12 Unique Things to Do in Tucson

by Paul Joseph  |  Updated January 5, 2024

Surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges, when it comes to unique attractions in Tucson, the Arizona city is blessed with both natural and man-made riches.

Sunset over Saguaro National Park (Photo: John Fowler via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

A desert city it may be, but there’s nothing sparse about Tucson’s cultural and entertainment landscape. Around Fourth Avenue, vintage shops, nightclubs and restaurants create a buzzing atmosphere, day and night, while Tucson also hosts a number of excellent festivals each year. Visually, restored mansions and adobe row houses, dating back to Tucson’s 19th century beginnings, help give Tucson a striking appearance. Here are 12 of the most unique things to see and do in the city.

Explore the majestic scenery of a national park

Comprising two distinct parks, located within two different mountain ranges on opposite sides of Tucson, Saguaro National Park draws huge numbers of outdoor lovers every year. Packed with exotic wildlife including bobcats, coatis and collared peccaries, the national park has several designated hiking trails and campsites that allow for overnight visits. Beyond its wild creatures, the park is perhaps best known for its huge saguaro cacti, the largest type in the USA, that litter the landscape for miles on end.

Visit a fascinating museum

There are outdoor museums and then there is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Founded in 1952 for the purpose of conserving the Sonoran Desert and its rich assortment of native plants and animals through educational programming and research, this remarkable attraction is open to the public daily who come in their droves to explore its remarkable diversity. Located just west of Tucson and spread across some 98 acres, this venue is part zoo, part aquarium, and part natural history museum, with botanical gardens, an art gallery and miles of walking paths traversing desert landscape thrown into the mix for good measure.

2021 North Kinney Road / Mon-Sun 8.30am-5pm

A coyote at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Photo: rbaire via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Part of the University of Arizona, the Arizona State Museum is one of Tucson’s most prestigious cultural institutions. Taking visitors on a potted history through the Native cultures of Arizona, the American Southwest, and northern Mexico, the museum is brimming with exhibits and artefacts that together span some 13,000 years of human history. Highlights include the world’s largest collection of Native North American basketry, composed of 35,000 specimens of woven fibre, and 24,000 specimens of Southwest Indigenous pottery dating back more than 2,000 years.

1013 East University Boulevard / Tues-Sat 10am-4pm Closed Sun-Mon

Hike to a beautiful waterfall

As you traverse the eight-mile stretch that comprises the Seven Falls hiking trail in Tucson, you’ll likely notice boulders lining the walls of the area’s famous Sabino Canyon. These large rocks are in fact a legacy of the 1880s earthquake that formed the canyon – and are among the many attractions to be found along the legendary trail. Arguably the most renowned is the eponymous Seven Falls waterfall, which, in spite of its name, comprises only one cascade of water. The entire hike takes about four hours, or there’s a public tram that cuts the length in half

5700 North Sabino Canyon Road

Saddle up for a fun-packed rodeo parade

There is still plenty of affection for the rich heritage of rodeo, a sport that arose out of the working practices of cattle herding, and is so deeply woven into the fabric of rural American culture. Dating back to 1925, the Tucson Rodeo Parade is one of the region’s longest-standing rodeo events, drawing large crowds in February each year. Said to be the largest non-motorised parade in the country, it passes through large swathes of the city, with designated seating areas dotted along the route. Tickets can be purchased at booths near the grandstands or in advance at the parade office.

February each year

The Tucson Rodeo Parade in full flow (Photo: A Guy Named Nyal via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Stroll around some botanical gardens

Botanical gardens in the heart of a city offers visitors a haven from the urban hubbub. First opened in 1964, the 5-acre Tucson Botanical Gardens in mid-town Tucson is home to an array of eye-catching features including mature trees, cultivated foliage, speciality gardens, and a tropical butterfly exhibit. As they explore, visitors can expect to see such exotic wildlife as hummingbirds, cardinals and quail, along with olive trees, dwarf citrus trees, bearded iris, wildflowers, and cacti. The venue also plays host to frequent art exhibitions.

 2150 North Alvernon Way / Mon 8.30am-4.30pm Tues-Sun 8.30am-9.30pm

You can buy admission tickets for Tucson Botanical Gardens at GetYourGuide 

Watch a show at a historic theatre

One of the crown jewel’s of Tucson’s cultural scene,  Fox Tucson Theatre first opened in the 1930s as a dual vaudeville/movie house and continues to attract large audience today with its staging of a busy programme of performing arts shows. The venue has gone through various revamps over the years, but retains its distinctive Southwestern Art Deco-style décor. It attracts national and international artists from comedy and music in particular, and if you’re a film buff you can catch one of the theatre’s regular screenings of classic films such as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

17 West Congress Street 

Marvel at thousands of decommissioned aircraft

Aviation aficionados are in for a treat at the Davis-Monathan Air Force Base, located about 7 miles from downtown Tucson. Self-described as the “world’s largest military aircraft cemetery”, the 2,600-acre site is filled with retired aircraft, including almost every type of plane flown by the US Armed Forces since World War II. Immediately after that conflict, B-29 and C-74 airplanes were parked here in order to salvage parts and the aerospace junkyard has been growing ever since. Due to its unique landscape, the site is also regularly used to stage post-apocalyptic and action movies. General public access is not permitted, though specialised tours are offered by the Pima Air and Space Museum.

Disused aircraft at the boneyard (Photo: Clemens Vasters via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Get a taste of the city’s food scene

Tucson has a rich culinary heritage and visitors can discover it for themselves by booking onto a guided food tour. Taking place in downtown Tucson, you and your fellow tour guests will learn all about the city’s foodie traditions as your guide regales you with facts and stories. Along the way, you’ll stop off at numerous culinary hotspots, including restaurants, stores and cafes, where you’ll get to meet and engage with the proprietors and sample various local delicacies and dishes. As well as focussing on food, the tour will also include visits to several notable city landmarks.

You can book on to a Tucson food tour at Viator

Attend a fun-packed festival

Like in so much of the US, folk music is a big deal in Tucson, and the famous musical genre is celebrated each year at the Tucson Folk Festival. Centred around Jácome Plaza in downtown Tucson, the festival features more than 150 groups and soloists performing traditional, contemporary, ethnic folk, and acoustic music in front of packed crowds. Along with live music, the event also features a songwriting competition, a Young Artist showcase, interactive music workshops, a food and craft marketplace, and a beer garden.

Downtown Tucson / April each year

Arizona’s largest annual literary event, the Tucson Festival of Books is a a mecca for bibliophile who flock here from far and wide each year. Held on the University of Arizona campus, the festival spans dozens of literary genres and themes including poetry, politics, fiction, fantasy, music, military, spirituality and outdoor adventure. There are also a diverse range of talks, with best-sellers, emerging authors and researchers speaking about various topics,  as well as a literary circus, a poetry venue, exhibitor booths and two food courts.

University of Arizona Mall / March each year

Crowds at the Tucson Festival of Books (Photo: bo mackison via Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Find magic through kindness at Valley of the Moon

One of Tucson’s most unusual attractions, Valley of the Moon owes its existence to one man. In the 1920s, the artist George Legler set about creating a world of fantasy with the goal of imparting a message of kindness and peace. He purchased a plot of land in the desert and began transforming it into a magical landscape of meandering paths, stone towers and walls, and secret grottoes. Over the ensuing years, he expanded the site and began offering public tours. After Legler became ill in the 1960s, the tours stopped and the site fell into disrepair. Fortunately, a group of high school students befriended Legler and took over the site. Today their organisation still runs Valley of the Moon, which continues to attract visitors throughout the year.

2544 East Allen Road / Opening hours vary