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Is a getaway to America’s Southwest calling you? Then you might be considering spending some time in Tucson Arizona, the second largest city in the state.
Tucson is the gateway to the Sonoran Desert, and is home to some of the best Southwestern cuisine. But if you don’t know what to do in Tucson, then you’ve come to the right place.
Tucson is a great year-round destination, with gorgeous weather 365 days a year which allows you to experience outdoor recreation, plus there’s plenty of history, arts, culture, and amazing food!
There are a ton of cool things to do in Tucson for all ages and interests, but if you’re not sure what attractions to add to your itinerary, take a look at our list below.
- Is Tucson Arizona Worth Visiting?
- Things To Do In Tucson
- 1. Have Lunch at BOCA Tacos
- 2. Stay at Lodge on the Desert
- 3. Enjoy Craft Beers at Barrio Brewing Co
- 4. Check Out The Mission San Xavier Del Bac
- 5. Get Lost In The Pima Air & Space Museum
- 6. Enjoy Lunch at El Charro Café
- 7. Go Hiking in Sabino Canyon
- 8. Dine at Charro Del Ray
- 9. Sample The Tucson Nightlife on 4th Avenue
- 10. Eat Breakfast at Prep & Pastry
- 11. Drive the Gates Pass Scenic Drive
- 12. Explore Old Tucson Studios
- 13. Visit Trail Dust Town
- 14. Spend the Day At Old Tombstone Western Theme Park
- 15. Marvel at the Wonders of Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
- 16. Explore Saguaro National Park
- 17. Have a Picnic at Tucson Botanical Gardens
- 18. Take the Kids to Reid Park Zoo
- 19. Be Amazed at The Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium
- How To Save Money On Tucson Attractions
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Tucson
Is Tucson Arizona Worth Visiting?
You might be on the fence about visiting Tucson, but allow me to explain to you what you can expect from this atmospheric city.
Being home to over 500,000 people, including the 45,000-strong University of Arizona, you can bet there’s a college-town atmosphere with funky bars and vibrant nightlife to be had. Tucson has a fun-loving history, to say the least.
But it’s not all about entertainment and nightlife, fun Tucson activities include hiking in the wilderness, horseback riding, mountain biking, golfing, scenic drives, snow skiing, exploring fascinating museums and learning about the Spanish Catholic mission, and eating possibly the best Mexican food north of the border to feed your soul.
In the winter months, its location in the Sonoran Desert has created a snowbird destination due to its legendary year-round sunshine.
Set in a flat valley, there are mountain ranges in all directions and swaths of saguaro cactus – a symbol of the American Southwest. Tucson offers a laid-back atmosphere and authentic Southwestern experiences.
It’s like a big little city with the freedom to roam or unplug and relax and recharge, or paint the town red if you want to. From the lively downtown atmosphere to the tranquil mountains, you can free yourself in Tucson!
For these reasons, it is absolutely worth visiting Tucson.
Things To Do In Tucson
Be careful in Tucson, once you immerse yourself in this outdoor mecca, you may never want to leave. I know I’ll be back again with all the family.
Below are my tips on what to do in Tucson, including where to eat, where to stay, and all the fun things to do in Tucson AZ (with or without kids!)
1. Have Lunch at BOCA Tacos
- Hours: Open 11am-10pm Mon-Sat and 11am-8pm Sun
- Address: 533 N 4th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85705
I’m a taco fan, and from my research on places to eat in Tucson, one taco place that kept showing up with good reviews online was BOCA Tacos.
It also came recommended by former locals and our community online, two resources I always go to for food tips.
After landing at Tucson International Airport, I immediately jumped in a car and headed straight to downtown Tucson for lunch at this taco restaurant on Historic 4th Avenue.
BOCA is known for its street-style gourmet Mexican tacos, serving up over 25 types of tacos, and for its rotating salsas created fresh daily.
But one of the best things about BOCA for me on the menu was the vegetarian and vegan offerings.
Whilst I waited for my order of two Cauliflower tacos (grilled fresh cauliflower tossed in curry cilantro and orange oil), and a Veggie taco (sautéed mix of mushrooms, onions, serrano peppers, cilantro, and melted cheese), I was served up four types of salsa to try ranging from least spicy to spicy!
If you’re looking to pair your locally made tacos with local craft beer, BOCA offers up to 30 varieties plus 40 tequilas, vodkas, scotches, whiskies, and Mexican beers to enjoy.
Flying in from winter in North Carolina and sitting in the Tucson sun out on their patio was the perfect start to my Tucson trip!
If you want to try Sonoran tacos in the heart of Tucson, come to BOCA. I found them flavorful and filling.
Besides lunch, consider coming for happy hour or dinner, and you’re right downtown on happening Historic 4th Avene.
2. Stay at Lodge on the Desert
My home for my two-night stay in Tucson was Lodge on the Desert, a 100-room boutique hotel in mid-town Tucson with the Santa Catalina Mountains providing a majestic backdrop.
Although traveling solo on this trip, I could see this hotel appealing to business travelers, leisure travelers, and families like mine – I know my kids would be hard to drag out of the heated swimming pool and whirlpool spa!
Not to mention the complimentary Sonoran hot breakfast buffet featuring a selection of breakfast meats, potatoes, fresh seasonal fruit, yogurt, and more.
Its Midtown location on a major thoroughfare (N Alvernon Way) proved to be convenient and central for my visit and getting to and from Tucson Airport (15-20 minute drive), to downtown Tucson (10-minute drive), and if you’re in town to visit the University of Arizona campus, it’s approximately an 8-minute drive away.
It also has 103 guest rooms and suites, a fitness center, free parking, and fast WiFi.
I even had dinner at the onsite restaurant, Cielos, which specializes in Southwest cuisine regionally sourced with innovative twists.
You have a choice of sitting in the outdoor private patio under the stars, or by the four-sided fireplace for optimal year-round al fresco dining, or inside the intimate dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows that brings the outside in.
To complement the food menu you have a list of classic craft cocktails featuring local spirits and an extensive wine list.
Consider Cielos as a setting for a romantic dinner, or a casual happy hour with friends at the bar.
3. Enjoy Craft Beers at Barrio Brewing Co
- Hours: Open daily from 11.00am – 10.00pm (11.00pm on Weekends)
- Address: 800 E 16th St, Tucson, AZ 85719
If you’re like me, you might be wondering what to do in Tucson on a Sunday afternoon?
Well, considering I arrived on a Sunday, aka NFL Sunday, and I love my football and it’s not often I get to visit a brewery kid-free, seeking out a place to watch the game whilst sampling a few local craft brews was hard to resist.
Barrio Brewing came with good recommendations, so I jumped in an Uber for the 10-minute drive from my hotel.
Whilst located in an industrial part of downtown Tucson, don’t let first impressions scare you off, and once inside you’ll find a cozy atmosphere and attentive staff at this popular neighborhood brewery.
To go with my cold Copperhead Pale Ale, I had the tastiest spinach and artichoke dip I’ve ever eaten – the cilantro wings sounded great too!
I don’t think you’d be disappointed taking the time to drop in here, with a beer selection to satisfy most palettes.
4. Check Out The Mission San Xavier Del Bac
- Hours: Mondays – Saturdays, 7:00 am – 5:00 pm.
- Address: 1950 W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746
Nicknamed “The White Dove of the Desert”, I found Mission San Xavier del Bac one of the most fascinating places to visit in Tucson.
Founded in 1692 by Father Kino and built in 1783, this Catholic mission is considered one of the best-preserved examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.
Inside, you will see beautifully painted frescoes and artwork, and on the outside, the facade resembles something you might see in Europe.
It stands in the center of a Papago Indian settlement along the banks of the Santa Cruz River, about 10 miles south of Tucson.
As a national historical landmark and the only remaining intact mission in southern Arizona, the Mission remains a working parish for the Tohono O’odham people, many of whom still live nearby.
I jumped on a free 45-minute docent-led tour (donations encouraged) and was blown away by the interior and exterior, and learning about the story of the church offers up a fascinating insight into the history of this region.
This would be one of the best things to do in Tucson for history lovers.
5. Get Lost In The Pima Air & Space Museum
- Hours: Open: 7 Days a Week, 9AM – 5PM. Last Admission at 3PM, closed Thanksgiving & Christmas Day.
- Address: 6000 E Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ 85756
Interested in visiting museums in Tucson? This is one of the most popular Tucson attractions.
Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the largest non-government-funded aviation & space museums in the world.
If you are big into aviation, you could probably spend half a day here at this museum that features a display of 360+ aircraft spread out over 80 acres and 6 indoor air-cooled hangers.
It seems there is something here for everyone including 3 hangars of World War II planes, the SR-71, world’s smallest biplane, and many other unique private, military, and commercial air & spacecraft documenting the evolution of flight.
Plus there’s a flight simulator Boeing 720 cockpit, and the Women in Flight Gallery.
If you are short on time like I was, jump on the 45-minute tram tour ($6) that takes you through the museum’s 80 acres on a 1.5-mile circuit to view more than 150 planes in the collection.
These tram tours are narrated by passionate and experienced aviation people, and I found their personal stories about the aircraft on display and the history of the planes very interesting – including “Freedom One” which flew the American hostages home after 444 days in Iran, presidential crafts, and planes that launched astronauts.
Want more aviation history?
Pima Air & Space offers exclusive bus tours of the 2,600-acre “Boneyard”.
This U.S. military and government aircraft storage facility has 4,000+ aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Navy-Marine Corps, Army, Coast Guard, and several federal agencies including NASA in varying degrees of storage, being regenerated or recycled – 16-day advanced reservations required.
Admission for the Boneyard Tours cover:
- The Main Hangar (3 hangars combined into 1: Hangar 1, Spirit of Freedom & Flight Central)
- 3 World War II Hangars (Hangars 3, 4 & 5)
- The Dorothy Finley Space Gallery
- The Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame
- The 390th Memorial Museum (a separate museum on our grounds)
- 80 acres with more than 150 airplanes
- 45-minute tram tours extra $6
6. Enjoy Lunch at El Charro Café
- Hours: 11.00am – 8.30pm daily
- Address: El Charro Tucson has four locations: downtown, Oro valley, Ventana, and the airport.
This café was shortlisted on my itinerary as one of the best Mexican restaurants in Tucson.
As someone who chooses to eat mostly a plant-based and gluten-free diet about 80% of the time, I was delighted to see that El Charro Café has a dedicated plant-based menu option.
So I jumped at the chance to have lunch here, and it turns out that El Charro is a famous and historical chain in the Tucson area and is The Nation’s Oldest Mexican Restaurant in continuous operation by the same family, founded in 1922.
Because of their terrific plant-based menu for vegan and vegetarian diners, plus a kid’s menu, I look forward to bringing my whole family to dine here next time!
7. Go Hiking in Sabino Canyon
- Hours: Visitor Center hours are 8:00am to 4:30pm, seven days a week. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Address: 5700 N Sabino Canyon Rd, Tucson, AZ 85750
As soon as I knew I was visiting this city, some Tucson hikes and nature experiences were high on my wish list.
In case you don’t know, Tucson is well known for its active residents and great hiking opportunities, and one of the best places to go hiking in Tucson is in Sabino Canyon.
On offer are soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert region.
Hiking here is one of the most popular things to do in Tucson AZ. Over a million tourists a year make their way to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the Santa Catalina Mountains, and I found it a wonderful place to spend three hours.
I did a 3-mile out-and-back hike that took in the Esperero Trail (rated moderate) that ascends into the high peaks of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, then picked up the Rattlesnake Trail (rated moderate) and is a low elevation and rocky desert trail, then onto the Bluff Trail (rated easy) a desert trail with rocky terrain that overlooks Sabino Creek.
Finally, I switched to the Sabino Lake Trail (an easy loop trail) to take me back to the visitors center.
Oh, and how about that Tucson weather in the middle of winter – I was hiking in 72F-degree weather in a t-shirt. What’s not to love?
There is plenty to do in Sabino Canyon for a longer visit. It’s filled with hiking trails, saguaro forests, riparian creeks, waterfalls, and swimming holes
Another popular thing to do is jump on the tram shuttle service which offers a narrated audio tour along a 3.7-mile route into Sabino Canyon with multiple stops along the route providing access to trailheads for hiking.
Tram routes provide access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along the route, you are free to get off at one of the nine shuttle stops, do a little hiking, have a picnic, or spend time along one of the many pools and cascades that grace Sabino Creek.
8. Dine at Charro Del Ray
- Hours: 3.00pm – 9.00pm daily
- Address: 188 E Broadway Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85701
Growing up in Australia I have a natural taste and hunger for seafood and was happy to discover that Charro Del Ray is one of the best restaurants in Tucson that serves up sustainable seafood flown in daily from the Pacific Northwest.
Located in downtown Tucson, it’s set inside a 100-year-old vintage building filled with beautiful local and Mexican art.
A Charro is a traditional horseman from Mexico, and Charro del Rey offers a menú of classic and delicious Charro Family takes on seafood and prime dishes.
The restaurant comes complete with a raw bar showcasing fresh and seasonal oysters, crab legs, and ceviches. And for drinks, you’ll find one of Tucson’s most significant champagne collections, plus a nice selection of spirits and local craft beer.
For those that prefer a ranch-to-table steakhouse, right next door is Charro Steak!
9. Sample The Tucson Nightlife on 4th Avenue
As a college town and is the night of the College Football Final between LSU and Clemson, I was looking for a bar to take in the game.
Downtown was quieter than I expected, but it was a Monday night and the students were still coming back to town after the Christmas break, the University of Arizona is more of a basketball school than a football.
But if you’re looking for nightlife, one of the fun things to do in Tucson Arizona on the weekends, or when college is in full swing, is head to Historic landmark, 4th Avenue and you’ll find plenty of bars.
But as not all bars were open being a Monday, I didn’t get an in-depth experience to offer too much of an opinion, but I believe the younger college students love it for that fun, funky vibe that it has.
Over the duration of the game, I mostly found myself at Hi Fi Kitchen & Cocktails, a popular indoor/outdoor tavern with American pub grub and big-screen TVs amid rock-&-roll decor.
I also stuck my head into the historic Hotel Congress for a quick look at the most famous of places in downtown.
Known as an urban, historic, rock ‘n’ roll hotel it was built in 1919 and is the cultural landmark that anchors Downtown Tucson.
Classically renovated and updated, and apparently, they serve great bloody Marys on Sundays in their restaurant. This hotel is also where John Dillinger was captured – some fascinating history here!
10. Eat Breakfast at Prep & Pastry
- Hours: 7.00am – 3.00pm daily
- Address: 2660 N Campbell Ave, Tucson, AZ 85719
If you’re looking for places in town for breakfast, then try Prep & Pastry.
From all reports this was another one of the popular places to eat in Tucson, especially busy on the weekends with a wait time – take advantage of the waitlist button on their website.
They describe themselves as a “Modern American Eatery,” serving breakfast, lunch, and brunch. All food and drinks are prepared with fresh ingredients and sourced locally.
Upon entering, the impression is one of a cool and trendy establishment, and luckily for me being a Tuesday morning I was seated immediately
For those looking for a pastry, the offerings on display looked delish.
Prep & Pastry could be a place to go with friends, family, or even by yourself like I did.
11. Drive the Gates Pass Scenic Drive
A lovely scenic drive along the crest of the Tucson Mountain district is Gates Pass, just west of Tucson.
At an elevation of 3,172ft, Gates Pass Road is lined with scenic overlooks with magnificent views of saguaro cacti. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park to the east and west of the city of Tucson.
Gates Pass is well known as one of the best sunset spots in the outer city area.
Definitely put this drive on your Tucson things to-do list. It would have to be one of the best free things to do in Tucson!
Another popular scenic drive in Tucson is the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway.
12. Explore Old Tucson Studios
- Hours: 10.00am – 5.00pm daily
- Address: 201 Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85735
A visit to the Old Tucson Studios was the perfect attraction in Tucson to explore on a sunny day.
It’s been home to more than 300 films and TV shows including some of Hollywood’s biggest Westerns, and as they say, it’s where the spirit of the old west comes alive!
Old Tucson offers historian-guided studio tours, Wild West entertainment, authentic Southwestern BBQ, and shopping for everyone.
You can watch live-action stunt shows, a gunfight, and musicals, and there are vintage rides for the kids.
You probably need longer than the two hours I had available to take in all this Tucson attraction has to offer – especially for the wild west movie buffs!
13. Visit Trail Dust Town
- Hours: 5.00pm – 9.00pm daily
- Address: 6541 E Tanque Verde Rd, Tucson, AZ 85715
Are you looking for unique things to do in Tucson? Then you might enjoy this shopping center. Yes, a shopping center. But it’s not just any shopping center, Trail Dust Town is a historical outdoor shopping center that still contains historical artifacts.
You can ride an antique Allan Herschell merry-go-round, which was manufactured in 1954 and features its original horses and benches, or ride the slim-gauge railway train along The Trail Dust Town Railroad.
If you’re visiting at the weekend, be sure to check out the Pistoleros Wild West Show, a slap-stick comedy stunt show that pays homage to the city’s wild west days.
14. Spend the Day At Old Tombstone Western Theme Park
- Hours: 10.15 am – 4.30pm daily
- Address: 339 S 4th St, Tombstone, AZ 85638
Continuing with the Wild West theme, another top thing to do in Tucson that pays homage to its cowboy history is to visit the Tombstone Western Theme Park, an amusement park that’s famous for its gunfights, stunt shows, and shooting gallery.
Ride the trolley around the historic park and embrace your inner cowboy as you wander through the parks saloons and restaurants decorated with western memorabilia.
Watch our video of Tombstone Arizona
15. Marvel at the Wonders of Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
- Hours: 8.30am – 5.00pm
- Address: 2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743
Explore the outdoor natural history museum of Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, a 98-acre zoo, aquarium, and natural history museum all in one.
The museum was founded in 1952 and covers an area of 21 acres.
It has two miles of walking path, taking you past enclosures with more than 230 animal species and through gardens home to 1,200 varieties of plants.
16. Explore Saguaro National Park
- Hours: 9.00am – 5.00pm daily
- Address: Tucson, Arizona
Located in the Rincon Mountain District is the Saguaro National Park, famous for its wildlife, and native plants and fauna, including the large saguaro cactus.
For anyone looking to get out and enjoy nature, a trip to Saguaro is definitely worth the effort. It surrounds the city of Tucson and is home to the petroglyphs (an image created by carving into rock) of the ancient Hohokam people.
These can be found on the Signal Hill Trail in the Tucson Mountain District. Here you will see an area of dozens of petroglyphs that are hundreds of years old.
There are 21 known petroglyphs in the Tuscan area, some dating as far back as the early 850 AD.
17. Have a Picnic at Tucson Botanical Gardens
- Hours: 8.30am – 4.30pm daily
- Address: 2150 N Alvernon Way, Tucson, AZ 85712
Learn about the native plants and flora of Tucson at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. This 5.5-acre garden features an oasis of mature trees, and specialty gardens such as the Cactus and Succulent Garden, Barrio Garden, and Herb Garden.
The gardens also connect to a historic Porter property which holds an art gallery, as well as classes and events.
You can see unique species of butterflies and orchids in the COX Butterfly & Orchid Pavilion.
18. Take the Kids to Reid Park Zoo
- Hours: 8.00am – 2.00pm in the summer, 9.00am – 4.00pm in the winter
- Address: 3400 E Zoo Ct, Tucson, AZ 85716
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Tucson with kids, then you can’t go wrong with a trip to the zoo.
See animals from around the world, including giraffes, elephants, zebras, grizzly bears, and lions at this fun and exciting zoo.
Take advantage of their educational programs, pack a picnic, and enjoy a fun day out surrounded by the world’s most exotic wildlife.
19. Be Amazed at The Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium
- Hours: 10.00am – 5.00pm daily
- Address: 1601 E University Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85721
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Tucson for adults, then The Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium is a great place for adults to relax and brush up on their science and space knowledge.
It belongs to the University of Arizona and is famous for its planetarium theater which has a 15.2-meter dome screen and can house 146 people.
How To Save Money On Tucson Attractions
If you’re thinking about adding a few of these activities to your list of things to do in Tucson but you’re worried about the cost, don’t worry, because you can save money by getting a Southern Arizona discount pass.
The pass allows you to save on entrance to over 90 attractions in Tucson and surrounding areas in Southern Arizona.
Many of the attractions listed in this guide are included on the discount pass, as well as Mount Lemmon Ski Valley (great for hiking, biking, and rock climbing in the summer), Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Biosphere 2 and Titan Missile Museum.
Some attractions you might also want to visit that are not included on the discount pass are Flandrau Science Center, Kitt Peak National Observatory, Catalina State Park, The Franklin Auto Museum and Sentinel Peak.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Tucson
Tucson was a surprising place that offered. so much more than I originally thought. It has a vibrant atmosphere, some incredible nature spots, delicious Mexican-inspired cuisine and fascinating museums.
As you can see from this list, there are tons of things to do in Tucson for any type of traveller, whether you’re visiting with your family or as a couple. You can read our tips on what to do in Tucson with kids.
However you choose to spend your time in Tucson, we hope you have an amazing time.
Disclaimer: This trip was in partnership with Visit Tucson, though all the ideas and opinions expressed in this guide are our own. For more tips on things to see in Tucson, check out the official Tucson tourism website.
Video: 36 Hours in Tucson, Arizona
Click play to see more of my visit to Tucson