The area of Tucson was once a military fort and the history of those times can still be seen almost everywhere today. While this city is known for its arts, culture, festivals, and music, most people visit for the delectable cuisine. There is a reason why Tucson was designated as the City of Gastronomy and you will quickly discover that reason yourself when you take the time to visit.
The population of Tucson is over 545,000 people. When you arrive in Tucson, you will discover that there are many things to do there. In this guide, we will share twenty of the free, or nearly free, things to do in Tucson, Arizona. However, before we do, we want to give you some additional information on this incredible city.
Where is Tucson, Arizona?
Tucson, Arizona is approximately sixty miles to the north of the country of Mexico and one hundred eighteen miles to the southeast of the city of Phoenix. There are five mountain ranges surrounding this city, as well as the Sonoran Desert.
Best Time to Visit Tucson, Arizona
When it comes to determining the best time to visit Tucson, Arizona, it can be difficult to give a definitive answer. The winter is the busiest month, despite the cooler temperatures, because everyone knows it is much warmer there than back where they live. The summer months are usually the slowest, because of the hot and scorching weather.
This is why the spring and the fall are often considered the best time to visit Tucson, Arizona. The months of April, May, September, and October offer slightly cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, and cheaper accommodations.
Weather in Tucson, Arizona
The weather is warm in Tucson, Arizona all year long and the sun is almost always shining. It does get extremely hot during the summer months. In fact, it is common to see the thermometer hover around one hundred during some parts of the summer. It never reaches below sixty degrees in Tucson, so even the winter months are not considered that cold.
20 Free (or Nearly Free!) Things to Do in Tucson, Arizona
1. Hike the Pontatoc Ridge and Finger Rock Trails
Spending time in the great outdoors is one of the best things to do in Tucson. Hiking along one of these trails is considered the best free things to do in Tucson. The Pontatoc Trail is only four miles long, while the Finger Rock Trail is ten miles long and quite steep. The latter hike will take you to the summit of Mount Kimball with the entire journey clocking in at between six and seven hours.
2. Take a Historical Walking Tour
There are a few historical walking tours in Tucson, Arizona, but a favorite is the Presidio Trail or what is now called the Turquoise Trail. This trail is one of the best things to do in downtown Tucson. The trail loops around with a total distance of two and a half miles. It takes most people between an hour and a half and two hours to complete this walking tour. However, that depends on how long you spend at each of the thirty-two points of interest.
3. Check Out the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum
If you love all things transportation, then you must add this museum to your list of things to do in Tucson. This museum has everything from the transcontinental railroad to the outlaws that wreaked havoc on the tracks out west. You will find this museum inside the Railroad Depot.
4. Check Out the Kitt Peak National Observatory Visitor Center
If you are looking for things to do in Tucson at night, you may want to consider traveling a little over fifty miles to the south. That is where you will find the Kitt Peak National Observatory Visitor Center. This is an excellent place to be with kids at night, because you can watch the stars sparkle in the sky. The world’s largest telescope can be found here, as well as optical and radio telescopes. You can easily take a self-guided tour, but guided tours are available for a fee.
5. Visit the Arizona State Museum
The Arizona State Museum was established back in 1893. This museum is considered the oldest, and largest, anthropology museum in the southwest. You will find the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona’s campus in the midtown area. There are more than three million items at this museum on display. Those items include ninety thousand rare books and numerous archaeological artifacts. The most popular collection is the Southwest Indian pottery.
6. Explore Sonora
Sonora is a wildlife zoo that is filled with southwestern plants like cacti. You can easily hike along the trails as you look at the native animals that live there.
7. Venture Out to Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac is a church that is located to the south of Tucson, AZ. It won’t take you too long to drive to this church, which is why it must be on your list of things to do in Tucson, AZ this weekend. This is not the original church, but it has been around since it was constructed back in 1783.
8. Attend Free Outdoor Concerts
If you plan your trip to Tucson carefully, you can easily take advantage of multiple free things to do in Tucson with kids. On the second Saturday of every month, free outdoor concerts are held in the downtown area. This could be considered a cheap thing to do in Tucson though, because there are different food vendors scattered around the area.
9. Visit the Center for Creative Photography
The Center for Creative Photography contains more than one hundred thousand pictures. Many infamous photographers have pictures on display at this museum. One of the most popular photographers though is Ansel Adams and his photographs will always be on display.
10. Watch the Sunset at the Gates Pass Scenic Overlook
Tucson Mountain Park offers twenty thousand acres of space. There are sixty-two miles of hiking trails you can conquer before you head over to the Gates Pass Scenic Overlook to watch the sunset. We recommend arriving an hour early, so you can find the perfect spot to see this magnificent time of the day.
11. Have an Adventure or Two at Santa Cruz River Park
Santa Cruz River Park offers a little of everything on your list of things to do in Tucson, AZ. You can choose to take a bike ride along the Santa Cruz River or relax inside the sculpture garden. Do not forget to walk along the memorial walk called El Paseo de los Arboles.
12. Cool Down at the Brandi Fenton Splash Pad
Since the summer months always bring hot temperatures in Tucson, you are going to be looking for top things to do in Tucson to cool down. The Brandi Fenton Splash Pad is one of the best free things to do in Tucson with kids, because you can all run through the water. There are spray arches and water geysers and you can all choose which one will cool you down the most.
13. Relax at Agua Caliente Park
History is everywhere at the Agua Caliente Park, but you may ignore it all once you discover the hot spring. This park has more than one hundred acres and you can walk around the trails to see the beautiful views. Those same views can be seen from the hot spring, as can the numerous birds that live in the park.
14. Conquer Part of the Loop
The Loop isn’t completed as of yet, but when it is you can travel from Pantano River Park, Rillito River Park, and Santa Cruz River Park to both the Harrison and Julian Wash Greenways. The Loop will cover more than one hundred miles in all. You can choose to walk it, but bicycles, horses, and skates are all allowed as well. We know you won’t do the entire distance, but you can conquer a couple different areas during your stay.
15. Explore Catalina State Park
At the bottom of the Santa Catalina Mountains, you will find one of the best free things to do in Tucson this weekend. There are more than five thousand acres at this state park, and you can even choose to camp there during your visit.
16. Hike the Hidden Canyon Trail
There are so many things to do with kids in Tucson. If you are looking for fun things to do in Tucson, you can choose to hike the Hidden Canyon Trail. This is one of the free things to do in Tucson. This trail is only two miles in length, and since it loops, you won’t need to retrace your steps.
17. Appreciate Art at the University of Arizona Museum of Art
This is another museum that is located on the campus of the University of Arizona. The exhibit of 15th century art is upstairs, but make sure you take the time to appreciate the art from the 19th to 20th centuries as well. After all, you won’t want to miss pieces by your favorite artists like O’Keefe, Rodin, and Rembrandt.
18. See the Cars at the HH Franklin Museum
The Franklin automobile was manufactured in New York back in the early 1900s. You will find many of the Franklin cars at this museum. A tour of this museum will also include quite a few of the research materials from the Franklin Company.
19. Visit Sabino Canyon
Sabino Canyon is to the north of Tucson. While there are a few free things to do there, you may want to pay a little extra to ride the tram along the scenic route. Of course, if that’s not possible, you can always walk along the Sabino Canyon Trail.
20. See History at the Arizona Historical Society Museum
When you are looking for cheap things to do in Tucson, you may want to consider visiting the Arizona Historical Society Museum. As one of the top things to do in Tucson, due to the abundance of history inside, you will want to spend a couple hours there. This museum was founded back in 1864 and it has a massive collection of artifacts from the entire state.
Expert Tips for Traveling to Tucson
There are many expert tips that we can share with you about Tucson. But our top tips for traveling to Tucson include:
Rent a Car! – The best way to get around Tucson and see everything you want to is by renting a car. You may be tempted to opt out of doing this and trying to rely on public transportation, but you will regret it later on.
Check Out Nearby Areas – Tucson’s location will have you in close proximity to destinations like the Grand Canyon and Phoenix. You can easily drive to these destinations for a day and then return to your hotel.
Don’t Pack Your Days Too Full – It is too easy to add so many things to do in Tucson to your itinerary. Doing this will have you checking things off your list instead of enjoying and appreciating them like you should. Leave time in your schedule each day, so you can linger in some areas a little longer or simply relax before heading somewhere else.
This is everything you must know about traveling to Tucson, Arizona, as well as twenty of the free, or almost free, things to do there. We know you are going to have a fabulous time in this part of the country, as long as you plan your stay carefully. We recommend writing all the fun things to do in Tucson, AZ down and then slowly adding each one to your list of things to do with the time you have available. If you have anything left over, you can leave it for the next time you visit Tucson.