Visitors are often drawn to Tucson for the unique beauty of the Sonoran Desert. People are especially excited to see the cactus that is so iconic, it has its own emoji: The giant saguaro 🌵. These majestic plants can be seen throughout Tucson (even in people’s yards), but the best place to view these wonders is Saguaro National Park, which flanks Tucson on both the east and west. Saguaro National Park has hiking trails, guided walks, Jr. Ranger activities, and fantastic locations to view Tucson’s amazing sunsets.
Photo Credit: Kindle Rising
An abundance of desert plants and wildlife can also be seen on any of the many hiking trails in and around the city. Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a popular local hiking destination through which water flows much of the year. Visitors can explore this desert oasis on foot (including paved trails suitable for strollers), on guided hikes with naturalists, or even by tram.
Photo Credit: Jay Pierstorff
Another favorite for nature-loving Tucson visitors, and locals alike, is the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Less a typical museum than a desert zoo and botanical gardens, the Desert Museum features cacti, wildflowers, and wildlife ranging from big horned sheep and javelinas (a pig-like animal native to the desert southwest), to hummingbirds, coyotes, and even an aquarium with both freshwater fish and sea life from the nearby Sea of Cortez.
Photo Credit: Arizona State Parks
Tucson and Southern Arizona’s natural wonders do not end above ground. Two nearby caves offer subterranean adventures. Colossal Cave, just minutes from Tucson, has a rich human history, having been inhabited by early Native American people and reportedly later used by bandits as a hideout. Kartchner Caverns State Park, an hour south of Tucson, is a pristine, “living” cave with numerous intricate and still-forming structures. Both caves offer family-friendly tours as well as more adventurous caving experiences for teens and adults.
Photo Credit: Visit Tucson
One can’t visit Tucson without getting a glimpse of the “wild west.” Cowboy culture comes alive at Old Tucson, a former movie studio turned theme park, and Trail Dust Town, a western-themed venue featuring western stunt shows, train rides, and other amusements. La Fiesta de los Vaqueros (Tucson Rodeo) and the Tucson Rodeo Parade, which happen every February, bring huge crowds to watch performances from talented “real-life” cowboys and cowgirls.
Photo Credit: Visit Tucson
Surprisingly to some, Tucson’s history is much more than cowboys. Families can explore Tucson’s rich culture at Presidio San Augustín del Tucson, which features Living History Days and Children’s Adventure Hour programs that bring the real “old” Tucson (circa 1775) to life. The Arizona State Museum and Arizona Historical Society museums have children’s activities and interactive programs about life in Tucson and the influence of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican culture on the southwestern United States.
Of course, no discussion of southwestern culture is complete without talking about the food! Tucson is known for great food, and fantastic Mexican food is a standout local cuisine. In fact, legend has it that the Chimichanga was “accidentally” invented at El Charro Café, one of Tucson’s well-known Mexican restaurants. Ask any local for their favorite Mexican food in town and you’ll get any number of different answers...all of them right!
Unique Tucson Experiences
While Tucson’s natural beauty and history make up much of its charm, there are a few truly unique Tucson gems that give visitors a true insider’s experience to this vibrant community.
Photo Credit: Pima Air and Space Museum
The Pima Air and Space Museum is not just for plane buffs! Children of all ages find the museum fascinating, and kids enjoy hands-on aeronautics enrichment programs throughout the year, including the incredibly popular Great Paper Airplane Fly-Off event each spring.
Photo Credit: The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
From huge aircraft to...miniatures, The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures houses a world-class collection of miniature objects, but it also manages to house a large amount of magic - just ask any child who has seen the resident fairy! Valley of the Moon, a Tucson Historic Landmark, picnic spot, and outdoor theatre, is also thought to be a gathering place for fairy folk. And magic of a different sort is evident during the annual All Souls Procession, a moving and powerful event to commemorate the Day of the Dead. This November event is a truly unique and special Tucson experience.
Depending on when you visit, you might be lucky enough to participate in any number of Tucson community traditions, including the dynamic and exciting Tucson Festival of Books in March, Cyclovia, a family bike-riding festival in the fall and spring, or Second Saturdays, a monthly event that encourages families to explore the downtown area, with live music and street performances, free kids’ activities, and outdoor family movies. It is a great way to experience the heart of Tucson!
When to Visit
Photo Credit: Jerry Rosen
Tucson is known for its warmth, but also its summer heat. The weather is ideal from October-April, but if your travel plans include summer, don’t despair. Although the temperatures soar into the 100's during the hottest months, the dry air and Tucson’s elevation allow for significant evening cooling. Popular Tucson venues take advantage of this by extending hours during the summer and holding evening events for families. Also, many of the fabulous resorts in town have truly “cool” summer rates (and great pools). Plus, summer is the best time to experience one of the locals’ favorite Tucson treats: Eegee’s, a delicious frozen drink that no one visiting Tucson should miss!
Tucson: Come for the desert beauty, discover the warmth...and stay for the Eegee’s!