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Tucson, Arizona
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The 15 most awesome things to do in Tucson

A desert landscape, phenomenal weather, and a bustling art scene are among the best things to do in terrific Tucson

Written by
Lisa O'Neill

Ready for beautiful views, fantastic hikes and miles and miles of stunning mountain ranges? You’re in the right place. Tucson is a city which is blessed by the likes of the Sonoran desert, which looks like it’s straight out of a movie, as well as a heap of great museums, galleries and other cultural spots. 

So it’s no wonder tourists flock to this Arizona city for a holiday, not just a hike. A ton of artists have made their home here. Foodies find solace here (did we mention that Tucson is a World City of Gastronomy?). You’ll discover craft beer spots, great restaurants and fun nights out, as well as a whole host of activities to full your days. Read on for the very best things to do in Tucson. 

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Best things to do in Tucson

Young or old, newbie or seasoned Tucson resident, you have to check out the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum as your absolute first call. This isn’t just any museum – this is an art gallery, botanical garden, natural history museum, zoo, aquarium and more. This is a place to find out about the history of the Sonoran desert bioregion and its many ecosystems. Plus on Tucson’s most scorching days of the year, you can see javelinas sleeping soundly underneath the bridge (local pigs). 

If citizens of Tucson know anything, they know their coffee. Let us be clear, they know good coffee. And Exo Roast Co might just serve you the best coffee you’ve had in years. They source beans from all over the planet and roast them up on site, ensuring that rich blend every time, and there’s co-working spaces for locals to sit on their laptops. In the evenings, the space turns into a bar, where local bands come and play live music. Our top tip? Get the sweet and spicy Chiltipin cold brew. You won’t regret it. 

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nelo Hotsuma

3. Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway

The Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is one of the most picturesque drives in Southeast Arizona. Winding roads lead you up to the top of Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountain Range. As the locals say, “It’s always cooler on the mountain.” Mount Lemmon features seasons—changing leaves, falling snow—that don’t happen in the valley. The views are breathtaking, whether you hike or stay in the car. If you make it to the top of the mountain, stop at the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin. Their chocolate chip cookies are legendary.

Sabino Canyon
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Henry T. McLin

4. Sabino Canyon

A short drive from the heart of the city, Sabino Canyon is home to cresting mountains, deep canyons, and trails that lead to seasonal swimming holes. Hiking aficionados will love it here. The city is a hiker’s dream: the eternal sunny skies and moderate temperatures are ideal for walking adventures. In addition to Sabino Canyon, you might want to head to either the East or West part of Saguaro National Park, which also features several trails to explore.


The Center for Creative Photography (CCP) was co-founded by legendary landscape artist Ansel Adams in 1975 to permanently house his photographs. Free to the public, the CCP is home to more archives and individual works by 20th-century North American photographers than any other museum in the nation. Rotating exhibitions are displayed year-round, but the public can request viewings from the extensive archives of over fifty photographers, including works by Lola Alvarez Bravo and Edward Weston. 

University of Arizona Poetry Center

A living archive that houses one of the largest collections of poetry in the country. Take in the beautiful architecture and browse the library, engage with an art exhibit or attend a literary event. Founded in 1960, the Poetry Center’s collection holds over 75,000 items, including books, anthologies, literary journals, chapbooks, photographs, and critical works by poets. The Poetry Center regularly hosts readings with award-winning and emerging artists.

El Tiradito
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/midwinter

7. El Tiradito

Known to locals as the “Wishing Shrine,” legend has it that El Tiradito (located at 400 South Main Avenue) is the grave of a young sheepherder named Juan, who was murdered as a result of a love triangle back in the 1870s. Meaning “the castaway,” El Tiradito is said to be the only shrine in the country dedicated not to a saint or religious leader but to, as the plaque reads, “a sinner buried in unconsecrated ground.” People visit to say prayers, light candles and leave a “milagro” (a small religious charm). Legend says that if your candle is still burning come morning, whatever you prayed for will come to pass.

Mural Walk
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Alyson Hurt

8. Mural Walk

Everyone will tell you that Tucson is a breeding ground for artists. One way this characteristic manifests itself is through a landscape of public art in the city. Within just a few blocks, you can see muralist Joe Pagac’s 130-feet-wide and 30-feet-tall epoch of a cowboy and senorita riding bikes with javelina and jackrabbits. Also, notice Rock Martinez’s Goddess of Agave, where agave and prickly pear bloom from and around a haloed deity, and check out the Rattlesnake bridge, an Instagrammer’s dream locale.


Open since 1972, Loft Cinema is a Tucson treasure. Renovated in 2017, the members-supported nonprofit theater screens new, independent and foreign films, documentaries, classic art films, and cult favorites on three screens. In addition to showing a diverse array of films, the Loft hosts signature screening events, filmmaker Q&As and also partners with dozens of community organizations to host special events on relevant issues. The Loft hosts two film fests every year, an international film fest each fall, and a free children’s festival in the summer.

Gates Pass
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/drewgram

10. Gates Pass

Elevated at 3,169 feet, Gates Pass is a mountain pass at the crest of the Tucson mountains. Pack yourself a picnic and head out of the city. Tucson is known for its sunsets, which paint the sky in broad strokes of violet, rust, and rose. Gates Pass, looking west over the valley, is a favorite place to witness the magic unfold.


Tucson is home to over a dozen craft breweries—in other words, it’s a beer enthusiast’s paradise. We suggest visiting Borderlands Brewing, housed in an old train depot for produce, and tasting their chocolate beer. Chocolate beer! We also suggest heading to Crooked Tooth Brewing Company and sipping on their full moon brew—made under the last full moon—while you practice yoga, have fun on trivia nights or listen to tunes by local musicians.

In the Santa Cruz valley south of Tucson, on the Native American Tohono O’odham tribe’s land is the famous “White Dove of the Desert.” Founded by Jesuit missionary and explorer Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1700, the restored white walls of the church’s parapets, dome, and body stand like paper cut-outs against the bright blue of the sky. Built between 1783 and 1797 by the Franciscan Fathers Juan Bautista and Juan Bautista Llorens, the building is a fine example of Mission architecture, a blend of Moorish, Byzantine, and late Mexican Renaissance styles. You might be confused by the asymmetrical towers, one unfinished. Some say this was done to avoid paying taxes on the building since it was never technically “finished.” After exploring the church and small museum, you can feast on fry bread offered by members of the Tohono O’odham outside.


Tucson is home to a vibrant music scene that features local, national, and international acts. The historic Hotel Congress is one of the many places to catch these awesome performances. Inside the lobby of Hotel Congress is the live studio for Tucson’s beloved community radio station KXCI—turn the dial to 91.3 to tune in. Other live music venues include the Rialto Theatre, a former Vaudeville theater, and the art-deco beauty Fox Tucson Theatre.  

Just a few miles outside downtown, Tumamoc Hill is a popular hiking site with a paved trail. The top affords spectacular views of the city but walking the hill is not for the faint of heart—the sloping road gains 600 feet in just 1.5 miles, making it a popular spot for Tucsonans to get some cardio in. In addition to being a popular hiking spot, Tumamoc Hill is an 860-acre ecological reserve owned and operated by the University of Arizona College of Science. The hill is an active research center where scientists work to better understand the Sonoran Desert and desert environments in general.


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Located 55 miles southwest of Tucson, Kitt Peak is a United States astronomical observatory. Founded in 1958, it houses the most varied collection of astronomical instruments in the northern hemisphere. Kitt Peak hosts nighttime programs where you can observe planets, nebulae, galaxies, stars, and other cosmic matter through telescopes. The programs are popular, so make a reservation in advance.

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