15 Best Things to Do in Tucson

Young saguaros line the hillside
Thomas Roche / Getty Images

Known for its cultural diversity and rich history, Tucson, Arizona is a bucket list city for those who love Mexican food, historical architecture, and a vibrant nightlife. This city is home to the University of Arizona’s main campus and is designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It also resides in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, making it a great place for outdoor enthusiasts who like to explore. Tucson's mild winter temperatures attract snowbirds from the north, and with a multitude of spas and resorts, you can assure yourself a relaxing stay. Many visitors come from Phoenix just for the day, but you can easily spend a long weekend in Tucson and not see it all. Our list of the best things to do in and around the area will help round out your visit.

01 of 15

Go Mountain Biking at Tucson Mountain Park

Mountain biking in Tucson, Arizona

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Address
8451 W McCain Loop, Tucson, AZ 85735, USA

Tucson Mountain Park is a mountain biker's mecca, offering 104 miles of trails for all ability levels. Flat and swoopy beginner and kid-friendly rides include trails like Ironwood, Kerr Jarr, Mariposa, Triple C, and Gates Pass. Intermediate riders can stick to the trails at the base of Brown Mountain or climb Starr Pass on the Golden Gate Trail. Brown Mountain, itself, is where you'll find trails with tight switchbacks, rock gardens, and various levels of exposure. Some trails are multi-use, so you may encounter horseback riders or hikers. Always use proper trail etiquette and give horses plenty of space.

02 of 15

Drink Craft Beer

Different varieties of craft beer

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Tucson is considered one of the best-kept secrets for craft beer. Many of the local brewers use traditional recipes, and then add their own Southwestern spin. Here, you'll find ales made with cactus fruit and infused with Mexican spices. Stop into a few taphouses while you're there to sample the flavors of the area. One such stop, Barrio Brewing is owned by native Arizonans, Dennis and Tauna Arnold, who opened up Tucson’s first full mash brewery fifteen years ago.  Sample their Tucson Blonde or their Hipsterville IPA, both local favorites. 1912 Brewing Company partners with the Tucson Tamale Company to give you tableside (or barrel-side) beers and bites. Pull a chair up to one of their barrel tables and try one of their 20-plus beer varieties.

03 of 15

Golf on Two World-Class Courses

Golf course in Tucson, Arizona

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Address
Ventana Canyon, Catalina Foothills, AZ 85750, USA

Ventana Canyon Golf Resort is a lush desert oasis tucked into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Inside this gated resort community, you'll find two 18-hole championship golf courses designed by architect Tom Fazio. The Mountain Course features one of the most photographed golf holes west of the Mississippi (a par 3), and breathtaking views of the Sonoran Desert and into Mexico. The Canyon Course winds its way through Esperero Canyon and takes you by iconic Whaleback Rock. Book yourself a room at the lodge to enjoy country-club amenities, like a pool, spa, fitness center, and two restaurants, perfect for après golf.

04 of 15

Visit an Airplane Boneyard

Helicopters at the PIMA Air and Space Museum
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Because of its dry climate, Tucson is home to the largest aircraft storage and preservation facility in the world, the Tucson Airplane Graveyard. Situated on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, a tour of "the Boneyard" can be accessed through the Pima Air & Space Museum. Tram tours leave the museum multiple times each day, looping past some of the 4,000 decommissioned planes on display. Advanced reservations are required.

History and military buffs should set aside additional time to visit the affiliated Titan Missile Museum, which features an unarmed missile still in the silo. It's just a half-hour away in Green Valley.

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05 of 15

Step Back in Time at San Xavier del Bac Mission

Mission San Xavier del Bac

 Teresa Bitler

Address
1950 W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746, USA
Phone +1 520-294-2624

Founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692, San Xavier del Bac Mission is a national historic landmark and the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. Visitors are welcome to explore the Catholic mission and grounds, located just 9 miles south of downtown Tucson, and learn about its history with a walk through the onsite museum. Exhibits tell the story of the mission's Tohono O’odham people, as well as the structure’s ongoing restoration. In the parking lot, you’ll likely encounter members of this Native American Nation selling crafts and fry bread.

06 of 15

Learn About Desert Life at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

 Charles C. Place / Getty Images 

Address
2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743, USA
Phone +1 520-883-1380

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, explores the interdependency of life in the harsh environment surrounding the city. Its gardens, recognized as one of the nation’s top 10 public gardens, feature more than 1,200 types of plants, and its zoo introduces visitors to native animals, like the Mexican gray wolf, javelina, mountain lion, bobcats, and bighorn sheep. The museum also features a walk-in aviary, an aquarium, and displays on the region’s geology, all surrounded by hiking trails. Plan to spend at least two hours here, although you could easily spend most of the day exploring the grounds.

07 of 15

Discover Why Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy

Bread

Teresa Bitler

Tucson became the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States in 2015, thanks to its rich culinary history. To appreciate the city's foodie roots, start with a visit to the Mission Garden, the oldest, continuously farmed land in the nation. Then, browse the heirloom seed collection and check out the mission of Tucson-based nonprofit Native Seeds/SEARCH. Next, drop by the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S., El Charro Café, family-owned and operated since 1922. Or, you can sample a local favorite, the Sonoran hot dog, wrapped in bacon and topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, salsa, mayo, and mustard, at El Guero Canelo (this spot won the James Beard award for its version of the dog).

08 of 15

Go Backpacking in Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

 benedek / Getty Images

Address
Arizona, USA
Phone +1 520-733-5153

Saguaros—towering, multi-armed cacti that can live up to 200 years—are exclusively found in the Sonoran Desert. Some of the most impressive stands are located in Saguaro National Park, just outside of Tucson. Drive the 8-mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive in the Rincon Mountain District, or the Bajada Loop Drive in the Tucson Mountain District, for the best sampling of the park's offerings. Combined, both loops offer more than 175 miles of hiking trails, including a short 0.3-mile trek to petroglyphs. Each district has its own visitor center with impressive cactus gardens. The more adventurous can head into the backcountry to backpack and camp among the desert icons, just make sure you head out when the weather is cool.

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09 of 15

Giddy Up at Tucson Guest Ranches

Horseback Riding at Tanque Verde Ranch

Teresa Bitler 

Want to experience life on a ranch? Tucson has two historic guest ranches within its metropolitan area: Tanque Verde Ranch and White Stallion Ranch. They both offer horseback riding for all ages and skill levels, team penning, and activities like nature programs, hiking, tennis, and mountain biking. After a full day of fun, enjoy a hearty meal followed by stories and songs around the campfire. Or, you can book a treatment at the spa or hang out by the pool. Both ranches allow visitors to book a ride without a stay, including full-day and half-day trail riding options.

10 of 15

Relax and Rejuvenate at a Resort Spa

Spa

 John Lamb / Getty Images

Tucson boasts more than half a dozen award-winning resorts, making it a favorite escape for Phoenicians. If you have the time to book a stay at one, you can lounge by beautiful pools and enjoy panoramic views, when you’re not exploring the city. Book a treatment, like a massage or facial, at the resort's spa to truly indulge in a decadent treat. Most resorts invite guests to enjoy the entire spa for the day, which includes amenities like a steam room and private pools. For the latest in relaxation, check out El Conquistador, Tucson’s salt therapy lounge, at SpaWell

11 of 15

Hike Scenic Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon

 Ed Reschke / Getty Images

Address
5700 N Sabino Canyon Rd, Tucson, AZ 85750, USA
Phone +1 520-749-8700

Located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area features a flowing creek, waterfalls, and abundant wildlife. Plan to spend the day hiking the 30-plus miles of trails, or taking the open-air electric tram on a narrated journey through the canyon. You can also jog, trail run, or bike through the canyon, stopping at scenic spots to snap photos. Come prepared with plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat, and note that bicycles are only permitted in the park before 5 p.m.

12 of 15

Go Underground at Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Colossal Cave

 Teresa Bitler

Address
16721 E Old Spanish Trail, Vail, AZ 85641, USA
Phone +1 520-647-7275

When temperatures rise aboveground in Tucson, cool off at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. Located 15 miles away in Vail, the cave has more than 3 miles of underground trails that are accessible to the public via guided tours. Descend approximately six stories (363 stair steps) on the Classic Cave Tour, squeeze through narrow passages on the Ladder Tour, or don a headlamp and crawl to the darkest parts of the cave on the Wild Cave Tour. While underground, look out for many species of bats, including the Mexican long-tongued bat, the Pallid bat, and the Pipistrelle Bat. Back up on land, enjoy a horseback trail ride through the scenic La Posta Quemada Ranch, or camp and picnic right on site.

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13 of 15

Explore Another World at Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2

 chapin31 / Getty Images

Address
32540 S Biosphere Rd, Oracle, AZ 85739, USA
Phone +1 520-838-6200

Operated by the University of Arizona, this self-contained, other-worldly-looking facility conducts research related to our planet's ecosystems in a controlled indoor environment. You can tour the center's rainforest, desert, mangrove, and savanna ecosystems during an hour and a half tour using the Biosphere 2 Experience app. This 1-mile guided tour includes videos and slideshows related to what you are seeing inside the biosphere. Make sure to buy your tickets ahead of time, as a limited number of visitors are allowed inside each day. Also, wear comfortable walking shoes and bring your camera.

14 of 15

Walk the Turquoise Trail

Tucson

 Brad Holt / Getty Images

By walking the Turquoise Trail, you can discover the culture and history of downtown Tucson. Created by former board members of the Presidio Museum, this trail—which begins at the museum and is marked by a painted turquoise line—loops 2.5 miles through downtown and highlights sites of historic interest. Pick up a printed self-guided walking brochure at several downtown locations (including the Presidio Museum), or download the Turquoise Trail app and use your phone for guidance. The museum also offers guided walking tours of the trail twice a month. 

15 of 15

Appreciate the Art at Gallery in the Sun

Gallery in the Sun

 Teresa Bitler

Address
6300 N Swan Rd, Tucson, AZ 85718-3607, USA
Phone +1 520-299-9191

When Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia couldn’t get his work into an art gallery, he built his own in Tucson—literally. De Grazia poured the footers, shaped the adobe bricks, and plastered the walls that make up this gallery-turned-museum. On display, you’ll see roughly 800 of the museum’s 15,000 DeGrazia originals, including the colorful paintings of Native Americans that made him famous. Be sure to check out De Grazia's regional foods celebration at the “Dinner with DeGrazia” exhibit. This exhibit showcases drawings and paintings of Southwestern fare. And, don't leave without a stop in the onsite adobe chapel and gift shop.

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15 Best Things to Do in Tucson