Downtown Tucson - Things to Do, Places to Eat, Memories to Make

Downtown Tucson | Downtown Tucson - Things to Do, Places to Eat, Memories to Make

Nestled in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Downtown Tucson is a hidden gem that boasts a rich tapestry of culture, history, and entertainment. With its vibrant streets, diverse culinary scene, and a captivating blend of old and new, this dynamic district offers a unique experience for visitors and locals alike. In this article, we will take a comprehensive journey through downtown Tucson, exploring its captivating landmarks, artistic enclaves, culinary delights, and the pulsating energy that makes it a must-visit destination.

History of Downtown Tucson

Downtown Tucson was a vibrant hub of commerce and culture from the early 1900s through the 1960s. The Main Library opened in 1901, Rialto Theatre opened in 1920, and Fox Tucson Theatre opened in 1930. All three remain bedrocks of the downtown area.

Stores that were once in Downtown Tucson, but have since closed include Steinfeld's, Levy's, Dave Bloom & Sons, Albert Steinfield Hardware, Skaggs Drug Center, and J.C.Penney.

After falling into a slump in the 1960s through the 1990s, Downtown Tucson experienced a rebirth in the early 2000s with a new vision, refurbished streets, and a plethora of dining options.

Southern Arizona Heritage & Visitor Center

Begin your day at the Southern Arizona Heritage & Visitor Center at 115 N. Church Avenue. Located inside the Pima County Historic Courthouse, this is a MUST-DO stop for both locals and tourists. The nearly hundred year old building is an architectural and artistic marvel, which make it a destination in and of itself. Painted in a distinctive southwestern pink hue, the multi-story complex features a gorgeous mosaic dome, which has become an iconic Tucson symbol.

What can you do at the Southern Arizona Heritage & Visitor Center?

The center currently houses offices for some of the major Tucson attraction corporations: Pima County Attractions & Tourism, Pima County Administration, and Visit Tucson. That being said, it's so much more than just offices!

During your visit, you can:

  • See displays on native plants, animals, arts & culture, and the history of Tucson.
  • Walk inside the courtroom where John Dillinger (otherwise known as Public Enemy No 1) was tried after being captured in Tucson in 1934. Take time to also peruse the historical displays that outline other famous and little-known court cases that took place within the courthouse.
  • Order a cup of coffee or a treat from the on-site coffeehouse and enjoy your order in a delightful open air courtyard.
  • Pick up a Tucson souvenir from the gift shop.

When is the Southern Arizona Heritage & Visitor Center Open?

The center is open daily from 10:00am-5:00pm. Closed on holidays. Admission is free. Note that The University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum is also on-site and is ticketed.

Where to Park in Downtown Tucson

Parking downtown in any city can cause even the best drivers to be apprehensive. As far as downtowns go, though, it's relatively easy to park and get around Downtown Tucson.

There are more than 3,000 covered spaces in parking garages and almost 1,000 spaces in surface lots. Parking meters are located throughout downtown and range from 1/2 hour to 6-hour limits, at a rate of 50 cents per hour. There is no charge for metered parking after 5:00pm and on weekends/holidays.

The three largest parking garages in downtown Tucson - Pennington Street Garage, Centro Garage, and Depot Plaza Garage - all start at $2 for 1-2 hours. Stay for 7+ hours for only eight dollars!

You may also want to hop on and off the Tucson Streetcar as you explore the area. It's affordable (currently free!), comfortable, climate-controlled, and eco-friendly. Click here for a full guide on Where to Park in Downtown Tucson.

Attractions in Downtown Tucson

If you're looking for things to do in downtown Tucson and trying to put together an itinerary for a day or weekend, you'll want to make note of the below attractions. We've organized them in thematic categories so that you can quickly jump to the places you most want to go.

Museums in Downtown Tucson

There are currently 5 museums in Downtown Tucson:

  • Children's Museum Tucson (founded in 1986)
  • Presidio San Agustin del Tucson Museum (a re-creation of the Tucson Presidio built in 1775)
  • Southern Arizona Transportation Museum (opened in 2005)
  • Tucson Museum of Art (established in 1924)
  • The University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum (opened in 2022)

Although not in Downtown Tucson proper, other nearby museums include Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium, UA Poetry Center, and The University of Arizona Museum of Art.

Theatre in Downtown Tucson

If you are hoping to attend a concert, musical, symphony, or Broadway show in Tucson, there's a good chance you'll end up in downtown Tucson.

The theatres in Downtown Tucson are:

  • Fox Tucson Theatre (opened in 1930): A gorgeous, historic, intimate theatre with a quintessential exterior and breathtaking artistic interior. This theatre features concerts (especially country, classics, jazz), classic movies, comedy/magic shows, holiday programming, and school matinee shows for kids.
  • The Rialto Theatre (opened in 1920): Rialto shows tend to be edgier and less family-friendly, although there are some exceptions.
  • Temple of Music & Art (opened in 1927): Home of the Arizona Theatre Company.
  • Tucson Convention Center (originally opened in 1971): Leo Rich Theater, Linda Ronstadt Music Hall, and Tucson Arena. The Tucson Arena is home to the Tucson Sugar Skulls (professional indoor American football) and Tucson Roadrunners (professional ice hockey team), and is also the venue for the largest concerts and events in Tucson. Leo Rich Theater is a small theater that is currently rented out for high school & college productions as well as local dance studio recitals. Linda Ronstadt Music Hall (formerly Tucson Music Hall) is home of the Tucson Symphony and features a variety of smaller concerts, musicals, and plays throughout the year.

191 Toole, Club Congress at Hotel Congress, and Jácome Plaza also host musicians and bands throughout the year.

Music in Downtown Tucson

Most concerts and symphonies play at the above venues, however, it is not uncommon to find musicians at a variety of spaces around downtown - especially on 2nd Saturdays.

Family-Friendly Fun in Downtown Tucson

Although development has been robust in downtown Tucson in recent years, family-friendly attractions are lagging behind and sorely needed. We'd love to see additions of any of the following: an old-fashioned soda shop, a candy store, a family-friendly dinner theatre, a large playground, a splash pad, a children's destination bookstore, an elegant place to have afternoon tea, and more theatrical shows geared toward youth.

That being said, don't be discouraged! Downtown Tucson is still a fun experience for the whole family! Kids will naturally be drawn to the area as it is full of activity.

If you are planning a day downtown with your kids or grandkids, add these to-dos to your list:

  • Play at Children's Museum Tucson (ideal for ages 10 and under).
  • Enjoy a cold treat at a locally-owned ice cream shop: HUB Ice Cream or The Screamery.
  • Swim, take a class, or walk the indoor track at Lohse Family YMCA (currently undergoing a $4-5 million expansion project).
  • Admire the paintings and architecture at St Augustine Cathedral, which is free and open to the public.
  • Take a ride on the Tucson Streetcar.

Restaurants/Dining in Downtown Tucson

Foodies: rejoice! Downtown Tucson is truly shining when it comes to dining and no visit to downtown Tucson is complete without indulging in its culinary offerings. The district is a paradise for food enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of cuisines that reflect the city's multicultural heritage. In fact, there are over 50 restaurants to choose from and most are adorable, interesting, unique, and locally owned - with fresh ingredients and fun interiors. You'll also find many sidewalk and patio dining options so that you can fully enjoy the sun-soaked Tucson weather.

As you will note from the below list, stability has been somewhat of an issue in recent years - with at least half of the restaurants opening in the past five years. The fact remains, however, that if you want to experience the best and brightest chefs and the most cutting edge restaurants in Tucson, you will probably want to head downtown.

  1. Baggin's Gourmet Sandwiches
  2. Barbata and BATA (opened in 2022)
  3. Batch (opened in 2016)
  4. Berry Greens Acai & Juice Bar (opened in 2019)
  5. Bombole (opened in 2018)
  6. Borderlands Brewing Company (opened downtown location in 2022)
  7. Cafe 54 (opened in 2004)
  8. Cafe a la C'Art
  9. Caffe Luce (opened downtown location in 2015)
  10. Cartel Roasting Co
  11. CERES Pasta + Bread (opened in 2019)
  12. Charro Steak & Del Rey (opened in 2016)
  13. CRUDA Mariscos & Oyster Bar (opened in 2022)
  14. Cup Cafe (opened in 1995)
  15. Dandelion Cafe & Bakery (opened in 2023)
  16. The Delta (opened in 2022)
  17. Donut Bar Tucson (opened in 2020)
  18. El Charro Cafe (opened in 1922 - the nation's oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation!)
  19. El Mezquite Grill & Taqueria
  20. Eleven Cafe
  21. Elliot's on Congress (opened in 2012)
  22. Empire Pizza & Pub (opened in 2009)
  23. EZbachi (opened in 2022)
  24. Five to Oh Coffee (opened in 2021)
  25. HeeMee Coffee & Bakery (opened in 2019)
  26. HighWire (opened in 2015)
  27. HUB Ice Cream (opened in 2015)
  28. HUB Restaurant & Creamery (opened in 2011)
  29. Iguana Cafe & Bar
  30. Ike's Coffee and Tea
  31. JA Ramen (opened in downtown in 2022)
  32. Jimmy John's
  33. Johnny Gibson's Downtown Market (opened in 2015)
  34. The Kava Den (opened downtown location in 2022)
  35. La Chingada Cocina Mexicana (opened in 2020)
  36. LaCo Tucson
  37. Little Love Burger (opened in 2021)
  38. The Little One
  39. Maynards (opened in 2008)
  40. Miss Saigon
  41. The Monica (opened in 2022)
  42. The Neighborhood DWTN (opened in 2022)
  43. Nook (opened in 2015)
  44. Penca Restaurante (opened in 2013)
  45. Penelope Wood Fired Pizza (opened in 2022)
  46. Perche No (opened in 2021)
  47. Playground Bar & Lounge (opened in 2012)
  48. Raptor Canyon Cafe (opened in 2018)
  49. Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink (opened in 2012)
  50. Scented Leaf Teahouse & Lounge (opened in 2017)
  51. Street Taco & Beer Co (opened in 2015)
  52. Subway
  53. The Screamery (opened downtown location in 2016)
  54. Thunder Bacon Burger Co (opened 2021)

Although there are many excellent options, we would recommend that you start with the ones in bold.

To get a better grasp of the food scene in Downtown Tucson, consider booking a walking tour with Tucson Food Tours.

* NOTE: The restaurant scene in Tucson evolves rapidly - with restaurants opening/closing their doors and/or moving locations at a pace that is difficult to keep up with. Although our editorial team strives to keep up with and publish all new changes, you will want to call ahead to confirm address and hours.

Hotels in Downtown Tucson

There are currently 9 hotels in Downtown Tucson and many of them are very new!

After many years without chain hotels, Downtown Tucson is now home to quite a few options at a variety of price points. Hopefully a full-scale resort will be next!

  • AC Hotel by Marriott Tucson Downtown (opened in 2017)
  • The Blenman Inn (opened in 1878)
  • The Citizen Hotel (opened in 2022 - named after The Tucson Citizen)
  • Doubletree by Hilton Tucson Downtown Convention Center (opened in 2021)
  • Hampton Inn by Hilton Tucson Downtown (opened in 2021)
  • Home2Suites by Hilton Tucson Downtown (opened in 2021)
  • Hotel Congress (opened in 1919)
  • The Leo Kent (opened in 2023)

Walkable/Bikable Downtown Tucson

Is Downtown Tucson walkable?

Yes. Most of the streets have sidewalks and you can walk around and through the entire circumference of the downtown area (it's not huge). Alternatively, you can jump on the Tucson Streetcar to conveniently get from place to place .

Can you bike in Downtown Tucson? Are there designated bike paths?

You certainly can, but it can feel dangerous due to vehicle traffic - particularly if you are not an experienced biker. This is an area that Downtown Tucson could grow in. We'd love to see car-free streets, bicycles parking, and expanded safety measures.

TuGo bikes are available with a pay-as-you-go pass: $1 to unlock and 25 cents per minute. Monthly and annual passes can also be purchased by regular users.

Weddings in Downtown Tucson

A wedding in Downtown Tucson is a wonderful idea! The urban, artsy, and green spaces will lend themselves fabulously to one-of-a-kind wedding photos. Consider these stunning venues for ceremonies and receptions:

  • Kingan Gardens
  • The Stillwell House & Garden
  • Tucson Museum of Art

Signature Events in Downtown Tucson

Downtown Tucson hosts numerous events throughout the year. In addition to concerts and shows, some of the larger events that come to mind include:

  • 2nd Saturdays (2nd Saturday of every month)
  • All Souls Procession (November)
  • Downtown Parade of Lights (December)
  • Meet Me Downtown 5K Night Run/Walk (May or June)
  • Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Shows (January and February)
  • Tucson Jazz Festival (January)
  • Tucson Meet Yourself (October)

What is Missing in Downtown Tucson?

Downtown Tucson is alive and well. Visit on any weekday or weekend evening and you will find couples walking hand in hand, families licking ice cream cones, bands performing live on outdoor patios, and people standing in ticketed lines for all kinds of shows.

The editorial team at TucsonTopia is hoping that the following spaces will be added to Downtown Tucson in the coming year(s):

  • Large Playground
  • Splash Pad
  • Dinner Theatre with Family-Friendly Shows
  • Multi-Story Cozy Destination Bookstore, preferably with a built-in private dining room with an elegant afternoon tea experience
  • Literature-Inspired Sculptures (which would be very fitting since Tucson holds a massive Festival of Books every year!)

What is New in Downtown Tucson?

There is always something new in Downtown Tucson! New shops, offices, restaurants, and cultural attractions open frequently. The best way to stay in the know is to subscribe to TucsonTopia's free weekly THIS WEEK IN TUCSON newsletter.

Must-Dos in Downtown Tucson

MUST-DO lists are highly subjective to a person's interests, hobbies, and travel style/pace. That being said, if I had only one day in Downtown Tucson, I would make an itinerary like this:

One Perfect Day in Downtown Tucson

  • Start with breakfast at Maynards in a renovated historic train depot,
  • Stop in at Southern Arizona Heritage & Visitor Center to check out the displays and learn more about Tucson.
  • Jump on the Tucson Streetcar for your next destination.
  • If you have young children, spend a leisurely morning exploring Children's Museum Tucson. If you are solo or accompanied by teens or adults, marvel at the murals inside St. Augustine Cathedral.
  • Dine al fresco for lunch at Cafe a la C'Art.
  • Change into your workout clothes and hit the gym at the newly renovated Lohse Family YMCA.
  • Dine in style at Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink.
  • Catch an evening show at Fox Tucson Theatre.

Have a great time in Downtown Tucson!

SEE A FULL LISTING OF DOWNTOWN TUCSON EVENTS BELOW.

Wild Hope at Fox Tucson Theatre

Fox Tucson Theatre 17 West Congress Street, Tucson, AZ

National Geographic photographer, filmmaker, writer, and explorer Ami Vitale will take us on a journey! Through photography, film, and storytelling, she will share powerful stories that reframe the human-nature relationship– […]

$8

Kansas: Another Fork in the Road at Fox Tucson Theatre

Fox Tucson Theatre 17 West Congress Street, Tucson, AZ

With a legendary career spanning five decades, KANSAS has firmly established itself as one of America’s iconic classic rock bands. This “garage band” from Topeka released their debut album in […]

$20 – $124

Altan | Donegal to Tucson at Fox Tucson Theatre

Fox Tucson Theatre 17 West Congress Street, Tucson, AZ

With Celtic Steps Step Dancers and a guest fiddler from Ireland! No Irish traditional band in the last dozen years has had a wider impact on audiences and music lovers […]

$20 – $47.50

Trailblazing Women of Country at Fox Tucson Theatre

Fox Tucson Theatre 17 West Congress Street, Tucson, AZ

Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton revolutionized country music and blazed a trail for future generations of female artists. With their chart-topping hits and record-breaking sales, Patsy, Loretta, and […]

$20 – $47.50
Event Series Monster Jam at Tucson Arena

Monster Jam at Tucson Arena

Tucson Arena 260 S Church Ave, Tucson, AZ

Experience big-time family fun at Monster Jam®. The most unexpected, unscripted and unforgettable motorsports experience for families and fans in the world today returns to Tucson for an adrenaline-charged weekend […]

$23 – $60
Event Series Monster Jam at Tucson Arena

Monster Jam at Tucson Arena

Tucson Arena 260 S Church Ave, Tucson, AZ

Experience big-time family fun at Monster Jam®. The most unexpected, unscripted and unforgettable motorsports experience for families and fans in the world today returns to Tucson for an adrenaline-charged weekend […]

$23 – $60
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