12 top tourist attractions in Tucson

tourist attractions in Tucson

12 top tourist attractions in Tucson

Tucson, the ‘City of Sunshine’ and metropolis of southeastern Arizona, is located in the wide valley of the Santa River, flanked by high hills. The warm, dry climate already attracts many tourists and those looking for a way out of the winter in the northern regions. The city has many cultural and natural attractions to keep visitors busy. This is also a good town from which to explore some of the nearby smaller towns. Popular day trips from Tucson include a visit to the historic western town of Tombstone and, further afield, the mining town of Bisbee. Both are located southeast of the city. Immediately south of Tucson is the small community of Tubac, an artists’ colony with interesting shops offering art and trinkets.

1 Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum DrStarbuck / photo modified

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum offers an up-close and detailed look at the desert landscape. This museum is a zoo, a natural history museum and a botanical garden in one. Displays show live animals and plants native to the Sonoran Desert, including some endangered species such as the Mexican wolf, thick-billed parrot, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, desert popfish, Sonoran chub, horsetail chub, razorback sucker, and Gila topminnow. There are over 40,000 plants representing 1,200 species, as well as a collection of gems, minerals, and fossils.

One of the highlights is the bird show, with hawks flying over the audience. Afterwards, information about the birds is provided and a chance to see them up close.

Adres: 2021 North Kinney Road, Tucson

Official site: https://www.desertmuseum.org/

Read also: Exploring the Hidden Gems of Phoenix

2 Mission San Xavier del Bac

Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac

This mission station in southwestern Tucson was founded in 1770 by Spanish Jesuits. The mission buildings of San Xavier del Bac, in particular the lavishly furnished church, are fine examples of the baroque architecture of the colonial period. Also known as the “White Dove of the Desert,” it is still used by the Tohono O’odham Indians as a spiritual center. Visitors can walk through the old church. The museum contains artifacts highlighting the mission’s history.

Adres: 1950 West San Xavier Road, Tucson

Official Site: https://www.sanxaviermission.org/

3 Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park, part of the Sonoran Desert, stretches east and west of Tucson. Characteristic of this desert area, the lowest in North America, is the abundant and varied flora and fauna that flourishes despite the great heat. Visitors can see the typical cacti of saguaro or candelabra, which are the largest species in North America, as well as birds such as the Gila woodpecker and cactus wren that live on the cacti, rattlesnakes, desert tortoises, and the Gila monster (a large lizard) . There are numerous hiking trails of varying lengths.

Adres: 3693 South Old Spanish Trail, Tucson

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm

4 Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park
Tucson Mountain Park

The Tucson Mountain Park is home to the old Tucson movie studios and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The park covers approximately 20,000 acres of landscape of the Sonoran Desert, just west of Tucson. There is an extensive trail for hiking, biking and horseback riding, although many people come here simply to use the picnic areas and enjoy the sunset. This is a day park with picnic areas. Mountain lions and bobcats live in the park along with a host of other wildlife, although some of these have the most remote areas.

Adres: 8451 West McCain Loop, Tucson

5 Old Tucson Studios

Old Tucson Studios Artotem / fotomodificatie
Old Tucson Studios Artotem / fotomodificatie

The small, make-believe, western town of Old Tucson, in the style of the late 1800s, was recreated in 1940 as the setting for countless western films. It is set on its own in the desert, with surrounding hills. These sets have been used for decades, with movies like Young Guns and many movies starring John Wayne being shot here. There is a concert series and a dancehall revue, along with other forms of live entertainment. Wild shoot-ups are repeated by actors. Visitors can take a guided tour to see which sets were used in different movies and learn about its history. You can also walk through the “town” on your own or have lunch. Attractions for kids include a mini train, antique cars, panning for gold, and trail.

Adres: 201 South Kinney Road, Tucson

Official Site: https://oldtucson.com/

6 El Presidio Historic District

El Presidio Historic District
El Presidio Historic District

History of History is located in the El Presidio Historic District, one of the oldest inhabited sites in the US. While this area was once inhabited by the Hohokam Indians, what visitors see today is a mix of Spanish-Mexican and Anglo-American architecture, along with beautifully restored adobe homes. One of the main tourist attractions in this area is the Old Town Artisans, a restored 1850s market square in downtown Tucson. It contains an entire city of galleries, shops and a restaurant, all in unique buildings. The stores offer selections of art, jewelry, crafts, home decor, and other items from artists from Tucson and around the state. Some of the items offered are pottery, paintings, metalwork, photography, Native American wool carpets and carvings, among others. The restaurant offers alfresco dining or seating in a converted 1920s gas station. Visitors come here as much for the shopping as for the atmosphere.

7 Pima Air and Space Museum

Pima Air and Space Museum
Pima Air and Space Museum

The Pima Air and Space Museum is the largest privately funded air museum in the world, housing over 300 aircraft and spacecraft. The collection includes historic aircraft and some of the most advanced models. Featured attractions include John F Kennedy’s presidential plane and a replica of a 1903 Wright Brothers flyer. For an additional fee, visitors can take a bus tour to the adjacent “Boneyard,” the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center.

Address: 6000 East Valencia Road, Tucson

Official site: https://www.pimaair.org/

8 University of Arizona

University of Arizona Ken Lund / photo modified
University of Arizona Ken Lund / photo modified

The University of Arizona at Tucson is home to the impressive Arizona State Museum, the Mineral Museum, the Center for Creative Photography, the Museum of Art University of Arizona, and the Flandrau Science Center. Visitors can spend a few hours or a few days to see the sights on this campus.

With its large archaeological collection, the Arizona State Museum documents 10,000 years of Indian cultural history. Founded in 1893, it is the oldest and largest anthropology museum in the Southwestern United States. Exhibits include the largest collection of Southwest Indian pottery, an extensive Hohokam artifact display, one of the top collections of Navajo textiles, and hundreds of Mexican folk masks.

While the Arizona State Museum is the main attraction on campus, those with more time or other interests will want to check out some of the other facilities. The Mineral Museum, with a huge collection of gems, minerals and meteorites from the US and around the world, has a clear focus on minerals from Arizona and Mexico. Founded in 1975 by one-time University of Arizona President John P. Schaefer and renowned photographer Ansel Adams, the Center for Creative Photography features tens of thousands of photographs and focuses on the history of North American photography. The University of Arizona Art Museum in Tucson, also worth a visit, has a large collection of works from old masters to contemporary art.

Official Site: https://www.arizona.edu/

9 Cathedral of St. Augustine

Cathedral of St. Augustine
Cathedral of St. Augustine

The Cathedral of St. Augustine was designed in the Mexican Baroque style. Built in 1896, its cast stone facade was completed in 1928 and is similar to Queretaro Cathedral in Mexico. The facade and towers are all that remains of the original structure after the cathedral was rebuilt in the late 1960s.

Adres: 192 South Stone Avenue, Tucson

Official Site: https://www.augustinecathedral.org/

10 Catalina State Park

tourist attractions in Tucson
Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, is a desert area with picnic areas and hiking and horseback riding trails. Visitors also come to the park to enjoy camping, planting and wildlife viewing and to see the Romero Ruin archaeological site. These are the remains of a Hohokam Indian village that was occupied between AD 500 and AD 1450. The site also contains mud and rock chambers borrowed from the abandoned Hohokam village. These structures were built by rancher Francisco Romero in the late 19th century

Adres: 11570 North Oracle Road, Tucson

Official Site: https://azstateparks.com/parks/CATA/

11 Reid Park Zoo

tourist attractions in Tucson
Reid Park Zoo paulinapineda22 / photo modified

The Reid Park Zoo is a relatively small zoo with a surprisingly good collection of exotic animals. It houses such favorites as elephants, polar bears, lions and many others. The facility is spread over 17 acres with nature exhibits. One of the interactive experiences available at the zoo is the Giraffe Encounters, where you can feed a giraffe for a small fee. There is also the Reid Park Zoo Express train, a wet play area and changing daily activities.

Address: 3400 Zoo Court, Tucson

Official site: https://reidparkzoo.org/

12 International Wildlife Museum

tourist attractions in Tucson
International Wildlife Museum

The International Wildlife Museum in Tucson features temporary exhibits about animals from around the world. Preserved specimens and dioramas allow visitors to see animals and their natural environment up close. The museum offers a chance to learn about animal behavior, habitat and much more.

Adres: 4800 West Gates Pass Road, Tucson

Official site: https://www.thewildlifemuseum.org/

Where to Stay in Tucson for Sightseeing

If you’re in Tucson to soak up the sun and beautiful scenery, staying at one of the top-end, full-service resorts clustered in the Catalina Foothills, in the northeast part of the city, is a great option. If you prefer to spend a little more time seeing the sights and exploring the history, staying downtown is the best plan. Below are some highly rated hotels in these areas:

  • Luxury Hotels: Voted one of the top 50 hotels in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine, Loew’s Ventana Canyon Resort is nestled against the Catalina Mountains and features multiple pools and two golf courses. Another top resort in the same area is the Westin Paloma Resort and Spa, which features five pools, three hot tubs, a 177-foot waterslide, a 27-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course, and nine restaurants. Closer to downtown, the iconic Arizona Inn, built in 1930, offers a convenient location along with luxury and privacy.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: The Best Western Royal Sun Inn & Suites has a great location in the heart of downtown, near the historic district of El Presidio. For a unique, experience stay in the desert, try the White Stallion Ranch. This guest ranch, outside the city limits, features beautiful Western-themed rooms and comes complete with your very own horse during your stay. Just a short drive from downtown, Country Inn & Suites is easily accessible from Interstate 10 and offers a free breakfast. All of these properties have outdoor pools.
  • Budget Hotels: For an eclectic downtown experience at a reasonable price, the Clifton Hotel makes the grade. This restored 1940s building has a unique location and offers rooms decorated in unique styles. Another historic hotel, dating back to 1919 and featuring a hipster style, is the completely renovated Hotel Congress. If you prefer something a little more fancy, La Quinta Inn & Suites is located near downtown Reid Park and the zoo.

Other interesting places

Tucson Children’s Museum

Families will enjoy this museum. The hands-on, interactive exhibits cover a variety of topics from art and science to nature and construction. The Tucson Children’s Museum is housed in a 1901 building designed by architect Henry Trost.

Adres: 200 South 6th Avenue

Official Site: https://www.childrensmuseumtucson.org/

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

The Colossal Cave in Vail, east of Tucson on Highway 10, is one of the largest dry caves in the United States. Parts of it have yet to be explored. According to local legend, the loot from an old stagecoach robbery is still buried somewhere inside. The park also features a museum, butterfly garden, stagecoach rides, and hiking and horse trails.

Adres: 16721 East Old Spanish Trail, Vail

Read also:

Exploring Arizona’s Best Places to Visit

Discover the Best National Parks in Arizona

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