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Tohono Chul: A Gem in Tucson's Desert

Published: March 31, 2023

Tohono Chul is a lovely botanical garden in the Casa Adobes area of Tucson, Arizona. This incredible living museum covers more than 49 acres showcasing a wide variety of plants and a few wildlife species that call the Sonoran Desert home.

The flat, easy-to-use paths take you past areas with plants from specific regions within the Sonoran Desert. It's a wonderful place for a close-up look at our amazing Saguaro cacti.

During your visit, you'll also see a variety of butterflies, birds, rabbits, and tortoises.

You will also find three trails that take you a little further out from the gardens to offer you a little additional space to hike.

Other fun things to do here include guided tours, activities for kids, and shopping. You can also relax with a drink or a meal at their amazing Garden Bistro.

Recently named one of the World's Greatest Botanical Gardens by Travel + Leisure Magazine, this gem is a must-visit for those interested in plants, desert life, and anyone that loves the outdoors.

Visiting Tohono Chul Tucson

More About Visiting Tohono Chul

First off, you could easily spend an entire day here. We visit a couple of times a year, and we typically spend anywhere from two to three hours here. We sometimes just stop in for breakfast or lunch at their bistro.

Must See Exhibits

The 55 foot long Geology Wall which traces the evolution of this area from 2 billion years ago up to todayThe 55 foot long Geology Wall which traces the evolution of this area from 2 billion years ago up to today

There are so many amazing outdoor exhibits to check out inside Tohono Chul.

The gardens include:

  • Hummingbird
  • Penstemon
  • Desert Palm Oasis
  • Performance
  • Children's
  • Streamside
  • Geology Wall
  • Sin Aqua Garden
  • Sonoran Seasons
  • Ethnobotanical
  • Desert Living Courtyard

While we find something to love in everyone of them, there are two that we explore in more detail each time.

One is the Hummingbird Garden. This area is planted to attract these busy little birds specifically. Inside, you'll find salvia, desert honeysuckle, dessert willow and other sweet flowers that hummingbirds love!

We also never miss the Geology Wall! It is a 55-foot wall and the only one in the world. The wall traces the area's history, from 2 billion years ago to the present.

This display shows how the Catalina Mountains were formed and includes rock formations as old as 9,000 years ago. It then shows you how the land has evolved throughout time. It’s fun to touch the stones and “feel the history.”

Hiking Trails

Three additional hiking trails allow you to get in a few more steps and see even more of the plants and animals that live in the Sonoran Desert.

The three paths and their distance are:

  • Saguaro Discovery Trail: Just less than a fourth of a mile long
  • South Loop Trail: About one-fifth of a mile long
  • Desert View Trail: Almost half a mile

Each one is a loop, so you can be sure you won't get too lost or too far away from the various gardens in the main area of this attraction.

Garden Bistro

Lunch at Tohono Chul

Another fun part of the visit to these botanical gardens is a chance to eat in their bistro.

In our opinion, the bistro is a fantastic restaurant and the perfect place to enjoy a meal while walking around and enjoying your day.

The bistro has an assortment of meals and food, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free choices. They have soft drinks, beer, wine, and cocktails. It can be a bit pricey, so you'll want to consider this if you are paying for a large group or are on a budget.

We love their “Bottomless Prickly Pear Margarita or Mimosa.” They are only $14 with the purchase of any entrée (prices may be subject to change). They are delicious and perfect for enjoying the gorgeous weather and nature.

NOTE: You can visit the bistro without buying a ticket or paying an entrance fee.

Shopping at Tohono Chul

If you like to shop, you are going to love what you find here. There are three different places to choose from.

The first one is La Fuente. This store has many cookbooks, ceramics, and other interesting and unique items related to the local culture. The store is located in a gorgeous colonial-style building.

Originally built in 1937, La Galeria is right next to the exhibit house. You can find jewelry, books, pottery, and other fun trinkets.

If you visit La Entrada Shop & Greenhouse, you can probably expect to spend a good 20 minutes here. It is a massive area that houses various plants for purchase.

There is a fourth place to shop here if you are looking for plants. Their greenhouse offers you the chance to pick up local plants for your own garden or home.

Fun Activities for Kids at Tohono Chul

One of the massive Saguaro cactus that you'll see when you visit Tohono Chul Gardens in TucsonOne of the massive Saguaro cactus that you'll see when you visit Tohono Chul Gardens in Tucson

Tohono Chul is passionate about teaching everyone how to help nature survive and thrive. To help kids learn about the Sonoran Desert, you will find many fun activities and special adventures. These include:

  • Stories in the Garden: Held in the Children's Ramada, these talks offer traditional and original stories about the desert and its wildlife.
  • Creepy Crawlies: This is every Friday, where you will learn more about the local snakes, spiders, scorpions, and lizards.
  • On-Site Activity Guide & Moble Scavenger Hunts: Use your smart phone to scan the QR code on their site (or at the gardens) for activity details.
  • Sonoran Cinema: This is their Family movie night. Check their site for details.
  • Coloring Pages: You'll also find downloadable coloring pages on their site that you can do in the gardens or at home.

Guided Tours

One of the many gorgeous pieces of art set through out the Tohono Chul Gardens

Tohono Chul also offers daily guided tours. You will find everything from searching for butterflies to what's currently in bloom in the garden.

All of their tours are included in the price of admission.

You will find anywhere from five to eight tours daily. There are more during the cooler fall, winter, and spring months. You will also find more tours on Saturday than on other days of the week.

It's a great way to learn more about certain aspects of the park during your visit.

Other Events at Tohono Chul

Another reason we love it here is that they have a lot of wonderful special events throughout the year. If you are in luck, you might get to catch a concert, be able to take a special tour or enjoy other night events here.

Make sure to check their website, as they constantly update it with new events and special activities.

Tohono Chul Hours & Admission

Some of the beautiful flowers you'll see at the Tohono Chul GardensSome of the beautiful flowers you'll see at the Tohono Chul Gardens

Tohono Chul is a wonderful place to visit any time of the year. It's best in the spring when flowers are in bloom from our annual winter rainy season, but it's still beautiful at other times of the year.


The operating hours are as follows:

  •  Open 7 days a week, Monday through Sunday
  •  General hours are from 8 am to 5 pm
  •  Shops & Galleries hours are from 9 am to 5 pm.

 The Bistro is open from 8 am to 4 pm daily.

 They close early at 3 pm on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

They are fully closed on New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, & Christmas Day.

Admission Prices

The current admissions tickets and prices are as follows:

  •  Adults 12 and up are $15
  •  Seniors 65 years and up are $13
  •  Military or students with a current ID are $13
  •  Children age 5 to 12 years old are $6
  •  Children under the age of 5 are free

 IMPORTANT: prices are subject to change at any time.

 Tickets are for purchase only at the door. There is no option to buy tickets in advance online.

 If you are here on a weekday, you'll find that the lines are usually fairly short, and you can get into it quite quickly. It is usually busier on weekends, but the wait isn't too long, so just something to consider for your tip.

 NOTE: There is no entrance fee if you only want to visit the Garden Bistro, La Fuente Museum Shop, La Entrada Museum Shop, or Garden Shop.

Free Days and Other Discounts

One of areas at the Tohono Chul Garden with many different types of flowers and cactiOne of areas at the Tohono Chul Garden with many different types of flowers and cacti

The garden does have special Community Days with free entrance. They are usually just once or twice a year. They often limit free admission for these days during the first few hours they are open.

Other Discounts at Tohono Chul

There are only a few special discounts at the Tohono Chul.

You’ll get a 10% discount on your entrance fee if you are an AAA member. If you are a member of AAM or APGA, your entrance is free.

 If you plan to visit more than once, a great way to save money is to become a member. All memberships last for a year from the purchase date. Listed below are the current membership options:

  •  Individual adult membership is $45
  •  Individual senior, student, or military memberships are $35
  •  Senior Couple membership is $50
  •  Family or Dual membership is $65
  •  Desert Tortoise membership is $100
  •  Red-Tailed Hawk membership is $250
  •  Bobcat Membership is $500
  •  Palo Verde membership is $1,000
  •  Night Blooming Cereus membership is $1,500

Even the most inexpensive memberships give you 2 one-time guest passes, which is perfect if you travel with family and friends.

They also include discounts at the museum store, the bistro, and the greenhouse. Discounts are also available for certain classes, workshops, special events, the ability to use the park’s ED-ventures, and more.

In addition, these memberships have a reciprocal program with almost 300 other gardens in North America and the Cayman Islands. You can easily find them near you and continue to save a lot of money!

If you decide to join as a "RedTailed Hawk" member or higher, you will receive many more great member benefits. Some of these include member-only events, discounts on purchases, passes to lectures, and more.

Location, Parking and Transit Options

Yellow Desert Flowers

Tohono Chul is located at 7366 N. Paseo del Norte. If you decide to drive here, it is a very easy 20 to 25-minute trip from downtown Tucson.

 Driving & Parking

They offer a big parking lot that is just steps from their entrance. Parking is free.

There are several handicap-accessible spots right near the entrance.

They also offer spots for parking motor homes and buses.

If attending an event at the Education Center, there is also special parking for the events.

 Pubic Transportation

Depending on where you are staying, public transportation can be a good choice if you don't want to drive.

If you are in downtown Tucson, take the #16 bus and get off at Ina/La Oesta stop. From here, you’ll need to walk about half of a mile on paved walkways.

This bus ride is about 45 minutes.

If staying further out towards the East or West of Tucson, public transportation might not be worth your time as it could take over 2 hours, depending on your location.

Lastly, you can always call a Lyft or an Uber. If downtown, it’ll cost between $15 to $20, and it’ll take about 20 to 25 minutes, so you’ll need to budget around $30 to $40 for a roundtrip visit to it.

ADA Accessibility

Cacti with Red Flowers

For the most part, everywhere you will visit here is ADA-accessible.

That being stated, if you use a wheelchair, some exhibits and/or parts of the grounds may be difficult to manage.

For example, some areas are not paved, and some are narrow; however, we still haven’t seen people having difficulty getting around here.

If you need a wheelchair, they have a limited number of free ones on a first-come, first-served basis.

Service animals and ones in training are permitted. They do not require you to have a license, but it is best to carry one just in case they ask for it.

Please remember that the temperature here in Tucson can get well over 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degree Celsius) in the summer, so you will want to plan ahead to make sure your 4-legged buddy is fully hydrated and comfortable.

They do NOT permit therapy or emotional support animals. Since they are not defined as service animals, they will not be allowed into the park.

Also, you will want to be particularly careful with the cacti and possibly dangerous animals such as the javelinas (they resemble pig-like creatures), coyotes, snakes, and/or scorpions.

We've visited many times and haven’t seen any of these creatures, but it is best to be aware and stay safe.

IMPORTANT: If you bring an animal that is not permitted inside due to restrictions, please do NOT leave it inside your car. If temperatures outside are between 90 to 100 degrees (35 Celsius), your car's interior can rise to over 140 degrees (60 Celsius) extremely quickly. Due to this intense heat increase, your animal could die within minutes because of a heat stroke.

History and Fun Facts about the Tohono Chul Gardens

Richard and Jean Wilson who originally bought the land in 1966 and turned it into the Tohono Chul oasis for everyoneRichard and Jean Wilson who originally bought the land in 1966 and turned it into the Tohono Chul oasis for everyone

The story of Tohono Chul starts with Richard and Jean Wilson, who originally bought the land in 1966 to make a refuge for themselves. They wanted to live as close to nature as possible and purchased 37 acres.

All throughout the 1970s, developers tried to convince the couple to sell. Knowing that it would be paved over and ruined, they refused to sell this important cultural area.

Over time, they built a few pathways and started to make what would eventually become this amazing park.

Finally, they realized that their space should be shared with anyone who wanted to visit it. Therefore they decided to make it a public space, and the park was opened in 1985 for all to experience Tohono Chul.

As the years went by, they purchased more land, bringing its full size to 49 acres in total. The park has continued to grow in beauty and has attracted thousands upon thousands of happy travelers and nature lovers.

Due to saving the wonderful desert area and working so hard to preserve its future, the couple received an award from the city’s Audubon Society.

  • Fun Fact #1: For about 8 years, Richard and Jean Wilson lived in the "West House,” which is now the gorgeous bistro.
  • Fun Fact #2: There used to be a model train set up here. It even had a special carpeted tunnel beneath the floor which would open up into an area with all kinds of books and toys for kids.
  • Fun Fact #3: In 1979, on the now far Eastern side of Tohono Chul, the couple used to own a bookstore called the “Haunted Bookstore.” Sadly, with the growing number of chain bookstores, the Haunted Bookstore closed in May of 1997; however, the local Tucsonians still cherish its memory. Keep a close eye out when you walk around; you may just see a ghost!

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