Things to do in Tucson, AZ

Get Your Bearings in Tucson

By Patricia Escarcega
Tucson Expert

Stay
Eat
See & Do
Party
Shop

Where to Stay

Tucson's best hotels are divided between the posh desert resorts in the city's scenic north Tucson foothills area, and smaller boutique hotels located in and around the historic downtown quarter. For incredible mountain and sunset views, championship golf, and outdoor recreation, plan to stay at one of the city's resorts. If you prefer the downtown scene, a handful of historic hotels and B&B's keep you convenient to downtown museums, nightlife, shopping and restaurants. Either way, you'll need a car to get the most out of Tucson.  

Caution:

Book early during the high season, which is October through March.

What to Eat

Tucson restaurants are as diverse and eclectic as the city itself. Be sure to sample Tucson's best Mexican restaurants, which are arguably some of the best in the country. Downtown Tucson is where you'll find hip, eclectic cafes and bistros. In outlying areas, the city's posh resorts are home to world-class dining rooms. 

Be Sure to Sample:

Prickly pear margarita, chimichanga, Sonoran-style hot dog.

Things to See

Tucson is home to a major university, thriving arts, music and food scene, but with over 300 days of sunshine every year and incredible desert scenery, most of the city's top attractions will lead you into the great outdoors. Explore Tucson's excellent Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, take a day hike around scenic Sabino Canyon, or wander the trails at Saguaro National Monument. 

Avoid:

Hiking during the day in the summertime.

Hot Tips:

Pack plenty of water and sunscreen for the desert sunshine.

Places to Party

The best Tucson nightlife centers around the downtown scene where national touring acts, local bands, theater, and movie screenings happen on a nightly basis. Club Congress, the hip club headquartered inside the Hotel Congress, is the city's favorite late-night dance venue. Across the street, the Rialto Theatre plays host to up-and-coming acts and more than a few headliners. Down the road on Fourth Avenue, college bars and music venues stay open until the wee hours.  

Take It or Leave It:

The Downtown nightlife scene is popular with the local college student population.

Where to Shop

The best shopping in Tucson reflects the city's diversity and free-spirited desert ambiance. You'll find plenty of unique shops in the Fourth Avenue district near the downtown, as well as the nearby Lost Barrio, where you'll find custom furniture and Southwest-inspired home decor. For upscale shopping, head north to the foothills where you'll find La Encantada shopping district, home to upscale brands like Brooks Brothers, St. John, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., and Crate & Barrel.

Best Local Souvenir:

Desert honey, cactus candy, authentic Native American jewelry

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Things to do in Tucson


Tucson is known for...

Five of Tucson's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Saguaros:

These stately giants are an icon of the American West, and a symbol of Tucson, which is home to Saguaro National Park. Although certainly not warm and fuzzy, the Saguaro cactus has become so closely associated with the Southwest that it is impossible to walk into a Tucson souvenir shop without finding this sub-tropical plant etched on shot glasses, t-shirts, and postcards. Drive around the outskirts of Tucson and witness the grandeur of Saguaro forests nestled at the base of the city's hillsides and mountains. For a magnificent view, take the drive west onto Gates Pass Road.

2. Mexican Food:

Tucson claims to be the Mexican food capital of the United States. Who's to argue with them? Drive down 12th Avenue and witness the number of taco stands, carts, and sit-down eateries. It's easy to lose count. From casual Sonoran-style grub to authentic Mexico City-style street fare, you can find almost every variation here. Tucson is also home to the country's oldest family-run Mexican food restaurant, El Charro Cafe, located on Court Avenue in downtown Tucson.

3. Cowboys:

You probably won't hear the jangling spurs of cowboys walking down the streets of Tucson--this is a modern city, after all, not the turn-of-the-century West. But the city does preserve its Western and Southwestern heritage with celebrations like La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, a week-long celebration of the Western lifestyle that kicks off each year in February with a Rodeo Parade. The parade has been a Southern Arizona tradition since 1925, demonstrating Tucson's perennial cowboy spirit.

4. Resorts:

Oprah Winfey's favorite spa, Miraval, is located in the scenic outskirts of Tucson. Miraval is just one of Tucson's highly regarded resort spas. Others include The Westward Look Resort (a haven for winter visitors for more than 100 years), Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, The Westin La Paloma Resort, and Canyon Ranch Resort & Spa, among others. With mild winter weather, outstanding desert scenery, and big city amenities, Tucson has established itself as a destination for weary travelers everywhere seeking refuge in some of the Southwest's best world-class resort.

5. The University of Arizona:

Arizona's first public university, The University of Arizona, is one of the major employers in the Tucson area. More importantly, however, the university gives the city a vibrant college town atmosphere and contributes greatly to the diversity and breadth of its cultural scene. With a population of over 20,000 university students, it's no wonder that Tucson is replete with bars, pizzerias, bookstores, and other college hang-outs.