12 Things To Do With Family In Tucson, Arizona

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by Robert Wilson


Tucson is a vibrant desert city in southern Arizona surrounded by mountain ranges and filled with rich history and culture. With its sunny weather and natural beauty, Tucson offers many fun family-friendly activities that allow you to experience the unique landscape and heritage of the American Southwest.

From exploring historic sites and museums to hiking desert trails and cooling off at water parks, there are plenty of things to do with kids of all ages in Tucson. This article highlights 12 of the top attractions and activities for families visiting this southwestern gem. With tactical tips for visiting each destination, you’ll be prepared to create special memories with your loved ones in the Old Pueblo.

Explore the Desert Landscape at Saguaro National Park

The saguaro cactus is an enduring symbol of the Sonoran Desert, with its iconic arm-like extensions reaching high into the air. Saguaro National Park protects some of the densest forests of these majestic plants, offering a peek into the desert’s ecological wonder.

The park is divided into two sections on the east and west sides of Tucson. Take leisurely hikes along the designated wilderness trails to observe saguaros up close amidst the arid yet beautiful desert scrub. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to spot wildlife. Bring lots of water, protective clothing, and hats when exploring the park.

Stand in Awe Below Arizona’s Tallest Waterfall at Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area provides refreshing respite from the desert heat. Kids will enjoy walking, jogging, or biking on the paved 3.8-mile road traversing the canyon lined with cottonwoods and cacti. Hop on the tram for convenient transportation into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains to see the seasonal Sabino Canyon Falls.

After wet winters, the falls cascade over 50 feet high into a natural pool below – the tallest waterfall completely contained within Arizona. Pack a picnic to enjoy amidst the streamside vegetation of the canyon.

Learn about Desert Ecology at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is part zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum, and aquarium all in one. Walk through outdoor reptile and mammal enclosures housing native species like roadrunners, coyotes, mountain lions, and Mexican gray wolves.

The museum’s living collection also includes a riparian habitat filled with beavers, fish, and waterfowl. Indoor galleries feature animated desert dioramas while botanical displays acquaint you with cacti and other desert-adapted plants. The museum offers special programs just for kids like the Desert Detectives Adventure Hike. Plan to spend half a day or more fully exploring this unique attraction.

Marvel at Airplanes and Spacecraft at Pima Air and Space Museum

Budding astronauts and aviators will be thrilled by the impressive aircraft collection housed at the Pima Air and Space Museum. As one of the largest non-government funded aviation museums in the world, highlights include a SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and aircraft used by past U.S. Presidents.

Kids can enter the cockpits of certain planes and experience flight simulators. Indoor galleries provide glimpses of space travel and Arizona’s role in aeronautics history. When ready for a break, grab a bite at the on-site Flight Grill Restaurant.

Step Back in Time at the Arizona Historical Society Museum

The Arizona Historical Society Museum provides an enriching opportunity to immerse your family in the culture and history of Tucson and the greater southwest region. Permanent exhibits feature prehistoric Native American artifacts, clothing and possessions of early Spanish missionaries, and relics from the Old West era.

Kids will enjoy the hands-on displays like the mining tunnel, vintage locomotive cab, and 1920s garage. On the second Saturday of each month, the museum hosts free Kid’s Days with arts, crafts, and educational activities. Stop by the adjoining library and archives to do some fun family history sleuthing.

Splash Down Waterslides at Tucson’s Best Water Parks

With Tucson’s hot and dry climate, water parks provide the perfect place to cool down with fun aquatic excitement. Built in the 1960s, Big Surf Waterpark is Arizona’s first and largest waterpark. It features the Black Hole body slide with its dizzying pitch-black tunnel as well as the steep Knarly tube ride.

Adjacent Safari Mini Golf offers 18 holes with scenic Tucson Mountain backdrops. For more modern thrill rides, experience Sidewinder, Aqua Rush, and other slides at popular Wet ‘n Wild Waterpark on the northwest side of the city. With lifeguards constantly surveying the pools and slides, Tucson’s water parks allow family members of all swimming abilities to have an enjoyable and safe water experience.

Saddle Up on a Trail Ride in Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains with over 5,500 acres of foothills to explore on horseback. Its equestrian center offers guided trail rides suitable for novice and experienced riders, including young children led on a lead line.

Experienced wranglers match horses to each rider’s skill level. As your trusty steed carries you into the park’s backcountry, keep watch for desert cottontails, jackrabbits, roadrunners, and coyotes while also enjoying panoramic mountain vistas. Return to the stables for a snack after your memorable desert trail ride adventure.

Get Up Close with Raptors at the Tucson Botanical Gardens

A unique family experience awaits at the Tucson Botanical Gardens’ Birds and Butterflies exhibit. Walk into the large outdoor aviary inhabited by over 50 birds, like cardinals, finches, quail, and birds of prey. Depending on when you visit, interact with different raptor species during regularly scheduled free-flight demonstrations.

Educators glove-train hawks, falcons, and owls to fly to designated perches allowing visitors to safely view the impressive hunting birds up close. When ready to relax, have a picnic on the lawn and then meander through the Butterfly Garden to spot fluttering orange monarchs, black swallowtails, and other native pollinator insects.

Catch a Show at Trail Dust Town


For family-style western entertainment, saddle up for an evening at Trail Dust Town. Kids adore the shootouts with bank and train robbers actors that happen regularly. Wander through the recreated 1880s style pioneer town that includes a saloon, jailhouse, general store, and other buildings reminiscent of Arizona’s early mining heydays. Catch a show at Pinnacle Peak Patio’s open-air theater with options like musical tributes to classic country icons or performances by trick roping cowboys. Parents can sip a prickly pear margarita while kids frolic around the town’s wooden boardwalks and rustic façades.

The Old Town Artisans complex celebrates Tucson’s cultural diversity with adobe-style buildings housing galleries, boutiques, and cafes. Kids enjoy weaving through the labyrinthine walkways viewing vibrant wall murals depicting southwest imagery. Pop into one of the complex’s 50 unique shops to find Native American jewelry and pottery direct from area artists and craftspeople.

Grab some raspados, sweet icy treats popular in Mexico and throughout the Southwest, to snack on as you browse. Family-owned restaurants like La Cocina provide tasty quick bites in an intimate courtyard setting. From handmade soaps to ironwork sculpture, Old Town Artisans offers creative gift options and memorable art encounters.

Celebrate Western History at the Tucson Rodeo

Since its inaugural event in 1925, the yearly Tucson Rodeo attracts some of the best cowboys and cowgirls competing in standard rodeo events like steer wrestling, tie-down roping, and ladies’ barrel racing. Families flock to the mid-February festivities that include a parade, carnival rides, mutton busting for kids, and live entertainment.

Watch cowboys try to conquer feisty bucking bulls and broncos that can buck up to six feet in the air. Arrive early to walk through the stables and observe the riders prepping their horses before the competitions. With covered stadium seating, the Tucson Rodeo provides a comfortable and lively southwest sporting experience for all ages.

Conclusion

With sunny blue skies over 300 days a year, southern Arizona’s desert climate entices families to soak up the outdoors. From exploring vibrant riparian canyons to learning about raptors up close, Tucson offers many family-friendly activities and attractions. Kids can saddle up horses or slide down waterslides, while parents find shopping, dining and entertainment appealing to adult sensibilities.

With tactical tips and highlights of the top family must-see sites, use this guide to plan memorable adventures all will enjoy in the Old Pueblo. Tucson’s mixture of natural splendor, frontier heritage, and cross-border culture provides enriching experiences sure to bring smiles to every family member’s face.

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