Tucson, Arizona‘s second-largest city, provides a pleasant combination of historical and heritage sights and a flourishing arts and culture scene. It is an enchanting city with plenty to promise and an intriguing place to visit.
There are several things to do in Tucson, including visiting a natural history museum and understanding the region’s history, wandering through botanical gardens, spending the day hiking on a trail, camping, and taking some breathtaking mountain drives. Visitors to Tucson can expect to see beautiful architecture, historic neighborhoods, desert flora and fauna, and various other sights.
Here is a list of the top 18 things to do in Tucson for locals and visitors worldwide.
Things To Do in Tucson
1. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
ADDRESS- N Kinney Rd., Tucson AZ
Visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of the most popular things to do in Tucson. The museum was founded in 1952 and has become the notable tourist attraction it is today. Located in Southern Arizona, the museum is set in a desert landscape, and one can find it on Tucson’s Kinney Road.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum acts as a collective effort of the state of Arizona to nurture, celebrate, and interpret the Sonoran desert region and its inhabitants. Home to a natural history museum and an art gallery, the museum also boasts remarkable botanical gardens, a zoo, and an aquarium. It houses diverse exhibits on several species of animals and plants of the Sonoran desert region and attracts global travelers by the hundreds of thousands annually. Collections showcasing native life include those species that are endangered now, such as the Sonora chub, bonytail chub, ocelot, and the Mexican wolf.
Visitors are in for an educational treat as they get more familiar with the history and wildlife of the region. Some interpretations and exhibits of native life in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum include the Cat Canyon, Desert Grassland, Hummingbird Aviary, Life Underground, and Mountain Woodland exhibits.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum also includes live presentations for guests, such as the Raptor Free Flight, docent stations, and a presentation on venomous reptiles that are often misunderstood. Interested visitors can interact with the animals, reptiles, and birds up-close and from a safe distance. Thus, intending to conserve and protect natural life, this museum falls on the list of top things to do in Tucson.
2. University of Arizona Museum of Art
ADDRESS- N Olive Rd, Tucson AZ
The University of Arizona’s sprawling campus dominates the city. It was founded in 1885 and is among the most reputable universities in the state. The remarkable Arizona State Museum, the Center for Creative Photography, the University of Arizona Museum of Art, the Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum, the History of Pharmacy Museum, the School of Art Galleries, the Poetry Center, the Campus Arboretum, and several other museums and centers related to science and performance arts can all be found at the University of Arizona campus.
People visiting the Museum of Art, one of the top things to do in Tucson, should spend a couple of hours or days exploring the campus. Guests can enjoy the historic buildings—several of the structures date from the 1900s—while also visiting the museum.
To achieve its mission, the University of Arizona Museum of Art seeks to engage the public through shared art experiences, inspire interdisciplinary relationships, and champion the preservation of collections as well as visual arts research, education, and interpretation to raise awareness of societal issues.
The museum has rotating and permanent exhibits with over 6,000 pieces brought in from around the world that feature an extensive number of works, such as contemporary art, sculptures, textiles, and drawings. Visiting the University of Arizona Museum of Art is, thus, one of the best things to do in Tucson, with its thoughtful exhibits and art collections.
3. Arizona State Museum
ADDRESS- E University Blvd, Tucson AZ
The Arizona State Museum, which can be found on the University of Arizona campus, is a museum globally renowned for its preservation programs and conservation techniques. It was established in 1893 and has since become the Southwest’s oldest and most extensive facility for anthropological research. A trip here would be a worthwhile experience to learn more about the region’s ancient Indigenous culture, making it one of the top things to do in Tucson.
The Arizona State Museum officially acts as Arizona’s archaeological repository. It is Smithsonian-affiliated and records almost 10,000 years of ancient Indian artistic history. The museum has curated collections spanning Archaeology, Ethnohistory, Ethnology, Library and Archives, Photography, Zooarchaeology, and Non-Southwest Collections.
The museum‘s collections extend to over a million objects created by the region’s indigenous peoples, such as ceramic vessels, basketry and fiber specimens, pottery, books, journal volumes, ethnographic objects, musical instruments, maps, tools, and more.
4. Tucson Museum of Art
ADDRESS- N Main Ave, Tucson AZ
The Tucson Museum of Art has one of the state’s most exclusive fine art collections and is a premium art education institution. It is located in the downtown Tucson area and attracts thousands of locals and tourists alike every year. The museum was founded in 1924, and as its legacy continues, it is now one of the top things to do in Tucson.
The Tucson Museum of Art was established with a mission to connect art with life through the experiences that visual art brings that hold meaning and inspiration and extend beyond boundaries. It aims to promote an understanding of cultures and is a hub for passionate artistic exploration and appreciation while celebrating Southern Arizona.
The museum has several collections of modern and contemporary art, decorative arts, Asian, European, Latin American, and Indigenous art. It also conducts seasonal events such as Howl at the Museum and the Fall Artisans Market.
5. DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum
ADDRESS- N Swan Rd, Tucson AZ
The DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum is a unique manifestation of artistic expression built by Ted DeGrazia, an acclaimed Arizona artist. The museum, founded in the 1950s, honors DeGrazia and his famous works of art and focuses on American Southwestern history and native culture.
Historical buildings are dotted throughout the area, set in a desert landscape and housing collections of over 15,000 original artworks such as sculptures and oil paintings. The buildings on site are more than ten in number and have been constructed gradually over the years. There are, in total, six permanent collections and rotating exhibitions in the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum, showcasing DeGrazia’s unseen works as well as his other well-known works.
The DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum is both an art gallery and a museum that has grown into the Historic District that it is today. Exploring such a renowned artist’s creations is indeed one’s top things to do in Tucson list.
6. Pima Air & Space Museum
ADDRESS- E Valencia Rd, Tucson AZ
Visiting the Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the most popular things to do in Tucson.
Situated among Tucson’s beautiful desert scenery, the Pima Air & Space Museum welcomes all to visit their aircraft collection and learn more about space exploration and the evolution of aviation. At the institution, known as one of the world’s largest air and space museums, visitors can witness hundreds of historical aircraft and world-class exhibits in their vast airfield and hangars.
The Pima Air & Space Museum opened to the public in 1976, is non-government funded, and houses the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame. The museum has several facilities, such as a restaurant, arcade games, playgrounds, and the like. There are several hangars, outdoor exhibits for larger planes, an aerospace gallery, and the 390th Memorial Museum.
The aircraft on display in the Pima Air & Space Museum include those used for civilian, military and commercial purposes. Highlights of the museum include the Wright brothers’ first airplane, the 1903 Flyer replica; NASA’s Mini Sniffer; several Boeing aircraft; one from the US Navy; and more. It also sets the historical context of the United States Air Force, including the fighter planes used in the Second World War. Thus, for those interested in aerospace, this museum ought to be on their list of top things to do in Tucson.
7. International Wildlife Museum
ADDRESS- West Gates Pass, Boulevard, Tucson AZ
The International Wildlife Museum, founded in 1988, is a museum committed to conserving, educating, and preserving the world’s diverse wildlife. It aims to increase the knowledge of the people and their appreciation of and understanding of the part that proper wildlife management plays in its conservation.
The International Wildlife Museum has more than 400 species of permanent exhibits on display that feature birds, insects, and other animals, some of which are over a century old. The museum also has the Conservation Underwater program that conserves coral reefs and includes an aquarium.
This interactive and educational museum falls on the list of the top things to do in Tucson for locals, students, and tourists alike. Visitors can enjoy a variety of fun activities, such as interacting with live animals, examining models of wild animals in their natural habitats up close, appreciating the hands-on exhibits, and watching nature movies in the wildlife theater. It is a popular destination for school field trips and summer camps.
It offers a variety of options, including self-guided tours and guided tours with paid virtual live animal encounters.
8. The Mini Time Machine Museum
ADDRESS- E Camp Lowell Dr, Tucson AZ
As its name suggests, the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is a museum committed to displaying miniature works of art. It was founded in Tucson in the 1930s. Since its inception, the museum has gained worldwide acclaim. It has become one of the best things to do in Tucson, thanks to its mission to preserve and advance the miniature art form.
The museum is built on the values of accessibility, stewardship, and quality. Visitors will surely be impressed by the incredible artistry and work the artists have put into them. Each collection conveys a narrative of different eras and periods in history.
The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures houses an extensive collection of vintage and contemporary miniatures. Past exhibitions include “Favored by the Gods: Legendary Figures of Ancient Greece,” “Of Biblical Proportion: Legendary Rulers of Mesopotamia,” and “Borrowed Time/Borrowed Books,” “19th Century Ladies’ Fashion,” and “Ara Bentley’s Addams Family Mini Mansion.” Furthermore, the museum hosts temporary art installations every year; seeing them is one of the best things to do in Tucson.
9. Reid Park Zoo
ADDRESS- E Zoo Ct, Tucson, Arizona
The Reid Park Zoo, officially opened in 1967, is a non-profit zoo and a famous Tucson attraction. Despite the small area, the Reid Park Zoo is home to incredible wildlife and includes over 500 animal species worldwide.
Visitors will discover that, in addition to being one of the top things to do in Tucson, Reid Park Zoo offers a variety of activities. People can ride the Zoo train, go on the Cox Wildlife Carousel, take a behind-the-scenes tour, meet and feed giraffes, and participate in other daily activities.
Reid Park Zoo is dedicated to connecting people and animals in their conservation efforts and wildlife rehabilitation. By joining forces with various associations and patrons, the zoo is actively involved in global conservation programs and aims to address the issues concerning animals and their habitats. Some of the projects they are working on are the Tanzania Conservation Research Program, Anteaters and Highways Project, Baird’s Tapir Survival Alliance, and Tiger Conservation Campaign.
10. Saguaro National Park
ADDRESS- S Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, Arizona
Saguaro National Park, situated in Southern Arizona, is one of the top things to do in Tucson, just minutes from the city. The park, divided into two sections, features the spectacular Sonoran Desert landscape and species native to the region, such as the saguaro cactus, after which the park is named. On its eastern and western sides, the park splits into the Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District, respectively.
Visitors can spend their time at Saguaro National Park trekking, hiking, riding horses, bicycling, or mountain biking on its many trails. The Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District permit horseback riding and bicycles on specific routes. Guests are also welcome to go sightseeing, with some spectacular scenic drives and spotting native wildlife to be expected.
Hiking in Saguaro National Park is a fulfilling and fun activity for visitors to test their endurance. While the hiking trails in the eastern district are short, paved, and easily accessible, the ones in the west are longer, rugged, and the scenery more breathtaking; thus, the Saguaro National Park is one of the top things to do in Tucson.
11. Tucson Mountain Park
ADDRESS- W McCain Loop, Tucson, Arizona
Tucson Mountain Park, established in 1929, is one of the most popular Tucson attractions and is spread across a vast section of the Sonoran Desert. The park overlooks enormous parts of the Tucson beauty and serves to protect the range and its native wildlife.
The park and its prominent peaks provide many outdoor pursuits such as picnicking, camping, archery, and wildlife viewing. There is an extensive system of trails for riding horses, biking, hiking, and more. Visitors who enjoy hiking and scenic drives will appreciate everything the park offers, from its scenic beauty to plains of untouched nature.
Tucson Mountain Park also has a museum within its boundaries called the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. While learning more about the fascinating Sonoran Desert region, people can look at the variety of wildlife in the park.
With its many attractions, a museum, and even sharing a border with a section of Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain Park falls on the list of popular things to do in Tucson.
12. Colossal Cave Mountain Park
ADDRESS- E Old Spanish Trail, Vail, Arizona
The Colossal Cave Mountain Park, among Arizona’s most famous tourist attractions, is a park home to one of North America’s largest dry caverns. It comprises a cave complex with around 5 kilometers of passageways, routes, and unusual rock formations, and as such, it falls on the list of the best things to do in Tucson.
This one-of-a-kind park features mapped tunnels and caves; visitors are free to explore the cave trails and go on cave diving adventures. The park has plenty of options for those who prefer to stay above ground. There are museums and picnic spots, a campsite, a butterfly garden, a gift shop, picnic areas, wagon rides, and other things. For visitors, there are guided tours available, as well as biking and hiking trails, along with trails for horseback riding.
13. Catalina State Park
ADDRESS- N Oracle Rd, Tucson, Arizona
One of the most exciting things to do in Tucson is to visit Catalina State Park, just half an hour from downtown Tucson and situated at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. With nearly 5,000 saguaros, the park is a sanctuary for desert plants and over 150 species of wildlife.
The stunning views of the Tucson mountains and the canyons and foothills make picnicking, camping, bird watching, and other such activities more enjoyable for travelers, nature lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Visitors to Catalina State Park can enjoy the peaceful picnic spots, mountain biking trails, horseback riding, and equestrian center, or take the scenic route on the hiking trails that wind into the Coronado National Forest. The park has various campgrounds equipped with picnic tables, fire pits, and other amenities. Having some of the best camping areas, visiting Catalina State Park falls on the list of the top things to do in Tucson.
14. Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
ADDRESS- N Sabino Canyon Rd, Tucson, Arizona
Sabino Canyon, lying at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains, is an excellent place to visit and one of the best things to do in Tucson. The canyon has a spellbinding landscape and majestic views and offers numerous leisure pursuits and activities.
The canyon, which falls within the Coronado National Forest, houses creeks, waterfalls, riparian corridors, diverse wildlife, and cacti. Visitors can take the Sabino Canyon Tram, which will take them through picnic spots, stunning viewpoints, and trailheads.
For tourists coming in from all around the world and for visitors, the Sabino Canyon is a wonder. People come here for a walk or a hike to capture photos, observe the wilderness, and enjoy the serenity.
15. Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway
ADDRESS- Catalina Mountains, Tucson, Arizona
The Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is one of the most scenic routes in southeast Arizona. This remarkable route takes one up to the summit of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Santa Catalina Range, passing breathtaking desert scenery, mountains and valleys, lakes, and streams.
Visitors will surely enjoy this scenic drive up the mount, which should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Tucson, with its rugged reaches perfect for skiing, camping, and backcountry hiking. People can see stunning city views and the Sonoran Desert region from high up.
16. Trail Dust Town
ADDRESS- E Tanque Verde Rd, Tucson, Arizona
As one of the popular things to do in Tucson, Trail Dust Town has long been a favorite destination for tourists since 1961. This entertainment destination transports visitors to the Wild West with its various Wild West-themed shops, shopping centers, and amusement rides, such as a Ferris Wheel and a carousel.
Those visiting Tucson should definitely check out this town—watch the Wild West Stunt Show, try the steaks at Pinnacle Peak, take a train ride, or pan for treasure.
17. Tucson Botanical Garden
ADDRESS- N Alvernon Way, Tucson, Arizona
The Tucson Botanical Gardens is a collection of gardens on the Porter property dedicated to an educational experience and showcasing native plant diversity. Once privately owned, the historic grounds were transformed into a botanical garden and have since grown as a community space and a means of connecting nature and humans through various forms of history, art, and culture.
As mentioned by several associations, it is a leading botanical garden in the state and one of the top things to do in Tucson. Visitors can wander through the Iris Garden in the Tucson Botanical Gardens, check out the Exhibit Garden, relax in the Zen Garden, watch out for the Backyard Bird Garden, and so on.
The Tucson Botanical Garden, a picture of quiet and serenity for those in the city, is home to the finest and the most beautiful Arizona flora, such as cacti, succulents, and orchids.
18. Mission San Xavier del Bac
ADDRESS- W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, Arizona
The Mission San Xavier del Bac, a National Historic Landmark founded in 1692, is one of Tucson’s most popular tourist attractions. As one of Arizona’s most significant historical sites and the oldest European structure, the mission is widely regarded as exhibiting some of the greatest Spanish colonial architectural styles.
San Xavier del Bac, also known as the “White Dove of the Desert,” is a Spanish Catholic mission constructed in the 18th century. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the serene ambiance, gorgeous Spanish colonial buildings, detailed carvings, sculptures, frescoes, and artifacts, all great examples of colonial Baroque architecture.
The Mission San Xavier del Bac Church is still a sacred place for the local parish society and continues to carry out its original mission of assisting the Tohono O’odham.
As a result of attracting visitors from around the world, San Xavier del Bac easily ranks among the top things to do in Tucson.