I’m a born-and-raised local, and in this guide, I cover the best things to do in Tucson, Arizona.
This list is the result of a lifetime of exploring the Old Pueblo, so look no further for the ultimate guide to this desert city!
I’ll help you discover popular Tucson attractions plus local secrets including my favorite hiking areas and can’t-miss events.
Table of Contents
- 27 Best Things to Do in Tucson
- Saguaro National Park
- Tucson Rodeo
- San Xavier del Bac Mission
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
- Tucson Botanical Gardens
- Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
- Reid Park Zoo
- Rillito Park Race Track
- McKale Memorial Center
- Catalina State Park
- Madera Canyon
- Mount Lemmon
- Pima Air and Space Museum
- Colossal Cave Mountain Park
- Sentinel Peak (“A” Mountain)
- University of Arizona Campus
- Arizona History Museum
- Tucson Children’s Museum
- Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
- Trail Dust Town
- Rialto Theatre
- Arizona Stadium
- Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson
- Center for Creative Photography
- All Souls Procession
- Centennial Hall
- Gem and Mineral Show
- FAQs About What To Do In Tucson
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27 Best Things to Do in Tucson
Saguaro National Park
Hike through forests of saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert surrounding Tucson
Saguaro National Park is the ultimate Tucson destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Go on a desert hike, watch the electric sunset over Gate’s Pass, and take a scenic drive through thousands of saguaro cacti.
There are two sides of the park – West and East – located in the Tucson Mountains and Rincon Mountains. Both are equally beautiful but feature slightly different geography and wildlife.
Saguaro National Park is the best spot to observe the iconic saguaros, the signature feature of the Sonoran Desert region.
It’s also a great place to explore ancient Hohokam petroglyphs, most prevalent on Signal Hill on the west side of the park. Though the Tucson skyline is visible from parts of the national park, it’s a peaceful escape from the city amid beautiful desert scenery.
📚 Related Reading: 32 Best Things to Do in Phoenix Arizona
Experience the Wild West at Tucson’s iconic event of the year
The Tucson Rodeo is one of the greatest experiences you can have in the Old Pueblo. The event is so important to Tucson culture that nearly every local school takes half a week off so everyone in town can attend.
It’s a massive part of the history of my desert city, and it’s a unique way to immerse yourself in the western roots of Arizona.
Grab a beer, order some barbecue, then have a seat in the grandstands for the show of a lifetime. There’s nothing more thrilling than the sight of a rider holding on for dear life as a massive bull or bucking bronco kicks and rears around the arena.
Barrel racing is an adrenaline rush, too! The trick riders are my favorite part of the rodeo as they gallop around doing insane acrobatics on their elegant steeds.
The revelry of the Tucson Rodeo Parade is infectious as the sounds of live music fill the air while local families prance by on horseback. It’s a joyful affair and a wonderful experience with friends and family. The Tucson Rodeo is one of the most special things to do in Tucson, so if you visit in February, don’t hesitate to buy tickets.
San Xavier del Bac Mission
Visit this famous Spanish Catholic mission, the oldest European structure in Arizona
San Xavier del Bac Mission is a must-see when you visit Tucson. You’ll feel like you stepped into a time machine the moment you walk through the entryway. Intricately painted murals with gilded finishes cover the walls and ceilings of this stunning church. It’s a sight that will leave you in awe.
Since the 18th century, this historic landmark along the Santa Cruz River has played a massive role in Arizona’s cultural development. History buffs, families, couples – all kinds of travelers will appreciate the fine details of this beautifully-preserved structure.
The church hosts incredible holiday events during the season, so make sure to check the calendar on its website before visiting.
🚗 How to Get There: Drive 9 miles south of downtown Tucson via I-19
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Explore everyone’s favorite outdoor, live-animal museum in Arizona
There isn’t a soul in Tucson who doesn’t recommend the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to visitors. Nearly 100 acres total, this local favorite is a zoo, aquarium, art gallery, and natural history museum all rolled into one. It’s a magical place, especially for the little ones who have seldom experienced desert wildlife.
See condors soar in an expert bird demonstration as you enter the museum. Continue down the 2-mile outdoor path to watch bighorn sheep navigate steep mountain cliffs. Wrap up your day by getting up close and personal with a majestic mountain lion and ocelot.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is by far one of the best things to do in Tucson. Be sure to take the whole family out on this classic Sonoran Desert experience.
👉 Pro Tip: Arrive before noon to make the most of the outdoor weather and wildlife movement.
Tucson Botanical Gardens
Surround yourself with local flora amid 16 unique desert gardens
The Tucson Botanical Gardens are the perfect place to take your special someone on a romantic date. It’s also great for a family outing, especially at the butterfly exhibit. Experience the magic of these gentle creatures as dozens of different species flutter by in a flurry of vivid colors. Each of the 16 gardens displays a variety of incredible desert cacti, trees, and flowers. There’s even a zen garden!
The gardens put on special events throughout the year, so make sure to check the calendar on their website before visiting. During the winter, the grounds are aglow from the LightsUp! Festival of Illumination. I highly recommend attending this enchanting event to get into the holiday spirit. Visiting the Tucson Botanical Gardens is one of the most aesthetic things to do in Tucson, especially for nature lovers.
🦋 Pro Tip: Butterfly Magic is only open October-May, so try to plan a visit during those months!
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
Traverse the most famous hiking trails in Tucson, some of which feature raging waterfalls
Welcome to the true Tucson desert. Located at the base of the southern side of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a hiker’s paradise.
Take a jog through the park’s paved pathway, which stretches from the parking lot to the Esperero trailhead just 0.5-miles away. Or take to the desert rocks by scaling Blackett’s Ridge, a steep-yet-short hike with views that will blow your mind.
My top recommendations for hikes here include Seven Falls, but only during the monsoon season so you can get a complete feel for the waterfalls. Also, check out Sabino Lake Loop (this one is easy and very scenic!) and Blackett’s Ridge (my favorite hike for views, though it kicks your butt).
Reid Park Zoo
Enjoy a day of family fun on the wild side of Tucson
Take the kiddos and the rest of the family to the Reid Park Zoo for a day of laid-back fun and exciting animal sightseeing! The zoo is a local favorite in Tucson. Since it’s not a very large attraction, it’s super easy to navigate in just a few hours. While some zoos are massive and overwhelming, Reid Park Zoo is approachable and humble.
The zoo features over 500 animals, a favorite of which is the African Elephant. In 2014, the zoo proudly welcomed the first elephant born in Arizona! After strolling past the wide variety of exhibits, enjoy lunch at the cafe before heading home. Make sure to check out the baby ducks at the ponds in Reid Park on your way back to the car!
👉 Pro Tip: Check out exciting events at the zoo here before you bring in the family.
Rillito Park Race Track
Place your bets and watch the horses run against a stunning backdrop of the Catalinas
The horse races at Rillito Race Track make for one of the most unique things to do in Tucson. Running from February through April, this classic event is thrilling.
I used to spend every birthday here as a child. My mom and I would rent a box early in the day, then we’d arrive in the afternoon for a day of racing with a view of the finish line. I highly recommend renting a box if you come with a group, but the grandstands are just as fun if you go solo or with a friend.
The Rillito Park Race Track is my personal favorite Tucson attraction. I cannot emphasize enough how fond my memories of this place are, and I look forward to returning each year. It’s an affordable way to experience Tucson from a different perspective. Your family and friends will remember a day at the races for years to come!
🏇 Pro Tip: Show up around 11 am to reserve a box before the races begin.
McKale Memorial Center
Cheer for the University of Arizona Wildcats at this famous sports center
McKale Memorial Center is the home of Arizona Wildcats basketball, volleyball, and more teams. Grab your tickets, a heaping plate of nachos, and a tallboy, and enjoy the U of A’s fantastic sports programs.
This is one of my favorite things to do in Tucson with family or a small group of friends. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of sports, it’s a blast to be around the electric energy inside of McKale. Wildcats fans don’t mess around!
If basketball is your forte, don’t miss out on a game during the fall and winter. Tickets can be as cheap as $10, and even if you’re in the nosebleeds, you’ll have a great time. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have been phenomenal over the past few years, so you’re almost guaranteed to see an eventful game. Bear down!
👉 Pro Tip: Uber or park early in one of the free lots around campus so you don’t get stuck in the parking garage after the game.
Catalina State Park
Hike to natural pools or take a peaceful stroll alongside mountain streams
Catalina State Park is one of my favorite hiking destinations in Tucson. The park is at the base of the western side of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and the wildlife here is unparalleled to the more central hiking spots. Expect to see coyotes, rattlesnakes, quails, mule deer, and even mountain lions!
If you want to take a light stroll with magnificent views of the park, the main loop trail is your best bet. This trail winds through several washes, so you might want to wear your waterproof hiking boots to avoid soggy socks.
Looking for a challenge? Romero Pools is a demanding but very rewarding hike to some of the prettiest natural pools in the greater Tucson area!
👉 Pro Tip: Never hike alone, especially in a wild area like Catalina State Park. Desert animals likely won’t mess with you, but you want to have a buddy with you just in case.
Trek rugged, wooded trails or camp a night under starry skies
Madera Canyon is one of those places that makes you feel like you’re in a fairytale storybook. The road to the canyon provides incredible views of the Santa Rita Mountains. Against rolling tendrils of the morning fog, the notable Mount Wrightson juts into the sky.
As you approach the trailhead at the end of the highway, magnificent trees form a canopy over the road. You can expect to see wild turkeys and mule deer roaming through the green woods on either side of the street. This area is world-renowned for bird watching, so keep an eye out for the Elegant Trogon, among other rare species.
You can camp under the stars here, or rent a bed and breakfast in the tiny section of residential cabins. There’s a visitors center and a gift shop in Madera Canyon, but other than that, it’s quiet and unpopulated.
My favorite cabin is this gorgeous A-frame built into the boulders alongside the main drag. If you plan to hike, summiting Mt. Wrightson is a commendable accomplishment. This nearly 10,000-foot peak is not easy to tackle!
🚗 How to Get There: Take I-19 south toward Nogales from Downtown Tucson. Then take the Continental Road exit in Green Valley and follow the signs east to the canyon.
Scale the state’s best climbing routes, hit the ski slopes, or simply take a scenic drive from the desert to the forest
If you’re looking for things to do in Tucson that embody local life, a trip to Mount Lemmon is a must. Following summertime monsoon rains, hiking trails become overgrown with gorgeous greenery and wildlife. Rock climbing is unmatched on the jagged granite rock faces throughout the mountain range.
Mount Lemmon Ski Valley (the southernmost ski resort in the United States) is open for business in the winter. Though the slopes are limited to just a handful of runs, it’s fascinating to ski or snowboard with a view of the Arizona desert below.
Located in the Coronado National Forest, Mount Lemmon is a testament to Tucson beauty year-round. Summerhaven, the tiny town at the end of the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, offers several charming restaurants and bakeries.
There is also a great spot for chili and hot cider at the Iron Door Restaurant just outside of the ski slopes. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, don’t miss out on a trip to this local favorite spot.
📚 Related Reading: Arizona Travel Guide
Pima Air and Space Museum
Wander through the history of aviation among over 300 aircraft
If you’re a history buff or have an affinity for airplanes, don’t skip the Pima Air and Space Museum! It is one of the largest non-government aerospace collections in the nation. Peruse over 300 aircraft and over 1,000 artifacts ranging from presidential planes to old war relics.
👉 Pro Tip: While there are 5 indoor hangars to wander, the majority of this museum is outdoors. I recommend visiting during any season besides the summertime.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
Surround yourself with incredible underground rock formations
Colossal Cave Mountain Park makes for an unforgettable experience. Schedule a tour online before arriving, then take in the magic of the world below Tucson.
While the greater Tucson area is riddled with caves, none compare to the grandeur of Colossal Cave. This network of underground chambers is several miles long, and the details of the formations are exquisite. You’ll wander through stalagmites and stalactites with your jaw on the floor for the duration of the tour!
If spelunking isn’t up your alley, the park offers multiple outdoor excursions as well. Take a horseback riding tour through the Sonoran Desert, or enjoy a peaceful stroll through the butterfly garden. No matter what you do, you’ll have a gleeful time in Colossal Cave Mountain Park.
💻 Pro Tip: Make reservations for cave tours online before showing up at the park.
Sentinel Peak (“A” Mountain)
Get a bird’s eye view of the entire city of Tucson
Driving up Sentinel Peak is one of the easiest things to do in Tucson. You can take Congress Street west until it curves into Silverbell Road. At the turn, you’ll find the plainly-labeled signs for Sentinel Peak. Within 3 minutes from the base of the mountain, you’ll find yourself at the top of the city, overlooking downtown, the university, and more.
The iconic “A” painted into the hillside signifies your arrival at the top of this Tucson symbol. If you want to get a workout in, you can walk from the base to the summit. This hike is quick, but you’ll feel the burn in your calves!
The top of “A” Mountain is incredibly calming. It’s my favorite place to escape the noise of the city, and it’s an instant cure for a cluttered mind. Check it out if you need a moment of peace on your trip!
University of Arizona Campus
Tour my alma mater, the beautiful campus that makes Tucson such a special college town
The University of Arizona campus is a wonderful place to stroll with a coffee in hand. If you like to people-watch, set out a blanket on the grass by Old Main. Watch as students, Tucson locals, and tourists alike make their way across the sprawling campus.
Along University Boulevard, you’ll find energetic college bars, pizza joints, bakeries, and boutique shops. You can easily spend a day on this strip alone. The campus is a great meeting point if you’re looking to travel around the city. It’s in the heart of Tucson so you can get virtually anywhere within 20 minutes.
🛎️ Need a Hotel? The Graduate Tucson is a great hotel located just off University Boulevard. Their rooftop pool has unparalleled views of the mountains surrounding Tucson.
Arizona History Museum
Connect to Arizona’s exciting past
The Arizona History Museum is the perfect place for history buffs on the hunt for the story of this great state. Learn all about the people who built their lives here, the industries that shaped Arizona, and the culture that created the spirit of Tucson.
The Arizona History Museum features thousands of artifacts. These include Geronimo’s rifle, Native American tools, and Spanish battle relics. You’ll have hours of browsing to do in this impressive exhibit.
Tucson Children’s Museum
Let little ones enjoy educational fun at this local favorite museum
The Tucson Children’s Museum holds a special place in my heart. It’s a wonderful little spot just south of downtown. The museum is filled with educational exhibits featuring local artwork and interactivity.
The museum focuses on developmental learning and hands-on creativity, so your kiddos will never get bored. You can easily spend hours here, and your children will not soon forget their time at the museum.
👉 Pro Tip: Check out the museum’s daily events on its website before visiting.
Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
Check out history on a tiny scale
The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is an enchanting place with fun exhibits that will thrill the whole family. The museum displays over 500 antique dollhouses and other miniature structures and figurines.
It also presents rotating displays of new miniature artwork, ranging from tiny model cars to itty-bitty holiday towns. Kids will love the engaging art gallery, and adults will be fascinated by the intricate designs.
Trail Dust Town
A small Wild West theme park on the east side of town
Trail Dust Town is the ideal place to bring your kids for an evening of family fun. The short trail of Tombstone-like buildings features western-inspired restaurants, ice cream shops, theme park rides, a mini train, and thrilling stunt shows.
The little ones will love the wild west theme, and parents can easily relax with a beer in this collection of bars and stores.
Golf N’ Stuff is right next door. Make sure to visit this exciting mini-golf attraction before you head to Trail Dust Town for dinner!
🌄 Read Next: Best Day Trips from Tucson
Get up close and personal with your favorite touring artists at this intimate concert venue
The Rialto is my all-time favorite music venue in Tucson. Some of the best up-and-coming artists in the nation perform here, and tickets are never more than $40. Whether you’re a T-loc or a visitor, check out the upcoming artists at the Rialto for an intimate concert experience. If you get in line early enough, you’ll be a front-row spectator to one of your favorite performers!
🥩 Pro Tip: Grab dinner and drinks before heading over to the show. Check out my take on the 31 Best Tucson Restaurants, some of which are steps from Rialto.
Get loud for the University of Arizona football team
If you’re a football fan, there is nothing quite like an Arizona Wildcats game. Before each game, the mall (the green lawn that stretches the length of the campus just north of the stadium) fills up with tailgaters. Hundreds of locals and visitors party together before heading to the big game.
When it’s time for kickoff, enjoy a thrilling game of football in the historic Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats have been improving lately, so hope for an exciting showdown! Don’t forget to bring a ballcap and lots of sunscreens so you don’t burn in the hot Arizona sun.
Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson
Tap into your inner zen in this picturesque collection of gardens
Need a quiet moment in the midst of the city? Yume Japanese Gardens, located beside the Tucson Botanical Gardens, is one of my favorite things to do in Tucson. Take a journey to Japan in the heart of the desert.
If you visit during the week, you’ll likely be one of the only people there. Become one with nature and find inner peace among five unique Japanese gardens. I could sit beside the elegant koi pond for hours!
👉 Pro Tip: The gardens close when it rains, so be sure to visit on a sunny day!
Center for Creative Photography
Admire the work of some of the most famous photographers in America
Calling all photographers! The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona contains the archives of some of the most famous photographers in America. My favorite is Ansel Adams, the black-and-white landscape photographer famous for his images of the American West. The center holds all of his known existing negatives.
This research facility and museum display thousands of incredible photos year-round. It also presents seasonal exhibits. Check out their website when you’re near campus to learn more about current and upcoming exhibitions. You just might get to see a collection of your favorite photographer’s work!
All Souls Procession
A celebration of life and culture in a historic neighborhood of Tucson
This Dia de Los Muertos-inspired event is one of the biggest community gatherings of the year in Tucson. Locals and visitors alike gather to mourn and remember those they’ve lost. From beloved pets to friends and family members, there’s no limit or conditions to who can be a part of this celebration of life.
Some attendees get completely dressed up in intricate outfits and full-blown face paint. Others simply go to observe the beautiful procession. I especially love the story-telling aspect of this event, as people share fond memories of those they miss. Enjoy live music, great local food, and a powerful sense of community at this enlightening procession.
Enjoy a Broadway show on the University of Arizona campus
If you’re a fan of the theater, Centennial Hall is the best place in Tucson to see a play or musical. Ever since I was a little girl, this place has been a source of fond memories. In fact, my high school theater days were inspired by my love for shows like Annie and Phantom of the Opera at Centennial Hall!
Located on the University of Arizona campus, this is a great spot to hit up multiple Tucson hotspots within an evening. Grab dinner on University Boulevard, wander the beautiful campus, then enjoy an entertaining show. This is one of the best and most unique date spots in Tucson!
Gem and Mineral Show
Welcome to the largest gem and mineral show in the world
People travel from all over the world to attend the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. No exaggeration. Vendors come from the middle of Africa, the tip of South America, the mountains of Europe, and everywhere in between.
They bring their finest gems and most precious minerals and fossils to this impressive show. Up to 250 retailers set up shop at this one exhibition, so you can bet you’ll fill your day perusing their incredible products.
The best thing about the TGMS is its variety. Pop-up tents appear all along I-10, and every popular area of Tucson becomes a shop full of sparkling jewelry, intricate sculptures, and more. You can buy bracelets and rings from the other side of the globe for super cheap. Or you can invest your savings in a unique statue carved out of a rare stone from another continent. The possibilities are endless! If you visit Tucson in late January to early February, you simply cannot miss the Gem and Mineral Show.
💎 Explore Locations: For the full list of locations and times, check out the roster at Visit Tucson.
FAQs About What To Do In Tucson
What is Tucson AZ best known for?
Tucson, AZ is best known for the rodeo and its incredible culinary scene. The rodeo is a unique western experience that occurs every February. Cowboys, broncos, and bulls abound!
Tucson is also a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, so you can bet you’ll get some mind-blowing meals here. You’ll enjoy the best Mexican cuisine of your life!
Is Tucson AZ worth visiting?
Tucson, AZ is 100% worth visiting. This Southern Arizona town is jam-packed with exciting things to do. Discover delicious restaurants in Tucson, hopping bars and breweries, scenic hiking trails, and more. Plus, the weather is fantastic, save for the steamy summer months.
What is the best time of year to visit Tucson Arizona?
The best time of year to visit Tucson, Arizona is fall through spring. The weather is beautiful and mild once the temperature drops after summer. The city typically starts to heat back up in late May, so you’re golden from October until the spring.
Now, you’re set for your trip to the Sonoran Desert! No matter when you visit, this list of things to do in Tucson covers the best of the best events year-round.
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