search

Tucson With Kids: 10 Fun Things to Do With the Whole Family



Whether you're just passing through Tucson for a day, or you're taking the family on an extended desert adventure, Tucson has more than its share of family-friendly attractions.

If you're traveling with young children, plan a stop at the Tucson's Children Museum in downtown. The interactive exhibits include an art studio, grocery store, and science station, encouraging your little ones to play, explore, and learn in a safe and fun hands-on setting.

Young and older kids alike will love a visit to Old Tucson Studios on Tucson's west side, where classic films like Tombstone and The Three Amigos were filmed. Musical revues, high noon shoot-'em-ups, and train rides are part of the fun at this historic film studio.

Located a short drive from Old Tucson Studios, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a quintessential Tucson attraction that will appeal to everyone in the family. Explore more than 21 acres of pristine desert gardens, catch a glimpse of a mountain lion, and get up and close with dozens of hummingbirds in the hummingbird aviary.

For a quirky detour, take the family to the Mini Time Machine Museum. While you won't find any time machines here, there's little doubt kids will love exploring the 275 miniature houses and room boxes housed at this unique museum. 

Keep reading for more things to do with kids in Tucson. 


Advertisement

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.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The Gadsen-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum is a must for lovers of railroad memorabilia.

Patricia's expert tip: The toy train museum is open the second and fourth Sundays of every month except June, July and August.

Read more about Gadsden Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum →




The Reid Park Zoo has been a midtown Tucson institution since it was founded in 1967. The city-owned park and non-profit zoo stretches out across 17-acres in the heart of the city and is home to more than 500 animals. You'll see ostriches, jaguars and, yes, even polar bears. The zoo also boasts an impressive aviary exhibit. The South American exhibit is another crowd favorite. Reid Park Zoo has been active over the year in helping preserve endanger species, including ruffed lemurs and Siberian tigers. If zoos aren't your type of thing, the park is full of green spaces, jogging trails and recreational amenities.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Reid Park Zoo is a peaceful, kid-friendly sanctuary in the heart of midtown Tucson.

Patricia's expert tip: Check out the fun, behind-the-scenes tours.

Read more about Reid Park Zoo →




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...

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The International Wildlife Museum is a quirky, fascinating look into the (nearly) lost art of taxidermy.

Patricia's expert tip: Guided tours are available for 50 cents plus the cost of admission.

Read more about International Wildlife Museum →


Advertisement


Set in the heart of the city, the Tucson Botanical Gardens offers plenty of winding pathways, taking visitors past floral exhibits, greenhouses, classrooms for instruction, and a superb exhibit on xeriscaping, a concept of planning yards and gardens using minimal water in the desert climate. Don't miss the iris garden, the herb garden, the unique tropical exhibit or the well-stocked gift shop. The garden regularly hosts special events, such as music in the garden, a butterfly exhibit, and a special luminaria event during the winter holiday season. Whimisical and informative, the Tucson Botanical Garden offers visitors special insight into the plant life of the desert.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Tucson Botanical Gardens features plenty for kids, including the Children's Discovery Garden, which teaches kids about the life cycle of a plant.

Patricia's expert tip: Free admission for children 3 and under.

Read more about Tucson Botanical Gardens →




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.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The Mini-Time Machine is a quirky museum of miniatures is entertaining for both kids and adults.

Patricia's expert tip: Youth, senior and military discounts are available. Children 3 and under are free.

Read more about The Mini-Time Machine, A Museum of Miniatures →




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 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, gunfights, 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.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Old Tucson Studio offers visitors a fun trip back in Western movie history.

Patricia's expert tip: Check the website for special events.

Read more about Old Tucson Studios →


Biosphere 2 Center


Biosphere 2 is a self-contained, man-made habitat that comprises all of the elements from Earth (Biosphere 1). It is a sealed glass and space frame construction with seven wilderness ecosystems. Today, Biosphere 2 is operated as a research station by the University of Arizona, which also maintains a branch of the university on the grounds. Guided tours take visitors through several of the biomes, as well as the biospherian's former living quarters and the technical rooms that control the various interior climates. Recently named one of the 50 must see "Wonders of the World" by Time Magazine, Biosphere 2 offers an insightful glimpse into the future of our planet.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Biosphere is a unique Tucson attraction that gives kids an unforgettable glimpse into a self-contained habitat.

Patricia's expert tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes--the Biosphere 2 tour includes plenty of walking and standing.

Read more about Biosphere 2 Center →




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. 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. This is a great family-friendly attraction that gives kids a close-up look at some of the most historic aircraft in the country.

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The Pima Air and Space Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into aviation history.

Patricia's expert tip: Children under 6 receive free admission.

Read more about Pima Air and Space Museum →




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!

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: Tucson's Children Museum is a fun, interactive attraction that young children and their parents will love.

Patricia's expert tip: Don't miss Andra's Garden, a courtyard garden cared for by Janos Wilder, chef & owner of Tucson's Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails.

Read more about Tucson Children's Museum →




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!

Recommended for Things to Do with Kids because: The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum gives kids an up-close look at the fauna and flora of the Sonoran desert.

Patricia's expert tip: This is a "living" outdoor museum. Pack some sunscreen and water.

Read more about Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum →


Map

Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.

×