Tucson, Arizona is just a couple of hours south of Phoenix. A legitimate day trip for people in the Phoenix area, there are unique and wonderful experiences there that you won't find in Phoenix. Here is a list of our favorites.
Before You Plan Your Tucson Outings
Tucson, Arizona is Arizona's second-largest city, next to the capital city of Phoenix. Tucson is higher in elevation than Phoenix, so while it is still in the Sonoran Desert, and it certainly gets hot for several months of the year during the summer, it is generally a few degrees cooler than Phoenix.
The highly acclaimed Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum deserves all the accolades that it receives. It was probably the most expensive of the attractions that I have visited in Tucson, but it is well worth it. What is it? is it a garden? a zoo? a hiking area? an educational center? The answer is....yes, to all of those. Expect to spend a lot of time here appreciating the balance between the ecological components of the Desert Southwest.
In the northeast part of Tucson the Sabina Canyon Recreation Area has beautiful scenery, with steep cliffs rising up from the canyon floor. No priv ate vehicles are allowed in here, but you can hike, walk, jog or take the shuttle bus. You can also take the shuttle bus up, and then walk back, if you'd like. It's just less than 4 miles each way.
There are two different sides to Saguaro National Park, and the terrain is different. Both sides have Visitor Centers and loops for scenic drives. Hiking trails abound on both sides. The drive is easier on the east side (Rincon Mountain District), but but the west side has a more rugged. The west side (Tucson Mountain District) has more saguaros and is closer to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucson and the Wildlife Museum.
In the southern part of Tucson many people will stop to visit the "White Dove of the Desert." It was originally built when the area was still part of Spain. After Mexico gained its independence in 1821, the Mission became part of Mexico. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission joined the United States.
If you love planes, military, and commercial, you'll be in aircraft heaven here. Both indoor and outdoor exhibits. The guided tour in a trolley is the best way to go to see the outdoor exhibits, but you are certainly welcome to walk the expansive grounds.
This attraction, near Old Tucson Studios, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, doesn't seem to get much media love. There are no real animals here, but the kids (and adults) loved getting up close to the lifelike animals, beautifully arranged. It is all indoors, so it's a cool place to go in the summer.
There's nothing especially unique about a visit to the zoo, but the little ones need entertainment, too. Not the biggest zoo or the most modern zoo, this one will appeal mostly to the younger kids. It's owned by the City of Tucson and is located right in town.
In 1995 most of Old Tucson Studios was destroyed by fire. It reopened in 1997, less as a film backdrop and more as a tourist attraction. Cowboys and little kids will enjoy this western town where many of the old, great western movies were filmed. Guided tours are available and explain the significance of the sets and the buildings. There are shows and other activities, too. In October, it becomes a Halloween-oriented attraction.
The University of Arizona has a variety of museums right on campus that are open to the public. Most of them offer free admission. The Arizona State Museum is a well-organized "tour" through the history of the state. The Center for Creative Photography is not huge, but includes both permanent and special exhibitions. The Flandrau Science Center has a planetarium and, in the lower level, don't miss the Mineral Museum with a fantastic collection of geological specimens. For sports lovers, the Hall of Champions displays all the accomplishments of UA athletes.
Desert garden trails, uniquely Arizona art and gifts-- what more could you ask for? Tohon Chul Park is a great spot to slow down and appreciate nature and desert beauty.
The Titan Missile Museum is the last Titan II site open to the public. During the Cold Wars there are dozens of Titan II Missile silos around the nation ready to deliver a nuclear missile to its target at a moments notice! Now this silo runs a variety of tours about the missile and the Cold War. Most of the tours are centered in the control room but you'll have a great view of missile.
In the winter, Mount Lemmon (elevation 9,157 feet at the peak) is a ski area in the Santa Catalina Mountains of the Coronado National Forest. It's a scenic drive with trails for hiking. In the summer, it's a cool retreat from the desert heat.