From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
When it comes to Arizona, you might be thinking Phoenix, Flagstaff, or even Winslow… but Tucson is something of an unsung gem. This city, tucked close to the state’s southern border, is the gateway to Saguaro National Park and home to a huge array of things to eat, see and do in its own right — which is why we’ve written this guide to help you explore Tucson, even if you’ve called it home for decades.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
One of the very best ways to explore Tucson, Arizona is to explore the many beautiful wilderness areas that surround it. From sky-high saguaro to stunning fields of sand, there’s so much to stand in awe when you visit the state and national parks in Tucson, AZ.
All that outdoor exploration got your appetite worked up? No worries — Tucson is chock full of wonderful things to eat. Here are some of our favorite restaurants in Tucson, whether you’re looking for steak, seafood, or something a little bit more exotic.
You can’t visit the desert southwest without enjoying some serious Mexican-inspired flavors — and if you’re in the mood for a taco, we highly recommend heading to Boca. Founder and owner Chef Maria Mazon, who has appeared numerous times on the Food Network, prides herself on putting together thoughtful, fresh, authentic flavors… and given that she was born in Tucson and raised in Sonora, Mexico, she certainly knows how to make a taco.
While there aren’t a superfluity of Indian restaurants in Tucson, there are some opportunities to get your hands — and taste buds — on authentic eastern eats. Indian Twist serves up modern, but classic Indian foods like tikka masala, tandoori chicken, and a range of biryani, not to mention several gluten-free and vegetarian options.
If you’re looking for a steakhouse with a bit of a twist, stop by Charro Steak: it serves up classic cuts with a backdrop of Mexican-inspired flavors, which makes sense given how close to the border you are. If you can, try to leave some room for an order of prickly pear albondigas before your meal — or at least take some home for later!
You may be miles away from Asia, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get an authentic taste of Thailand while you’re in Arizona. Senae Thai Bistro offers diners classic dishes like Pad Thai, Pad See Ew and a wide range of curries, all in a comfortable and casual modern atmosphere.
Considered one of the best Italian restaurants in Tucson, Vivace offers more than just dinner: it’s a dining experience. Start with fresh burrata served two ways before moving onto a refreshing salad, but be sure not to fill up before your main plate arrives. Choose from freshly-made pastas, carefully crafted risottos or meat-based dishes including osso buco.
This restaurant has special place in my heart. Owner and Chef Wendy Garcia has an incredible energy about her, shouting a warm welcome from the kitchen to everyone as they walk in the door. The menu is full of made-from-scratch, feel-good Mexican comfort food. Every bite has mad flavor, so it's surprising for many people when they realize everything on the menu is vegan or vegetarian. (When I took my dad here, he told me the al pastor tacos were the best he's ever had, not realizing they were made with pulled jackfruit instead of pork shoulder.) And in classic Tucson style, Tumerico hosts free community yoga classes every Saturday at its sister restaurant, La Chaiteria.
Exo is a coffee spot by day, mezcal bar/small music venue by night. My favorite thing about this place is the atmosphere, which is "very Tucson" (as Tucsonans say). You'll catch me chilling in the back room, reading or talking with familiar faces, and never without a coffee in my hand – which is the best in Tucson. Grab a bag of beans on your way out and come back for one of Owner Doug Smith's Thursday evening mezcal tastings.
This is the place to try a famous Sonoran hot dog. Find this stand on the corner of 22nd and 6th Avenue. Order two dogs with everything, or order one to save room as you embark on a self-guided tour of "The Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food.” Because of Tucson's rich, multicultural food history and innovative local agricultural community, it was the first city in the US to be designated as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
Don’t get us wrong, you could probably spend a lifetime wandering around this unique desert landscape and then eating to fuel up for more adventures.
But there’s plenty to see and do in town, too! Here are some of our favorite fun things to explore in Tucson, whether you’re bringing along the whole family or looking for an opportunity to (re)kindle some romance.
Want to get cozy with your sweetheart? Here are some Tucson hot spots not to miss.
You probably know by now that, despite the rumors, the desert is anything but deserted; it’s an oasis for a wide variety of plant and animal life. If you want to get up close and personal with a wide array of desert flora without necessarily spending days hiking, biking, or driving, heading to the Tucson Botanical Gardens is a great start. Along with viewing local plants in a curated setting, you can also wander through a cloud of tropical butterflies in the orchid garden if you visit the gardens in the summer. There are also shopping and dining options on-site!
Sometimes, there’s nothing more romantic than a long drive, just the two of you — particularly if you’ve got some beautiful scenery to take in while you’re at it. The Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway is also known as the Catalina Highway or the Sky Islands Scenic Byway, and it runs from the northeast edge of town to climb 27 winding miles to the top of Mt. Lemmon (which sits at 9,157 feet). There are definitely plenty of photo opps!
Depending on your general attitude toward museums, you may think they’re anything but romantic — but the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is not your average museum. There’s something about viewing these dioramic displays in miniature that brings a smile to just about anyone’s face, and it’s a wonderful place to spend an afternoon with your sweetheart.
Bringing the whole family along for the fun? There are plenty of places to enjoy family fun in Tucson.
Shimmering in the rural desert landscape on the outskirts of Tucson, Biosphere 2 is something of a mystery even after you’ve enjoyed the tour — which will take you through a variety of unique indoor ecosystems including a rainforest, a desert, a savannah, and even an ocean. It’s a great way to get the kids interested in ecology and sustainability, and it’s fascinating for adults, too… and by the way, for an extra dose of insight once you get home, check out the documentary about the project, Spaceship Earth.
A day at the zoo is a classic family activity for good reason. Kids will enjoy visiting elephants, tortoises, giraffes and everything in between — and it’s also a prime location for events like birthdays. If you’re local, you can also take advantage of Reid Park Zoo‘s volunteer programs to help aid first-hand with conservation measures.
What’s up in Tucson after dark? So glad you asked. Here are some suggestions.
Offering musical comedy melodramas six nights a week, with five different shows per year, The Gaslight Theater is a perfect entertainment option fit for the whole family — and you get free popcorn, to boot!
Tucson itself may be a relatively big city, but it’s in a state with a whole lot of wide open spaces — which means it’s got great opportunities for stargazing. Kitt Peak is home to an observatory and it’s just an hour outside of town, making it a great option that’s close by enough to be readily accessible.
There’s plenty to see and do in Tucson all week long, but if you’re wondering what to do on Saturday and Sunday, here are some suggestions.
Want to take it back to the wild wild west? Old Tucson is a movie-studio-cum-outdoor-park set up to look like Tucson from the late 1800s, complete with saloons, eateries, and attractions fit for the whole family. Once you’re done wandering, head home to sit on the couch and watch one of the many movies that was filmed here — whether you laugh it up with “Three Amigos” or sink into the classic drama of “Tombstone.”
There’s nothing quite like a farmers market for bucolic weekend wandering, and luckily, the Tucson area has several to choose from. Heirloom holds farmers markets across the area, with options in Rillito Park, Green Valley, Steam Pump Ranch and more. Swing by for fresh produce, delicious prepared foods and a generally festive atmosphere!
Who couldn’t benefit from some R&R? After days spent exploring in the hot desert sun, head to these top spas in Tucson to get some well-deserved pampering.
Considered one of the best day spas in Tucson, Hashani Spa is tucked inside the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort. From classics like massage and facials to more detailed bodywork, like body wraps and eye treatments, you can find everything your heart and skin desires at this upscale spa location.
With two locations in Tucson, Spa Solai offers both beautifying and rejuvenating services in an undeniably beautiful atmosphere. They also employed an infectious disease expert in their quest to provide a highly sanitized experience after the COVID-19 outbreak, so you can rest assured that you’re in the safest hands possible.
Keeping up with your daily routine is important for both your physical and mental health. Here are some of the best gyms in Tucson to help you get grounded, gritty, and ready for action.
One of the most highly regarded gyms in Tucson for a reason, Prestige Fitness offers everything you need to make real changes in your physical fitness routine, including a free one-on-one consultation with a trainer. Once you’re a member, you’ll have access to a wide range of equipment and classes to help you do the work to get stronger.
Interested in going mano-a-mano with your fitness goals? Undisputed Tucson Gym is a one-stop-shop offering a variety of mixed martial arts classes as well as a fully equipped gym for cross-training. Go for a class or just to spend half an hour on the treadmill; either way, you’ll be making your way toward a stronger self.
Whether you’re looking for a gentle flow, a restorative yin class, or something more challenging, Tucson Yoga likely offers a practice that will fit your needs — and each class takes place in a warm, welcoming, friendly environment.
Tucson itself is awesome, but there are also some great places to check out in the nearby vicinity, too!
This historic copper mining town is now a thriving community of artists and musicians, and its walkable downtown area is as beautiful as it is fascinating. The remains of Queen Mine itself are also visible from the highway, and private tours of the mine are available.
A desert town established all the way back in 1752, you can still see the ruins of the original Spanish fort constructed at Tubac. Over the years, the town has been abandoned, destroyed, and resettled, and is these days filled with artists and bohemians who ventured into the desert to live a different sort of life.
I mean, how can you go this far south in Arizona without making a trip to Tombstone? Established back in 1879 by silver miners, Tombstone has captured the imagination of Americans — and film makers in particular — for decades. See it for yourself; it’s only a little over an hour outside of downtown Tucson.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Tucson that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Tucson? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.