Though Tucson became inhabited around ca. 10,000 B.C., it didn’t fall under the United States jurisdiction until 1854 and didn’t become part of the Union until 1912. Today, it’s the 33rd largest U.S city and the 59th largest U.S. metropolitan area. At an elevation of 2,400 feet, it is slightly cooler than some desert cities. It’s situated dramatically in the beautiful Sonoran Desert and has mountain ranges in all directions offering scenic drives, hiking and even snow skiing. Let your imagination flow as you read about the top tourist attractions in Tucson listed below.
10. HOTEL CONGRESS
Ranking at number ten on the list for top things to do in Tucson is for those traveling without children and looking for the historic yet hip and trendy feel of downtown. Built in 1919, the Hotel Congress stands across the street from the Southern Pacific Railroad Line to serve the passengers coming into city. Today it includes multiple music venues, restaurants, and a grand hotel. The hotel is a famous local hangout, featuring up and coming local artists, and previously known for capturing the famous outlaw John Dillinger. The hotel boasts a gorgeous lobby, 3 bars serving signature cocktails and a bartender that has been there for 50+ years. The rooms haven’t changed much over the past century with no TVs and only an old-time radio. It is a little bit of something for everyone.
9. CARNIVAL OF ILLUSION
Carnival of Illusion is an evening of magic and mystery by blending their international theme with all the charms of a Vaudeville-inspired roadshow. This evening of old-world magic takes place in three exclusive, up-close, boutique theaters. You will be amazed by the illusions and tricks the performers do and you’ll have the opportunity to take pictures, get autographs, and check-out the cool props after the show. It is wholesome entertainment with lots of charm, wit, humor, and audience participation; perfect for a unique date-night and fun for family and friends.
8. MINI TIME MACHINE MUSEUM AND MINIATURES
Experience a wonderful charm-filled world that is a fantastical museum in midtown Tucson. Discover intricate details in more than 275 miniature houses and room boxes through different lands and times, both real and imagined. Kids gravitate to the Enchanted Realm exhibit, a fantastical room with woodland creatures, snow villages, fairy castles, and a witch’s house full of misdeeds. The History and Antiques Gallery pieces are reflective of different U.S. time periods and have historic value and significance such as the oldest miniature houses circa 1775. The Exploring the World Gallery offers visitors a chance to view examples of how miniatures are used in other cultures with delicate, handcrafted items from countries around the world. This museum is the only one of its kind in the Southwest and a must see.
7. SAN XAVIER DEL BAC
Next on the list of places to visit in Tucson is the White Dove of the Desert, San Xavier Del Bac. The mission was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Kino, yet the current building wasn’t built until 1797 when the mission was still part of New Spain. Influenced by Moorish, Byzantine, Renaissance and Mexican architectural styles, this beautiful mission appears to magically rise from the ground just outside of Santa Cruz River. Visitors are invited to tour the mission as an architectural site or sit in on weekly mass, but please be respectful if a service is being performed. The church is open to the public from 7am to 5pm daily and admission is free.
6. UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
There are nine different museums at the University of Arizona, so plan a full day to visit this wonderful place. One of the town’s best kept secrets is hidden within the university, and that is the mineral museum which has over 26,000 beautiful specimens including silver and gold in its natural form, gems, and meteorites. The oldest and largest anthropology museum that University of Arizona has to offer was established in 1893 and highlights the enduring cultures of Arizona, the American Southwest, and northern Mexico. Another must-see is a world under glass, the Biosphere 2, where one can take a tour and experience a living rainforest, ocean and four other biomes. Travel the heavens, immerse yourself in a music laser show, or experience hands-on exhibits by visiting the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium. Other sites on the campus include Campus Arboretum, Center for Creative Photography, Jim Click Hall of Champions, and the Pharmacy and Art museums.
5. VIVA LA LOCAL FOOD FESTIVAL
The Viva La Local Food Festival is a mixture of Farmers Market and foods from different cultures. The Farmers Market offers fresh produce, home-made jams and jellies, pickles, gluten free bread and banana bread. Once you are done shopping, they offer a Veggie Valet to drop off and hold your purchases for free so you can continue enjoying the festival. The other vendors include The Twisted Tandoor for authentic Indian food, unique deli sandwiches from Contigo, and passion-fruit tarts from Prep and Pastry, among many others. You can enjoy coffee, soda, tea, or alcohol and the vendors give out free samples and have $5 menus. You will hear live music performances throughout the day as well. This is an all-day event and you will want to bring cash for tokens as there is a $2 fee every time you use your credit card.
4. TUCSON MOUNTAIN PARK
If you are looking for something romantic to do, then visit this secret place of beauty that is an unspoiled area close to downtown with places to stop and gaze at the view or hike. This 20,000 acre park has miles of hiking trails and numerous incredible desert vistas where you can see thousands of giant Saguaro cacti, cholla, prickly pear, and all the denizens that call it home. If that sounds appealing, a hike up to Gates Pass will reward you with a charming stone gazebo from which to take in a stellar sunset view. The park was established April 1929 and offers visitors horseback riding, picnic areas, camping, and archery, rifle, and pistol ranges along with campgrounds that include restrooms and water.
3. ARIZONA-SONORA DESERT MUSEUM
This museum is an excellent place to go in for adults and kids alike and, although it’s called a museum, it’s one of the best zoos in the country according to Frommer’s. It has everything that one could hope for including an aquarium, unique botanical gardens, an art gallery, a natural history museum, and, of course, the zoo. Two miles of walking paths take visitors through 21 acres of desert habitat and the museum’s fascinating exhibits, including Desert Grassland, Life on the Rocks, the Cat Canyon, and the Desert Loop Trail. If you feel hungry after your leisurely hike, you can enjoy a meal at one of the museum’s four eateries, all of which have great desert views. Admission is reasonable for everything that you get at $19.50 for adults and $15.50 for youth.
2. TUCSON BOTANICAL GARDENS
This is a lovely oasis of 5.5 acres and 17 residentially-scaled specialty gardens that provide a quiet and relaxing place for visitors to enjoy in the middle of urban Tucson. The specialty gardens are connected by paths and include Aloe Alley, a Barrio Garden, a Butterfly Garden, a Cactus Garden, a Children’s Garden, and more. The Gardens have a seasonal, live tropical Butterfly Exhibit called Butterfly Magic. There is an eclectic gift shop, monthly rotating art exhibits, Birdhouse Cafe, and tours. Everything is unique, interesting and easy to see in two hours. They also host Twilight Thursdays which includes three-course, pre-set dinners at $20 per person. Dessert and beverages are at a separate cost. Engulfed by greenery, diners are transported to a whole other world.
1. PIMA AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM
Perched near the Davis Monthan Air Force Base in southeast Tucson, the Pima Air & Space Museum is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Housing more than 300 aircrafts and spacecraft, this is one of the world’s largest air and space museums. It is spread out over 50 acres with over 300 aircraft, 6 buildings covering over 100 years of aviation history. The first and last thing that you see is a large mural of a famous photo from Time magazine of these planes during the war. The main hangar contains seaplanes, helicopters, and military planes such as the SR-71A Blackbird. Allow at least two hours so you can wander through hangars and around the airfield or you also have the choice of several tour options, including a walking tour, a 55 minute tram tour, or a 75 minute bone yard/military base bus tour.
Its average yearly temperature is 70oF with the highs reaching 84oF and lows in the 50’s. It boasts the best of both worlds; the progress and innovation of a metropolitan community and the friendly, caring atmosphere of a small town. Tucson’s distinctive neighborhoods, college-town atmosphere, historic district, and wilderness are sure to inspire you.