Best Things to Do in Tucson Arizona

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Tucson is in southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. With a population of almost 1 million people in the metropolitan area Tucson offers much to do and see plus outstanding restaurants.

Exploring Arizona and all the cool things to do in Tucson is how I spent a few weeks road tripping in the United States in 2015. I returned to Tucson in spring 2020. Having spent 12 weeks in Tucson I can highly recommend this Southern Arizona city.

There are so many great attractions in and around Tucson Arizona the only problem you will have is deciding what to do each day.

Here is my guide of the best things to do in Tucson.

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Best Things to Do Tucson Arizona

Why Visit Tucson?

First of all there is a ton of things to do! It seems Tucson has it all – great hiking, biking, rock climbing, golfing, beautiful architecture, museums, active art and music scene, along with excellent co-working spaces.

So far Tucson AZ and San Antonio TX are the only US cities designated by UNESCO as a City of Gastronomy. You know you can enjoy some exceptional meals in Tucson. In addition there are gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and friendly folks.

Surprisingly Tucson is not (yet) a major tech-hub in the South. Perhaps when Austin TX real estate prices get crazy like Silicon Valley the startups will flock to Tucson AZ as an alternate locale with a great vibe, superb cuisine, and a cool music scene.

While hiking in Tucson you will see many Saguaro cactus in the Arizona Sonoran Desert

While hiking in Tucson you will see many Saguaro cactus in the Arizona Sonoran Desert

Where to Stay in Tucson

Hotels in Tucson

Tucson hotels range from 2 star basic rooms to luxurious 5 star resorts.

Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort – a favorite hotel for visitors to Tucson. Read the reviews and check the latest deals.

JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort – luxurious resort 7 miles from Tucson with 3 golf courses, 3 outdoor swimming pools, hot tubs, spa, 4 dining options.

Best Western InnSuites Tucson Foothills Hotel & Suites – located in the foothills of the Catalina mountains, free shuttle to the airport.

Check here for the latest hotel prices in Tucson AZ on Booking.com – this is the site I use most often for hotel reservations. Free cancellation on most rooms, read reviews from hotel guests, and look at photos for a variety of accommodations in Tucson.

My go to site for accommodation is Airbnb. If you want a full kitchen and a cool neighborhood then Airbnb can be a great choice! I loved my little casita in Menlo Park!

Best of Tucson Arizona

RV Camping in Tucson

Arizona is super popular with snowbirds who want to escape harsh winter conditions in the United States and Canada. You will find abundant options for RV parks in Tucson for long term stays.

One of the most popular campgrounds is at Catalina State Park just a few minutes drive from Tucson. Choose from 120 campsites (electric and water included) with hot showers, flush toilets, and no limit on RV length. Reserve online – 14 day maximum stay.

For RV camping near Saguaro National Park try Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson Mountain Park near Saguaro West.

Lazy Days KOA Resort offers year round swimming pools, hot tubs, 9-hole putting golf, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Bright pink and yellow cactus bloom at the Botanical Garden in Tucson AZ

Bright pink and yellow cactus bloom at the Botanical Garden in Tucson AZ

Best Time to Visit Tucson

While the best time to visit depends on what you are looking for and what your travel budget will allow, here is some information to help you decide when you should plan your trip.

Shoulder Season

Because shoulder season is when the weather is still pleasant, but not as many visitors and prices are lower for accommodation. Also, tourist sights and restaurants are not as busy during shoulder season. Try visiting Tucson shoulder season in April to May for springtime shoulder season or September to October for an autumn adventure.

High Season

High season is from November through March and the prices for accommodation will be more expensive than shoulder season.

Guide to Tucson Arizona - things to do in Tucson

Click here for the latest prices and hotel deals now

Best Time to See Cactus in Bloom

In order to see the most variety of blooms aim for an April trip to Tucson. Of course the blooms depend on the weather so each year can vary by a few weeks so check the weather forecast to help guide your decision on when to visit.

Be aware that Saguaro usually bloom later, from around mid-May to mid-June.

Did you know…

  • Saguaros usually do not get blooms until around age 35
  • When fully grown a Saguaro cactus could weigh over 6 tons.
  • Average life of a Saguaro cactus is 150 – 175 years, with some reaching the ripe old age of 200.
Mountains and water - hiking in Tucson AZ Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon – beautiful views and wonderful hiking trails

Weather in Tucson

If you LOVE hot weather then summer is the time to visit. Tucson has hot HOT summers. If traveling to Tucson in summer and you want to relax by the pool, dine on some delicious southwest cuisine,  and enjoy spa treatments try out the JW Marrriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa – one of the top rated hotels in Tucson Arizona.

How hot does it get in Tucson? In June and July the average high is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (around 38 degrees Celsius).

December and January are the coolest months in Tucson, with average highs around 65 degrees F (18 C) and average lows around 39 degrees F (4 C).

Saguaro cactus with mountain views at Sabino Canyon

Saguaro cactus with mountain views at Sabino Canyon

If you prefer more moderate temperatures I recommend planning your trip for late autumn, winter, or early spring. This is when a lot of Canadians head south to Arizona.

They’re known as Snowbirds because they migrate south like the birds do, to escape the cold weather up north.

For fall trips to Tucson Arizona I recommend September, October, November. Temperatures will gradually decrease through the autumn (basically Sept 90’s, Oct 80’s, and Nov 70’s)

October and November bring the most pleasant weather for outdoor activities such as hiking in Tucson. Biking, golfing, and rock climbing are also popular activities.

Things to Do in Tucson Arizona

Enjoy the art, culture, food, and music in Tucson and get outside to enjoy the hiking trails, golfing, beautiful desert landscapes, and incredible sunsets.

Let’s have a look at the variety of things to do in and around Tucson now.

Best Hiking in Tucson

You’ll enjoy exploring Tucson activities both indoors and outdoors. My biggest surprise staying in Tucson? The excellent hiking trails! Sabino Canyon is a wonderful place to hike in Tucson. Getting to see snow at Mt Lemmon was cool too!

Sabino Canyon

Absolutely my favorite place to hike in Tucson because WATER! I loved the 7 Falls hike at Sabino Canyon. Speaking of water, bring plenty with you when you go hiking.

Saguaro National Park

In 2 parts – there is an East and a West park – the Saguaro cactus are amazing to see up close. Did you know that the Saguaro cactus do not get branches (arms) until they are around 60 years old?! It may take up to 100 years before some Saguaro grow arms!

Mt Lemmon

Hiking, skiing, and the scenic drive (or bike ride if you are up to it!) to the top make Mt Lemmon a favorite of many Tucsonans. The summit elevation is over 9,000 feet. This is the place to enjoy cooler weather when it starts getting too hot in Tucson.

Best Things to do in Tucson Arizona

12 Best Day Trips from Tucson

Enjoy a variety of Tucson day trips from historical sites to outdoor adventures or geek out at one of the observatories. You can even take a day trip to Mexico!

Here are 12 amazing day trips from Tucson

  • Bisbee – 90 minute drive to this historical mining town. Tour the Queen Mine and explore the Mining and Hisorical Museum. Walk the Bisbee 1,000 Great Stair Climb.
  • Colossal Cave Mountain Park – 30 minute drive to take the Colossal Cave tour
  • Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory – 60 minute drive
  • Kartchner Caverns State Park – 45 minute drive
  • Kitt Peak National Observatory – located 56 miles southwest of Tucson. Special note to non-citizens of USA from the Kitt Peak Visitor Center website: “Although the Visitor Center is open to all, the US Government requires passports for visitors from other countries when driving through the Border Control check point on Arizona State Route 86. Please be sure you bring your passport with you.”
  • Mission San Xavier del Bac – 20 minute drive
  • Madera Canyon is a 45 minute drive south of Tucson and a popular  birding site in Arizona
  • Nogales Mexico – day trip to Mexico for lunch! Just remember to bring your passport. 75 minute drive, plus allow some time at the border crossing
  • Old Tucson is a movie studio and theme park about 30 minutes west of Tucson
  • Superstition Mountains for some hiking in the Tonto National Forest. I hiked the Wave Cave Trail – 2 hour drive
  • Tubac – 45 minute drive
  • Tombstone – 75 minute drive to the Town Too Tough to Die to take in the wild west history including a gunfight at the O.K. Corrral outdoor theater.
Colorful art and tile bench at Tahono Chul in Tucson AZ

Colorful art and tiles at Tahono Chul

Art and History Museums

While getting to know a new city I like to explore the museums. Visiting art galleries and historical sites are some of the best Tucson things to do when you want to dig a little deeper into culture and history.

Crosses painted on the wall at Limberlost mural Tucson AZ

Crosses at Limberlost mural Tucson Arizona

Murals in Tucson

If you love finding cool murals in a city then you will love Tucson! Exploring the public art is one of my favorite things to do in a new city.

I enjoyed finding most of these art murals by chance, either driving or walking around the neighborhoods.

Tucson murals are freakin’ awesome!

Here’s a list of ten murals in Tucson to get you started, there are dozens more for you to find when you explore the city.

  • Coronado’s Search for 7 Cities of Gold by Luis Mena – 178 W Broadway
  • Epic Rides by Joe Pagac – 6th Street at Stone Ave
  • Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera by Rock Martinez – Broadway and N Stone Ave
  • Goddess of Agave by Rock Martinez – 440 N 7th Ave
  • Greetings From Tucson by Victor Ving & Lisa Beggs – back wall of Miller’s Surplus 406 N 6th Ave
  • Limberlost neighborhood mural – 4100 N Stone Ave
  • Purple Rain by Joe Pagac – alley between R Bar and Rialto Theater downtown
  • Sacred Heart of Tucson by Lex Gjurasic – Pennington Street downtown
  • TUCSON mural – Broadway and N Stone Ave
  • Vergiss by Fin DAC – 178 East Broadway

Check out Tucson Murals blog for murals all around town

Tucson painted in colorful capital letters

Fun Events in Tucson

A variety of festivals and events in Tucson will keep you busy exploring the Southwestern culture.

Find your happy place with these fun (some are FREE) events in Tucson.

Sunrises & Sunsets

In Tucson you will have the pleasure of watching gorgeous sunrises and stunning sunsets.

Saguaro National Park or Gates Pass are both excellent places to watch the sunset in Tucson.

Sunset over the Catalina mountains in Tucson AZ

Super gorgeous sunsets are a regular thing in Arizona

Where to Eat and Drink in Tucson

You will have no problem finding amazing restaurants in Tucson Arizona. This UNESCO City of Gastronomy features a variety of cuisines with dishes ranging from traditional to contemporary.

  • Tohono Chul Bistro – 7366 N Paseo Del Norte – Lovely outdoor patio or enjoy the decor indoors. Especially enjoyed the Prickly Pear lemonade and the chocolate raspberry dessert
  • Le Rendez-Vouz – Excellent menu and good selection of wine at this French bistro. I liked this restaurant for solo lunches, good selection of small plates. 3844 E Fort Lowell Rd
  • Café Poca Cosa – Mexican cuisine – the menu changes twice daily at this upscale restaurant 110 E Pennington St – downtown
  • La Chaiteria in Menlo Park neighborhood just west of downtwon offers up Vegan and Vegetarian Mexcian food – 1002 W Congress St. They also have cool murals and a yoga studio.
  • Seis Kitchen – I think Seis Kitchen makes the best tacos in Tucson. They also do breakfast until 11 am. Downtown at 130 South Avenida del Convento #100 or 1765 E River Rd in Joseler Village
  • Mr An’s Teppan Yaki and Sushi – 6091 N Oracle Rd
  • Cup Café at Congress Hotel – 311 E Congress St (downtown)
  • Zayna Mediterranean – 4122 E Speedway Blvd
Cafe Poca Cosa serves excellent Mexican cuisine

Cafe Poca Cosa serves excellent Mexican cuisine

Downtown Bars

Keep your cool in Tucson with some tasty libations. There’s lots of cool places to get out and enjoy Tucson at night….or during the day.

  • Good Oak Bar – Happy hour with tasty bar food
  • Hotel Congress Lobby bar is a chill place to hang out for a beer or cocktail downtown
  • R Bar – An alley bar with DJ’s – open to the public and anyone attending Rialto events
  • Owl’s Club – Whiskey, wine, and spirits – you will be set!
  • Street Taco and Beer Co. – Tacos and beer, the necessities of life :)
  • Tap & Bottle – Craft beer selection and some wine for non beer drinking folks

Remember to Feed the Parking Meter !

While dining in downtown Tucson I parked my car a few blocks away at a metered parking spot. Having enjoyed an exquisite dinner and a glass of wine I decided to walk to the Pima County Courthouse and wander around downtown.

Losing track of the time, as one does while exploring a new city, after eating a delicious meal, and sipping yummy wine, I forgot about the parking meter’s appetite.

As a result I received the most expensive parking ticket of my life. If you would like a $64 parking ticket, go ahead and ignore the hungry parking meter. Otherwise, feed the beast, so that you can enjoy your dinner and wine and a stroll around downtown Tucson.

Enjoy your trip to Tucson Arizona and all the wonderful things to do!

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Tucson Arizona Travel Guide - things to do and see in Tucson, where to stay, eat, shop

Best Things to do in Tucson Arizona

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling solo around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 5 of a solo road trip around the USA and Canada, living a nomadic life, and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

8 Replies

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  1. Sandra says:

    Wow! I’ve been dying to visit Arizona. The sights are amazing and there’s just so much to explore.

    • Arizona is amazing! I need to get back again, there really is so much to see and do in Arizona. I’m in Louisiana now but feeling the wanderlust for desert and mountains!

  2. Ruth says:

    I spent one week in Tucson about two years ago and had a fabulous time. I enjoyed the food in particular. We took a food tour and visited several restaurants. Coming from California, I found Tucson very affordable!

  3. budget jan says:

    You have a comprehensive post on Tucson here with lovely photos.

  4. Rob says:

    As a transplanted Tucson native, I loved this post! It’s always great to see my hometown through other’s eyes, and the Old Pueblo always does us proud – everybody seems to love it. You have some great things to do and see, and there’s so much more! Every time I read a post about Tucson, I can’t wait to get back. Thanks for sharing your insights!

    • Hey Rob, thank you for your comment! While I’m roaming around I often ask myself “what if I lived here full-time?” and Tucson is definitely one of the places I could live in full time. Fond memories, and I do want to return to Tucson!

      Cheers,
      Susan

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