There’s nowhere quite like Tucson, Arizona: this vibrant slice of the Sonoran Desert is beloved for its lively culture, incredible cuisine and jaw-dropping scenery. Tucson is the second-largest city in Arizona and home to the youthful University of Arizona, which provides the city with its bustling social scene and sparkling nightlife. If you’re looking for a unique shopping experience and streets lined with can’t-miss eateries, then you’re looking for Tucson.
Beyond its big-city allure, Tucson is surrounded by diverse natural habitats for all your outdoorsy needs, from unique desert plant life to mountainous forests and watery oases. Whether you’re into adventurous hiking and biking or prefer the slow and scenic route, you can find what you’re looking for in Tucson’s many state and national parks. If you’re planning a big trip to Tucson and are unsure where to start, dive into these can’t-miss things to do in Tucson to make your visit memorable.
20 Things To Do In Tucson
1- Admire The Cacti At Saguaro National Park
Admiring the sunset over Saguaro National Park is one of the things to do near Tucson, Arizona.
Saguaro National Park is a must-visit natural attraction split into two stunning districts on either side of Tucson’s cityscape.
The title Saguaro National Park is in reference to the towering saguaro cactus, which are 40 ft (12m) tall desert cacti that grow exclusively in Arizona.
Besides acres of saguaro cacti, Saguaro National Park is also home to other distinctive desert flora, such as the cholla cacti and the ocotillo plant.
Some of the most popular activities for visitors at Saguaro National Park include hiking, picnicking, cycling and enjoying a scenic drive through the park.
Saguaro National Park is divided into two districts: the Tucson Mountain District (known for its denser saguaro cacti population) in the west and the Rincon Mountain District (known for its sprawling panoramic hikes) in the east.
Saguaro National Park is at 2700 N. Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743.
Top tour: Saguaro National Park East E-Bike Tour.
2- Peruse The Tucson Museum of Art
Admiring the view of the Tucson skyline and Santa Catalina Mountain range from Sentinel Peak Park is one of the top things to do in Tucson, Arizona.
Visitors to Tucson won’t want to pass up a trip to the Tucson Museum of Art, a pinnacle of Tucson’s diverse visual arts scene.
The Tucson Museum of Art was established in 1924 and moved to its present location in 1975.
At the Tucson Museum of Art you’ll discover an impressive number of colonial Latin American art pieces and modern and contemporary artwork from around the world.
The Tucson Museum of Art also hosts the famous Arizona Biennial, a juried exhibition that highlights today’s most groundbreaking and innovative works of art.
Visitors hoping to immerse themselves in the art and culture of Arizona will find a trip to the Tucson Museum of Art to check all their can’t-miss boxes.
The Tucson Museum of Art is at 140 N Main Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701.
3- Take A Hike Through Madera Canyon
Madera Canyon is one of the most infamous hikes in the Tucson area and is 25 miles (40 km) south of Tucson’s centre.
Nestled on the northwest side of the Santa Rita Mountains, Madera Canyon’s high elevation gives it a cooler climate than most of Arizona’s desert ecosystem.
The Madera Canyon trail is about 5.8 miles (9.3km) there and back and is commonly considered an easy, family-friendly hike.
Madera Canyon also hides a “secret” waterfall perfect for cooling off in the hot summer sun: map your trail before you go so you don’t miss this refreshing treat.
In addition to the stunning forestry that flanks the Madera Canyon trail, visitors can also expect to see stunning wildlife such as foxes, deer, wild turkeys and even bats.
Madera Canyon is at S Madera Canyon Rd, Green Valley, AZ 85614.
4- Marvel At The Mission San Xavier Del Bac
Admiring the architecture of San Xavier del Bac Mission is one of the things to do in Tucson, Arizona.
Mission San Xavier del Bac is a Spanish Catholic Mission that was established initially in 1692 and was rebuilt in 1797 after being destroyed during a raid.
The current structure is an impressive 226 years old, and it’s known as the oldest remaining European structure in all of Arizona.
Mission San Xavier del Bac has been an active site for Catholic pilgrimage for years, where visitors flock to make their prayers to Saint Francis.
This National Historic Landmark is open to the public daily and is located on the San Xavier Indian Reservation (remember to be respectful of the place’s history when you visit).
Whether you’re interested in the mission’s historical and religious value or simply hoping to admire the centuries-old architecture, Mission San Xavier del Bac will surely exceed your expectations.
Mission San Xavier del Bac is at 1950 W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746.
Top tour: Historic Bike Tour in Tucson.
5- Soak In The Local Ecosystem At The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a 98-acre (40 ha) zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history museum, publisher and art gallery founded in 1952.
Considered one of Tucson’s crown jewels, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo and botanical garden all in one.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is best known for its walking paths that take visitors through stunning desert landscapes.
Expect to see the desert’s most jaw-dropping plant life and wildlife, from flowering cacti and legume trees to bighorn sheep and jackrabbits.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is open 365 days a year, and admission ranges from twenty to thirty dollars per person.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is at 2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743.
6- Visit The Historic Trail Dust Town
Tucson’s historic Trail Dust Town is a popular dining and shopping centre built in 1961 and retains a classic pioneer aesthetic.
Trail Dust Town is home to the Pistoleros Wild West Show, a live-action comedy and stunt performance that brings the old West back to life.
Some more popular activities at Trail Dust Town include riding the Ferris wheel or carousel, taking western-themed photos, or dining at the steakhouses and saloons.
Visitors to Trail Dust Town can also enjoy the local shopping scene, from chocolate shops to spa services and artisan jewellery.
Trail Dust Town is at 6541 E Tanque Verde Rd, Tucson, AZ 85715.
Top tour: Tucson – Behind the Scenes Tour.
7- Take A Day Trip To Picacho Peak State Park
Hedgehog cactus in bloom and towering saguaro at Picacho Peak State. This unique park is north of Tucson in southern Arizona.
Picacho Peak State Park is a natural destination in southern Arizona popular with hikers and photographers alike.
The state park is a one-hour drive from Tucson, making it the perfect length for a day trip or weekend camping.
Picacho Peak State Park is recognizable by its eponymous Picacho Peak, a 1500-foot (457m) rock structure formed through volcanic flow erosion.
Not only a natural beauty, Picacho Peak is also a historic landmark: in 1862, the Battle of Picacho Pass occurred, going down in history as Arizona’s most significant civil war clash.
Picacho Peak State Park hosts five hiking trails, ranging from easy to difficult to entertain hikers of all skill levels.
One of the best times to visit Picacho Peak State Park is in March when the hills come alive with breathtaking lupine, poppy, and ocotillo blooms.
Picacho Peak State Park is at 15520 Picacho Peak Rd, Picacho, AZ 85141.
8- Try Out Rock Climbing At Mount Lemmon
Driving to Mt Lemmon is one of the adventurous things to do from Tucson.
Mount Lemmon is one of the highest summits in Arizona, with an elevation of 9159 feet (2791m).
Located 43 miles (69 km) northeast from the heart of Tucson, a visit to Mount Lemmon is a favourite day trip for tourists and locals alike.
There’s no end to the outdoor recreational activities you can participate in at Mount Lemmon, from hiking and cycling to skiing and sledding.
Mount Lemmon is also a popular destination for rock climbing, with over 2700 climbing routes for climbers of all skill levels to peruse.
If you’re new to rock climbing and hoping to learn a new skill, check out this rock climbing and rappelling tour based out of Tucson.
Mount Lemmon is at Mount Lemmon, AZ 85619.
9- Enjoy Dinner And A Show At The Gaslight Theatre
The Gaslight Theatre has been a staple in Tucson’s family entertainment scene since its inception in 1980.
This local community theatre hosts musical comedy melodramas six nights out of the week.
With ample food, snacks, and even a bar inside the theatre, visitors will be satisfied by this pinnacle of top-notch local entertainment.
Ticket prices are around $20 per person, with season passes available if you’re looking to catch more than a few shows.
Inside the same building as the Gaslight Theatre is Little Anthony’s Diner, a 50s-themed eatery that’s complete with an old-timey arcade area.
The Gaslight Theatre is at 7010 E Broadway Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85710.
10- Go Sightseeing At Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
The Chute in upper Sabino Canyon in the Santa Catalina mountains, Tucson, Arizona.
There’s no shortage of natural beauty in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, a diverse natural habitat known as the jewel of the Sonoran Desert.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is well-loved for its year-round creek flow and diverse vegetation.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area visitors can enjoy waterfalls and swimming holes, hikes up impressive rocky peaks, and picnic sites flanked by massive cacti.
Admission to Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is $15 per person, and visitors can drive themselves in or take a convenient shuttle.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is at 5700 N Sabino Canyon Rd, Tucson, AZ 85750.
11- Stroll Through The Tucson Botanical Gardens
Wandering around the Tucson Botanical Gardens is one of the relaxing things to do in Tucson, Arizona.
Take a break from strenuous outdoor recreational activities and unwind at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, a must-visit spot for nature lovers and plantlife enthusiasts alike.
The Tucson Botanical Gardens cover 5.5 acres (2.2ha) of well-maintained urban gardens.
Most visitors come for the impressive Cactus and Succulent Garden, although you won’t want to miss their other popular attractions, including a Zen Garden, a Butterfly Garden, and a Prehistoric Garden.
The Tucson Botanical Gardens were founded in 1964 and remain a pristine piece of Tucsons’s horticulture.
Admission ranges from $8-$15, and you’ll want to come with a camera to capture the lush beauty of the gardens.
The Tucson Botanical Gardens is at 2150 N Alvernon Way, Tucson, AZ 85712.
12- Experience The Annual Tucson Rodeo
No event unites tourists and locals like the Annual Tucson Rodeo, a nine-day event celebrating an impressive 98 years.
Various Western entertainers, from rope tricks to bronco riding, have graced the rodeo.
The Annual Tucson Rodeo is one of 25 professional rodeo events hosted in North America, and it has won countless awards, including induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
The residents of Tucson honour the annual rodeo with school closures during rodeo week so that the town can fully participate and enjoy the local culture.
If you hope to incorporate the Annual Tucson Rodeo into your visit to Tucson, plan your trip for sometime in February, and let the celebration commence.
The Annual Tucson Rodeo is at 4823 S 6th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85714.
13- Stay At The Haunted Hotel Congress
Hailed by paranormal experts as one of the most haunted hotels in the country, Hotel Congress is a must-visit for history buffs and ghost-seekers alike.
Hotel Congress opened in 1919 and has become the subject of great historical speculation.
Most of the hotel’s history is based in 1934 when John Dillinger of the Dillinger Gang was captured while staying in the hotel due to a fire that spread from the basement to the third floor.
After the hotel’s upper floor was rebuilt, it has been rumoured by many to be haunted, from sightings of a mysterious woman in room 242 to a ghostly man in the vacant room 214.
Hotel Congress also hosts the bookable Hotel Congress Seance Experience, held in the one room on the third floor that was left untouched by the 1934 fire.
Beyond its historic charm and haunted allure, Hotel Congress is a bustling and hip hotel in Tucson’s heart that is more than worth a stay.
Hotel Congress is at 311 E Congress St, Tucson, AZ 85701.
14- Check Out The Historic Signal Hill Petroglyphs
Signal Hill is a beloved historic site and natural attraction that can be reached via a short trail within Saguaro National Park.
The petroglyphs found on Signal Hill are over 800 years old and were created by the Hohokam people, a culture that resided in the Sonoran desert between 750 A.D. and 1450 A.D.
To see the petroglyphs, it’s only a brief walk from the Signal Hill Picnic Area parking lot, although the trail continues past the petroglyphs for anyone wishing to extend their adventure.
If you want to see some of Arizona’s finest prehistoric rock art, the iconic Signal Hill petroglyphs are the perfect stop.
Signal Hill is at Signal Hill Picnic Area, Signal Hill Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743.
15- Visit The Diverse Coronado National Forest
The Coronado National Forest is the dreamiest Tucson-based destination for all things outdoorsy: from sightseeing to hiking to an escapist getaway.
The Coronado National Forest spans across southeastern Arizona and into southern New Mexico, with over 258 named mountains within its confines.
The forest spans over 1 million acres (404685ha) and is best known for its “sky islands”: dramatic mountain ranges that emerge from the desert floor.
The Coronado National Forest is an incredibly biodiverse natural area, and visitors can explore the climates of all four seasons in just one day if they plan their visit accordingly.
With eight different wilderness districts to choose from within the national forest, visitors can see it all: from underground caves to snowy mountains to rolling fields of wildflowers.
Coronado National Forest is at 300 W Congress St, Tucson, AZ 85701.
16- Get Up In The Air With Tucson Balloon Rides
Experience Tucson from a new perspective with Tucson Balloon Rides: a fun hot-air balloon flight that will raise your spirits.
After the coveted “Sonoran Sunrise” flight, guests are treated to a continental champagne brunch: a toast to celebrate their scenic journey.
Tucson Balloon Rides take guests across an unmatched flight path over the Sonoran Desert, the Tucson Mountains, and the Saguaro National Park.
They offer group or private flights, and average prices range from $100 to $250, depending on rank and seniority.
Tucson Balloon Rides is at 3079 W Avenida Cresta, Tucson, AZ 85745.
17- Dive Into History At The Pima Air And Space Museum
The Pima Air and Space Museum is one of the world’s largest aeroplane museums and provides visitors with a unique and up-close look at a wide assortment of aircraft.
The museum’s main attraction is a display of about 400 vastly different aeroplanes across 80 acres (32ha).
There are many ways to experience the wonders of the Pima Air and Space Museum, with one of the most popular being a 45-minute narrated tram tour.
The Pima Air and Space Museum is at 6000 E Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ 85756.
18- Go For A Swim At Hutch’s Pool
Hutch’s Pool is a well-travelled swimming hole destination popular with locals and tourists who don’t mind a moderate hike.
The length of the hike greatly depends on where you begin your hike and can range from anywhere between five miles and fifteen miles, so make sure to bring a map for your visit.
Visitors hoping to shorten their hike can take the Sabino Canyon Shuttle to the trailhead and enjoy a shortened trip.
Hutch’s Pool is a stunning water oasis with a sandy beach and canyon views on either side of the temperate pool.
Hutch’s Pool is at Hutch’s Pool, Tucson, AZ, 85701.
19- Dine At The Oldest Mexican Restaurant In Arizona
Enjoy dinner with a slice of history at El Charro Cafe, a delightful Mexican restaurant hailed as “The Nation’s Oldest Mexican Restaurant”.
El Charro Cafe was opened in 1922, and they are credited as the chimichanga’s original creator.
This Mexican eatery has expanded to four locations around its home in Tucson.
You’ll be greeted with vibrant interior colours and delicious food at any of their locations.
El Charro Cafe is at 311 N Court Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701.
20- Catch A Panoramic View At Tucson Mountain Park
Admiring the saguaros at sunset in Tucson mountain park is another thing to do in Tucson.
Tucson Mountain Park is a favourite local hotspot for walking, hiking, biking, horseback riding and archery.
This scenic park is free to enter and provides visitors with some of Tucson’s best sunrise and sunset views.
Tucson Mountain Park contains about 62 miles (99km) of trails for visitors’ enjoyment, and they span diverse desert scenery from hilltops draped in cacti to flat grasslands.
If you’re hoping to enjoy Tucson’s scenery without engaging in a strenuous hike beforehand, Tucson Mountain Park offers gorgeous overlooks you can conveniently drive up to.
Tucson Mountain Park is at 8451 W McCain Loop, Tucson, AZ 85735.