There are loads of reasons to visit Tucson and the many other historic towns & sights around Southern Arizona. Some folks come for a day or two. Some come for a week. Others stay for a season. Those of us who live in Southern Arizona have our favorites places. What you do and where you go depends a lot upon the season, how much time you have, how old you are, and "whatever floats your boat".
Below are our tried and true suggestions for "Things To Do In Tucson" based on how much time you have and the time of year you plan to be here. If you are going to be visiting more than one attraction that has an admission fee, be sure to purchase a Book of Fun. This is a coupon booklet of significant savings, mostly two-for-one admissions.
What To Do If You Only Have One Day?
If you only do one thing while in Tucson, go to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. If it is HOT, go early; drink lots of water. Do take Gates Pass to get there. (Take Speedway west and keep going.) Stop at the rest area at the top of the pass for a great view amid a magnificent saguaro forest. Don't miss the several FREE shows, such as Raptor Free Flight. If you have time, take one of the 5 Behind The Scenes tours. On this site is a Desert Museum click-through ad for a discounted price.
In addition to being an excellent combination desert botanical garden and zoo, our Desert Museum has several good dining options. Adjacent to the Gift Shop is a coffee bar. Members get free coffee. The Ironwood Terraces is self-serve grill with a wide range of delicious offerings from cheese burgers to pizza to salads. The Ocotillo Cafe' is fine dining and you will need a reservation during peak season: 520-883-5705. If the weather is pleasant, ask to be seated on the patio.
If you have time after visiting the Desert Museum, drive a little further west to the Saguaro National Park Visitor's Center. Here you can view a short video about our amazing Sonoran Desert and get a map of the back roads through Saguaro National Park West. Don't miss the thousand-year-old petroglyphs at Signal Hill.
OR retrace your route east to the Historic Presidio District in downtown Tucson. There you can enjoy the partially restored Presidio San Agustin and the Tucson Museum of Art. In between is the Old Town Artisans galleries located in one of the oldest buildings in Tucson with its courtyard La Cocina Cantina that usually has live music during evenings & weekends.
What To Do If You Only Have Two Days?
On Day Two we suggest traveling south from Downtown Tucson on the I-19 corridor where, after about 7 miles, you will see Mission San Xavier to your right (exit 92). This is a working Catholic mission & church, but it's open to the public during the day, except during mass & special events, such as weddings. The word "iconic" is an overused adjective, but if there is a place that deserves such a description it's this, the "White Dove of the Desert".
From San Xavier continue south for about a half hour. Go past exit 34 for Tubac about 3 miles and take the exit for Tumacacori. Turn left under the freeway; then left again at the east frontage road. Can't miss it. Here you can visit our other famous icon: Mission Tumacacori National Park. If a park ranger is giving a tour, take it. Otherwise we have 3 original videos about different aspects of this grand old mission narrated by Ranger Anita.
Afterward, head north on the feeder road. You will soon come to Wisdom's Cafe' where you can enjoy some of the finest Mexican food anywhere.
Continue north on the feeder road 2 miles to Tubac, Here you can enjoy the many art galleries and other interesting shops in the Village. Tubac has 3 good restaurants: Tubac Deli, Shelby's Bistro, & Elvira's Mexican Restaurant.
If you still have time before 5pm, continue north 20 miles on I-19 to Green Valley (exit 69) and take the tour at the Titan Missile Museum. This is perhaps the most unique experience you will have during your visit. If you will be visiting the Pima Air & Space Museum soon, be sure to buy tickets for both in order to get a significant discount. On this site we have one original video about this amazing relic of the Cold War.
What To Do If You Have 3-5 Days?
In addition to the many unique sites and good dining experiences from your previous 2 days of touring, you still have much to see & do. A few miles east of Tucson International Airport is the very worthwhile Pima Air & Space Museum. They offer excellent tours, including guided tram tours around the extensive outdoor portion. If you have already been to the Titan Missile Museum on Day 2, make sure you have discount tickets for both venues. If shopping is your thing, be sure to visit Tubac further south.
In winter months, Mt. Lemmon's Ski Valley is the southern-most ski area in North America. On a hot day, you might opt for a leisurely drive to the top of Mt. Lemmon where the temperature is 30 degrees cooler than Tucson. Enjoy the scenery, go for a hike. Have a bowl of chili and a slice of fresh-baked pie at the Iron Door Restaurant across from Ski Valley or a pleasant meal on the patio at Sawmill Run Restaurant in Summerhaven. Check out our original Mt. Lemmon video.
Sabino Canyon is a very popular recreation area nestled in the Santa Catalina foothills of northeast Tucson. Here you have many choices for outdoor activity, including picnicking, hiking, & bird & wildlife observing.The folks at the Visitor Center here can answer all your questions about this area.
If the water is flowing, wade or go for a swim in Sabino Creek at Tram Stop 9 or hike up to 7 Falls. Note: the narrated tram ride up into the canyon is not expensive but they only accept cash. Click here to watch our Sabino Canyon video.
In Tucson, there is sooo much to see and do. Click here for more suggestions.
If you have more time, you can venture beyond Tucson for more great sightseeing. Here are our highest recommendations.
Tombstone. Only an hour drive from Tucson, "The Town Too Tough To Die" should be on everyone's bucket list. For Western history buffs, Tombstone is the Holy Grail. Some will go to Tombstone with little understanding of this Western boomtown's amazing history and come away thinking it was just a tourist trap. Tombstone is touristy. But it can be so much more.
We strongly suggest you take Dr. Jay's Tombstone Walking Tour before you do anything else here. The good Doctor will help make your visit a much richer experience. We have on this site 5 original videos of Tombstone, plus slideshows & several brief histories that will help orient you to what is worthwhile here. Also, check out our Tombstone dining & lodging reviews.
Nearby Ghost Towns
About 17 miles east of Tombstone on an unpaved road you will find the ghost town of Gleeson. The road is decent if it hasn't rained hard recently, but that's true of all Southern Arizona unpaved roads. Just northwest of Tombstone on the San Pedro River is the ghost town of Fairbank. Some of it has been restored. Click HERE for our ghost town section.
At over 5,000 feet elevation, Bisbee is cooler than Tucson (elevation 2,600'). Here you will be able to walk around a small, historic district that was once the biggest city between St. Louis & San Francisco. To orient yourself, you should at least visit two worthwhile attractions: the Queen Mine Tour & the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. Then take a walkabout up Main Street and the residential areas above. Fascinating!
On this site you will find our Bisbee dining & lodging reviews, plus two original videos. Bisbee is only a half hour drive south of Tombstone.
Birders may wish to visit any one of several birdwatching hot spots, depending on the season. For instance, from November to March you will want to take in the Sandhill Cranes at the Willcox Playa. Check out our List of 10 Best Birding Hot Spots.
Hikers, campers or just admirers of exquisite natural beauty, may wish to take a drive to the "Wonderland of Rocks" in the Chiracahua Mountains or to the forest atop 11,000 foot high Mt. Graham (2 and 3 hour drives from Tucson respectively). Both are sacred to the Apaches. And both are worth an overnight stay in good campgrounds, but there are no restaurants or lodging at either. For dining & lodging, Willcox is closest to the Chiricahuas and Safford is closest to Mt. Graham.
If you've spent 5-7 days enjoying all the above, you've barely scratched the surface of all there is to see & do in Southern Arizona. We encourage you to poke around this site to see what you've missed so far. If you find something that we might have missed, send us a note!