10 Best Family-Friendly Museums in Tucson: Fun Destinations for the Whole Family

There are no shortage of fun, family-friendly museums in Tucson.

Start with a visit to the Children's Museum of Tucson, which features exhibits on everything from dinosaurs to grocery shopping. Younger kids will love dabbling in the art studio, and the whole family will love learning the mysteries behind the power grid in the "Electri-City" exhibit.

For aviation buffs, plan a visit to the Pima Air and Space Museum, which has been one of Tucson's star attractions since it first opened doors in 1976. The museum property is laid out over 150 acres populated by a collection of more than 250 aircraft.

One of the city's biggest family-friendly attractions is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This popular "living museum" is set on 21 acres of pristine desert. Families can enjoy strolling the winding garden trails, and catching a glimpse of endangered species like the Mexican wolf, thick-billed parrot, ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi. There's also a popular hummingbird aviary that offers a close-up look at the small, whimsical birds.

If the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is on your itinerary, plan a pit stop at the International Wildlife Museum, which is also on Tucson's west side. Even if you're not a big fan of taxidermy, the museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of stuffed and preserved animals and insects. Kids can touch real animal skulls, fur and skin. Talk about hands-on learning!



El Presidio

El Presidio was Tucson's first neighborhood. Named for the Spanish-built Presidio de San Augustin del Tucson, the historic area is the site of the original walled fort of Tucson, built when the US Army established a presence here. Though none of the original wall remains, many of the original adobe homes and buildings still stand, and are occasionally showcased during home tours. Top attractions here include the Tucson Museum of Art, Old Town Artisans, and El Charro Restaurant. Bordered by West 6th, Sunset Park, South Arizona, and Freeway Street. Don't miss the free tours offered by the Tucson Museum of Art. Check with the museum for seasonal hours.

The Gadsden-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum in Tucson is run by a non-profit group of dedicated model railroaders in the Old Pueblo. This small, offbeat museum has unique displays of railroad memorabilia. One of the most prized exhibits is the Rio Grande Steel Sided Caboose 01433, whic is located just outside the museum. Visitors can enjoy a vast array of framed railroad art, including photographs, prints, graphic arts, and line art. There are also various antique toy trains and display castles. The toy train museum has limited hours, so be sure to call ahead or check the website before scheduling your visit.

Tohono Chul Park is an award-winning botanical garden in northwest Tucson. The park has been open for more than 25 years, bringing together nature, art and culture in unique and insightful exhibits. The park's gardens were designed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. A stroll through the gardens can also provide you with glimpses of birds, lizards, jackrabbits and even the occasional bobcat and rattlesnake sighting. The park is also home to art gallery, fine dining bistro and a gift shop. Tohono Chul Park hosts weekly events and classes. Check out the website to see what's in bloom during your visit.

Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block

The Tucson Museum of Art houses a permanent exhibit of pre-Columbian art, Western art, Latin American art (from ancient to contemporary), modern and contemporary art, and Asian art, plus traveling exhibits. It also houses an art school and an art library. There is a fine gift shop within the museum, as well. Located in the historic El Presidio (the original walled city), the Art Museum shares the district with historic homes, one of which is on the National Register of Historic Places. All are within easy walking distance of the museum. Old Town Artisans, a shopping and dining destination, is also nearby.

It may seem a bit unorthodox these days to center a museum around a collection of stuffed and preserved animals and insects, but this one actually succeeds. Starting with the holdings of numerous educational institutions and individuals, the curators here have developed an engaging, hands-on learning experience. True, the taxidermists' craft is well represented, but where else can kids (and adults) touch and handle real skulls, fur and skin? And unless you see them up close, it's difficult at best to envision the size and mass of a rhino, a grizzly bear or an elephant. And while you've probably seen "Ice Age" at least once, there are only a handful of places to see a real saber-tooth cat, and this is one of them! Those are some mighty long fangs...

The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson is a 15,560 square foot facility that likes to think of itself as a miniature time machine where you can step back in time--in miniature form. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy a self-guided tour through the various rooms, which represent different lands and times, real and imagined. The museum is home to over 275 miniature houses and room boxes. No matter what your inspiration, everyone in your group is likely to find a favorite room and time period. This museum of miniatures is perfect for kids, but adults are also likely to enjoy a tour of this offbeat museum.

The setting for many favorite Western movies (including Tombstone, Gunfight at the OK Corral, The Three Amigos, and countless John Wayne flicks), the Old Tucson Movie Studio had become something of a cinematic legend. Though a fire destroyed part of the studio in 1995, it has been carefully restored. Guests are treated to great views of the Tucson Mountains and the Sonoran Dessert. Attractions have been expanded to include pony rides, carnival games, stagecoach tours, exhibits and an Opera House featuring live performances. Shopping and dining are plentiful at this unique attraction that offers a nostalgic glimpse of the Old West.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of Tucson's star attractions, with good reason. Part zoo, part natural history museum, and part botanical garden, the facility is set on 21 acres and is home to numerous animals that roam freely within invisibly-fenced enclosures. After checking out the exhibits in the main visitor center, wander along two miles of paved pathways, where you can catch sight of endangered species such as the Mexican wolf, thick-billed parrot, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, and the Gila topminnow; and not-so-endangered critters like leafcutter ants, black bears, river otters, bighorn sheep, coatis, beavers, coyote, javelinas, black-tailed prairie dogs, termites and roadrunners. And don't miss the captivating cactus garden or the Hummingbird Aviary!

Aviation buffs, this one's for you. The Museum opened to the public in May, 1976, with 75 aircraft on display. Since then the collection has grown to over 250 aircraft occupying 80 acres of land, making this one of the most popular attractions in town. The entire museum property covers about 150 acres. One plane of interest is the Lockheed Tristar, used by John Kennedy as Air Force One on short flights or flights to small airports. This museum also operates the Titan Missile Museum. Package admissions to both sites are available. For a snack break with the kids, check out the museum's restaurant, Flight Grill.

This Tucson institution is brimming with fun learning activities that cover several topics. The Dinosaur World exhibits make this the perfect companion to the T Rex Museum for your little paleontologist. If you have a budding train engineer or firefighter on your hands, they'll love being able to dress up like their heroes and role play. Young scientists will be enamored of "ZOOM Into The Zone," which is based on the PBS show, and mini conservationists will appreciate the green approach in the "Electri-City" exhibit. The art studio appeals to petite Picassos, and the bakery and farmer's market are ideal for Julia Child wannabes. Whatever your little ones aspire to, they can try it out here first, and have a blast doing it!


Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.