With incredible outdoor adventures, some of the best Mexican food in the U.S. (yes, seriously!), and a vibrant nightlife, Tucson may just be the perfect weekend getaway. Oh, and did we mention Tucson has wonderfully warm temperatures in the wintertime?! (Fellow Midwesterners, take note!)
The population of Tucson is just over half a million people, making it feel like a relatively small city. But dont be fooled there are an incredible amount of things to do in Tucson!
While there are many things to do in the city itself, the real draw of Tucson is what lies beyond. The Sonoran Desert which surrounds Tucson, is one of the only places in the world to see the iconic saguaro cactus, after all.
Were walking you through the very best things to do in Tucson, Arizona from epic outdoor adventures to foodie experiences to nightlife for all ages.
Our Experience in Tucson
Im going to be honest: Until recently, Tucson wasnt on my radar at all. Instead, I pictured the Grand Canyon and cities like Phoenix, Sedona and Scottsdale when I thought of Arizona.
So when my parents booked a 2-week Airbnb rental in Tucson to escape Minnesotas frigid winter clutches, I asked them, What is there to do in Tucson?
The timing was uncanny, because a week after my parents booked their trip, we were contacted by Visit Tucson (the tourism board) to work on a campaign with them. And all of a sudden, a city I hadnt ever thought much about took center stage in my mind.
When we started planning our trip to Tucson, I truly started to realize why my parents had booked 2 weeks there. As it turns out, theres a lot to do in this southwestern city!
This info-packed guide is full of top tips, where to stay, what foods to try , and everything else you need to know about planning an incredible trip to Tucson.
Things to do in Tucson:
Planning your trip to Tucson:
Outdoor Adventures in Tucson
If you like getting outside, youll find your bliss in Tucson because there are so many outdoor adventures to be had in the area surrounding this city.
1. Go horseback riding in the desert
I am going to embarrass Ben for a minute while I tell you something about him few people know: Hes afraid of horses.
Hes looking over my shoulder as I type this and saying, Im not afraid, I just think theyre smart and strong, and we should respect them.
Yeah, okay whatever, Ben.
But to his credit, he agreed to go horseback riding on our trip to Tucson. (Ive been asking him for the last couple of years, and he finally gave in.)
And you know what? When I asked Ben what his highlight was from our trip to Tucson, the first thing out of his mouth was, horseback riding!. So even if youre not an experienced rider, Bens reaction should give you some encouragement.
It was hands down one of my favorite experiences in Tucson too! We were able to see places we never would have without being saddled up on John Wayne and Mac (names of our horses).
Bobbi, the owner of Houstons Horseback Riding, led our group along the trail. We crossed rivers, ducked beneath low-hanging trees, and trotted past giant saguaro cacti with mountains looming in the distance. The landscape changed throughout the 2-hour journey, and the pace was slow and steady (great for those of us who arent experienced riders).
The views we got right up next to the saguaros on top of the horses was completely different than the perspective wed get walking on the trail with our own two feet. It was surreal.
And after chatting with Bobbi, its clear how much passion she has for this work. She has been working with horses for nearly her entire life and has passed on her admiration for these beautiful creatures to her children who help run the show as well. I mean, with about 30 horses to care for, the more hands the better.
So not only will you have an amazing experience with the horses, but youre supporting a family run business. Win-win!
Hours: Trail rides start at 9 a.m and 2:30 p.m.
Cost: $85 for a 2 hour walking ride
Are you an experienced rider? If youre no stranger to horseback riding, you can book a private ride where your guide will adjust the speed to suit your experience level.
2. Visit Saguaro National Park
Saguaro are the huge cacti that adorn the Arizona license plate and serve as an icon of Southwest USA. And there is a National Park just 30 minutes from downtown Tucson that is dedicated to their existence.
Before we delve into the best things to do in Saguaro National Park, lets start with the basics pronunciation.
Say it with me: suh-waa-row
Now you wont embarrass yourselves like we did. (Youre welcome!)
And because I am fascinated by these cacti, Im gonna entertain you with some fun facts about the saguaro:
They can live to be 150 years old (some even are said to be 200 years old!).
They can grow up to 40-60 feet tall (12-18 meters).
They dont start growing arms until theyre around 70 years old.
They only grow in parts of the Sonoran Desert (a small area in Mexico, southern Arizona, and occasionally southeastern California.
They are expensive! Thats right, some people like to incorporate them into their landscaping, and the large ones can cost upwards of $10,000. The more arms it has, the more money it costs.
One foot of a saguaro weighs around 100 pounds!
We have a love affair with National Parks. Anyone else?! So it should come as no surprise that the first thing we plotted on our Tucson itinerary was a visit to Saguaro National Park.
And guess what?! It was our 20th US National Park! *cue champagne toast*
Saguaro is divided into two sections: one to the east and one to the west. In the middle lies the city of Tucson. Each side is a bit different. The west side of the park is more densely covered with saguaro, while the east side has more hiking trails and is more mountainous.
Try to see both sides if possible, but if youre short on time, visiting the west side of the park will be the best way to maximize your visit.
Best things to do in Saguaro National Park (with limited time):
West Side Saguaro National Park:
Drive around the 6-mile scenic Bajada Loop, and stop along the way at the spots listed below (plus any others that pique your interest):
Hugh Norris Trailhead: Hike up the trail for about 5-7 minutes and look west. Youll see tons of saguaro cacti and this spot would be wonderful for sunset.
Valley View Overlook Trail: 0.8-mile one-way (out and back) easy trail that is relatively flat. There are signs along the way pointing out the different types of plants and the final destination is a viewpoint over the vast valley below that is full of cacti.
Signal Hill Picnic Area: This short 0.3-mile hike up signal hill leads you to dozens of 800-year old petroglyphs that were created by the ancient Hohokam people.
East Side Saguaro National Park:
Drive along the Cactus Forest Drive Loop. It is an 8-mile self-drive loop that takes you to some of the major attractions in the east side of Saguaro National Park:
Mica View Trail: This relatively flat 2-mile return hike starts at a nice picnic area, goes through the cactus forest to East Broadway Blvd and back. You can also start the hike from E Broadway Blvd too.
Desert Ecology Trail: Paved 0.3-mile loop with signs to tell you more about desert plants. Great walk for kids.
Cactus Forest Trail: Splits the East Saguaro National Park from North to South. 5-mile return, mostly flat, but youll be surrounded with saguaro cacti the entire time.
Freeman Homestead Trail: Short 1-mile loop trail easy to do with kids. Youll walk by some of the biggest and oldest saguaros in the park.
Have more time in Saguaro National Park?
Douglas Spring Trailhead (East Side): This is a 16-mile out and back trail that is pretty flat for the first half and then switchbacks up the mountain until the top. About a quarter of the way on the trail, head to the left for 0.4 miles to see the Bridal Wreath Falls (dont expect a massive falls, but refreshing to see in the desert).
King Canyon Trail (West Side): The trailhead starts opposite of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, this 7.1-mile moderate trail winds its way up to Wasson Peak. Many reports say its tough on the way up and you should start early, but youll be rewarded with an amazing view of the saguaro cacti filled desert.
Hours: Visitor Centers are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but the park is open to vehicles from sunrise to sunset.
Cost: weekly pass to Saguaro National Park is $25 per vehicle.
Insider tip: If you dont already have an America the Beautiful Pass, you might want to consider getting one before your trip to Tucson. It will not only cover your entrance to the National Park, but also to Sabino Canyon. Weve put together a guide thatll help you decide if the US National Park Pass is worth it for you.
3. Mountain Biking around Tucson
There are few things better than being outside, getting your heart pumping, and trying something totally new. And thats exactly what we did on our last morning in Tucson. We woke up before the sun, grabbed a breakfast burrito for fuel, and headed to a trailhead.
Tucson has some of the best places in Arizona if not the best for mountain biking. And whether youre a newbie to the sport (like us!) or a seasoned mountain biker, there are trails suited to all levels.
Important info about biking in Tucson:Here's the thing we wish we would have known before going mountain biking in Tucson... Some of the trails around the city are unsanctioned, meaningyou cannot legally ride on them without getting a permit. And the even sketchier thing is some mountain bike rental companies encourage riders to use these trails without first obtaining anArizonaState Trust Landpermit.
Even after quite a bit of sleuthing, we still can't figure out how a visitor to Tucson could actually purchase one of these permits (as the site to purchase them is broken). Moral of the story: When picking the trails you'll ride, be extra careful to choose only those that are sanctioned. Otherwise, you can be fined (and you're breaking the law).
Luckily, there are some reputable biking companies that follow the rules and encourage safe riding on trails that are open for the public to enjoy.
Our recommendation:Home Grown Mountain Bikingis a trusted company that offers rentals, shuttle services, and guided rides so you have an expert with you on the trails.Cost: Mountain bike rentals start at $120 per day. You'll find other package options as well as multi-day discounts.
Some popular mountain bike trails in Tucson (that don't require a permit):
Mount Lemmon:Lots of rugged terrain and temperatures that are significantly cooler than you'll find closer to the city, which makes for comfortable biking even in hotter months.
Catalina State Park, Oro Valley:Lots of beautiful trails, like the intermediate track "50 Year". Note: to enter Catalina State Park, you will need to pay $7 per vehicle.
Tucson Mountain Park:Here you'll find 50 miles of trails that are primarily beginner and intermediate levels.
Insider Tip:Download theTrailForks app to get a detailed look at the trail you plan to ride.
4. Explore Colossal Cave
Stalactites, stalagmites, and bat poo, oh my!
Ive had a fascination with caves since I was a child, so weve visited all different types of caves on our travels around the world. When we heard there was a cave in Tucson, we didnt need much convincing to squeeze a visit into our itinerary.
Located a short 15-minute drive southeast of Tucson, the Colossal Cave has a pretty interesting history. It was once used as a temporary shelter for the Hohokam people (the regions first inhabitants) as early as 900 AD. And later, this cave served as a hiding place for 19th-century outlaws who didnt want to be found.
To enter the Colossal Cave, you must book a guided tour. There are a handful of options to choose from:
Classic Cave Tour: Good introduction to the cave and suitable for all ages.
Length: 50-minute tour
Cost: Adults: $18, Children (5-12 yrs): $9, 4 and under: free
When: 8 tours a day, depart hourly from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tip: Reservations are encouraged
Ladder Tour: Navigate narrow passageways, climb ladders, and cross rickety bridges in seldom-seen parts of the cave system.
Length: 1.5-hour tour
Cost: $35 per person
When: 2 tours a day 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Tip: Reservations required
Wild Cave Tour: The most adventurous of tours offered, guides will take you to the most remote parts of the cave system. Participants must be fit and ready for a rugged good time! Described as absolutely down-and-dirty caving!
Length: 3.5-hour tour
Cost: $85 (reservations required)
Restrictions: 16 years old and older
When: 1 tour a day at 1 p.m.
Tip: There is an Intermediate option as well as Advanced ($125).
Our Opinion: Due to our limited time, the Classic Cave Tour was the one that best fit into our schedule. While it was a good introduction, it wasnt anything too different from what weve seen in other cave systems. We wished we had booked the Ladder or Wild Tour, as it would have been a bit more up our alley in terms of adventure!
Learn more about each tour and make your bookings here.
5. Sunset in the desert
Look up to the skies at dusk and youre in for an incredible show put on by Mother Nature. Seriously though, Tucson is known for having some epic sunsets, so plan to be somewhere special for at least one of the evenings during your trip.
Theres nothing like seeing the cacti start to glow as the sky takes on a pinkish hue.
Some top spots around Tucson for sunset:
Saguaro National Park
Tucson Mountain Park
Mount Lemmon scenic drive
6. Get a view over Tucson from A Hill (aka Sentinel Peak Park)
Look to the horizon and you shouldnt have a problem spotting A Hill, which, as the name implies, is adorned with a giant letter A made of rocks. This tribute to the University of Arizona is not only a town icon, but it marks one of the best spots to get a view over the city.
As long as the sky is clear, any time of day will grant you a sweeping view. Get an early morning start here and view the city beneath blue skies.
Or come for that golden hour glow and stay after the sun goes down to see the city lights begin to sparkle. Just know that after the sun sets, this is clearly a makeout spot, which is slightly awkward...
Alternative: Are you looking to get a workout in instead of taking the easy way and driving to the top? Pat yourself on the back, and then head to Tumamoc Hill. The trailhead is just a few minutes drive past the starting point of Sentinel Peak. This short but steep climb is a 3-mile round trip with a 700-foot elevation gain.
7. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
I hate to admit it, but unless it is truly something special like the Met in NYC or the Uffizi in Florence I dont always prioritize fitting museums into our travel plans. Honestly, Id rather be outside or eating which I suppose could be my life motto.
However, once we saw reviews for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, we decided to squeeze it into our itinerary. I mean, its the top-rated Tucson attraction on TripAdvisor (earning 5 stars with more than 8,000 reviews!), so surely it has to be worthwhile, right?
Honestly, after checking it out, I would say it depends. I know thats annoying to hear when trying to plan your itinerary, but keep reading to see if it is an experience thatll float your boat.
First things first, dont think of this as a typical museum... It's more of a zoo blended with a botanical garden and a dash of museum thrown in there for fun.
Youll find a huge variety of exhibits and lots of information around the park. To really explore everything thoroughly, youll need at least 2 hours.
Here are some of the main exhibits:
Cave & Earth Sciences Center (the cave is artificial but pretty convincing)
Indoor Play Area for kids
One major perk to visiting the museum is your entrance fee will help contribute to their ongoing conservation and research efforts. One of their primary missions is to understand, connect people to and protect the natural systems of the Sonoran Desert Region.
Considering that the Sonoran Desert region is home to one of the greatest varieties of plants and animals out of any desert in the world, you can see it is pretty important work.
Interested in hearing more? Check out their website to see their current conservation and research projects.
Our thoughts on the Desert Museum:
Our favorite parts were the cave and gemstone exhibits. We are big rock nerds, so this part was especially cool. Theres even a little piece of rock from the moon on display which Ben geeked out about!
We think this would be a fun activity with kids (though we arent experts on the whole subject of children just yet!).
Honestly, zoos usually arent our thing (but thats a topic for another time). So we werent all that fond of the animal exhibits at this museum.
There is a small pool with stingrays where people can pay a small fee to touch them. We personally try to avoid any animal attraction that encourages touching.
Summary: Overall, this attraction is very well put together with accessible paths, frequent water fountains and toilets, lots of informational signs, and activities for children. You can learn a lot here and spend quite a bit of time exploring it all. However, if youre short on time, going into Saguaro National Park and Sabino Canyon are going to be even more worth your while.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: Adults - $21.95, Seniors (65+) - $19.95, Children (3-12) - $9.95, Children (under 3) - Free
8. Go hiking in Sabino Canyon
Sitting in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon Recreation Center draws more than a million visitors annually. And for good reason: This place is absolutely stunning and packed with adventures for all types of travelers.
Encompassing two gorges: Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, you can choose to hike along paved or gravel paths, or you can save your legs some work and hop on a shuttle (for a fee).
Bear Canyon Shuttle: $6 adults, $4 ages 3-12; leaves every 30 minutes
Sabino Canyon Shuttle: $10 adults, $5 ages 3-12; leaves every 30 minutes
Seven Falls Hike
5 miles round trip
917 feet in elevation gain
If youre up for a challenging hike (thats well worth the effort), look no further than the Seven Falls Trail. You can hop on the Bear Canyon shuttle and get off at the last stop, which is at the trailhead. (Alternatively, you can skip the shuttle and hike the 2 miles to get to the trailhead.)
From here, its a 2.5-mile hike to the waterfalls that cascade over granite rocks to form pools that are perfect for taking a refreshing dip!
Important note: This trail requires some creek crossings, so be sure to check the conditions at the visitors center before attempting the hike. And be sure to carry plenty of water, as youll be hiking in some exposed areas and it can get very hot.
Cost: $8 per vehicle to enter Sabino Canyon
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Good to know: If you have a National Park Pass, youll get into Sabino Canyon for free!
Planning your itinerary: Wed recommend combining a visit to Sabino Canyon and a drive up to Mount Lemmon (described below) on the same day since they are in the same relative area. If you plan to visit the DeGrazia Gallery as well (#19), you can tack it on the same day since its not far from Sabino Canyon.
9. Scenic drive to Mount Lemmon
When we started planning our trip to Tucson, at least three different people told us, You absolutely have to make the drive up to Mount Lemmon.
And were so happy we listened because it was one of the highlights of our trip. We only wish we had allotted more time to it.
This 40-mile drive snakes back and forth as it winds up through the mountains. There are viewpoints, pullouts, trailheads and campgrounds very frequently along the drive, so there are plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs and scope out the views.
Youll notice a drastic drop in temperature as you make your way up the mountain, and depending on the time of year, you may even start to see snow (a crazy sight when youre coming from the desert!).
At the very top of Mount Lemmon, sits the tiny town of Summerhaven, which is basically a handful of vacation homes and a few small stores. Satisfy your sweet tooth by sampling fudge at the General Store and ordering a cookie at the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin, and continue to drive to the Marshall Gulch Picnic Area where you can enjoy your sweet treats with some real food you packed!
Insider Tip: One of our friends messaged us and told us to go to the Cookie Cabin, for huge and delicious cookies. Sadly, we got the text too late. So if you have the chance, go to this mountaintop log cabin and order a giant cookie for us, please!
Another fun thing to see is the (tiny) Mount Lemmon Ski Valley before you begin your drive down the mountain.
How long does it take? The drive is roughly 42 miles from downtown Tucson and takes about 1 hour 20 minutes from bottom to top without stopping. Wed allot at least 3.5 - 4 hours for the drive up and down the mountain with a few stops along the way.
10. Explore Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park | Photo Credit: My Mom ;)
Sitting at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, this state park is a haven for desert wildlife and is home to more than 5,000 saguaros.
Come to Catalina State Park put a few more miles on your hiking boots or to have a relaxing picnic surrounded by nature.
Hikes in Catalina State Park:
Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail: This short and easy loop is 0.6 miles and has just 68 feet in elevation gain, making it a good hike for most people. The trail brings you past some historic dwellings and archaeological sites that are marked with signs.
Romero Pools: This 4.9-mile out and back trail is rated as intermediate, and has a 1,047-foot elevation gain. Your efforts will be rewarded as the trail culminates at some beautiful pools.
Cost: $7 per vehicle
11. Drive through Tucson Mountain Park
Another park in Tucson? Yep, thats right!
You will pass through the Tucson Mountain Park on your drive to the west portion of Saguaro National Park. And actually the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson are both located within the parks boundaries.
There are no entry fees, and unless youre looking at your map, you might not even realize youre inside the park at all.
Insider Tip: Be sure to stop at the Gates Pass viewpoint for an epic look over the valley. It is especially beautiful during golden hour. There are a few nearby trailheads too, so youll have the chance to stretch your legs if needed.
12. Visit Kitts Observatory
Kitt's Observatory | Photo Credit: My Mom ;)
Are you as big of a space geek as Ben?! If so, a trip to Kitts Observatory might be right up your alley. You can visit during the day to learn about telescopes and all the work that goes on behind the scenes, or you can take a night time tour and see the stars. But be sure to check the weather before you book.
Also, if the weather is cold, be prepared with warmer clothes because it can get even colder up on the mountain. Bring a good pair of shoes too because there is quite a bit of walking in the tour.
13. Tour Biosphere 2
Biosphere 2 | Photo Credit: My Mom ;)
Could you live in a bubble for 2 years?! Thats what 8 scientists did back in 1991 when the Biosphere 2 was first introduced to the world. Their goal was to study how a mini-biosphere would work with as few outside variables as possible.
Today, you can visit Biosphere 2 and tour the different ecosystems which range from rainforest to the ocean to a model city. The guided tours take you through various stations and highlight the ongoing experiments happening in the Biosphere.
Inside Biosphere 2 | Photo Credit: My Mom ;)
Some tours are included with the General Admission fee, while other tours have an additional cost. Tours can take around 2 to 3 hours. Plus, getting to Biosphere 2 from the center of Tucson is roughly a 50-minute drive, so youll need to dedicate a good portion of a day to this excursion if you add it to your itinerary.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Cost: Adults: $21, Kids $14
Check the Biosphere 2 website for more details on times and prices.
Fun Fact: If this is Biosphere 2, where is Biosphere 1? Well, youre living on it right now (aka Earth!). Mind blown!
Food & Nightlife in Tucson
Foodies are in for a treat because Tucson is packed with incredible dining options, especially when it comes to Mexican cuisine. And night owls will have a long list of things to do at night, from sampling the best local craft beer to enjoying live music on the town.
14. Eat ALL the Mexican Food
One of the things we were most excited for on this trip was the food. Mexican food, to be precise. #allthetacos
Being that this city is just over 60 miles from the border of Mexico, it should come as no surprise that Tucson is known for having a killer Mexican food scene. In fact, Tucson is the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States!
Psst! If youre a foodie, youll love this intro to the Tucson culinary scene!
The worst part of the food in Tucson was that we couldnt eat it all. Well, that and the fact that our weekend in Tucson obliterated our meager attempt at doing the Whole30 in January. I mean, Im not going to go to a Mexican food Mecca and not eat as many tacos, tamales and guacamole as possible. Its against the laws of nature.
If youre still reading my food-crazed ramblings, youre probably wondering where you can find the best Mexican food in Tucson, and youre about to be rewarded, friend.
While you dont have to look far to find good Mexican food in Tucson, were sharing some top recommendations, from super authentic hole-in-the-wall spots to refined Mexican restaurants with an exceptional dining experience:
Los Tacos Apson: Tiny, unassuming shop with authentic fare and a generous salsa/topping bar. We ordered a handful of items but our favorites were the taco al pastor and taco hass (carne asada, queso, chili verde); and as we were leaving, a local recommended we try the taco rasuada (grilled ribs) next time! This is also a great spot to try a caramelo, Tucsons take on a quesadilla (cheese and lots of meat grilled between tortillas).
Bocas y Tequila: Popular spot, especially with the university crowd, it seems. The tacos were super tasty (albeit not very hot, but we were there at a super busy hour!). The elote (Mexican street corn) was also very good.
Cafe Poca Cosa: An upscale Mexican restaurant with a menu that changes daily.
Taco Fish: Come here for fresh ceviche and tacos de pescado (fish) or camarones (shrimp).
Penca: Contemporary Mexican fusion with a chic atmosphere.
Mi Nidito: Serving Tucson since 1952, this place is a local legend known for large portions, delicious food, and as a place Bill Clinton once ate.
Taqueria Pico De Gallo: Best known for its award-winning fish tacos, this is another local favorite for authentic (and cheap!) tacos.
Taqueria Porfis: While the menu is small, thats okay because what they do, they do well. And the item theyre most famous for is their potato taco, which is stuffed with carne seca, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, and you guessed it potatoes!
Rollies Mexican Patio: Known for their rolled tacos, this cute and colorful cafe makes a great lunch stop.
El Charro Cafe: Set inside a century-old home, this restaurant serves up large home-cooked meals in a charming, yet casual atmosphere.
Fun Fact: This is the nations oldest Mexican restaurant run continuously by the same family.
Street Taco and Beer Co.: Good for late night bites, street tacos, and tequila cocktails.
Insider Tip: We read that if you want to find really authentic, no-frills Mexican food, head to the neighborhoods south of 22nd Street. And 12th Ave, which runs north to south, has a dense concentration of amazing Mexican restaurants.
These streets are part of whats known as the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food (aka a 23-square-mile area in the city thats known as the best Mexican food north of the border).
15. Try a Sonoran Dog
Im not usually one to order hot dogs, but when we learned that Sonoran Dogs are a must try specialty from this region, we had to give it a go. For research purposes.
And lets just say Im pretty happy I made the sacrifice in the name of work. And while Sonoran Dogs arent something I would eat on a regular basis, they are pretty damn good.
So what exactly is a Sonoran Dog, you ask? This tasty blend of American and Mexican cuisine is comprised of bacon-wrapped hot dog, topped with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise, mustard and jalapeo salsa, all stuffed into a soft, sweet Mexican bun called a bolillo.
Rumor has it that there are two rival Sonora dog establishments in Tucson that both claim to serve the best:
BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs: Winner of a Sonoran Dog locally-judged blind taste test against El Guero Canelo, it is definitely worth a try. They also have a large menu of fantastic Mexican fare, some may say the best in Tucson.
El Gero Canelo: With 3 locations in Tucson, this is a Tucson must! We sampled the one on Oracle road, and it did not disappoint. The combo of sweet, spicy and savory is an explosion in your mouth. Youre gonna want more than one.
After a little research, we chose to try our first Sonoran Dog at El Gero Canelo. While we dont have anything to compare it to, it was pretty darn tasty! If you have the time (and room in your tummy!), try them both on your trip to Tucson to determine the winner!
16. Sample Vegan Mexican Fare
Most restaurants featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives are laden with grease, layers of cheese, deep-fried everything, and meat. Lots of meat.
But an exception to this is Tucsons beloved Tumerico, which was featured on this hit series in 2018. This local favorite serves up scratch-made Mexican dishes with a menu that changes daily.
While clearly very popular, the service was fast, the prices reasonable, and the food delicious.
Our recommendations: The menu is constantly changing so we cant give specific recommendations, but if there is a taco made with jackfruit, TRY IT. You will thank us! Also, the turmeric lemonade was seriously yummy.
Moral of the story: Even if you do eat meat, Tumerico is well worth a visit.
Good to know: Tumerico is closed on Mondays.
More vegetarian options in Tucson
While these are not Mexican restaurants, here are a few other good options for vegetarians/vegans visiting Tucson.
Charro Vida: While not fully veggie, this Mexican-Mediterranean fusion restaurant (located close to Tohono Chul #35) donates proceeds to local school gardens throughout the region in partnership with the University of Arizona. Just looking at their menu makes my mouth water...
The Tasteful Kitchen: A somewhat upscale restaurant that specializes in vegan, gluten-free and raw cuisine. And while youre there, be sure to check out the mural depicting Mother Earth on the side of their building.
Urban Fresh: Casual cafe with plant-based wraps, salads and soups.
Zinmans Food Shop: carry-out spot with a patio, serving an eclectic assortment of dishes with influences from around the world.
17. Grab a cup of Tucsons best coffee
My name is Katie, and Im a coffee addict. If you are too, youll definitely want to start your day at Exo. Praised as the best coffee in Tucson, Exo does it all, and they do it well.
If you want to switch up your order and get something a little more unique than your everyday latte, order a chiltepin cold brew, which is made with spicy peppers!
And if your tummys a grumblin pick up one of their super tasty breakfast sandwiches, breakky bowls, or to keep the Mexican food theme going, try their breakfast tacos!
18. Visit a Farmers Market
When you combine locally grown produce, artisans selling their creations, and food vendors all in one place, youve got yourself some farmers market bliss.
With a handful of farmers markets around the Tucson area, youll likely be able to squeeze one during your trip.
Here are 3 farmers markets that are closest to town, and are easy to work into your sightseeing schedule:
Rillito Park: Makes a good stop if youre headed up to Catalina State Park, Tohono Chul, or over to Sabino Canyon.
Oro Valley: Stop here on your way to Catalina State Park.
Rincon Valley: Make a stop here on your drive down to Colossal Cave.
We visited the market in Rincon Valley on our way to the Colossal Cave, and while not huge, it was a nice stop to browse some local artists work and nibble on kettle corn!
Hours: All the markets listed above have the same hours.
Winter Hours (Oct. - Mar.): Saturdays, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Summer Hours (Apr. - Sept.): Saturdays, 8 a.m -12 p.m.
These farmers markets are all put together by an organization called Heirloom Farmers Markets, and you can find more info here.
19. Go on a Food Tour
Im someone who gets serious FOMO when it comes to food.
When visiting a city thats known for its food scene, I feel like I should try everything, which is not exactly an ideal habit for my waistline or my wallet.
If you can relate (yay, Im not alone!), youll want to keep reading because I recently found the cure: Food Tours!
Food tours are a way for you to try a little of each (my favorite!). Plus, your guide usually brings you to local spots you wouldn't find on your own, and gives you insight to the citys history, culture and culinary scene.
So if youre interested in food especially Mexican food (Tucsons pride and joy!), you might want to consider adding a food tour into your itinerary.
There are two companies that run highly-rated food tours in Tucson:
Weve taken food tours all around the world, and wish we had time to take one on our trip to Tucson. Guess weve gotta save something for our next trip, right?!
20. Hang out in Mercado San Agustin
This square just west of downtown has a collection of high-end boutiques, produce vendors, artisans and eateries surrounding a pretty courtyard. We were there on a rainy day (a rare occurrence in Tucson!), but with nice weather, this would be a prime spot to wander and grab a bite.
Insider Tip: We were told that Seis Kitchen is amazing, and La Estrella Bakery also looks really good. Try them out and let us know what you think!
21. Eat a flight of Ice Cream
Can I confess something? I have an ice cream problem.
Someone once told me, No matter how full you are, theres always room for ice cream because it can fit in all the cracks! And I think Ive taken those words a little too seriously over the years.
This is coming from someone who almost missed the last train of the day in a tiny Italian village because I *needed* to get gelato. And someone who has (successfully) completed more than one ice cream eating challenge.
So lets just say you should consider me something of an expert on the topic of ice cream.
When I heard about the ice cream flights (yes flights!) at The Screamery, I told Ben we had to make it part of our itinerary.
And when I found out it was right across the street from our hotel as well as another highly rated ice cream shop (Hub), I told him we better go to both. Ya know, in order to research as many flavors as possible.
The Screamery: Tons of unique flavors to choose from, reasonable prices, and the option to have a flight!
Flavors we loved: Sweet Cream Honeycomb and Rough at Sea
Hub: A little more expensive, less choices, and no ice cream flight option (dang it!). But still seriously good ice cream.
Flavors we loved: Queen Bee and Mexican Hot Chocolate
Overall, theyre both really good choices. I think the ice cream was pretty similar in quality, so choose the one that has flavors youre more excited about.
22. Sample the best Craft Beer in Tucson
While not exactly the level of craft beer scene youll find in Portland, Tucson has a decent amount of breweries in town.
If youre a purveyor of craft brews (were right there with ya!), here are a few breweries youll want to check out:
Dragoon Brewing Company: Open warehouse-style brewery with a great selection of all kinds of brews. We sampled a flight here, and it was our favorite beer of the breweries we visited in Tucson, but a bit outside the center of town.
Barrio Brewing Co.: Rustic-chic brewery close to downtown with happy hour specials.
Public Brewhouse: Tucked in a dark alleyway, they brew a mean Belgian Dubbel. Worth a stop if youre exploring 4th Ave. Seems to be a pretty new spot, and popular with locals.
Pueblo Vida: Small, hip spot downtown with lots of unique fruit-forward IPAs and complex malty dark pours.
Gentle Bens Brewing: We wanted to visit this brewery just because of the name! Well, that, and it looks like they have some good brews!
Crooked Tooth Brewing Co.: Highly rated brews with a typical brick wall interior. Flights come on a skateboard!
Borderlands Brewing Company: German Chocolate Cake Porter, need I say more Okay I will: female head brewmaster, daily food trucks, & massive murals on the wall.
Iron Johns Brewing Company: Fantastic micro-brewery with crazy concoctions in the heart of downtown.
23. Soak up some speakeasy vibes
Weve been on a speakeasy kick lately. And Ive gotta say, Tucson has a few great options if youre looking for handcrafted cocktails, and a mysterious, 1920s-esque atmosphere.
The Independent Distillery: Pre-prohibition style bar serving their own spirits and enticing cocktails.
Surly Wench Pub: Good for a couple of drinks in what they call an industrial goth bar. The vibe we got was new-age biker bar but apparently the burgers are good.
Club Congress: Throw on your shiniest flapper dress and striped suit and step back in time to this historic bar. Not only do they host the best 1920s themed parties, they have a jammed-pack event calendar including rock bands, cabarets, free yoga and stand-up comics.
Tough Luck Club: In the basement of Reilly Craft Pizza (an old funeral home!), youll find this cozy cocktail bar. Oh, and outside is a beer garden if you prefer a more casual vibe.
24. Tequila toast at JW Marriott
When in the Arizona desert it only seems right to have some tequila! And do you know what the best kind of tequila is?
Now that Ive got your attention, lets talk about how to get that free tequila, shall we?
The JW Marriott is in a stunning location that gives new meaning to the term desert oasis. But even if you dont have the budget to splurge on a $250-per-night room, you can enjoy unrivaled views and a free tequila toast at sundown.
Simply show up to Salud, the Marriotts on-site bar and restaurant, to take part in their nightly tradition of raising a (complementary) shot of tequila and share the legend behind the classic Mexican cheers, arriba, abajo, al central, en dentro.
And of course as soon as the story is over, everyone gathered there is invited to raise their glasses and make a toast as the sun sets. Tequila is passed around at 5:30 p.m., so be sure to arrive a bit earlier to get a seat by a firepit and enjoy the view.
And if you feel so inclined, try one of their specialty handcrafted cocktails or order your liquor straight up from their selection of more than 150 tequilas. Who knew there were so many tequilas?!
25. Mezcal Tasting
Tequila gets a lot of hype in the US; but in Mexico, people are all about the mezcal!
We learned a lot about mezcal during our travels in Oaxaca, and have been really interested in tequilas smokier cousin ever since.
Whether youre a mezcal connoisseur or youve never heard of the stuff until now, doing a mezcal tasting is a great way to learn more about Mexicos favorite spirit.
While theyre best known for coffee, each Thursday starting at 7 p.m., Exo Coffee hosts an hour-long mezcal tasting at their onsite bar.
While sipping on samples of several high quality mezcal (they have a collection of more than 150 mezcals!), proprietor Doug Smith walks guests through everything youve ever wanted to know about this liquor. This informational tasting costs $20 and reservations are not necessary.
And if Thursday doesnt work for you, tastings are also offered Wednesdays and Sundays between 6 - 9 p.m. for $25. For these tastings, you must make a reservation in advance.
If youre not interested in a full tasting, you can always come during their bar hours to enjoy beer, wine, or mezcal cocktails. They have a great happy hour from 6 - 8 p.m., where cocktails are just $5, and beer and wine are $1 off.
26. Get your giggle on at a comedy show
Weve realized that comedy clubs almost always guarantee a night of fun! Plus, its a great way to spend an evening in a new city, and most big(ish) towns around the world have at least one comedy club.
Tucson is no exception. There are a handful of comedy clubs, but it seems that Laffs gets the biggest national names in stand-up, so we decided it would be a good way to spend our Friday night.
We gave the address of Laffs to our Uber drive and had no idea what to expect, but when we pulled up to a strip mall on the outskirts of suburbia, we were a little surprised.
And when we walked inside, we soon realized this no-frills club was not going to win us over on atmosphere. So we crossed our fingers that at least the show would be good
Lets just say that we were clutching our stomachs from laughing so hard for the next 90 minutes!
Weve been to enough comedy shows to know its not as much about the atmosphere as it is about the people on stage. The comics themselves are what are going to make the experience belly-hurts-from-laughing-so-hard good or just alright.
Theres always the off-chance that youll hate the comedians style of humor (which has happened to us in a comedy club with a top-notch atmosphere!).
We were at Laffs on a night with great talent, and hopefully youll catch a great line-up as well! Our advice is to read up on the comedian who is performing to see if youll like their style, or just show up with an open mind and ready for a laugh!
And dont worry, you wont go hungry or thirsty. There is a long list of cocktails with quirky names, a small selection of beer, and a menu of pub food and snacks.
Laffs has a handful of shows each week:
Thursdays: 8 p.m. Open Mic, free show!
Friday: 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m.
Saturday: 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., doors open at 6 p.m.
General Seating: $12.50
Preferred Seating: $17.50
You can pay in advance, or you can make a reservation but pay at the door.
Psst! If youre into improv or are looking for a family-friendly comedy show, Unscrewed Theater might be more your scene.
27. Spend the evening at a Film Bar
Check Casa Film Bar's Facebook Page for New Showings
Looking for something fun and lowkey to do at night in Tucson? Oh, we have got just the idea for you!
Combine craft beer, food trucks and movies (three of our favorite things!), and youre in for a great time. Youll find this magical combo at Casa Film Bar, which is something of a local secret.
Essentially a bar inside a video rental store, come on a weekend night and youll be able to enjoy a movie showing with a craft brew (or wine or coffee).
They play films ranging from 90s classics, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to little-known indie films, to brand new Oscar nominees (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was playing while we were there, just 6 months after being released in theaters).
Casa Film Bar Schedule:
Films & rotating food trucks: Thursday, Fridays & Saturdays (check their Facebook page for showtimes and to see which food truck will be there).
Smartphone Trivia: Tuesdays from 7 - 9 p.m. (free to play & winners get prizes)
Food Truck only: Sundays 6 - 8 p.m., Pop's Hot Chicken is the Sunday evening staple
Not only will you be supporting one of the few standing video rental stores left, but youll be able to check out a local hot spot and have an all around good evening!
28. Live Music in Tucson
While Tucson certainly wont make the cut for top live music cities in the US, that doesnt mean you should give up hope on catching a performance. In fact, as we wandered around downtown and along 4th Ave, we heard more bands performing than we could count!
From hipster bars to honky tonks, and century-old theaters to swanky resort patios, youll have plenty of choices when it comes to choosing a spot to catch some tunes.
Here are some of the venues in Tucson that regularly host live music:
Thunder Canyon Brewery: Large brewery downtown that hosts live music.
La Cocina: This restaurant has a large menu and an even bigger patio, complete with cafe lights and live music on the weekends.
Club Congress: Its hard to beat the atmosphere youll find in Club Congress, though most acts that come through here require you buy a ticket in advance.
Ches Lounge: Yummy cocktails and beer with an outdoor patio and stage for music.
Exo Coffee: Not just a coffee shop, Exo also has a mezcal bar and hosts live music most weekend nights!
Hacienda Del Sols Terraza: If you prefer your live music with a side of class and a bottle of fine wine, the patio at Hacienda del Sol is a good place to catch some jazz or classical tunes as the sun sets.
29. Nightlife on 4th Ave
Being that this street sits directly between the university campus and downtown, it draws a young student crowd as well as a mix of young professionals and tourists. And lemme tell ya: It comes alive at night!
You can find all sorts of quirky bars, restaurants of all kinds, cafes with poetry readings, and shops selling everything from cowboy boots to hippy garb.
Walk down 4th Ave and pop into any establishment that strikes your fancy.
30. Brunch in Tucson
Need a pick-me-up after a big night out on 4th Ave? Lucky for you, Tucson has some amazing brunch options thatll get you feeling like yourself in no time!
Insider Tip: If youre looking for a kickass Bloody Mary to start your day, Elliotts on Congress is where youll want to go. Their infused vodkas make a great base for the drink, and if you like spicy, order the Habanero Bloody for a real wake up call!
And even if youre not hungover, who doesnt love a good brunch?
Seasonal fruit, eggs, flaky pastries fresh outta the oven, housemade jam youre speaking my language! Oh, and we cant forget about the mimosas and bloody Marys.
Tucson has a healthy variety of brunch spots that are sure to strike your fancy:
Prep and Pastry
Five Points Market
Cafe a La CArt
Art, Culture & History in Tucson
For lovers of all things art, history and culture, theres no shortage of ways to fill up your time in Tucson. Were sharing some of the top things to do if you want to delve into this citys history and art scene.
31. Hunt for Street Art!
Tucsons street art scene is off the hook!
Ermmm do people even say off the hook anymore? Im going to assume no, but still, you know what I mean.
Youll notice colorful murals covering the sides of buildings all over town. Depictions range from desert scenes, to whales and fish, to cultural references, to random but pretty paintings of birds
You really wont have to make much of an effort to spot murals around town, but if you want some direction, here are some of our personal favorite murals in Tucson (and their location pins):
Girl in Barrio Viejo (Across the street from El Tiradito)
Girl by Charro del Rey
32. Visit Mission San Xavier del Bac
One of Tucsons most iconic buildings, the Mission San Xavier del Bac is a not only a historic landmark, but it also still operates as a church to this day. If you happen to visit on a Sunday, you might just see a church service taking place.
This building is a beautiful example of 18th-century architecture, and has been nicknamed the White Dove of the Desert. As you wander around the mission and church property, youll notice influences of Renaissance, Byzantine and Mexican architecture styles.
If youre interested in hearing about the churchs history, consider taking a guided tour. They are free to join and dont require making a reservation. Simply show up at the museum entrance to join in this 45-minute tour. Tours run quite frequently, but timing depends on the season. Check here for tour hours.
Feeling hungry? If you happen to be visiting Mission San Xavier del Bac on a weekend, keep your eyes peeled for food vendors from the Tohono Oodham Nation who often sell frybread tacos in the open-air market space just across from the mission.
Frybread is pretty much just what it sounds like, a dough (sort of similar in appearance to naan) that has been deep fried to golden deliciousness. This traditional Native American staple is then topped with different ingredients, either sweet or savory.
Weve tried frybread tacos once before, and theyre really tasty. Theyre not all that easy to find in most places, so do yourself a favor and try one while youre at the mission!
Mission San Xavier del Bac Hours:
Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: Free, donations welcome
Insider Tip: If you arrive in Tucson at a reasonable hour and arent too tired, wed recommend heading straight to Mission San Xavier from the airport, as its quite close (and a bit out of the way to come from downtown Tucson). Alternatively, you could stop for a quick visit before heading to the airport on your way out of Tucson.
33. Visit the historic Hotel Congress
It might seem strange that we have a hotel on our list of things to do, but hear us out...
Nestled right in the center of downtown, Hotel Congress is the stuff of local legends. Built just after the turn of the 20th century, it was here that John Dillinger, an infamous American gangster during the Great Depression era, was arrested and brought to jail.
Although he later escaped, Tucsonians take great pride in the fact that Dillinger, a prolific bank robber, was caught in their city. They are so proud, in fact, that there is an annual celebration and recreation of these events which takes place each year in mid-January (we were actually there for it!).
Hotel Congress still retains its quirky, colorful, historic charm. And walking into the lobby feels as if youve stepped back in time. Grab a drink at one of the many onsite bars, or catch a concert at Club Congress. And if you want to spend the night, the historic rooms are cozy, however, there is a caveat...
Our honest opinion: We stayed at Hotel Congress during our trip to Tucson, and while we would definitely recommend stopping in for a drink and checking it out, we would not advise staying here unless youre in Tucson to party.
They dont try to hide the fact that this hotel gets loud like really loud at night. There are even ear plugs in each room. Lets just say we did not sleep very well during our entire 3 nights in Tucson.
Interesting Fact: It is said that Hotel Congress is haunted! While were not ones to really believe these things, we did have a very weird experience where our closet door swung open suddenly. And at night, the 2nd floor where we were staying smelled like smoke from a fire. Spooky...
34.DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun
If youre an art buff, the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun makes an interesting stop. This is a gallery dedicated to the works of one man: Ettore Ted DeGrazia.
Dont worry, I hadnt heard of him either; but DeGrazia is pretty well-known in Arizona.
So who is Ettore DeGrazia? Well, heres the short version:
DeGrazia was born into a family of Italian immigrants who lived in a mining camp in rural Arizona. Ettore later enrolled at the University of Arizona, and created a life around his passion: art.
In adulthood, he married (twice) and bought a 10-acre plot of land in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains which would become both his home and gallery.
His works were underappreciated for many years until his oil painting Los Nios was selected by UNICEF to be printed on a 1960 holiday card, which sold millions worldwide. DeGrazias fame spread during the next decade, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to his gallery each year.
Visiting the Gallery in the Sun
A visit to the Gallery in the Sun will leave you in awe at the sheer amount of artwork DeGrazia created in his lifetime. The museum has a rotating collection of more than 15,000 DeGrazia originals! Anyone else wondering how he had enough hours in the day to make all of this?!
DeGrazia liked using all different mediums. Youll see oils, watercolors, sketches and even pottery on display. And another impressive fact is that the gallery was designed by DeGrazia himself.
When you visit the Gallery in the Sun, not only will you see DeGrazias artwork, but youll also be able to walk through his home and his private chapel, both of which are on the property.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily
Cost: $8 for adults, $5 for ages 12-18, children under 12 are free
35. Wander the gardens at Tohono Chul
Hailed as one of the countrys best botanical gardens by Travel + Leisure, Tohono Chul is popular with locals and visitors alike. Covering nearly 50 acres, this is said to be a place where nature, art, and culture connect.
But were not gonna gloss over the fact that when we visited in mid-January, there wasnt all that much to see due to the transition of seasons.
Wed imagine during other times of the year, there are more things to see. Weve heard March is particularly beautiful with the desert flowers starting to bloom. They also host occasional live music and other events throughout the year.
Our Opinion: Before planning your visit, wed do some research to see if it will be worthwhile during the season in which youre visiting. Perhaps between the months of March and May there would be more to see, as the desert flowers are in bloom during this time.
Hours: 8 a.m. - 5 .p.m.
Cost: Adults - $15, Children (5-12) - $6, Children under 5 - Free, Seniors (62+) - $13
36. Explore Barrio Viejo
Translating to old neighborhood, Barrio Viejo is just that: a section of Tucson that still has old charm. Sometimes called the real "soul" of Tucson, you can drive around and see colorful Spanish Colonial architecture and find authentic Mexican restaurants.
While some parts of the neighborhood are lively, there are other sections that have a run-down feeling.
We drove around Barrio Viejo for a while trying to find some of the beautiful, colorful adobe houses we had seen pictures of.
So to point you in the right direction (and minimize your time spent driving around in circles like we did!), here are some points of interest in Barrio Viejo (Note: please be respectful in this neighborhood because people do live here):
Colorful houses on S Meyer Ave and W Kennedy St (and further south on Meyer Ave until 22nd St)
El Tiradito Shrine (described below)
El Minuto Cafe: Mexican restaurant next to El Tiradito
The Coronet: brunch and late night food
Five Points Market & Restaurant: cute and lively brunch spot
Cafe Desta: popular Ethiopian restaurant
37. Visit El Tiradito Shrine
If youre exploring the Barrio Viejo neighborhood, make a quick visit to the El Tiradito Shrine. Stopping here only requires a few minutes and to the naked eye its nothing too special.
It is scattered with candles, flowers, and images of saints. But this is no ordinary shrine, folks. And once you know the legend behind this shrine, its kind of an interesting place to see.
Nicknamed the wishing shrine, El Tiradito is the USs only Catholic shrine dedicated to a.... wait for it SINNER! Scandalous, I know. But thats not even the crazy part.
Heres the short version of the legend of Juan Oliveras, the man who is buried beneath El Tiradito Shrine: Juan, a young ranch-hand, is married to his bosss daughter, but soon becomes infatuated with his mother-in-law (yep, you read that right), and makes a move. The two carry on an affair, which is eventually busted by the husband/father-in-law/boss. Ouch!
He gets so angry that he kills Juan right there before escaping to Mexico, where he is later murdered. The wife allegedly kills herself, and after all this horrifying drama and death, the daughter (who, by the way, we should mention is pregnant with Juans child) hangs herself as well.
It is said that Juan is buried beneath El Tiradito, a shrine that people visit for all different reasons. Some come out of sheer curiosity about the legend and others see it on a things to do in Tucson list, like this one!
But there is another group of people who come to this spot: Those who empathize with Juan and have similar love triangles in their own lives. It is said that if you write your wish on a piece of paper and have good intentions, it will come true.
Just behind the shrine is a crumbling brick wall, and if you look closely, youll see scraps of paper stuffed in the holes between bricks, many of which are wishes from past visitors.
This shrine was almost demolished when the city was building a new highway, but people in the community fought to preserve it. Perhaps they want to protect history, or maybe some people are protecting their wishes!
38. Step back in time at Old Tucson
Old Tucson | Photo Credit: My Mom ;)
Walk through what looks like a scene straight out of a John Wayne film, and watch as actors from the Wild West perform demonstrations and stunts.
Old Tucson is an amusement park of sorts, complete with a town hall, a saloon and a haunted mine, like all good Western desert towns have.
We didnt have enough time to visit Old Tucson during our weekend trip, and to be honest, it didnt really seem like our type of place. However, if youre looking for things to do in Tucson with kids, this could be a fun activity for a family.
Be sure to look up the schedule of events to time your visit right.
Cost: Adults: $21.95, Children (4-11): $10.95, Children under 4: Free
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (times may change seasonally)
Best Tucson Weekend Itinerary
Are you overwhelmed with the massive list we just gave you?
Dont worry, were going to help you pare it down a bit. Below, weve listed some highlights you can choose from based on your travel style:
If you love the outdoors:
Visit Saguaro National Park
Hike to Seven Falls in Sabino Canyon
Drive up to Mount Lemmon and stop on the way for hikes and lookout points
Explore Romero Ruins in Catalina
If youre traveling with kids in Tucson:
Do the Classic Tour at Colossal Cave
Sonoran Desert Museum
Go horseback riding
Order an ice cream flight at The Screamery
Visit Old Tucson
If youre into food:
Eat a Sonoran Dog
Check out our list of top Mexican food and try as many as you can!
Have a leisurely brunch
Order an ice cream flight at The Screamery
Go on a Tucson food tour
Try a vegan Mexican meal at Tumerico
If youre an art & culture lover:
Check out the Degrazia Gallery in the Sun
Explore Barrio Viejo and visit El Tiradito Shrine
Visit Tohono Chul botanical gardens (if the time of year is right)
Spend an evening at Casa Film Bar
Visit the Tucson Museum of Art
If youre into nightlife:
Tequila toast at the JW Marriot at sunset
Go brewery hopping
Scope out some live music
Grab a drink at Hotel Congress
Head to 4th Ave after dark for a night on the town
Do a mezcal tasting
If youre on a budget:
Do the scenic drive to Mount Lemmon
Go on a scavenger hunt to find as much street art as you can!
Watch sunset at A Hill with a view over Tucson
Have a picnic lunch
If youre craving adventure:
Go mountain biking
Go horseback riding
Book the Ladder or Wild Cave Tour at Colossal Cave
Hike to Seven Falls in the Sabino Canyon
Best time to visit Tucson, Arizona
Tucson is a great destination year round, however it can get quite hot in the summertime (albeit a dry heat). June is the hottest month in Tucson, with average highs soaring to 103F (40C). Yikes!
For the most comfortable temperatures, plan your trip to Tucson between mid-September and mid-May.
Even during December (Tucsons coldest month), the average temperature hovers just above 50F (10C) and it rarely dips below freezing. This weather will feel downright balmy to anyone from the Midwest (peace out Polar Vortex!).
Being that Tucson is smack dab in the middle of the desert, there is little chance that rain will ruin your vacation (unless youre traveling during the monsoon season of July and August). We arrived in Tucson on a rare rainy day, but by the next morning, most of the puddles had evaporated and there wasnt a cloud to be seen!
Another thing to keep in mind about this desert city is that temperatures can drop drastically from midday to evening. Be sure to pack layers to keep warm during the nights.
When Do the Desert Flowers Bloom?
It depends on the plant, but the flowering season is from mid-February to mid-June, with the biggest blooms peaking from mid-March to late April. Each year is different depending on rainfall, freezing temperatures during the winter, and springtime weather during the growing season.
Where to Stay in Tucson
Most of the time when were visiting a city, we like staying downtown so we can walk places and be near all the major sights. But depending on your interests, Tucson is a place where wed actually say you dont need to stay in the city center. As you can see from reading our massive list of things to do, many of Tucson's major attractions are on the outskirts of the city.
Weve rounded up some recommended Tucson hotels and Airbnbs below, with a mix of locations in the city as well as some that are a literal desert oasis.
Hotels in Tucson, Arizona
In the foothills of Tucsons Mountain Park, sits the massive JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort. With easy access to Gates Pass and the Western Side of Saguaro National Park, this resort has a great location. It also has 3 golf courses, 4 restaurants (with a daily tequila toast!), and 3 outdoor pools, you can really enjoy your stay in Tucson.
Located in NE Tucson, this charming B&B is a quick drive to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area or the East Side of Saguaro National Park. Included in each stay is daily ( breakfast, an onsite pool, and free parking.
Hotel McCoy - Art, Coffee, Beer, Wine
This modern hotel is perfect for a couple or a family who wants to stay a little bit outside of downtown. There are murals everywhere (check out the pictures!), an excellent staff, and a daily continental breakfast.
If youre looking to stay downtown, Hotel Congress has an unrivaled location. Add to that its historic charm, and you might be ready to book. However, we would be remiss if we didnt mention that this hotel is directly above a club, and it can get incredibly loud on weekend nights.
So loud, in fact, that the hotel provides guests with ear plugs. If that doesnt scare you away, then you might love staying at this historic property.
Airbnbs in Tucson
There are tons of amazing Airbnb options in Tucson. Overall, they are very reasonably priced, and some even have pools. Just take a look at some of the Airbnbs we hand-selected for you!
Insider Tip: Find out how we set our Airbnb filters to find the best properties anywhere in the world!
'Case Study' Guest House: Charming guest house and hosts. Youll have the entire place yourself with a full kitchen and a rain shower in the bathroom. Southeast of Downtown. Check Availability here.
Historic 4th Ave Herbie House: Beautiful studio apartment in the 4th Avenue Neighborhood. Close to bars, restaurants and the metro stops. Check Availability here.
Sonoran Desert Retreat: This inexpensive but lovely place is located in the Catalina Foothills close to shops and restaurants. This would be perfect for a couple looking to get away from the busyness of town. Check Availability here.
Self Check in Airbnb - Near I-10: This cheap Airbnb is located in the northern suburbs of Tucson and is great for a solo travel or a couple wanting to mountain bike the local tracks. Its a small, clean studio, but it has everything you need for a basic stay. Check Availability here.
Tucson Poet's Studio: This Santa Fe Style studio comes with a beehive corner fireplace and a small lounging outdoor pool. Its pretty close to central Tucson just a few blocks east of the university, so its a great location for exploring. Check Availability here.
Psst! Is it your first time using Airbnb? Follow this link and well give you $55 off Airbnb!
Getting Around Tucson
While Tucson itself is a relatively small city, youve probably noticed that most of the major attractions are outside the center. In order to be able to see the best things to do in Tucson, you really do need a car to get around.
If youre flying into Tucson, you can pick up your rental car at the airport. We usually reserve cars through RentalCars.com because we have used them before and they have the best deals for rental cars. When searching I found deals around $36 per day for a standard sedan, which is all you would need in Tucson.
However, this time, we tried reserving our rental car through our American Express Platinum card and we found the same cars for about $23 per day! This saved us about $40 over the 3 days we were visiting Tucson. Head to this article if you want to learn more about the travel credit cards we use to get free or discounted travel.
When driving in Tucson: Be aware that some areas have speed traps enforced by cameras, so keep an eye on your odometer.
Uber or Lyft
If you plan to have a few beverages out on the town, dont risk driving. Instead, order an Uber to get you where you need to go. Downtown Tucson is not that big so rides are pretty cheap.
In Tucson there is a Light Rail metro line called the SunLink that connects University of Arizona to the 4th Ave District to Downtown (Centro) and finally to the Mercado District including Mercado San Agustin.
For a single one-way fare it costs $1.75, but you can purchase a 1-Day SunGO ticket for $4.50 which is good for 24 hours.
What to pack for a trip to Tucson
Camelback (if you think youll be hiking a lot)
Daypack for hikes
Chacos or other hiking shoes that wont get too hot
Closed toe shoes (for horseback riding or mountain biking)
Layers (it gets cold at night and hot during the day)
Swim suit (if your hotel has a pool)
Reusables: Weve been kind of living in a bubble in Oregon where plastic bags are banned and many establishments encourage you to bring your own reusables, or provide a somewhat eco-friendly option (like wooden utensils and paper straws).
While many Tucson restaurants and accommodations, like Charro Vida, Boca Tacos y Tequila and Hotel Congress, offer eco-friendly options, there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to reducing unnecessary waste (just like many other cities around the U.S.).
We had our reusables packed (as we always do!) which helped a bit, but it was still a challenge.
Responsible Travel Tip: Pack your reusables (listed below), and eat inside restaurants as much as possible to avoid waste like styrofoam and plastic utensils.
Its difficult to avoid it altogether, but wed recommend bringing the following to help you reduce the waste you create:
Utensil set (great for picnics!)
Reusable bag (one that stuffs up like this is great!)
For more tips on how to reduce your waste while traveling, check out our article on 18 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Use Everyday.
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