We group the Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park-West together because they are close in proximity and personify the desert experience. It will take 2 days at least to experience the desert from this vantage point.
The best way to understand and appreciate our beautiful Sonoran Desert is to visit the Desert Museum. It’s not a museum exactly, but rather more like a combination botanical garden and zoo. Watch any of the videos provided below for a sneek peek at what to expect while visiting. To visit other parks and gardens in our area click here. For more ideas of Things to do with Kids see our article here.
It’s the first place we recommend newcomers visit and everyone, adults and children alike, loves this truly unique destination. It’s big and mostly outdoors, so wear your hiking shoes.
The Desert Museum has a coffee bar and two good restaurants. The Ironwood Terraces is a self-serve grill with everything from cheeseburgers and pizzas to vegan wraps and salads.
The Ocotillo Café is fine dining. We suggest you make a reservation. Weather permitting, ask to be seated on the patio.
The drive from Tucson over Gates Pass to the Desert Museum is an unsurpassed scenic drive though the Sonoran Desert. Take your camera. Stop for a grand view from the parking area at the top of the pass.
While you are there:
- Spend a leisurely day visiting the plant and animal exhibits.
- Listen and learn from the knowledgeable docents.
- Go to: "Live and on the Loose" demonstration.
- Enjoy the Art Gallery. Take a Class.
- Don't Miss the Raptor Free Flight Show!
- Enjoy a good lunch at the cafeteria or Ocotillo Cafe'
- Take in one of the Behind the Scenes Tours. SPECIAL DEAL for the Summer! Great for kids!
About 2 miles down the road from the Desert Museum is the Saguaro National Park Visitors Center.
I know this is odd, but there are two Saguaro National Parks - East & West. In between is Metropolitan Tucson. If you only have time to visit one, go West.
Pictured here is an unusual rainy day in April. Most Tucsonans wish we had a few more rainy days. Six inches in spring and six inches during the monsoon season is supposed to be normal. We haven't had normal in years. We have family living in the Northwest. They just laugh when we talk about our drought. They say they will send us all the water we're willing to pay for.
Suggestion: get directions and a map at the visitors center. Then head out to explore the most exquisite desert in the world.
Picnic at the Signal Hill picnic area and walk 1/4 mile to the top of the hill to photograph your party with the petroglyphs, thousand-year-old Hohokam images. DO NOT TOUCH THEM, PLEASE!
Then drive the back roads through the Saguaro Forest to Picture Rock Road and head back to Tucson. A lovely day trip in the great out-of-doors. Click here to see the route.
Visitor's Center: 2700 N. Kinney Rd. Visit the Website
For a list of the Best Park and Gardens visit our page.