Before your kids grow up and move away, show them the best of Tucson and make memories that will last a lifetime.
You have 18 years – give or take – to show them what this city is all about.
1. Hike Sabino Canyon. Sabino Canyon is a Tucson MUST for residents and visitors alike. The sprawling desert is resplendent in beauty and you’ll feel small beside the waving Saguaros and towering rock ledges. If you have small children (even tots!), the East Dam is a great first hike. If you have older children and/or don’t mind hiking with a baby on your back, Seven Falls rewards you with water to splash and a wonderful picnicking spot. Cost is only $5/vehicle or $20/annual pass.
2. Wander the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Currently rated #1 out of 272 Tucson attractions on TripAdvisor, the Desert Museum is part-zoo, part-botanical gardens, and part museum. You’ll see mountain lions, bears, rattlesnakes, wolves, tarantulas, and hummingbirds with beauty in every direction. There is also a small aquarium on-site.
3. Take your camera to Trail Dust Town. Originally built in 1961, this historical outdoor shopping center and miniature Western theme park is a photo pop waiting to happen. If you have young children, they will love Polly Anna Park – which features a carousel, stagecoach-themed ferris wheel, train, and picnic tables. Older kids will whoop and holler at the Wild West Stunt Show. Plus, this place is instagram-central. So many great backdrops and props for posing.
4. Become a Junior Ranger at Saguaro National Park. Get to know Saguaro National Park in a hands-on, interactive way. Stop in at either Visitor Center to pick up your Self-guided Discovery Day Pack. The pack takes approximately 90 minutes to complete and is totally self-guided and can be completed at your child’s own pace. When they have completed their activity booklets, children are sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive an official badge and certificate. *Discovery packs may not be checked out after 2:00pm and must be returned by 4:30pm.
5. Play at Reid Park. One of Tucson’s largest and most historic parks, Gene C. Reid Park is situated on 131 acres in the heart of the city. Swing + slide at the playgrounds, take in nature’s perfume at the rose garden, or watch a concert/play at the outdoor amphitheater.
6. While you’re in the neighborhood, monkey around at the Reid Park Zoo. Bordered by the park and Randolph Golf Course, the 24-acre zoo was founded in 1965 and is home to hundreds of animals. Although it’s not a particularly large zoo, it is clean, well-kept, and well-laid-out. There is even a small splash area to help you keep cool in the warmer months!
7. Run a 5k together. Tucson has lots to offer families who like fitness challenges – plentiful sunshine, mild winters, moderate weather, and several different running companies that put on 5Ks, 1/2 marathons, and marathons. Many races feature 1-mile kids runs and post-race areas just for small children! Choose a distance goal and hit the pavement with your child or teen. You’ll make memories that last a lifetime.
8. Peruse the shelves at Bookmans. This Arizona-based used bookstore chain has three different Tucson locations – and kids love them all. Pick up books, movies, and games (including the video type) for rock-bottom prices.
9. Up-up-and-away at Pima Air & Space Museum. As one of the world’s largest aerospace museums, it is known for its significant collection of 300+ commercial, private, civil, and military aircraft.
10. Get a library card for every member of your family. Where can you get the hottest DVDs, the best NY-Times Best Sellers, inspiring picture books, and CDs of all your favorite bands? All for FREE? The public library, of course!
11. Hike Pima Canyon. This secluded, peaceful canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains in northwest Tucson is a fantastic place for heart-to-hearts. Don’t miss out on the chance to introduce your child(ren) to the wild beauty of the Sonoran Desert.
12. Yell “Encore!” at a Broadway in Tucson musical. Splurge on tickets to a kid-friendly musical and enjoy seeing top talent perform on-stage at UA Centennial Hall. Not sure which show to see? Stick to the classics like Mary Poppins, Cinderella, Newsies, Sound of Music, The Lion King, etc.
13. Ride the Tucson Streetcar. Most kids love public transportation – and your whole family is sure to enjoy zipping through the city center on our sleek, new, blue streetcars. Ride to HUB Ice Cream Factory for a treat, to Agustin Kitchen for brunch, to the Children’s Museum to play, or to the University of Arizona to roam.
14. Get some culture at Tucson Museum of Art. Bring a sketchpad, a set of colored pencils, and your imagination to Tucson’s art museum. A diamond in the rough, this museum is actually a very pretty building with a revolving collection. Children under age 18 are always free. Stay for brunch or lunch at Cafe a La C’Art.
15. Browse at DeGrazia Gallery. Even if you’re not a diehard Ted DeGrazia fan, there are still plenty of reasons to go to this 10-acre art gallery where the artist lived, worked, and is buried. Open daily from 10:00am to 4:00pm, it’s FREE!
16. Order Milkshakes at Little Anthony’s Diner. Be-bop into this 50’s cafe – with sparkly red seats, checkered floors, and servers in costume. You’ll listen to oldies tunes and feel like a million bucks with a milkshake in-hand. Go for the whipped cream and cherry on top for added fun and nostalgia. The pizza here is pretty good too!
17. Take a drive up Mt. Lemmon. Searching for snow? You’ll find it in the winter on Mt. Lemmon. Or you can escape to slightly cooler temps in the summer. Either way, be sure to take the ski lift, just to feel your feet dangle off the edge.
18. Eat Brunch at a Fancy Resort. Even just once. The mouthwatering spread of food and culinary artistry will make your mouth water. We especially recommend Hacienda Del Sol, AZuL at Westin La Paloma, or Tanque Verde Ranch.
19. Walk the UA campus (or cheer on your favorite teams at a game!). Indoctrination at an early age is the key (just kidding!). Aside from the fact that the UofA boasts top-notch academics, groundbreaking researchers, and superb sports teams, it’s also a really pretty campus – with long green lawns, waving palm trees, and warm brick architecture.
20. Go to breakfast or dessert in Downtown Tucson. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the bustling and growing area. If you’ve lived here more than ten years and haven’t been down there, NOW is the time. It’s clean, modern, and vibrant. Don’t let the parking scare you. It’s fun, fun, FUN – for all ages. Sure, we’d love to see more family-friendly venues – a large bookstore, a dine-in children’s theatre, renovations at the main library, a splash pad, or a park – but it’s still a great place to check out.
21. Go to Tucson Festival of Books. TFOB is a signature Tucson event that celebrates books and literacy. Founded in 2009, the two-day event is the fourth-largest book festival in the country. The fest features book signings, panel discussions, staged entertainment, food vendors, children’s and Science City programming, and dozens of free activities for all ages on the University of Arizona Mall.
22. Bike, baby, bike. Why? Because Tucson is constantly winning awards for being bike-friendly! Ride as a family in your neighborhood, at the local park, or via an organized ride.
23. Taste an eegee’s. The drink, that is. Founded in 1971, this Tucson chain has 26 restaurants and it’s a Tucson “thing.” The frozen fruit drinks come in strawberry, lemon, piña colada, and the flavor the month. Feel free to do half one flavor and half another. Tip: try the ranch fries.
24. Make the drive to the Grand Canyon. We know it’s not in Tucson, but you have got to go to the canyon while you’re so close. Google maps puts it as 5 hours, 3 minutes. While you’re at it, see Sedona too. Both are magnificent. Absolute must-sees for Arizonans.
How many of the 24 have you done with your children?
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