Ultimate Tucson Travel Guide

Saguaro cactus covered hills looking toward Tucson Arizona

Founded in 1775, Tucson is where desert land meets outdoor adventure. It’s a city known for its multicultural history, dramatic beauty, the Sonoran Desert and year-round sunshine. Nearly half a million people call Tucson home, as well as thousands of students, since Tucson holds the top-ranked Arizona State University. Whether you’re coming to visit the university or take in the Arizona desert sun, Tucson is surely a place you’ll want to explore. 

To this day, Tucson is often referred to by locals and Northwest Americans in general as “Old Pueblo.” In Spanish, “pueblo” means village or small town. Ironically, it wasn’t the Spanish-speakers who granted this nickname. When 17th century Anglos were trying to bring business via railroad to this small town that was home to many Spanish-speakers, they donned the name “Old Pueblo.” It has stuck ever since! You can read this interesting history here

Whether you want to call it “Old Town” or the modern name of Tucson, you can find more exciting stories of its interesting history by visiting this Old Western town. Below you’ll find a list of things to know before visiting this sunny “pueblo!” 

Romero Canyon with large Saguaros in Catalina State Park, near Tucson.

1. What Tucson is Known For

Tucson holds the most complex desert in North America: the Sonoran Desert. Why you may ask, is it labeled as complex? Temperatures in this hot desert routinely exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit and often reach 118 degrees. And yet, this desert is home to the greatest amount of species of any desert in North America. The contradictory nature of this (no pun intended) comes as a surprising—and complex—fact for many visitors. Moreover, the landscape diversity here rivals that of any other terrestrial ecoregion on earth. It offers nearly all of the planet’s biomes. When you’re in Tucson, you won’t be able to escape seeing this large desert, but we encourage you to dive a little deeper and go for a hike here, too.

Amongst the depths of this complex desert, in Tucson you can explore some of the world’s top attractions and some of Arizona’s best-kept secrets. With Nogales, Mexico just about 60 miles away, Tucson has some of the best and authentic Mexican food the United States can offer. Sit and relax having a true Mexican margarita while looking out onto the beautiful desert and mountain terrain. The activities are endless: stroll the hundreds of trails, wander the forest preserves, or explore Tucson’s Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Feel unrestrained exploring the American Southwest by hiking the mountain ranges that circle the Old Pueblo or wandering the cascades of the Seven Falls at Sabino Canyon. 

Whether you’re at a world-class resort relaxing, horseback riding, discovering the wilderness, or stargazing, you’ll always find a mind-boggling array of activities in Tucson, Arizona.

2. When To Go To Tucson

As noted earlier, temperatures often reach 3 digits, soaring to 118 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months. Though you could cook a cookie in a car with this heat, the early and late summer months remain popular times to visit Tucson. This city surprisingly cools down in the winter months with its relatively higher elevation. Regardless of the season, Tucson remains a city of sunshine year-round. 


Summer temperatures often reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit by early afternoon in Tucson. This is something to de definitely keep in mind before booking your ticket in mid-July. But if you’re looking for the ultimate summer heat, get ready to pack your swimsuit and SPF for a definite hot, pool-side trip. This time of year is also monsoon season, and many travelers look forward to witnessing this experience of bare lightning in the desert sky. Check out more reasons why visitors love visiting this sizzling hot city in summer here


Average spring temperatures in Tucson range from the low 80s to the low 90s Fahrenheit. Because the triple digit heat has yet to arrive in Spring, this is a more accommodating time to visit if you don’t want to melt away. If you’re there in spring, be sure to check out the Arizona International Film Festival or the Fiesta de Garibaldi.    


With temperatures mostly consistently in the 80s to 90s Fahrenheit and lower crowds than in spring, visitors say this is the best time to take advantage of the outdoors. Whether you are planning on shopping in town, wandering through the forest preserves, or craving that perfect hike, this is the time to do it. 


This marks the onset of tourist season as snowbirds are making way to the warm, Arizona sun. Temperatures have a larger scope in winter ranging from around 40 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit with almost little to no rainfall. Be wary of booking a hotel during the winter months, however, as prices tend to surge. It is best to book at least a month in advance to ensure availability. Also check out the Tucson Jazz Festival, Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, and Tucson Festival of Books during the winter months!

3. Things To Do In Tucson

There is a myriad of both indoor and outdoor activities in Tucson. From visiting world-class museums to stargazing at an observatory in the mountains, Tucson has an activity for you. Don’t forget this is just some of the activities it offers. If you want to hear about more, check it out here

Sonoran Desert

It almost goes without mentioning this desert land as you’re bound to see it, hike it, or feel its dry effects no matter where you go in Tucson. While there you’ll be sure to see the giant saguaro cactus, a true symbol of American Southwest and the tallest species in North America. We suggest you visit the Saguaro National Park which offers an easy, accessible opportunity to see and explore the Sonoran Desert. Hiking trails run through the park and offer the ability to see such wildlife as Mexican wolves, Gila monsters (lizards), peccaries, and more. 

Tucson Mountain Park

Vegetarians: look out. This is a major archery hunting area from mid-December through the end of January. Certain licensees and certifications are necessary, and you can check out more information about hunting here. But—to you vegetarians—we didn’t mean to scare you away. There are oodles of other activities in this park since there are hiking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas (with grill access!), and an observation wildlife area. 

Old Tucson Studios

This is a photographer’s dream spot for a photoshoot. Built in the style of the late 19th century, it was reconstructed in 1940 as the setting for over 400 Western movies. There are several types of live entertainment offered here such as the occasional concert series or dance revue.  Moreover, it’s child-friendly offering a mini-train, antique cars, and trail ride. But if you want to star as an Old Westerner with this setting and the backdrop of a real desert, feel free to snap that photo of yourself with your best John Wayne look.  

El Presidio Historic District

This district is one of the oldest inhabited sites in the United States as it stems from the Spanish military fort in 1775. This residential neighborhood contains adobe and brick buildings in many different architectural styles which represent its multicultural history. Feel like you are in Old Mexico here by visiting the Old Town Artisans area which has handicrafts stores, lively brewpubs, and traditional Mexican cantinas. 

Tohono Chul Park

Another beautiful park not to miss is this one, which focuses on environmental conservancy and education about the Sonoran Desert Region. With the name of Tohhono Chul literally translating to “Desert Corner,” this park takes its name from the indigenous people of Arizona, the Tohono O’oodham. With a beautiful view of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background, discover trails, a geology wall, and more at this local Tucson park. 


There is a plethora of hiking (and biking) trails located in Tucson. Better yet, these trails are open to hikers of all levels. Some areas we recommend to hike include the following: Finger Rock, Sabino Canyon, Tumamoc Hill, and Madera Canyon. If you’re not sure which trail is right for you, check out more information here.


In the blistering summer heat or during the mild yet still colder winter months, why not escape indoors. Better yet, why not to a museum? With a town of so much history and rich culture, Tucson has an impressive, diverse museum scene that you won’t want to miss. Here’s a list of some that are highly recommended (in no particular order). 

  • Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: This is a star attraction in Tucson for good reason: it’s a museum with many facets including a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history museum, publisher, and art gallery. Founded in 1952, this museum has over 98-acres and has visitors from all around the globe. Note: Don’t forget SPF and water for this museum as most of it will be under the Tucson sun.
  • Pima Air and Space Museum: Known as one of the world’s largest non-government funded aerospace museums. This 127-acre museum features nearly 300 aircrafts. If you’re into science, head here. 
  • San Xavier del Bac: This 18th century Spanish Catholic Mission sits on the Tohono O’odham san Xavier Indian Reservation. It attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year whom consider the site a pilgrimage. For more information about this holy site look here
  • DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum: This highly talked about artistic manifestation and architecture constructed by Ettore DeGrazia is a series of buildings scattered throughout a natural desert setting. 
  • University of Arizona Art Museum: Operated by the University of Arizona, this museum has over 6,000 permanent exhibitions that display many different forms of art including sculptures, textiles, prints, and hand drawings. Gaze at diverse European and American art here. 

Stargaze at Kitt Peak National Observatory

This observatory has the largest and most diverse astronomical equipment in the world that includes 24 telescopes. If you’re a fan of stargazing, look no farther. This observatory that sits atop Kitt Peak in the Quinlan Mountains offers incredible views at night to look up at the stars in the dark desert skies. 

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Ever gone spelunking? Take a walk on the wild side and enter this cave complex that used to be the home of the Apache Indians hundreds of years ago. This is an entire cave complex that includes over 5 kilometers of passageways with temperatures at a stable 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. 

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway

Often called the “Catalina Highway” or “Sky Islands Scenic Byway,” this is often considered one of the most scenic drives in southeast Arizona. It takes visitors to the upper reaches of Mount Lemmon and the Santa Catalina Range. The highway, which is driven by more than 1 million visitors each year, offers an array of different biological life. As you drive up the mountain, each turn seems to offer a new and beautiful look into the Arizona scenery. 

4. Where To Eat In Tucson

In 2015, Tucson became a World City of Gastronomy thanks to its creative and diverse food culture. Because of its unique location just 60 miles north of the U.S./Mexico border, it offers not only incredible American Southwest cuisine but authentic Mexican gastronomy as well. It even offers so much more than this, too. Since the University of Arizona is right in Tucson, expect to see a plethora of restaurants –budget-friendly and late-night options especially—almost on every popular Tucson street. Be sure to try all of the flavors this town has to offer. We’ve made a list of some of the most talked about and popular restaurants you won’t want to miss. 

5. Where To Stay in Tucson

Tucson has diverse lodging accommodations from 5-star resorts to Old Western themed bed and breakfasts. Whether you’re coming for a conference, to visit your child at University of Arizona, on a spiritual retreat, or just visiting to relax and soak up the sun, Tucson can offer you a relaxing time under the desert constellation skies. Here are some of the lodgings available. However, it is important to also research alternative lodging options such as Airbnb, GlampingHub, and good, old-fashioned outdoor camping

As you can see, Tucson is home to more than sunshine and a famous desert. It is rich with thousands of years of history and culture. Hundreds of thousands of species call this “Old Pueblo” home. It remains a top-notch, visited place year-round for hikers, students, desert-lovers, and the every-day traveler. In Tucson you will find the adventure of a lifetime. Even more to keep in mind, these are just the five things to know before visiting Tucson. We can’t wait for you to start your adventure in this sunshine-filled, historic, desert town.