This charming town is surrounded by mountains and open desert, which means lots of places to hike and explore. Best visited between autumn and spring, Tucson offers lots to her visitors. In fact, many return year after year to escape the cold and snow of northern winters. There is lots to discover in this small city, from food and culture to nature and adventure. Read on for our Tucson city guide.
There are many fun things to do in Tucson. Go hiking, eat tacos, taste craft beer, visit historic buildings or go see some art! Tucson activities and attractions are numerous and a weekend is the perfect amount of time to explore. Let’s go on a Tucson weekend getaway – or stay a little longer!
Tucson is located in southern Arizona about 70 miles north of the Mexican border and just over 100 miles south of Phoenix and can be reached by car, bus, plane or train.
Most people visit Tucson by airplane or automobile but it is also possible to get there by Greyhound bus and Amtrak train. Both will take you directly into the downtown area which is very convenient. (check out this post with 10 things to bring on your Amtrak trip!)
There is an international airport in Tucson (TUS) and a larger one in Phoenix (PHX). You can rent a car at the airport or take public transit or a shuttle into downtown.
Once you are in the city it is easy to get around the downtown area on foot or by bike. You’ll also find a new streetcar that goes from the Mercado to the University. The Amtrak station and the local public bus station are also downtown. Uber and Lyft are also easy to use.
Many visitors to Tucson either rent a car or drive their own. This is often the most convenient way to sightsee, especially if you plan to head to the edges of the city for some hiking!
Here are a few of my favorite things to do and see (and eat!) when visiting the city of Tucson and the surrounding area. These are some of the best Tucson activities.
I first discovered Tucson when visiting Saguaro National Park. I was excited to discover that the city was bordered on both the east and west by this beautiful park.
The National Park offers many wonderful hikes and even two short loop drives for those who prefer to sightsee from their vehicles. Cyclists also like to ride these loop roads but be aware they aren’t fully paved.
There are short and long hikes within the park offering something for everyone. On the west side there is a short paved nature walk that will give you a brief overview into the desert landscape. Or try one of the longer hikes like Bajada Wash or King Canyon Trail. Love petroglyphs? You can find them here! There are a few trails that lead to these ancient artworks – ask at the visitor center and they will direct you to the best ones. The west side also borders Tucson Mountain State Park which has beautiful trails as well.
The Rincon Mountain District (east side) of the park offers backpacking routes and longer trails into the mountains. You can also explore on horseback which is a fun way to see the landscape. For short, easy trails check out the Desert Ecology Trail and the Freeman Homestead loop.
Would you like more information about the park? Visit our guide to Saguaro National Park here.
If you are a beer lover you will find great small breweries and taprooms in Tucson to sample and imbibe. One of my favorites is Pueblo Vida located just downtown. Their list of brews is always changing but they have something for every taste, often creative with exotic flavors and ingredients.
Another favorite is Crooked Tooth which is a little more relaxed in an old auto repair garage. Their beers are stellar though and they have a lovely outdoor patio when the weather is fine, which it usually is in Tucson! Check to see what food truck might be stopping by too.
Love trains? Check out Borderlands located in an old warehouse right next to the tracks. If you are lucky a train might pass by as you sit there and you can watch your beer jiggle from the rails.
Check out Barrio Brewery downtown too, it’s now employee owned and is a local standby. They serve a variety of beers as well as food.
If you are a fan of cider, be sure to stop in at the new Bawker Bawker Cider House on Fourth Ave.
Try a variety of local and far flung beers at Tap and Bottle. They have several locations including downtown and in the north on Oracle Road. Check their calendar for special events and tap takeovers too.
You’d think with a National Park to the east and west of town that would be enough places to hike and explore. But Tucson is blessed with a wealth of open space and amazing hikes on every side of the city.
Sabino Canyon is just to the north east of town. This land is managed by the Forest Service and is very popular with locals. You’ll find a wide paved road leading into the canyon that is perfect for long walks especially for joggers, parents with strollers and those with mobility issues. You can even ride your bike but only before 8am or after 5pm. Keep in mind it is mostly uphill one way!
There is also a shuttle that goes up to the end of the road. From there (or along the route) you can hop off for hikes into the mountains or just walk back down. Of course you can also ride the shuttle round trip too!
Bear Canyon is part of the same park and is another beautiful area to explore. The hike all the way to the waterfalls is about four miles one way, or take the shuttle bus and save about 1.5 miles.
Many of the roads and trails here follow the creeks, which are dry much of the year but as they say, when it rains it pours! The water can rise quickly and make the roads and trails impassable for hikers as well as the shuttle bus. So be sure to check the current conditions. Also be aware of water levels in the summertime during the monsoon season. Every year it seems there are victims of flash flooding here.
Along the trails you will find lots of picnic areas which are popular with families on sunny weekends.
Nestled near Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park West you’ll find the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This open air museum is something of a zoo, botanical garden, aquarium and museum rolled into one. Plan several hours to explore this vast park.
For more information about tickets and times, check the Desert Museum website.
Just south of the Tucson airport on the Tohono O’Odham lands is a stunning historical mission and church known as San Xavier del Bac. Visitors can take a guided tour of the mission grounds and visit the inside of the stunning church. Keep in mind that the church is still in use by the community and may be closed to visitors during events such as Sunday mass, weddings and funerals. Check the website before you go.
When you are in Tucson, even if you are just passing through, you MUST eat some tasty Mexican food.
Here are some popular spots around Tucson for tacos, pozole, mariscos, tamales and more! Some are fancy sit down restaurants while others are hole in the wall joints or food trucks. You’ll find traditional dishes as well as creative creations too.
Perhaps you are now realizing that Tucson is a hiker’s paradise, especially if you love the desert scenery and are visiting at a temperate time of year.
Catalina State Park is another awesome place to explore. There are several short hikes of around a mile that will get your blood flowing as well as longer adventures into the backcountry. The 2 mile loop is probably the most popular hike in the park. It follows the stream to the edge of the wilderness area with stunning views into the mountains. For a longer hike head to Romano Pools and the waterfalls.
Many of the hikes cross the creek so be prepared to get your feet wet or hop deftly across on the rocks.
Catalina State Park has busy popular campgrounds that are full of RVs all winter long. It’s a great place for a home base as you are still very close to Oracle Road for groceries and such, and are just a 20 minute drive to the center of town.
Catalina State Park is also popular because you can bring your leashed pup on some of the trails with you!
Bring your bicycle or rent one and explore the 22 mile Rillito River Loop bike path. This paved path follows the wash of the river and encircles the city, letting you get around Tucson in a mostly car-free route. There are plenty of benches to take a break and restrooms along the way, but be sure to bring sun protection and water with you, even on a short stroll the sun can be bright and brutal.
Looking for local eats? Make your way to one of Tucson’s farmers markets. My favorite is the Rillito Park Sunday market where you’ll find seasonal fruits and veggies, meat, eggs, honey and lots of crafts too. There are often several stands selling readymade food too so come hungry! Some popular delights include Turkish flatbreads, Salvadorian pupusas, and wood fired pizza! There are usually a few coffee vendors as well. This market is also next to the loop bike path so perhaps make an adventure and come by bicycle!
And be sure to check the local calendars for special markets, there are plenty of craft markets around the holidays and other times of year too!
Looking for local groceries? Be sure to also check out:
Whether you are looking for local crafts or want to hit the malls, Tucson has something for everyone. Historic Fourth Street is a wonderful place to stroll and shop, with lots of small boutiques with arts and crafts as well as lots of great restaurants to grab a bite. The University is nearby so you’ll find funky places popular with students as well as cool cafes and shops. Don’t miss Time Market for tasty food! Or head downtown and wander down Broadway. Mercado San Agustin is a fantastic little enclave of dining and shopping and the Annex nearby has even more goodies. Definitely be sure to visit this cool area with the historic mercado building and the fun repurposed shipping container shops and restaurants. La Encantada Mall is popular with those who like more upscale shopping, a great place to go for cosmetics or clothing.
Of course the February Gem Show is a popular time to visit Tucson and is excellent for shopping for jewels and stones of all kind. Be sure to check out the many pop up markets and tents all over town. My favorite is the African market down by the Mercado for all kinds of beautiful basketry, beads and textiles.
If you have a bit more time you can also head out of town on a road trip. Here are some awesome destinations not too far from Tucson that would make a great day trip or even a few days!
The city of Tucson is filled with resorts, big and small hotels, Airbnbs and longer term rentals. Here are a few of our favorite lodging options in the Tucson area.
For a limited time, if you register at Booking.com using this link and then reserve using the links below you can get $20 cash back! It’s a special offer from Booking.com.
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