Desert at sunset
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Surrounded by stunning Sonoran Desert scenery, Tucson, AZ, is a vibrant city where visitors find a diverse selection of museums, attractions, activities, restaurants, beautiful parks and gardens. Spend a morning exploring the farmers market, visit a botanical garden, see rare animals at the zoo, or head to Arizona's famous Saguaro National Park. Unique activities include culinary tours of Tucson, astronomy, horseback riding, balloon rides, hiking, biking, and glass studio tours. Here are the best things to do in Tucson, Arizona.

»The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum houses over 230 types of animals and 1,200 plant species on 98 acres where visitors get to explore and learn about the Sonoran Desert in a natural setting.

The museum, one of the top Tucson attractions, was founded in 1952 and features an aquarium, unique botanical gardens, an art gallery, a natural history museum, and a zoo.

Two miles of walking paths take visitors through the desert habitat and the museum’s fascinating exhibits, including Desert Grassland, Life on the Rocks, the Cat Canyon, and the Desert Loop Trail. Details & photos

2021 North Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-883-1380 Photo: Melastmohican/Fotolia

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»Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is best known as the home to the giant saguaro cactus, a symbol of the American West.

Saguaros are found only in a very small part of the United States and are therefore fiercely protected.

The park extends to the Tucson Mountain District, which is home to the coyote, desert tortoise, and Gambel’s quail. It also reaches the Rincon Mountain District, where the pine and mixed conifer forest provides shelter to black bears, Arizona mountain king snakes, Mexican spotted owls, and white-tailed deer.

A visit to this fascinating park is one of the best things to do in Tucson AZ. The park’s mission is to protect all species of the Sonoran desert through research, education, and conservation. The park has a number of guided tours and interpretative programs for visitors. Read more Photo: Irina K./Fotolia

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»Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park is a 49-acre botanical garden, cultural museum, and nature preserve. Tohono Chul means “desert corner” in the language of the indigenous Tohono O’odham people of southern Arizona.

Located in Casas Adobes, a suburb of Tucson, the objective of Tohono Chul Park is to teach visitors about the art, culture, and nature of the Sonoran Desert area, allowing them to better appreciate and enjoy everything the area has to offer. If you are wondering what to do in Tucson with kids, this is a great place to visit.

With the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background, the park is a truly beautiful place, and is also home to various types of wildlife like birds, bobcats, and the reptilian Gila monsters. Some of the exhibits include Desert Palm Oasis, Ethnobotanical Garden, Geology Wall, Riparian Habitat, and Sonoran Seasons Garden. Read more

7366 North Paseo Del Norte, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-742-6455 Photo: Frank Jr/Fotolia

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»White Stallion Ranch

White Stallion Ranch

White Stallion Ranch is located about 21 miles west of downtown Tucson just next to Saguaro National Park. It is a traditional dude ranch that offers accommodations, meals, horseback rides, and riding lessons.

The Ranch also has a heated pool, a recreation room and exercise room, and a petting zoo. If you are looking for things to do in Tucson with kids, this is a great place to visit. Guests may select from several types of horse rides: all-day rides, half-day rides, fast or slow rides, mountain rides, wine and cheese rides, or beer and Cheetos rides.

The White Stallion is the perfect place for children and families, and it caters to all levels of riders. Read more

9251 West Twin Peaks Road, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-297-0252 Photo: White Stallion Ranch

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»St. Philips Farmers Market

St. Philips Farmers Market

The St. Philips Farmers Market is not to be missed on your trip to Tucson. It is one of the biggest markets in Southwestern Arizona and brings together many local farmers and vendors every Saturday and Sunday.

The market has an excellent reputation for the high quality of the produce sold there, including a diverse selection of locally grown vegetables and fruit. In addition to produce, vendors sell flowers, freshly brewed coffee, pretzels, homemade soaps, baskets and more.

St. Philip's Plaza, 4380 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-261-6982 (website) Photo: Jamie Hooper/Fotolia

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»Arizona State Museum

Arizona State Museum

Arizona State Museum is the perfect place to take in the incredibly rich cultures of the Southwest all in one place.

This museum, run by the University of Arizona, has a number of permanent collections and frequent temporary exhibits, all of which are fascinating. Some of the most significant collections are the collection of 25,000 baskets and other woven pieces made by Southwest Indians. There is also a collection of more than 20,000 whole vessels of truly magnificent Southwest Indian pottery – it is the largest collection of its kind in the world.

The Museum also houses the largest American government repository of archeological artifacts dug up from Arizona soil. The Museum organizes frequent activities and special events for the whole family, such as Culture Craft Saturdays.

1013 E. University Blvd., Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-621-6302

Next read: Tucson Museum of Art Photo: Arizona State Museum

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»Children's Museum Tucson

Children's Museum Tucson

The Children's Museum Tucson is all about learning through play and is one of the top Tucson attractions for families. The museum’s thirteen permanent exhibits are interactive and incredibly entertaining, providing children with an opportunity to learn while doing what they enjoy most - playing.

Some of the most popular exhibits are Bodyology, Tucson Electric Power’s Electri-¬City, the Art Studio, Build It, Public Safety, Whistle Stop, and Pet Vet. The Museum opened its doors in 1986 as a non-profit organization. Today, it has 17,000 square feet of space completely dedicated to inspiring children’s imagination and helping them gain a sense of self-confidence.

The museum also organizes special events such as Kidpendence Day, which celebrates the 4th of July the kids’ way. There is also a Wee World, designed especially for children under four. Read more

200 South 6th Ave., Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-792-9985 Photo: Children's Museum Tucson

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»The Tucson Desert Art Museum

The Tucson Desert Art Museum

The Tucson Desert Art Museum was opened in 2013 with the objective of celebrating the art of the Desert Southwest and educating visitors about the rich history, culture, and art of the Tucson Desert in the process.

The Museum has 25,000 square feet of space that are filled with exhibits, classrooms, meeting rooms, an auditorium, a library and a painting studio. Some of the most important museum exhibits are the collections of Hopi and Navajo textiles that date back to before 1940, with treasures such as chief’s blankets, art textiles, and Yei weavings.

The Tucson Desert Art Museum is one of the best things to do in Tucson AZ for art lovers. The collection of paintings includes some of the biggest names of the Southwest: Peter Nisbet, Thomas Moran, Maynard Dixon, and Ed Mell. The Museum is a rare and enticing establishment where one can learn about the history of the region through its people’s art.

7000 E. Tanque Verde Road, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-202-3888 (website) Photo: The Tucson Desert Art Museum

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»The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is an enchanting place that displays over 300 antique and modern room boxes and dollhouses with the hopes of showcasing and preserving the art, history, and architecture of making miniatures.

There are three permanent collections: The Enchanted Realm, The History and Antiques Gallery, and the Exploring the World Gallery. The Enchanted Realm, a magical world of tiny woodland creatures, fairy castles, witches, and snow villages. The History and Antiques Gallery shows pieces from different historic periods, including a miniature house from 1775, one of the oldest in the US.

The Exploring the World Gallery displays miniatures from other cultures, among them the cultures of France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Thailand. The Museum is a private non-profit organization created by Patricia and Walter Arnell. It offers numerous outreach programs, a summer camp program, and guided school tours.

4455 E. Camp Lowell Drive, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-881-0606 Photo: The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures

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»University of Arizona Museum of Art

University of Arizona Museum of Art

A favorite destination for well-respected Tucson art lovers, the University of Arizona Museum of Art had a modest beginning with a single art exhibition in 1924. Its first gallery was housed in the University Library.

In 1955, the museum moved to its new home on the university campus. It can be found on Olive Road. The Museum’s collections feature pieces from several different eras and cultures, but the American and European art (with pieces dating from the Renaissance up until today) is probably the main attraction.

The museum’s collections are open to researchers, students, and the general public; everyone is welcome to wander through numerous exhibitions and popular events. Once a month, a museum speaker chooses to highlight a few works that are not on display at the time. The museum’s goal is to “empower and engage audiences of all ages and experiences by providing them with a new awareness of visual culture.”

1031 North Olive Road, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-621-7567 (website) Photo: University of Arizona Museum of Art

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»B & B Cactus Farm

B & B Cactus Farm

B & B Cactus Farm is a cactus nursery in Tucson that has been around for the last 30 years. The farm specializes in growing many varieties of cacti and succulents.

With more than two acres of greenhouses and outdoor beds, the farm is known for its outstanding collection of cacti and succulents that would delight any gardener. In the arid climate of Tucson, growing these types of plants is naturally the best option.

Plants are available to buy as seedlings or as mature specimens, and the farm has a large selection of beautiful pottery to put them in. The superbly landscaped garden is a visual delight for visitors, and there are always a few cacti blooming extravagantly.

11550 E Speedway Blvd, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-721-4687

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»Reid Park Zoo

Reid Park Zoo

Whether you are a child or an adult, a visit to the Reid Park Zoo is an utter delight. The Zoo first opened in 1965 with just a few birds, farm animals, prairie dogs, and some squirrel monkeys.

Today, the zoo has 24-acres of naturalistic habitats that are home to elephants, lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, snakes, crocodiles, and so much more.

Every year, more than 600,000 enjoy a visit to the zoo, which has numerous educational programs aimed at promoting animal conservation and teaching visitors about the importance of animal diversity. You can choose among workshops for kids, summer camps, family programs, after-hours adventures, and a number of special events. Read more

3400 Zoo Court, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-791-3204 Photo: fmcginn/Fotolia

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»Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson

Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson

Yume is the Japanese word for ‘dream,’ and strolling through three quarters of an acre of traditional Japanese gardens will definitely put you in a state of serenity and introspection. The Gardens are designed to function as living presentations of Japanese heritage.

Nature is balanced with human artistic expression - pruning and raking - to create a simple elegance that reflects the understated spirit of a true Japanese garden. In the Zen contemplative garden, gravel and stone represent sea and islands.

Nearby, a tranquil pond garden shows visitors another vivid example of Japanese garden styles. The structures feature wooden shingles and hand-built clay walls typical of traditional Japanese designs. Enjoy a relaxing visit to the Gardens or join one of the Japanese language or culture courses the establishment frequently offers.

2130 North Alvernon Way, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-332-2928 Photo: Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson

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»Spencer's Observatory

Spencer's Observatory

Spencer’s Observatory is a privately owned observatory close to the southwestern entrance to Tucson Mountain Park-West. It is located next to the Cat Mountain Lodge bed and breakfast. Tucson is known for its beautiful, clear night skies, making it the perfect place for stargazing.

Experienced astronomers will guide amateur and pro astronomy enthusiasts alike at this custom-built observatory with its retractable roof and numerous telescopes. The Observator also has a private patio, which can be used by small groups for stargazing parties. Reservations are required.

2720 South Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona, Phone: 520-578-6085 (website) Photo: Spencer's Observatory

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»Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is a large canyon located north of Tucson in the Coronado National Forest and the Santa Catalina Mountains. Sabino Creek runs through the canyon, making it a popular place to experience a cooling reprieve from the desert and enjoy the pools and waterfalls.

From the parking area, guests can walk, bicycle, or take a tram to reach the Upper Sabino Canyon. The road through the canyon meanders alongside soaring mountains and across the creek via several bridges. The park is home to fascinating wildlife species, including deer, javelina, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, skunks, and tortoises.

5900 North Sabino Canyon Road, Tucson, AZ, Phone: 520-749-8700 Photo: cec72/Fotolia

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»The Taste of Tucson Downtown

The Taste of Tucson Downtown

The Taste of Tucson Downtown offers culinary and cultural walking tours through the historic area of downtown Tucson. The walk lasts for about three and a half hours and covers two miles.

Guests partaking in the walk will stop at five restaurants and several historic sights. The tour also includes a ride on a modern streetcar. A “Shop and Taste Tour” is also available during the summer months. This tour includes tastings at three restaurants, visits to several artisan and clothing shops, and an all-day streetcar pass.

Some of the fantastic restaurants visitors might visit include Agustin Kitchen, Caffe Milano, and La Cocina. Don’t miss out on exciting sights such as the Hotel Congress, the Presidio, and the Fox Theater (Phone: 520-425-4243). Photo: The Taste of Tucson Downtown

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»The International Wildlife Museum

The International Wildlife Museum

Founded in 1988, the International Wildlife Museum provides guests with thought-provoking information about various forms of preserved wildlife from all over the world. The museum displays more than 400 different kinds of birds, insects, and mammals (including prehistoric mammals) in dioramas that depict the animals in their natural habitats. The museum also has several hands-on exhibits, interactive computers, and videos for visitors to enjoy.

Museum educators put on special educational programs, some of which are field trips and outreach programs. They also supply teacher resources. Guests can choose self-guided tours or a tour guided by an experienced docent or museum educator. Visits usually last about two hours.

4800 West Gates Pass Boulevard, Tucson, AZ, Phone: 520-629-0100 Photo: The International Wildlife Museum

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»The Steward Observatory Mirror Lab

The Steward Observatory Mirror Lab

A part of the University of Arizona in Tucson, the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab has undertaken the manufacturing of giant lightweight mirrors to be used for the latest infrared and optical telescopes.

The College of Science at the University of Arizona is one of the top space astronomy programs in the United States. Instead of solid glass mirrors, the structure of these new mirrors is reminiscent of a honeycomb. This structure allows for the creation of even larger mirrors that are still surprisingly lightweight.

Guests are taken on a 90-minute tour so that they can learn how these innovative telescope mirrors are made.

527 National Championship Drive, Tucson, AZ, Phone: 520-626-8792 Photo: resimone 75/Fotolia

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»Tucson Botanical Gardens

Tucson Botanical Gardens

Located on almost 6 acres in the heart of Tucson, the Tucson Botanical Gardens is a group of 16 residentially scaled gardens that provide a quiet and relaxing place for visitors to enjoy. The Gardens were originally built as the home and nursery for the Porter Family, but today they are open to the public.

The specialty gardens are connected by paths and include Aloe Alley, a Barrio Garden, a Butterfly Garden, a Cactus Garden, a Children’s Garden, a Native Crops Garden, a Prehistoric Garden, a Xeriscape Garden, and a Zen Garden. The Porter House Galler also displays rotating exhibits. A special display entitled Butterfly Magic is open from October to April.

2150 North Alvernon Way, Tucson, AZ, Phone: 520-326-9686 Photo: arinahabich/Fotolia

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»Old Tucson

Old Tucson

Old Tucson is a movie studio and theme park located west of downtown Tucson. You can find it next to the Tucson Mountains and near the western part of Saguaro National Park. It was built in 1939 for the movie “Arizona,” and since then, it has been used for over 300 movie and television westerns including “Little House on the Prairie” and “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”

In 1960, it was opened to the public, who could take advantage of historical tours about the movies as well as live performances, including shootouts and stunt shows. Old Tucson also offers several educational programs geared towards children and families.

201 South Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ, Phone: 520-883-0100 Photo: Old Tucson

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»Tucson Symphony Orchestra

Tucson Symphony Orchestra

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra has been sharing the magic of music with Tucson for more than 80 years. During that time, it has grown from a volunteer orchestra to a professional orchestra that attracts audiences both from Southern Arizona and all across the U.S.

The orchestra performs in Tucson Music Hall, Tucson Symphony Center, and several other venues. TSO’s special events for the 2015/2016 season include a performance by world-renowned pianist André Watts who will play Rachmaninoff and a performance by six-time Grammy winners The Chieftains, who will captivate audiences with the magic of Irish inspired music.

If you are looking for romantic date night ideas in Tucson, watch a performance by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. Classic Music Series will bring also feature various delights such as Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Brahms’ Symphony No. 4. The Masterworks Series will include music by Mozart, Beethoven, the Strausses, and many more classical artists.

2175 N. Sixth Avenue, Tucson, AZ, Phone: 520-882-8585 Photo: Tucson Symphony Orchestra

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»Sweetwater Wetlands

Sweetwater Wetlands

The Sweetwater Wetlands is a verdant streamside oasis in the city proper. With 2.5 miles of pathways, this tranquil park provides numerous opportunities to see many species of wildlife that have made Sweetwater Wetlands their home.

If you are patient, you might see bobcats, dragonflies, hawks, raccoons, and hundreds of different kinds of birds. Sweetwater Wetlands provides a wonderful example of how wildlife can live in harmony with Tucson's urban dwellers.

Sweetwater Wetlands Park is also a water treatment facility where treated water is filtered through the earth beneath the basins, replenishing the local water aquifer.

900 S. Randolph Way, Tucson, AZ, Phone: 520-791-4331 Photo: small_fairy/Fotolia

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»The Franklin Auto Museum

The Franklin Auto Museum

The Franklin Auto Museum is an absolute must see for all car enthusiasts. The Thomas H. Hubbard/H.H. Franklin Foundation maintains this museum, which consists of Mr. Hubbard’s entire collection of Franklin automobiles.

Franklin cars were manufactured by the Franklin Automobile Company in Syracuse, New York between 1902 and 1934. At the time, Franklins were considered a luxury brand– in 1902 they were sold for a whopping $1,100. They were the first American four-cylinder automobiles.

The museum also houses a library that contains all the research material that belonged to the Franklin Company. The library also features Mr. Hubbard’s aunt’s collection of American native artifacts.

1405 East Kleindale Road, Tucson, AZ, Phone: 520-326-8038 Photo: The Franklin Auto Museum

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»Fleur de Tucson Balloon Tours

Fleur de Tucson Balloon Tours

Fleur de Tucson Balloon Tours will show you Saguaro National Park West and the Tucson Mountains in a way you have never seen them before: from 500 to 2500 feet in the air. Imagine flying in complete and tranquil silence above the tree line as you keep an eye out for the bobcats, javelina, foxes, deer, and rabbits going about their business without even noticing you!

This exceptional experience ends with a champagne brunch after your landing. You will also receive digital photos of your adventure that you can show to friends and relatives. Fleur de Tucson is a family-owned business with an excellent reputation. Each flight lasts about three hours.

520-403-8547 Photo: rasilja/Fotolia

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»Philabaum Glass Gallery and Studio

Philabaum Glass Gallery and Studio

Philabaum Glass Gallery and Studio showcases the art of the renowned glass artist Tom Philabaum. It also features select pieces from a number of other talented artists from all over the country. A visit to the gallery will leave you stunned.

Each object traps the light within the layers of color and form, capturing your imagination in the process. If the artist is in the studio, visitors will be able watch him put his magic to work. Tom has been present on the Tucson art scene since 1975. His genres range from blown glass, cast glass, hand built glass, dalle de verre to painted and collaged glass.

Philabaum Glass Gallery & Studio is recognized as a major Tucson venue for glass making exhibition and demos.

711 South 6th Avenue, Tucson, AZ, Phone: 520-884-7404 (website) Photo: Philabaum Glass Gallery and Studio

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25 Best Things to Do in Tucson, Arizona