Tucson is a two-hour drive south of Phoenix and boasts an artistic, historic and nature-inspired character. Art and shopping districts display native, skilled and eccentric works; museums and attractions carry a historic presence; and nearby towns offer insight to the Wild West days along with opportunities to browse for crafts. Many of Tucson’s top things to do are just as educational as they are fun, and there is plenty to choose from any time of the year.
The Raptor Free Flight is among the most popular attractions at the 98-acre indoor-outdoor desert museum, where falcons, hawks and owls swoop just above heads during the 20-minute show (twice daily October-April). Take note of the 230 animal species and 1,200 types of plants; don’t miss the prairie dog exhibit!
Learn about the Martin B-26 Marauder and the B-29 Superfortress flown in WWII, the world’s smallest aircraft and Air Force One among the 300 aircraft on display. Museum docents, many of them veteran war pilots, are happy to educate, and self-guided, guided-walking and tram tours are available around the property.
The morning is a favored visiting time of this 1700s Catholic mission, but tour at your leisure between 7 am and 5 pm daily. Mass is regularly held in the Juan Diego chapel and Mission church, and be sure to stop in the on-site museum.
Artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia’s former 1950s adobe home and chapel is now a national historic district and art gallery, with six permanent collections, rotating artwork, a consignment room and a gift shop. A video shown in one of the gallery rooms describes DeGrazia’s life as an artist.
The set of more than 300 films is open to visitors for a Wild West experience. Sign up for a tour of one of the old sets, or walk the grounds to witness staged gunfights. Games, rides, shopping and dining are on-site.
Take some time to visit the Museum of the Horse Soldier, then navigate through the mini Western town and watch a stunt show, ride a covered-wagon-themed Ferris wheel, pan for gold and chow down at Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse.
Scientists at this research facility have replicated the earth’s ecosystem, glass-enclosed. Grasslands, desert, rain forest and a million-gallon ocean are used for scientific study and are toured by visitors daily. See where a group of scientists lived during a long-term experiment inside the self-contained space.
Follow a tour guide through a southeastern-Arizona limestone cave and marvel upon the icicle-looking stalactites and stalagmites. There are three options available, each a half-mile long, including a new Saturday helmet and headlamp tour.
The world’s largest collection of optical telescopes is housed here. Three one-hour, guided tours begin from the visitors center each day, and a self-tour map is available. Reservations must be made for the nightly observation program.
More than 500 animals and 100 species reside at the zoo. Summer safari nights offer a cooler touring experience, and exciting events are regularly scheduled year-round. Feed the giraffes, ride a camel or take the express train throughout the zoo.
Often artisanal, usually quirky and always unique, shops along 4th Avenue are not like those found at your hometown mall. Stop into Pop-Cycle for upcycled wall décor and Tucson memorabilia, or visit Antigone Books for an out-of-the-ordinary reading collection, gag gifts and trinkets.
The 49-acre botanical garden features lush desert landscapes with plant markers for an educated self-walking tour. Be sure to visit the art gallery and save time to relax and sip a beverage at the tea room.
In the Old West town of Tombstone, visit the Bird Cage Theater and Boothill Graveyard, or just imagine what it was like on the day of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday’s legendary shootout at the O.K. Corral. And in the hillside town of Bisbee, spend an afternoon hopping door-to-door into art galleries and specialty shops.
The artsy town of Tubac was originally established as the first Spanish military fort in Arizona. Today, browse more than 90 galleries and keep an eye on the calendar for frequent festivals. Don’t miss out on touring Tubac Presidio State Historical Park and nearby Tumacácori National Historic Park.