The southwestern Arizona city of Tucson has plenty of free outdoor activities to entice families. And Covid-19 cautious travelers who prefer the fresh air. But the summer heat will drive you to air conditioned places. Luckily, Tucson is filled with free indoor family friendly fun things to do as well. So grab a reusable water bottle for everyone and check out the sights.
You can also make a day trip to Phoenix and Scottsdale, less than two hours away by car.
Note: Some attractions are currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.
1. Desert Time
Head to the Sonoran Desert to see the famed Saguaro cactus, only found here. You can just take a scenic drive, or do something more active. If you want to hike, go early, especially in summer. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a brimmed hat for everyone.
2. On a Mission
The Mission San Xavier del bac, a National Historic Landmark was founded in 1692. The restored Spanish Colonial church, built in 1797, is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. The interior is filled with original statues and murals. San Xavier Mission is still an operating Catholic mission. During Covid-19, the museum remains closed, but the church and mausoleum are open.
3. Southern Arizona Transportation Museum
The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum has indoor and outdoor exhibits on railroads in southwestern Arizona. You can see the steam locomotive from the 1955 movie “Oklahoma,” along with model trains and interactive exhibits. You can learn how the railroad helped develop agriculture, mining, industry and tourism in Tucson. The museum is in the historic former Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in downtown Tucson.
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4. Outdoor Art
The Sculpture Garden at the Tucson JCC includes a landscaped garden, over 40 sculptures by local, national, and international sculptors and views of the mountains.
5. Historic Fourth Avenue
Stroll the historic Fourth Avenue Business District, northeast of and adjacent to downtown Tucson. The area dates to 1916 and includes over 140 locally owned boutiques, bars and cafes; all in historic buildings. There is a 3 day Winter Street Fair every December, along with a 3 day Spring Street Fair. Both family friendly (but not dog friendly) events feature live music by local artists. The 2022 Fourth Avenue Spring Street Fair is scheduled for April 1, 2 and 3, 2022.
6. Live Music Downtown
On the second Saturday of every month, downtown Tucson rocks out with live entertainment. The family friendly 2nd Saturdays are on pause during the pandemic, but when they restart, expect lots of free fun and food vendors, along with restaurants staying open late.
7. Brandi Fenton Memorial Park
The Brandi Fenton Memorial Park has two shaded playgrounds, walking path and a Splash Pad open from the third Saturday in April through October 31. This is the place to let the kids run around and cool off in the large splash park.
8. Free Guided Tours
The University of Arizona has docent led guided tours of the Bryant Bannister Tree-Ring Lab. This is the lab that started dendrochronology, the scientific study of tree-rings, in 1937. Check the calendar to find an open tour. The hour long tours start most days at 10 am.
9. Sports Fans
The Jim Click Hall of Champions at the University of Arizona celebrates over 100 years of student-athletes, performances and traditions. The athletic heritage museum is currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, but it is an otherwise free attraction.
10. Gallery In The Sun Museum
A 10-acre National Historic District, the DeGrazia Gallery In The Sun Museum was built by local artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia. It includes the adobe Mission in the Sun, a National Historic landmark, and 6 permanent collections of southwestern art. You can take a self guided tour through DeGrazia’s home, the galleries and the cactus corral.
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SheBuysTravel Tip: Since the space is vast, wear good walking shoes.
11. Hike to a Waterfall
Although the Sonoran Desert dominates the landscape, you can actually hike to Tanque Verde Falls. A 1.9 mile out and back hiking trail allows leashed dogs and is easy enough that kids can hike. Don’t expect a major waterfall in a drought stricken region, but it is still a unique waterfall.
12. Second Sundays
Enjoy Second Sunday contemporary art events every month at the Tucson JCC. See revolving exhibits in the Fine Art Gallery with artist talks and live music.
13. Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park has over 165 miles of hiking trails. This is a great way to see the iconic Saguaro cacti. This very tall and protected cacti, the symbol of Arizona, are best appreciated at a distance. Don’t touch them! Another unique activity at Saguaro National Park is to se the prehistoric Native American petroglyphs at Signal Hill. National parks charge an admission fee, but every year, the National Parks Service has several fee free days. These include Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, National Park Service Birthday and Veterans Day.
14. Coronado National Forest
Coronado National Forest is another park that charges a daily fee, except on the special National Parks Service free days. The park includes the Santa Catalina Mountains and Sabino Canyon recreation area, so expect great hiking trails. There is also a narrated tram tour from the visitors center to the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains if you don’t want to hike. Don’t worry – you can also take the tram back.
15. Turquoise Trail
Take a self guided walking tour through downtown Tucson; historic sites are marked with a turquoise stripe on the sidewalk. You can pick up a trail map at the Tucson Visitor Center. The visitors center, aka Southern Arizona Heritage & Visitor Center, is in the Historic Pima County Courthouse and is worth a visit just to see the building. The visitors center is near the Tucson Museum of Art.
16. Rillito Park Farmers Market
The year round Sunday Rillito Park Farmers Market, near The Loop bike trail, has local farmers, ranchers and artisan food. There are chef demos, live music and pavilions that shade the food stalls – and the strollers. There are picnic areas if you want an al fresco lunch. The market is also dog friendly.
17. Barrio Viejo
Explore the historic old neighborhood with 19th century adobe homes. Look for El Tiradito, aka the Wishing Shrine, at 420 South Main Avenue.
Through at least December 31, 2021, fares are suspended on the Sun Link Tucson Streetcar. This is a great way to explore attractions around Tucson, with no worry about parking fees.
Paid Attractions to Consider
- Although you have to pay, if you bring your dog to Tucson, dogs are allowed in the Tucson Botanical Gardens, June-September. You can buy a Dog Membership for unlimited visits during this time. There are dog bowls and clean-up stations throughout the gardens. How many dogs are members of botanic gardens?
- The University of Arizona Museum of Art charges for adult admission, but children are admitted free. The museum specializes in art from Europe and the United States, from the Renaissance through Contemporary. The University of Arizona also offers paid tours of the Mirror Lab, showing off its giant optical telescopes (these tours are paused during the pandemic).
- The Reid Park Zoo features giraffes, elephants and bears. There is also a carousel and a miniature train ride.
- The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum includes an aquarium with stingray touch tank, Sonoran Desert gardens, a raptor free flight show and hiking trails.
- The dog friendly Pima Air & Space Museum has indoor and outdoor exhibits. You can see over 400 aircraft here, including historic airplanes, helicopters and missiles.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Buying tickets to several attractions can get pricey, but you can save money by buying a Tucson Discount Pass.