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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Tucson

Tucson, the "City of Sunshine" and metropolis of the desert-like region of southeastern Arizona, lies in the wide valley of the Santa River, flanked by high hills. The warm, dry climate has long attracted tourists and people seeking an escape from winter in less favorable areas.

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1 Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert MuseumArizona-Sonora Desert Museum DrStarbuck View slideshow

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum offers an close up and detailed look at the desert landscape. This museum is a zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden all in one. Displays of living animals and plants native to the Sonoran Desert are featured, including some endangered species such as the Mexican wolf, thick-billed parrot, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, desert pupfish, Sonora chub, bonytail chub, razorback sucker, and Gila topminnow. There are over 40,000 plants representing 1,200 species as well as a gem, mineral, and fossil collection.

One of the highlights is the bird show, with hawks flying over the audience. Afterwards, information on the birds is provided, and an opportunity to see them close up.

Address: 2021 North Kinney Road, Tucson

2 Mission San Xavier del Bac

Mission San Xavier del BacMission San Xavier del Bac View slideshow

This mission station in the southwest of Tucson was established by Spanish Jesuits in 1770. The mission buildings of San Xavier del Bac, in particular the richly furnished church, are fine examples of the Baroque architecture of the colonial period. Also known as the "White Dove of the Desert", it is still used by the Tohono O'odham Indians as a spiritual center. Visitors can walk through the old church. The museum contains artifacts highlighting the history of the Mission.

Address: 1950 West San Xavier Road, Tucson

3 Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National ParkSaguaro National Park View slideshow

Saguaro National Park, part of the Sonoran Desert, extends east and west of Tucson. The characteristic feature of this desert area, the lowest in North America, is the abundant and varied flora and fauna which flourish in spite of the great heat. Visitors can see the typical saguaro or candelabra cactuses, which are the tallest species in North America, as well as birds like the Gila woodpecker and cactus wren which live on the cactuses, rattlesnakes, desert tortoises and the Gila monster (a large lizard). There are numerous hiking trails of different lengths.

Address: 3693 South Old Spanish Trail, Tucson

4 Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain ParkTucson Mountain Park View slideshow

Tucson Mountain Park is home to Old Tucson Movie Studios and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The park covers about 20,000 acres of Sonoran Desert landscape, just west of Tucson. There is an extensive trail system for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, although many people come here simply to use the picnic areas and enjoy the sunsets. This is a day use park with picnic areas. Mountain lions and bobcats, along with a host of other wildlife, live in the park, although some of these tend to frequent the most remote areas.

Address: 8451 West McCain Loop, Tucson

5 Old Tucson Studios

Old Tucson StudiosOld Tucson Studios Artotem View slideshow

The little make-believe Western town of Old Tucson, in the style of the late 19th century, was reconstructed in 1940 as the setting for numerous Western films. It is located out on its own in the desert, with surrounding hills. These sets have been used for decades, with movies like Young Guns, and many films starring John Wayne, being shot here. There is a concert series and dance hall revue, along with other forms of live entertainment. Wild shoot-ups are re-enacted by actors. Visitors can take a guided tour to see which sets were used in various films and learn about the history. You can also wander through the "town" on your own or have lunch. Attractions for kids include a mini-train, antique cars, panning for gold, and trail rides.

Official site:
Address: 201 South Kinney Road, Tucson

6 El Presidio Historic District

El Presidio Historic DistrictEl Presidio Historic District View slideshow

History upon history resides in the El Presidio Historic District. Although this area was once inhabited by the Hohokam Indians, what visitors will see is a mix of Spanish-Mexican and Anglo-American architecture, with adobe houses and other architectural styles. The area is home to artisans, shops, museums, and historic buildings.

7 Pima Air and Space Museum

Pima Air and Space MuseumPima Air and Space Museum View slideshow

The Pima Air and Space Museum is the largest privately funded air museum in the world, with more than 300 aircraft as well as spacecraft. The collection includes historical aircraft as well as some of the most advanced models. Featured attractions include John F Kennedy's presidential plane and a replica of a 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer. For an additional fee visitors can take a bus tour to the adjacent "Boneyard", the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center.

Official site:
Address: 6000 East Valencia Road, Tucson

8 University of Arizona

University of ArizonaUniversity of Arizona View slideshow

The University of Arizona in Tucson is home to the impressive Arizona State Museum, Mineral Museum, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Museum of Art, and the Flandrau Science Center. Visitors can spend a couple hours or a couple days seeing the sights on this campus.

9 St Augustine Cathedral

St Augustine CathedralSt Augustine Cathedral View slideshow

The St Augustine Cathedral was designed in Mexican Baroque architectural style. Built in 1896, the cast stone facade was completed in 1928 and is similar to the Cathedral of Queretaro in Mexico. The facade and towers are all that remain of the original structure after the cathedral was rebuilt in the late 1960s.

Address: 192 South Stone Avenue, Tucson

10 Catalina State Park

Catalina State ParkCatalina State Park View slideshow

Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, is a desert region with picnic areas, and hiking and horseback riding trails. Visitors also come to the park to enjoy camping, plant and wildlife viewing, and to see the Romero Ruin archeological site. These are the remains of a Hohokam Indian village that was occupied between AD 500 and AD 1450. The site also contains rooms of mud and rock borrowed from the abandoned Hohokam village. These structures were built by rancher Francisco Romero late in the 19th C.

Address: 11570 North Oracle Road, Tucson

11 Reid Park Zoo

Reid Park ZooReid Park Zoo paulinapineda22

The Reid Park Zoo is a relatively small zoo with a surprisingly good collection of exotic animals. It houses such favorites as elephants, polar bears, lions, and many others. The facility is spread out on 17 acres with nature exhibits. One of the interactive experiences available at the zoo is the Giraffe Encounters, where for a small fee you can hand feed a giraffe. There is also the Reid Park Zoo Express train, a wet play area, and changing daily activities.

Official site:
Address: 3400 Zoo Court, Tucson

12 International Wildlife Museum

International Wildlife MuseumInternational Wildlife Museum

The International Wildlife Museum in Tucson features temporary exhibits focusing on wildlife from all over the world. Preserved specimens and dioramas allow visitors a close up look at animals and their natural settings. The museum offers a chance to learn about animal behavior, habitat, and much more.

Address: 4800 West Gates Pass Road, Tucson

Other Points of Interest

Tucson Children's Museum

Families will enjoy this museum. The hands-on, interactive exhibits include a variety of topics, from the arts and sciences to nature and construction. The Tucson Children's Museum is housed in a 1901 building designed by architect Henry Trost.

Address: 200 South 6th Avenue

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

The Colossal Cave in Vail, located east of Tucson on Highway 10, is one of the largest dry caverns in the United States. Parts of it have yet to be explored. Local legend has it that the loot from an old stagecoach robbery is still buried somewhere inside. The park also features a museum, butterfly garden, stagecoach rides as well as hiking and horse trails.

Address: 16721 East Old Spanish Trail, Vail
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