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Things to Do in Tucson: Our 25 Top Picks

Are you looking for the best things to do in Tucson? Our list of the top 25 includes the best museums, where to go hiking, how to find the gorgeous murals scattered around the city, where to eat some of the best Tucson specific foods, and so much more.

Aram and I have put together this list to give you a starting point on your vacation planning. This will give you plenty of ideas to choose from!

Welcome to the amazing city of Tucson, AZ!

1. Things to Do in Tucson: Hiking

Hiking on the Tanque Verde Trail about 15 outside of Tucson on the eastern sideHiking on the Tanque Verde Trail about 15 outside of Tucson on the eastern side

One of the best things to do in Tucson is to go out for a hike. You will find everything from short trails with very few ups and downs to some day-long hikes with quite a bit of elevation.

Tucson is surrounded by mountain ranges, so anywhere you stay, you are usually only about 15 to 20 minutes away from a hike.

Many hikes are free. You will also find some of the best options inside our state and national parks, which do require that you pay a small fee to enter.

2. Sonoran Hot Dog

Sonoran hot dog at ten55 Brewing Company in TucsonSonoran hot dog at ten55 Brewing Company in Tucson.

The Sonoran hot dog is a popular options all around the city of Tucson. It is originally from Hermosillo which is the capital of the state of Sonora in Mexico.

How is it different? Well, you start with a hot dog and then wrap it in bacon. It's then typically grilled and topped with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, and a variety of condiments. 

You will find dozens of places around town that serve them with their special mix of toppings. Sampling one, two, or three Sonoran hot dogs is one of the most popular things to do in Tucson! 

3. Sunsets

I'm sure you've seen pictures of our amazing sunsets. We are quite lucky here in the fact that we have several amazing sunsets each week. 

You will find dozens of places around town to admire our pink and purple creations. You usually only get a few minutes to take the perfect photo so make sure you are ready to go slightly before the sun starts to set! 

4. San Xavier del Bac Mission

The beauty of this church, both inside and out, cannot be expressed in words. However, it is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona dating back to the late 1700s. With a simple, yet gorgeous exterior, you know you'll be going into a space that is awe-inspiring even if you aren't religious.

The interior is loaded with amazing painted carvings, murals, and multiple domed ceilings. There are angels painted near the domes, statues throughout the church, and lots of pews for you to sit in and just enjoy the scenes. Even if you don't go inside, you can get some of the best photographs of it as the sun sets around it. It is free to all to enter and you are welcome to enter at times other than during church ceremonies. 1950 West Xavier Road

5. Pima Air & Space Museum

One of the Blue Angels at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson.One of the Blue Angels on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson.

Another one of the top things to do in Tucson is visit the Pima Air & Space Museum. This massive aviation museum is like nothing else you've seen in the USA and possibly even the world. There are three main hangars, 3 WWII hangars, and over 80 acres of land with more than 150 planes! You can walk around the hangers and get very close to the planes, helicopters, and other flight vehicles during your time here.

One of Aram and my favorite things to do is, after checking out all the planes in the hangars and talking to the guides, is to go on the two tours that they offer here. One is the tram tour, which takes about 45 minutes and you'll see loads of planes during it. The second is the "Boneyard" tour and it takes about 2 hours.

This one will take you through to the area where all the "dead" planes are laid to rust, I mean rest. These tours must be booked in advance so plan ahead. 6000 East Valencia Road

6. Tumamoc Hill

The view from Tumamoc Hill is really quite wonderful, and especially during sunrise or sun set, since you can pretty much see forever. It is paved, so that means you won't get dusty or dirty on your way up or down. There are mostly walkers or runners as bikes or skateboards are prohibited so you can take your time and just enjoy yourself.

The path is 1.5 miles each way, with the lower part being a gradual rise, while the upper part is more strenuous. There are benches, and exhibits, along the way since this is an ecological preserve. Therefore, you just might see some wildlife too!

There is The Luminous Mother Shrine and Altar at the bottom of the path. It is simple but gorgeous. West Anklam Road & Tumamoc Hill Road behind St. Mary's Hospital

7. Mount Lemmon

The view from one of the stops on the way to the top of Mount Lemmon looking toward the west and the city of Tucson.The view from one of the stops on the way to the top of Mount Lemmon looking toward the west and the city of Tucson.

Topping out at 9,159 feet, this is the one serious mountain! Locals love it because it is so cool during the summer (usually about 30 degrees cooler than in Tucson!).

It's also a fun drive up in the winter as well because of its beautiful views.

Depending on the season you visit, you can see pine trees, wildflowers, beautiful aspens, or even waterfalls or snow! There is also a lot of wildlife so keep your eyes out and maybe you can see something special!

If you want to do more than just hiking and enjoying the landscape, you are in luck since The University of Arizona has some special observatory nights for guests.

At the top, you will also find a general store, a few places to eat, camping and trail hiking, picnicking, zipline adventures, and skiing in the winters.

All in all, no matter when you visit here, Mt. Lemmon is definitely one of the "top" things to do in Tucson.

8. Saguaro National Park (East & West)

A waterfall at the east side of the Saguaro National ParkA waterfall at the east side of the Saguaro National Park

In case you didn't know, this national park is split into two different areas with Tucson located in the middle of it. They both have the famous massive Saguaro cacti, beautiful flowers, and even some wildlife. You will also find more 150 miles of hiking areas combined.

The Eastern Rincon Mountain District climbs up to over 8,000 feet so you know it will have lots of fun excursions. The Western side is usually a little easier and stays flatter but has a lot more saguaros for you to check out. There might be people riding their bikes, or even motorcycles, so stay alert.

Both sides can get very hot during the summer, and very cold during the winter, so check the weather and plan ahead. They also both have visitor's centers, but only the East side has camping areas.

Note: Saguaro East Visitor's Center is at 3693 South Old Spanish Trail. Saguaro West Visitor's Center is on Kinney Road between Mile Wide Road and Sandano Road.

9. Things to Do in Tucson: Downtown Murals

Just one of the many amazing murals in downtown TucsonJust one of the many amazing murals in downtown Tucson

Jill and I love murals and find them wherever we go. Phoenix has the amazing Roosevelt Row, but Tucson is also amazing murals all around town.

You will find a large concentration of them Downtown, in Barrio Viejo (which also has loads of 19th century adobe buildings), and the El Presidio District because of its "old town Tucson" feel.

Now, since you are just visiting, and probably want to see as much as possible, we highly recommend taking this bike tour as one of your things to do in Tucson. On this 2-hour bike ride, you'll see about 30 - 40 of Tucson's best murals, some of which are true hidden gems.

In addition, your tour guide will explain the neighborhoods, the meaning of the murals, and more. It is about 7-9 miles, but mostly flat, so easy and fun. It is truly a blast! Starts and ends at Tucson Bike Tours, 215 North Hoff Avenue #101.

10. Food, Drink, & Shopping Along 4th Avenue

Buckle up and get ready because here we go! Let's start with the food choices...and there are more than a dozen of them. You'll find everything from pizza to Mexican food as well as some locally popular dishes such as Sonoran hot dogs and chimichangas. 

Now on to the drinks...as with the food, there are so many bars here that you will be able to choose just about anything, in any style, you want. Some are dive bars (don't worry, the locals are all friendly), to your normal brewery or beer pub, to some of the most artistic and inventive cocktail bar anywhere. Make sure to look out for the The Hut's "Moai Tiki Head" there.

Lastly, the shopping...am I being too repetitive by saying you can probably buy just about anything you want here?

If you can't tell, Jill and I love 4th Avenue since there are so many options. There is classic jewelry, the hippest clothes, bookstores, art galleries hookah lounges, and even a record store!

Trust me, when you go to 4th Avenue, you'll see why it is one of Jill's and my favorite things to do in Tucson.

11. Barrio Viejo & El Tiradito

One of the many classically and wonderfully painted houses in Tucson's Barrio Viejo neighborhoodOne of the many classically and wonderfully painted houses in Tucson's Barrio Viejo neighborhood.

As mentioned above, Barrio Viejo is one of our favorite neighborhoods and things to do in Tucson. When you go there, you'll find gorgeous houses that are brightly painted, murals all around it, and much more.

However, there is something darker lurking right underneath the surface! Which is the story behind the El Tiradito Shine. 

This Catholic shrine is one of the most famous, or infamous depending on your belief. It is the only shrine that is dedicated to a sinner (it gives us all hope!). The story goes that Juan Oliveras was having an affair with an older woman...who was actually his wife's mother! Supposedly, the father-in-law caught them "in the act" and axed him to death right then and there.

Juan's wife was still in love and felt terrible that she couldn't bury him on consecrated ground, so she buried him where he died. Strangely enough...a shrine started building up there for "El Tiradito." It has now become a "wishing shrine" where you can leave notes, candles, and such for good luck.

What the heck, might as well try it, right? El Tiradito is at 418 South Main Avenue.

12. The Loop

A bridge on the over 150 mile Loop in Tucson that does not allow any machine powered transport on it.A bridge on the over 150 mile Loop in Tucson that does not allow any machine powered transport on it.

This is one of the best non-attractions in all of the city. What do I mean by non-attraction? It is a 151-mile paved path that wanders around the city without having a specific location. It runs primarily around the wash, which is where the water runs when it rains, and it has loads of gorgeous views. Some of The Loop also runs next to the Rillito and the Santa Cruz Rivers. 

The beauty of the The Loop is that it is limited to only walkers, runners, and cyclists. That means you can get around without worrying about motorcycles or cars running you down.

The paths are about 10 feet wide and there is a line down the middle so that you can know where your designated space is located.

Also, if you love art, there are over 100 pieces of art all along as you cruise it. Some are sculptures, some are tiled, and then there are other mediums to surprise you.

You'll have to check the maps to see where you can enter or leave The Loop as there are so many of them. It's one of the highest-rated things to do in Tucson.

13. Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum

One of our favorite things to do in Tucson is visit this living museum just outside of Tucson. There are loads of animals walking around in enclosures so you can see them up close. Some of these include coyotes, bobcats, ocelots, and more.

If you want to see other animals, there are cute ones like horned owls, peregrine falcons, thick billed parrots and other beautiful birds.

Other displays include the garden walks so you can see the native landscape, a stingray exhibit where you can touch them, an area for hummingbirds, another for reptiles, Amphibian & Invertebrate Hall, and too many others to mention.

There are also special live exhibits, live Raptors Free Flights, Animal Spotlights, and the keeper Encounters where you can see them working with animals.

Note: Some of these special events may have an extra fee. 2021 North Kinney Road.

14. Turquoise Trail 

Just one of the many trail markers on the historic Turquoise Trail in downtown TucsonJust one of the many trail markers on the historic Turquoise Trail in downtown Tucson
Just one of the many sites on the historic Turquoise Trail in downtown TucsonJust one of the many sites on the historic Turquoise Trail in downtown Tucson

Also known as the Presidio Trail, the Turquoise Trail is a wonderful self-guided tour of downtown Tucson. It's a great way to spend part of the day and check out 23 sites around the this neighborhood.

At just about 2.5 hours, it is a great way to see many cool locations such as the famous Hotel Congress, the Fox Tucson Theatre, and Ferrin House (which is one of favorites since it is now the Cushing Street Bar & Restaurant).

Honestly, most locals don't even know about this great trail and you will be more knowledgeable about Tucson in just a short couple of hours. Even though you can "start" the trail anywhere you can want, since it is marked with a turquoise colored strip on the sidewalk, you can easily pick up a map at the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum at 196 North Court or download from their Presidio website.

It's one of the lesser known, but interesting things to do in Tucson.

15. Food Tours

One of Aram's and my favorite thing to do in Tucson is to eat, since there are SO many choices. We constantly try new restaurants as much as we can. We try to check out either certain neighborhood restaurants or specific types of food. We also like trying everything that is new and cool, so we can give you some of the best recommendations.

Here are also a few of the most popular, local food tours. They offer you a great way to learn more about Tucson and our best local eats! 

Sonoran Desert Edibles: This wild food tour is so much more than just the usual "Check out restaurants" tour and it will blow your mind. In this tour, you actually go into the desert and will eat wild food! You'll learn about animals, how to build a rope, and more. How cool is that? Starts at the Safeway at 4752 East Sunrise Drive.

Taco Bike Tour: As mentioned above, we live in a city with so many food options, so it is hard to choose which ones to try. We personally love Sonoran tacos and this fun bike tour, with stops at many of the best taco joints, is one we think you will love. If you want a break from a taco, you can even try a Sonoran hot dog! This tour is about 8 miles but flat and easy, so you'll have a great time. Starts at Tucson Bike Tours 215 North Hoff Avenue #215

16. Kitt Peak National Observatory

The Kitt Peak Observatory has a view unlike any other in the state. When you first arrive, you'll want to start at the Visitor Center to get all the information about your visit.

As you explore this amazing Tucson attraction, you get views of more than 24 different observatories all around you. Three of these are dedicated specially to night viewing public.

You can also check out the self-guided tour, a guided tour, or a special VIP tour during the day.

If you want to do something really exciting and once-in-your-life type of experience, check out the nighttime tours. These are all guided, limited in regard to how many people can attend them, and cost a fee. For that reason, it is best to book in advance.

It is about 1 hour southwest of downtown Tucson.

17. Breweries

A map of just some of the many breweries scattered all around Tucson and the surrounding areas.A map of just some of the many breweries scattered all around Tucson and the surrounding areas.

No matter how many times you have visited Tucson, you will probably find a new brewery with each visit. Heck, I know we do, and we live here!

Breweries have just taken off in the last 5 or so years and you will find them throughout the city. Because of that, you will always find some new place enjoy. Some of them also have food or pop-up food services outside.

You will find some are dedicated to the art of beer. Others offer sours and we also have a new place that focuses just on ciders. Many of them change the beers they are brewing, as they try something new and experiment with them, and it is fun to see what new choices are out there.

If you want to be safe, you might want to check out some of the beer tours which will drive so you can just enjoy yourself and have fun. Cheers to you!

18. Reid Park Zoo

For those that have been to Phoenix, this zoo is a little smaller than it, but still totally  worthwhile to visit. You will get a closer look at the animals as well. They are constantly updating and expanding it so that the animals have more space and visitors get a better chance to see them each time they visit.

Some of the animals living here include elephants, bears, tigers, (oh my!), and macaques among so many others. There are also special events depending on the day you visit, so you will want to check ahead and see what is going on. If you get hungry, you will also find a few restaurants here. 

Being that it is a smaller zoo, most people say that the kids won't get worn out since it is just the right size for a whole family. 3400 Zoo Court.

It's one of the things to do in Tucson that we always recommend to families. 

19. Tucson Museum of Art

Another one of our favorite things to do in Tucson is to visit the Museum of Art. This museum covers a whole block and shows diverse exhibitions ranging from Latin American, to Asian, to Contemporary art. It is a great museum for families also.

Something else that locals love about this area is that it is on the "Historic Block" which includes numerous buildings. These buildings also have art exhibits, are used as studios, and one has a café.

Make sure to check and see if the museum is having any tours during your stay. 140 North Main Avenue

20. Tucson Botanical Gardens

Known as Tucson's Urban Oasis, this beautiful area lives up to it. This garden was named one of the best Secret Gardens by Reader's Digest in 2017, so you will be glad you decided to visit here. It is rather small, but it is worth your time since there is so much to see.

This one is set up with 17 areas that are specifically designed to be one of a kind. Some of these include a Zen and Cactus area, a garden with unusual rocks from around the world, and our favorite, a magical tropical butterfly area.

This is a great place to let the kids roam around and learn about different nature areas. Several have plaques with information about them, so you can learn as you stroll. There are lots of decorated "benches," cool sculptures, and local art throughout it as well.

They also have a café and gift shop. 2150 North Alvernon Way

21. Sabino Canyon

The amazing Sabino Canyon Recreation Area just outside of TucsonThe amazing Sabino Canyon Recreation Area just outside of Tucson

Located just to the northeast of downtown Tucson, at the bottom of the Catalina Mountains, is where this beautiful canyon starts. There are both easy and hard trails, paved and unpaved trails, and trails that go anywhere including to the very top of the mountains. No matter where you are in the canyon, the views are spectacular, and you will feel like you are hundreds of miles from civilization.

Depending on the season, you may see rushing rivers and waterfalls, but at other times it will be quite hot, so you'll want to check the weather ahead of time. There is a visitor's center at the bottom of the canyon.

Note: Visitors are only allowed to walk, run, cycle, or take the shuttle. They do not allow motorized vehicles since they want to preserve the nature and also keep it quiet and relaxing for all.

5700 North Sabino Canyon Road

22. Children's Museum

This fun and interactive museum is one of the best family-friendly museums in Tucson. Kids get to play with basically anything they want, exploring both indoors and outdoors, and learn at the same time. We often bring our nephews and nieces here when they are looking for exciting things to do in Tucson. This is perfect for kids that are 3 to about 10 years old.

There is basically something for everyone since they have so many different exhibits. Some of these include a light bulb with a handle that your kids can crank so it lights up, a heart that pumps when you squeeze it (sounds gross but it isn't), and they are changing them a lot so you can see something new each time you visit.

It is also a great place to visit when you are downtown and want a break from all the hustle and bustle. This museum is somewhat small, but that makes it more personable and inviting. 200 South 6th Avenue. It's another one of the best family-friendly things to do in Tucson.

Note: There is a second Children's Museum in Oro Valley for kids 0-5 years old. Make sure not to confuse the two of them.

23. Day Trip to Madera Canyon

About one hour south of Tucson is Madera Canyon. It is highly loved by birders and anyone else who loves quiet and nature. There are a lot of easy hikes and also some more strenuous ones if you want to go to the higher areas. It is usually a little cooler than Tucson, so it is a nice escape if you are here during the hotter months.

One of the reasons it is a great place to visit is that there are numerous paved and gravel trails, which offers you some choice on where you want to hike.

If you are really adventurous, you will also some that are strictly rocks, roots, and just pure nature. The benefit is you probably won't see a single person on those. However, you could see animals like deer and more.

Coronado National Forest, 2301 South Madera Road, Rio Rico.

24. Authentic Mexican Food

Just some of the delicious authentic Mexican food you can get in TucsonJust some of the delicious authentic Mexican food you can get in Tucson

Eating the real deal Mexican food is one of the best draws for anyone and everyone looking for things to do in Tucson. There are so many choices, and so many great neighborhoods to check out, that you could spend weeks just touring around tasting them. We are always on the hunt for new places and we are happy to help you find them.

Some of our favorites are located in the downtown area, which is full of history and colorful murals. The Barrio area is of course one of the best also.

25. Tohono Chul

As you can see from our list, some of the best things to do in Tucson include outdoor adventures. This is another one to add to your list.

Tohono Chul is one of the best botanical gardens in the state. It offers several areas of plants that you will often find in the deserts in and around Arizona. 

You'll see several Saguaros, a butterfly garden, and other succulents. Make sure to check out the Geology Wall as well. The wall shows several hundred rock specimens. The wall starts with older rocks and as you make your way along it, the rocks are younger and younger. It's a rare find here in Tucson as well as in the world! 

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