Tucson is rugged, rough around the edges and unapologetically unpretentious—and that’s exactly why we love it! Here, you have the freedom to explore Southern Arizona on your terms. Whether you’re planning a vacation or looking for things to do in Tucson this weekend, keep reading our Tucson City Guide and start planning your next adventure!
Take to the Outdoors
If you enjoy the outdoors, there is truly no place like Tucson. The city is bounded by five mountain ranges: the Santa Catalina Mountains, the Tortolita Mountains, the Santa Rita Mountains, the Tucson Mountains and the Rincon Mountains. Plus, with more than 300 days of sunshine a year, it’s almost always possible to get outside.
Saguaro National Park
Named for the giant saguaro cactus that has come to symbolize the American West, Saguaro National Park comprises two distinct districts separated by the City of Tucson: the eastern Rincon Mountain District (RMD) and western Tucson Mountain District (TMD).
You’ll find miles of easy to challenging hiking trails within the confines of the park, but if you want to take in the scenery without putting in the work, opt for a scenic drive. The Cactus Forest Loop Drive in the RMD and the Bajada Loop Drive in the TMD deliver breathtaking views of the Rincon Mountains and Arva Valley.
Saguaro National Park also hosts a variety of ranger-led programs where you can take a sunset hike, learn about the Sonoran Desert’s unique plant life, and view hundreds of ancient petroglyphs at Signal Hill. There is an entrance fee, but you pay it only once, and it’s valid at both parks for seven days.
With a summit elevation of 9,159 feet and temperatures 30 degrees cooler than ground level, Mount Lemmon is a beautiful place to escape the heat. The Mount Lemmon Trail is one of the hardest hikes in Tucson, but the topography, biodiversity and lookout are well worth it.
Not up for a hike? Take the Sky Island Scenic Byway, a 24-mile-long route that scales more than 6,000 feet to the top. Visit after nightfall too. The University of Arizona Mount Lemmon SkyCenter observatory has several public telescopes and hosts stargazing programs throughout the year.
Cool Off at a Swimming Hole
Tucson’s heat can be pretty unrelenting any time of year, so if you find yourself in need of refreshment, head to a nearby desert oasis. Romero Pools, Seven Falls and Tanque Verde Falls are popular swimming holes among locals.
- Romero Pools: Visit Catalina State Park and reach the pools by hiking a moderately challenging two-mile section of the Romero Canyon Trail.
- Seven Falls: Access this gorgeous, crystal clear swimming hole in the Coronado National Forest by heading to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. From there, hop on the tram or take the two-mile hike along Bear Canyon Trail.
- Tanque Verde Falls: This series of waterfalls in the Rincon Mountain District of Saguaro National Park can be accessed via the Tanque Verde Falls Trail. Even though the trail is dog- and kid-friendly, be advised that it is a moderately challenging ascent.
The best time to visit any of these swimming holes is about a month or so into Southern Arizona monsoon season, which starts in June. Remember to hike responsibly. Bring plenty of water, be aware of flash flooding, look out for wildlife, wear sensible shoes and exercise caution while navigating slippery rocks and creek beds.
See the Sonoran Desert in the Saddle
Horseback riding is a way of life here, so saddle up to a ranch or stable and take a walking ride through the Sonoran Desert, or settle in for a stay at a dude ranch. The Arizona Dude Ranch Association can connect you with a guest ranch where you can experience an authentic slice of the American West.
Pedal Your Way Through Tucson
Cycling advocacy group People for Bikes rated Tucson as one of the top five most bike-friendly cities in the country, and one of the best ways to explore the city is on two wheels.
No bike? No problem! Tucson’s Tugo bike share program has 36 bike stations throughout the city, making it one of the easiest ways to explore downtown. Tucson Bike Rentals offers bikes for all ages, and they’ll even deliver them to your hotel if you’re visiting from out of town!
The Chuck Huckelberry Loop, or more simply the Loop, is a 131-mile paved multi-use trail that connects the communities of South Tucson, Tucson, Marana and Oro Valley. The longest trail of its kind in the United States, the Loop encompasses Tucson, passing through natural habitats, riverbeds and more than 30 public parks and facilities, with sweeping views of five mountain ranges in the distance. The Loop is also a quasi-art gallery, with more than 40 pieces of public art displayed along the trail. Plan your walk, run or bike ride using this handy interactive map, and stay connected with trail updates via their Facebook page.
Amp up the adventure with mountain biking the Starr Pass or Sweetwater Trail Systems, or if you prefer a slower-paced cruise, take a guided bike tour through Tucson’s picturesque barrios. Don’t forget to wear a helmet and always bike at your own risk.
Take a Bite Out of Tucson
It’s no secret that Tucson’s got great food. It’s home to the best 23 miles of Mexican food and is the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States. If you’ve got an appetite, you’ve come to the right place!
Sample the Best Authentic Mexican Food in Tucson
No matter where you are, you’re always a stone’s throw away from incredible Mexican food in Tucson. Everyone has their favorite spot, and if you ask for a recommendation, you’re likely going to get an earful about the tortillas at St. Mary’s Mexican Food, the tamales at Tanias 33 or the flan at Taqueria Pico De Gallo.
The Best Food Comes From a Truck
In the Old Pueblo, the best food often comes from a truck. Case in point: Aqui Con El Nene. Part taco truck, part tent, this local favorite is home to the Sonoran hot dog, a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with pinto beans, tomato, onion, cotija cheese, salsa, mayo, ketchup and mustard.
Grab an Eegee’s
No hot summer day is complete without a visit to eegee’s, an Arizona institution that began as a no-frills food truck in Tucson in 1971. Today, eegee’s is known for its subs and frozen fruit drinks, known simply as “eegee’s.”
Get a Dose of Local Art, History & Culture
Come to Tucson for its natural beauty—stay for all of the unique things to do! If you’re planning a day trip or looking for something fun to do this weekend, you may want to add one of these places to your itinerary.
Experience the wild west at Old Tucson, a studio set turned theme park in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains. Built in 1939 for the Western film “Arizona,” Old Tucson has served as the film location for more than 400 film, TV and commercial productions, and it’s still used to this day. It’s a great kid-friendly attraction, with live action stunt shows, entertainment and rides.
The University of Arizona Biosphere
When you walk through the doors of the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, you’re walking into another world—five, to be exact! The living laboratory is a research facility dedicated to improving our understanding of the Earth and its living systems. Biosphere 2 is open for tours daily.
Stroll Historic 4th Avenue
Fourth Avenue, or “Fourth” to locals, is Downtown Tucson’s shopping and entertainment district. Explore one of the coolest neighborhoods in town on foot and visit vintage clothing boutiques, cafes, bookstores, and jewelry stores stocked with turquoise. Some of Tucson’s most beloved restaurants call Fourth home. Here, you’ll find everything from cheap Mexican food, to behemoth burgers, to dive bars. Every winter and spring, the Fourth Avenue Street Fair hosts international artisans, live entertainment and street food fare from more than 40 vendors. It’s one of the most fun free things to do in Tucson!
Learn About Sonoran Desert Plant Species
The Sonoran Desert is home to many unique plants that thrive in arid conditions. Given the region’s biodiversity, there is an abundance of botanical gardens and other living museums that can give you a new appreciation for the world around you.
Nature, art and culture intersect at Tohono Chul (“desert corner”), a botanical garden that would have been turned into a shopping mall had it not been for a local family who wanted to preserve this special piece of the Sonoran Desert. Its themed gardens and galleries seek to educate visitors on local art, history, culture and, of course, flora and fauna. Tohono Chul is open daily and offers tours and a variety of special programming.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history museum and art gallery tucked in the Tucson Mountain District. Its hands-on exhibits, live presentations and educational programming make it a great place to visit with kids. The museum is open daily and offers complimentary docent-led tours, as well as extended summer hours.
Tucson Botanical Gardens
Located on 5.5 acres in the heart of town, the Tucson Botanical Gardens is truly an urban oasis where visitors can connect with plants, nature and culture. There are 17 residentially scaled specialty gardens on the property, offering inspiration for what you could do in your own backyard. Perhaps the Gardens’ most beloved exhibit is Butterfly Magic, a live tropical butterfly greenhouse where visitors can admire butterfly species from around the globe every October through May.
The Tucson Botanical Gardens are open daily, and docent-led tours are included with admission.
Visit Southern Arizona
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