As the second-largest city in Arizona, there are uncountable things to do in Tucson, both downtown and a short drive from town, no matter your interests. Below are some of the best things to do in downtown Tucson and the surrounding area, whether you’re visiting in the heat of the summer months (AC, please!) or want to get outside and explore during the cooler months.
Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block
At the intersection of history and art, both important themes throughout this Southwestern city, you’ll find the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block. Wander through galleries set up inside historical adobe homes, structured like a little Mexican village. Inside each one, you’ll find a different art theme, ranging from the American West and Latin America to contemporary art.
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Discount tickets: Get the Southern Tuscon City Card which will give you 2-for-1 entrance to the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block.
Hotel Congress, built in 1918, is a historic hotel in downtown Tucson. It’s infamous for the capture of famed bank robber John Dillinger in 1934 and now, in addition to being a top accommodation option, Hotel Congress offers arguably the best brunch in town.
They also have frequent entertainment and shows, like drag shows, live music, jazz shows, karaoke, and more. Be sure to check their calendar.
No trip to the city of Tucson is complete without a stroll down Fourth Avenue, home to all things quirky. Check out Antigone Books, the first solar-powered bookstore, or indulge your inner child at Generation Cool with games from the 80s and 90s. You can also find D&D Pinball and other entertainment like Tucson Improv, along with many little cafes and shops.
There is also a nice co-op grocery store, Food Conspiracy Co-op. 4th Avenue also hosts several street fairs throughout the year, so be sure to check the calendar.
Don’t miss BOCA Tacos Y Tequila, a great spot for lunch or dinner!
Fox Theater, aka the “crown jewel of Tucson”, is the perfect place to relax and take in a show on the big screen. Originally built in the 1930s, the theater still hosts a wide range of ballets, concerts, and classic film screenings.
Recent activities held at the theater include a Bohemian Rhapsody Sing-A-Long, Monsoon Literary Celebration, screening of The Breakfast Club, Viva! Performing Arts.
Old Town Artisans
Located in the historic district on the site of El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson (the fort built by the Spanish to stake a claim on New Spain), Old Town Artisans is a block of unique shops and cafes, each one independently run.
You can find Native American art, a record shop, a tattoo parlor, artisan pasta, pubs, cafes, contemporary art, and other gift shops.
Veinte de Agosto Park
Named after the day Mexico’s War for Independence began against Spain (August 20, 1775), Veinte de Agosto Park is just the place to go and relax. There are benches and picnic tables, perfect for enjoying lunch in a relaxed setting, as well as a nice walking path. Many events and celebrations are also held at the park throughout the year.
El Charro Cafe
If there was one restaurant in Tucson that everyone should stop by, it would be El Charro Cafe. This restaurant has been a landmark in the city for years, with neon lights and Mexican decorations. And the food? The food is the best Mexican food you’ll find in Tucson.
It’s also said that the restaurant is the Nation’s Oldest Mexican Restaurant with continuous ownership by the same family since 1922!
Breweries & Pubs
Tucson is an up-and-coming destination for breweries so if craft beer is your thing, be sure to stop by a brewery or two. Many have sample flights available, along with food. A few of note are Barrio Brewing and Pueblo Vida Brewing Co in the Congress Street District and Bawker Bawker Cider House along 4th Avenue.
DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum
Part museum, part art gallery, the DeGrazia Gallery is another unique Tucson art installation worth visiting. The museum is dedicated to artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia and the gallery consists of buildings such as a ceramic studio, a ghost house, and more, all built with traditional techniques and materials like cactus flooring.
There are 6 permanent collections and several rotating collections, plus work by guest artists at certain times of the year.
Discount tickets: Get the Southern Tuscon City Card which will give you 2-for-1 entrance to DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum.
University of Arizona
It’s all but impossible to miss the University of Arizona if you’re in downtown Tucson and it turns out the campus itself is actually worth a stroll. E. University Blvd is home to many cafes and bars, so it’s a great spot for lunch. Feet tired? Jump on the free streetcar in the area. On-campus you can also find the Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona Museum of Art, History of Pharmacy Museum, and more.
Also known as “A” mountain due to the A painted on the side after a University of Arizona football team victory, Sentinel Peak offers incredible mountain views as it overlooks downtown Tucson. It’s also the best spot for sunset, with stunning 360 views.
Wish upon a wishing well at El Tiradito! The story behind this Catholic shrine, perhaps the only one ever made to a sinner, is quite interesting. Basically, Juan Oliveras cheated on his wife with his mother-in-law and was axed to death by his father-in-law when they got caught. Since his mistress (aka his mother-in-law) couldn’t give him a proper burial, she buried him where he died.
For whatever reason, it turned into a shrine and though the original location has moved, you can still visit to leave candles, wishes, hopes, photos, etc. If your candle makes it through the night, supposedly El Tiradito will grant your wish.
Children’s Museum Tucson
If you find yourself in Tucson on a hot day with kids, head to the Children’s Museum Tucson. It’s a must-see year-round but makes for a lovely reprieve from the hot weather.
The museum is full of interactive exhibits for hands-on learning, all geared at children from toddlers and up. They also have special events throughout the year so check the calendar before you visit.
Reid Park Zoo
A small, non-profit zoo just outside of downtown with around 500 animals, the Reid Park Zoo is a must if you’re visiting Tucson with kids. Though it may seem small when compared to the San Diego Zoo or National Zoo, it still offers an unforgettable time for the little ones with local desert animals as well as lions, zebras, elephants, and other species from around the world.
Discount tickets: Get the Southern Tuscon City Card which will give you 2-for-1 entrance to Reid Park Zoo.
Barrio Viejo is a historic working-class neighborhood with colorful adobe homes. A real treat for photographers. Be respectful because it is a neighborhood people (and families) live in.
The area has had its ups and downs with razing, gentrification, and now revitalization, and many people considered it the cultural heart of the city. The neighborhood was also known as Barrio Libre (Free) because it was free of rules and regulations and you can still see whispers of counter-culture here.
(Meyer & 17th/19th, Park at Meyer/19th, walk back. Continue on Meyer at 19th and around the block to the left.)
Sprinkled throughout downtown Tucson is a wonderful collection of murals. Here is a list of 45! Tucson has a solid art scene full of talented artists, many of whom take their creativity to the streets. Err. The walls.
A Sampling of Must See’s Outside of Downtown Tucson
Mission San Xavier del Bac
San Xavier del Bac Mission is a National Historic Landmark and one of the most recognized buildings in Tucson. The Catholic Mission, which is still active today, is considered one of the first examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States.
It’s open to the public, though check the website for current availability as tours were halted during the pandemic.
Discount tickets: Get the Southern Tuscon City Card which will give you 2-for-1 entrance to Mission San Xavier del Bac.
PIMA Air and Space Museum
Located just outside downtown Tucson is one of the largest non-government-funded aviation and space museums in the world! At the PIMA Air and Space Museum, you can find over 400 historic aircraft on 80 acres, including the Wright Flyer. A bucket list place for these interested in space and aviation!
Discount tickets: Get the Southern Tuscon City Card which will give you 2-for-1 entrance to the Pima Air & Space Museum.
Here is my article on my day at the Pima Space Museum.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Located a bit west of downtown Tucson, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a one-stop-shop that’s well worth the drive. Within the grounds of the 98-acre museum, you’ll find an aquarium, natural history museum, zoo, botanical garden, and more.
Not to mention the 200 species of desert animals and 1,000 types of plants! No wonder it’s one of the most-visited attractions in the entire state of Arizona.
Located inside the Coronado National Forest and Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon is a piece of the desert everyone should see. If you’re up for it, there are several hikes with breathtaking views, of varying difficulty. Or if you’re not up for a trek in the heat, hop on the canyon tram for a scenic drive and hop off at any of the 9 stops along the way for a bit more sightseeing.
Discount tickets: Get the Southern Tuscon City Card which will give you 2-for-1 entrance to the Sabino Canyon Crawler.
Saguaro National Park
One of the only national parks in the area, the Saguaro National Park is located both east and west of downtown Tucson. This park is home to the largest cacti in the nation and the symbol of the American West, the giant saguaro.
There are loads of trails to hike at the park but just note that sunny days can be HOT in the desert, so be sure to bring lots of water, sunscreen, etc!
Old Tucson Studios
If you ever watched the Little House on the Prairie movie, you’ve seen Old Tucson Studios on film. This movie set was designed to represent the Wild West in films, TV shows, and commercials. Before 2020, it was one of the most popular attractions in Tucson but, unfortunately, it is currently closed indefinitely.
Kitt Peak National Observatory
With 24 different telescopes, Kitt Peak is not only home to the largest collection of astronomical equipment in the world, it’s one of the best places in the United States for stargazing. Visit at sunset to use a telescope and watch the cosmos above the Sonoran desert or during the day to learn about the history of astronomy and the invention of the telescope.
Downtown Clifton Hotel
If you want to stay in downtown Tucson then look no further than the fun and funky, totally retro Downtown Clifton Hotel! You can walk to many of the locations I listed in the downtown Tucson area!
Tucson, Arizona is a large, sprawling city with an endless array of activities. No matter when you visit or what your interests are, you’ll certainly find something to do. It’s a great city to just spend the day lost in, wandering Congress Street, 4th Avenue, and the University of Arizona campus. Here is a great self-guided walking tour you might consider for downtown Tucson.
Find a spot to enjoy lunch or pass by a brewery and don’t forget to make a wish to El Tiradito!
I wrote an article about the 7 things you need to pack to visit Phoenix but they absolutely apply to a visit Tucson as well!
If you want my FULL Phoenix and Tucson Travel Planner with day trips and things to do in Phoenix and Tucson, it is available for $4.99.
How about you? Have anything else in downtown Tucson to add? Do share!
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