and viewpoints.
10. Reid Park Zoo
Despite its relatively small size, Reid Park Zoo is home to an astounding array of animals and is a firm favorite with locals and tourists alike. Lying to the east of the city center, its menagerie features everything from grizzly bears and jaguars to giraffes, elephants and tigers.
Founded back in 1965, the zoo has four zones for you to explore which take you from Asia and Africa, all the way to South America. As well as learning about the animals and their natural habitats through displays and demonstrations, you can also hand-feed giraffes and splash about in its wild and wet water park.
9. Old Tucson
With spectacular shoot-outs and stunt shows, saloons to visit and old stagecoaches to ride around in, Old Tuscon is sure to be a great day out for all the family. Nicknamed ‘Hollywood in the Desert’, the former film studio is now a wonderful Wild West theme park with exciting attractions and entertainment options for visitors to enjoy.
Built in the 1930s, its sprawling set has been used for more than 400 films and TV shows, with Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and El Dorado being the most famous of the lot. As well as touring around the superb studio and its county jail, ranch house and railroad station, visitors can also watch reenactments of gunfights and go on amusement rides.
8. Catalina State Park
The captivating Catalina State Park lies half an hour’s drive north of the city. Encompassing craggy canyons and sparkling streams, as well as woodlands and wildlife, its rugged reaches are a treat to explore.
Nestled at the base of the soaring Santa Catalina Mountains, the park has trails for you to hike, mountain bike or horseback ride. Enjoy stunning scenery with breathtaking views to be had over mountains and Tucson in the distance.
7. Tohono Chul
Located on the way to Catalina State Park is the Tohono Chul, connecting people to the awe-inspiring art, nature and culture of the Sonoran Desert region. This acts as both a botanical garden and cultural museum, its name literally means ‘Desert Corner’, in the local indigenous language.
Founded in 1985, the peaceful property has gorgeous gardens to amble, dotted with wild and native flowers, shrubs and trees. You can also enter its exquisite art gallery which showcases sculptures and folk art from around the American Southwest.
6. Mission San Xavier del Bac
One of the most important historic sights in Arizona, the marvelous Mission San Xavier del Bac can be found to the south of the city center. Known as the ‘White Dove of the Desert’, the beautiful white Baroque building exhibits some of the finest remaining Spanish Colonial architecture in the country.
Built between 1783 and 1797, the mission is remarkably the oldest European structure in Arizona. Its fabulous features and facade are popular among pilgrims and tourists alike. With its elegant entrance and exterior, exquisitely decorated interior with frescoes, paintings and statues, it’s a striking sight.
5. Saguaro National Park
Made up of two separate sections that lie to either side of Tucson, the sublime Saguaro National Park boasts dramatic desert landscapes. Named for the gigantic cacti that dot its desolate confines, it has a myriad of amazing trails to hike, mountain bike and horseback ride. There are also some splendid scenic drives to enjoy.
Established in 1933, the park not only protects part of the Sonoran Desert but also the towering Tucson and Rincon mountain ranges that run through it. While it has wonderful wilderness to explore, the standout sight is its swathe of spiny saguaro that tower up to 12 meters tall and are an iconic image of the American Southwest.
4. Pima Air and Space Museum
One of the largest aerospace museums in the world, the phenomenal Pima Air and Space Museum lies just 15 minutes’ drive to the southeast of the city. Here you’ll find an expansive airfield and humongous hangars that house more than 400 historic aircraft and spacecraft.
Since opening in 1976, its collection has grown considerably with civilian planes now to be found alongside military bombers, missiles and unmanned spacecraft. The massive museum also has interesting and engaging exhibits and artifacts that document the evolution of aviation.
3. Sabino Canyon
Nestled to the northeast of Tucson is the spellbinding scenery of Sabino Canyon amidst the sweeping Santa Catalina Mountains. Due to its proximity to the city, it is a very popular place with epic outdoor activities and majestic views on offer.
Here you can find everything from creeks and cacti, to waterfalls and wildlife with the canyon being located entirely within the Coronado National Forest. Besides hiking and horseback riding, you can also hop onto the Sabino Canyon Tram which stops off at trailheads, peaceful picnic spots and fantastic viewpoints.
2. Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway
Widely considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the southeast of the state, the mesmerizing Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is a treat to travel along. Stretching over 40 kilometers in length, it takes you right up to the summit of the mighty mount, passing spectacular scenery, nature and viewpoints as you go.
The remarkable route takes you past delightful desert scenery with twinkling lakes and streams to be spied nearer its lofty summit. Up high among the peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views over Tucson and the Sonoran Desert. Great hiking, camping, and even skiing are to be had amidst its rugged reaches.
1. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Home to a simply staggering array of attractions, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of the most popular places to visit in Southern Arizona. Besides boasting a botanical garden and zoo, it also has an excellent art gallery, aquarium and natural history museum.
Founded in 1952, the facility offers an invaluable look at the natural history, animals and plants of the sun-scorched Sonoran Desert. Visitors can see coyotes and cougars in their natural habitat and learn all about the history and nature of the remote region. A very interesting and educational day out, the astounding Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum can be found just 20 minutes’ drive to the west of the city.