Tucson, Arizona Travel Guide

Snuggled in a valley and surrounded by mountains, Tucson could very well bask in the soothing desert sun and waste away as Phoenix’s alter-ego – a rustic asylum for earthy folks who just want some quiet time with nature. But Tucson’s a lot more complex and cultured than that. Sure, you can horseback ride through the Catalinas and think about the meaning of life in Tohono Chul Park’s Hummingbird Garden, but you can also touch a World War II hangar at the Pima Air & Space Museum and play blackjack at the Casino of the Sun (or Sol Casino). Our Tucson, Arizona vacation guide will help you plan your itinerary, and our Tucson lodging options will make your stay comfy and affordable. Do you have tips for this guide? Share them with us.

What to Do in Tucson, Arizona

20-something party animals, parents with toddlers in tow, honeymooning newlyweds, and everyone else, will find heaps of things to do on a Tucson vacation. Since there’s so much going on in this southwestern metro, we’ll try to succinctly sum it up for you.

Outdoor Activities

  • Tucson Mountain BikingHike through the forests, the mountains, or down a cactus-lined trail. Burning calories has never been so scenic! Note: The Coronado National Forest is packed full of trails worth exploring.
  • Bike down smooth, panoramic roads or bumpy mountain paths; cycling is a big deal here.
  • Many come to Tucson to golf, and then golf some more. The city is full of enticing courses, like one of Robert Trent Jones' many brain childs, the Arizona National Golf Club (you can sometimes see Mexico from here), and the gorgeous Golf Club at Vistoso, with a design that brings the best out of the desert.
  • Sign up for horse riding lessons at the Pusch Ridge Stables.
  • Rock climbs, tennis matches, and hot-air balloon rides are a few more ways to play in the outdoors and soak up Tucson’s dramatic geography.
  • The Sonoran Desert, Tucson Mountain Park, Sabino Canyon, and Catalina State Park provide miles and miles of opportunities for outdoor picnics, biking, and even swimming.

Natural Attractions

  • Saguaro National Park – Discover 50-foot cacti and other native plants and wildlife.
  • Tohono Chul Park – A stop by Tohono’s Spanish Colonial Garden, Hummingbird Garden, Cholla Forest, or Tea Room could quite possibly change your life, as you’ll fall so deeply in love with Tucson’s staggering natural beauty that you'll deeply consider making Tucson your permanent home.
  • Colossal Cave Mountain Park – See colorful creatures like the collared peccary (a weird looking hog of sorts), long-nosed bat, and spotted skunk, and then take a half-mile tour through a history-laden cavern.
  • International Wildlife Museum – More than 400 species of wildlife, all donated, are featured here.
  • Tucson Botanical Gardens – From gardening classes to bird watching, this is one of Tucson’s most tranquil attractions.
  • Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – Is it a zoo? A museum? A botanical garden? Well, it’s all of those things. That’s the beauty of this top Tucson amusement.
  • Santa Catalina Mountains – The Catalinas form the elegant backdrop of Tucson, so whether you’re hiking through them in the afternoon or watching the sun set over them at dinner, they’re an inescapable sight for sore, city-weary eyes.
  • Reid Park Zoo – If you’ve got your fill of the local wildlife, enjoy this zoo’s exotic variety, including giraffes, elephants, polar bears, and cockatoos.
  • Mount Lemmon Ski Valley – As the Catalina Mountain’s highest peak, Lemmon is the perfect ski destination December to April. Because Tucson sports 350+ days of sunshine a year, however, you’ll have to drive an hour outside town to hit these slopes.

Southwest Sophistication

  • Casino of the Sun TucsonPima Air & Space Museum – Here you’ll find one of the world’s biggest and most impressive aircraft and spacecraft collections.
  • De Grazia Gallery in the Sun – The pieces of art on display here, all inspired by Native Americans, are great conversation starters.
  • University of Arizona Museum of Art – You'll enjoy a hardy art lesson, even if that's not your aim, thanks to the museum's diverse selection of masterpieces.
  • Old Tucson Studios – Explore the “old frontier” on this abandoned movie set, now an interactive, pretend town for the amusement of all ages.
  • Tucson Children’s Museum – Are the little ones feeling left out? Bring them here to play and learn.
  • Casino of the Sun – Check out this sizzling slice of Vegas, complete with slot machines, poker, live entertainment, and an equal number of relaxed and gaudy restaurants.
  • Gadabout Salon Spa – Looking for a manicure, massage, or new hairdo? Tucson’s a hot spa destination, due to acclaimed spots like this one, so you’re in luck.
  • Jewish History Museum – Tucson’s home to Arizona’s first synagogue.

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What to See in Tucson

What’s there to see in Tucson? Lots! So, it’s okay to dilly dally, and in fact such behavior is encouraged, as you’ll no doubt stumble onto a photo op or two.

  • Step inside the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a lovely 1700s Spanish church.
  • Enjoy a live, and for that matter lively, show while you pig out on good old American classics, like hot dogs and burgers, at the Gaslight Theatre.  
  • Take a haunting jaunt through Downtown Tucson on the Tucson Ghost Tour
  • The Arizona Theatre Company, Arizona Opera, Arizona Ballet, and Tucson Symphony Orchestra reminds visitors that Tucson's refined.

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Where to Shop and Eat in Tucson

Tucson chefs specialize in spicy southwestern and Mexican cuisine, but you’re guaranteed a top-notch (and delish!) dining experience no matter what perks up your appetite.

Best Tucson Restaurants

  • Tucsan RestaurantsVivace Restaurant – The sleekly modern interior isn't compensating for a bland menu; this restaurant serves up the tastiest Italian around.
  • Café Poca Cosa – The menu changes twice a day, so stay on your toes! 
  • Jonathan’s Tucson Cork – Not the best spot in town to bring your vegetarian friends, but if you’re craving steak, don't pass this one up.
  • Montana Avenue – This crowd pleaser features all your favorite dishes, but with a twist (try the updated mac and cheese).
  • Ventana Room – Choose from elegant entrees like seared New England scallops and roasted Colorado lamb rack, but don't get too caught up in your gourmet grub or you'll miss the mountain view.
  • Bluefin – Although Arizona is landlocked, it’s still close to the coast, so look forward to clam chowder, seabass, ahi tuna, oysters, and other savory seafood dishes.
  • The Vista Barista – Head here when you need a pick-me-up; pair a cup of joe with a yummy pastry and you’re good to go.
  • Char Tai – Who knew Tucson could do Tai food so well?
  • Magpies Gourmet Pizza – This downtown Tucson hangout offers up all kinds of pizza breads and toppings, so no one’s left out.

Tucson Nightlife

  • Cactus Moon Café – Every Tuesday, jam out to an 80s hair band at this quirky nightclub! All other nights, dance to Top 40 hits with your buddies.
  • Boondocks – If Cactus Moon Café’s 80s metal isn’t your thing, bop your head to blues and jazz, while sipping a cocktail, instead.
  • Club Congress – Tucson’s trendiest dance club is always packed.

Tucson Shopping

  • St. Philip’s Plaza – This shopping center turns into a farmer’s market every Sunday morning.
  • Downtown Tucson – Fourth Avenue (in particular) is crawling with shoppers. Dip into Desert Bloom for jewelry, the Indian Village Trading Post for unique Tucson treasures, and La Tienda for hot sauce.
  • The Foothills – Everything from small boutiques to the Foothills Mall is located in this northern shopping district.

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When to Visit Tucson

Tucson, AZ vacation rentals are always in season because the city’s always comfortably warm (well, for the most part). December, January, and February get a little cold, but temperatures still tend to hang around the 60s.

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What to Know About Tucson

Courtesy of the University of Arizona, Tucson’s got a thriving “college town” feel. That may be a good or bad thing. Either way, it’s nice to know as you plan your itinerary. 

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What to Bring to Your Tucson Vacation Rental

Tucson vacations come in all varieties, so what you pack depends on what you do. Are you going rock climbing, golfing, or shopping? Make up your mind already, and then make sure you’ve got the right attire and gear for all the activities you hope to participate in. Hopefully your Tucson lodging choice will come with lots of outdoorsy supplies from the get-go.

Note: Even though Tucson’s in the desert, you'll still need a light jacket – the nights get cool quick.

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Tucson’s Local Services

No matter where you stay in Tucson, you’ll be just a stone’s throw away from helpful tour guides and tourist centers. That’s because Tucson, Arizona is tourist headquarters!

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Getting to Tucson, Arizona

Fly into the Tucson International Airport and then take a taxi, rental car, or shuttle to your Tucson, Arizona vacation rental. Don’t rule out driving to Tucson, though, as several major highways lead here from other states.

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Why Tucson Luxury Vacation Rentals?

If you’re traveling with kids, or even if you’re visiting Tucson by yourself, the last thing you want is a cramped hotel room. Thankfully, there’s an alternative to colorless, crowded hotel rooms – Tucson, Arizona vacation rentals. Vacation Rentals.com provides many Tucson lodging options for you, ranging from one-bedroom suites to impressive town homes, and most of them are quite affordable and even cheaper than hotels.

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