WHAT TO Do in Tucson Arizona:
Tucson (pronounced too-sun) is a small city in southern Arizona that hosts a variety of fun outdoor activities, great food, and some cool neighborhoods to check out, all in a small proximity. When visiting, locals gave us so many great recommendations that we wanted to share the many things to do in Tucson, Arizona!
Places tO CHECKOUT
Tombstone is one of the few old west towns that are still intact today, and has a ton of historical significance. We went to lunch in an old western saloon and then on a ghost tour. The town was built in 1877 and burnt down a few times to turn into what it is today. With dirt roads and old wood buildings, this is a great place to visit to get the real old west feel.
This is a kitschy little place that once was a movie set for old western films such as“Gunfight at the OK Corral” (1956) “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” (1957) and “Cimarron” (1959). Now, there’s attractions like gun fights, train rides, gold panning, and our personal favorite, a haunted walking tour of an old building. We laughed here more than anything but it was something fun for a family activity if you don’t mind a lot of cheesiness. Tombstone was the real deal, so we recommend Tombstone for the “Old West” experience and Old Tucson for good ol’ fashion fun.
The desert museum was recommended by multiple people, and falls on our “next time” list. This museum has everything from botanical gardens, an art institute, and even an aquarium. We hear it’s a must see!
This is another gallery that was recommended and is on our “next time” list. This gallery represents 85 female artists and is open 7 days a week.
Congress Street has great food, the famous Antigone Bookstore is close by on 4th Street, and great night life. If you’re going to Tucson, you have to spend the day or night on Congress Street. It’s one of the town’s main attractions.
Although a 3.5 hour drive from Tucson, Sedona has some of the most beautiful desert landscapes in the world. If you’re interested in photography, hiking, or just viewing beautiful landscape, check out Sedona as a possible day/weekend trip.
A quick 1 hour drive outside of Tucson, Tumacacori is another town that comes highly recommended by locals. It hosts the Tumacacori National Historic Park which has cultural significance and simply looks like a gorgeous park to visit.
This place is so cool. Originally created as an experiment to see if people could live together in outer space. This space replication experiment ran into a multitude of problems mostly stemming from humans not getting along in such a small space. Ha! They should have talked to us first.
One of the most sought after observation stations in the world because of it’s diversity of astronomical collections.
This place is amazing. We’ve recently discovered a love for caves and this place has a true respect for the caving system. The park spent millions on creating a door that prevents too much airflow from getting into the system. This has made the cave alive and well. Most caves that allow tourists are no longer active, but this one, is flowing, dripping, and ever growing because of their conservation efforts.
Tucson is surrounded by mountains and multiple national parks, forests, and preserved wildernesses, so we were excited to hike some of Tucson’s great trails. Two areas we enjoyed the most were the trails around Cactus Forest Drive in Saguaro National Park East, and a set of trails at the summit of West Gates Pass Rd, through the Tucson Mountain Park. To the northwest of the city, there is the Catalina State Park with mountains and canyons famous for hiking. Some of these trails were out of our ability level or covered in snow when we were there, but here are a few famous hikes.
Sabino Canyon is one of the most accessible nature get-aways, complete with a 45 minute 3.8 “tram” ride tour including a narration of local history and nature information of the canyon. With 9 stops and restrooms, this is easy for anybody. Trails do ascend from these stops that allow hikers to explore the canyon.
- Difficulty: 2/5 – Easy – Moderate
- Distance: 3.8 miles / 45 min +
- Elevation gain: 1000ft
This trail leaves from the Sabino Canyon recreation area and heads up the canyon a bit above the tram road. It’s a gentle incline easy for all ages and popular for trail runners.
- Difficulty: 3/5 – Moderate
- Distance: up to 9 miles (out and back)/ 0-6 hrs
- Elevation gain: up to 1893ft
This trail explores the Madera Canyon, at the base of Mt. Wrightson in the Coronado National Forest to the southwest of Tucson. Friends of Madera Canyon maintain over 100 miles of trails, from easy paved wheel-chair & stroller friendly trails to epic challenging hikes.
Old Baldy is a steep climb to the summit of Mt. Wrightson (summit: 9,543ft), which is the highest peak in the Santa Rita Mountain range to the south of Tucson.
- Difficulty: 4/5 – Difficult
- Distance: 12 miles / 6-8 hrs
- Elevation gain: 4,080 ft
- Best seasons: Spring & Autumn
Douglas Springs Trailhead is due east of town and is the gateway to a system of moderate trails exploring in the Saguaro National Park East. A popular destination is the Bridal Wreath Falls, which is about 2.8 miles from the trailhead. You can hike the whole thing round trip and cover about 17 miles.
- Difficulty: 3/5 – Moderate
- Distance: up to 17 miles / 0-10 hrs
- Elevation gain: up to 4,078 ft
- Best seasons: Spring & Autumn, Winter
Wasson Peak is one of the highest points of Saguaro National Park West. At only 4687, Wasson Peak is not as high as other nearby mountains, like Mt Lemmon, so it can be a good hike in the winter, because there may be little to no snow.
- Difficulty: 3/5 – Moderate
- Distance: 7.4 mile loop / 3-4 hrs
- Elevation gain: up to 1916ft
- Best seasons: Autumn, Winter, and Spring
Mt Lemmon stretches to 9,157 ft, over 5,000 ft above its surroundings. While Tucson is having a winter day in the 60’s, you can enjoy skiing on Mt. Lemon. Mt. Lemon highway is a scenic way to take in the Catalina Mountains, though some locals suggest using snow tires in the winter. In the summer months, the 21 ski trails of Mt. Lemmon Ski area can make for good hiking. Another popular trail on Mt. Lemmon is the Butterfly Trail.
WHERE TO STAY:
Best Western Inn & Suites – Located in the heart of town, if you want a more walkable, reasonable priced hotel, check out the Best Western for a great mid-range hotel.
Of course, what we are most familiar with is camping in our teardrop camper.
KOA Tucson– This is by far the largest, most accommodating RV park we’ve stayed. We talk more about it in our campground review here, but overall, this place truly is a spa-like expereince, located in the middle of nowhere.
Catalina State Park– If you want to be closer to nature, and not surrounded by a on of RV’s, then Catalina State Park is a great camping option nestled in a beautiful state park.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK:
Cafe Poca Cosa – This is a place you come to with an open mind. The menu changes every day and has some of the most unique flavors we’ve ever had. And everything comes on a single plate: salad, sides, and the main dish, all colorful and delicious.
El Charro– El Charro comes highly recommended by locals- they claim it’s some of the best Mexican food they’ve ever had, so don’t miss out!
Seguaro Corner– Three magical words: fried cheese curds. If you visit Saguaro National Park, then this restaurant is right outside the park. Best fried cheese we’ve ever had.
Cafe Passe– A local’s favorite for breakfast. They offer spiked coffee drinks and a great bagels + lox.
Wisdom’s Cafe – With 73 years of history behind it, this is another local favorite for great margaritas and delicious Mexican food!
Hub – They offer a poke tuna dish with fried wontons that is out of this world. Their salads are also amazing. We liked this place so much we went there twice in two weeks- it’s that good.
Barrio Bread Tamale Factory–Tamale’s and bread…what’s not to love about that?
We work in A LOT of coffee shops, so we’re always open to some cool local spots. We went to a few that we really enjoyed.
The local favorites include:
Allegro Gelato– great gelato on a hot day!
Pie Bird Bakery and Cafe -Yum, Pie!
CONCLUDING YOUR Locals Guide to Tucson, Arizona
Tucson quickly became one of our favorite mid-sized towns. It has a lot to offer in terms of hikes, food, and beautiful landscapes. If you’re looking for a smaller city in Arizona, we highly recommend checking out Tucson. It has a funky feel and a whole lot of charm. We will be back!