Things to do in Tucson with Kids

Are you planning a family trip to Tucson, AZ? We have compiled a list of exciting and diverse things to do in Tucson with kids that will keep your family well entertained. From exploring the great outdoors to learning about science and history, there’s something for every age group in this desert city.

Things to do in Tucson with Kids

Sabino Canyon (Coronado National Forest)

Another great hiking spot for families is Sabino Canyon. With multiple trails ranging from easy to moderate, there’s something for every skill level.  Sabino Canyon is part of the Coronado National Forest so be sure to bring your National Park System Passport and get a stamp!  

Many visitors opt to ride a tram to the top of the Canyon and hike back down to the Visitor Center. Onboard the tram, you’ll hear  informative narrative on the canyon’s history and the local ecosystem as it meanders through the rugged landscape. With multiple stops along the way, you have the freedom to disembark at various points to take in the views.

 The trams leave at the top of every hour and tickets must be purchased online in advance.  The cost of a tram ride up Sabino Canyon is $15 for adults and $8 for children. 

The tram ride provides panoramic views of the surrounding desert landscape, making it a memorable experience for both adults and children. Once at the top, families have the option to hike back down towards the visitor center or catch a ride back down.  

The road is not open to any other vehicle traffic.  

My kids had so much fun at the Sutherland Wash (at Catalina State Park) they were  begging for more water play.  So we asked the rangers where we could find a stream that was still flowing from snowmelt.  They let us know that Sabino Canyon had dried up, but that Bear Canyon was still flowing steadily.  This 1.4 mile walk each way was perfect for the little legs we had in tow and it was the most serene setting, complete with picnic tables. 

Insider tip: Download the free (no login required) app called Seek.  It gamifies learning new plant species by awarding achievement badges by snapping pictures of new species.   We started it with my 5 year old and he quickly started retaining plant names.  He’d tell me, “we already have a barrel cactus/cholla/prickly pear” or “Oh, look at this! We haven’t seen this before.”  

Tucson Botanical Garden

Located in the heart of Tucson, the Botanical Garden is a serene oasis with at least a dozen unique gardens to explore. Kids will likely love the butterfly garden the most which is open during the winter months. The cost of admission is $19 per adult, $10 for kids, and free for children under 5 years old.?We had a group of 4 adults and 1 kid over 5 years old which made it more economical to purchase a membership.

To enhance the adventure, the gardens provide an engaging scavenger hunt that encourages children to discover specific colors, traits, and features of plants scattered across the park.

Additionally, the gardens frequently feature dynamic art exhibits that captivate both adults and kids alike. In early 2024, they showcased a vibrant collection of beach-related items repurposed into striking artworks, including a fish, shark, jellyfish, whale tail, among others. Positioned before each piece was a sign prompting visitors with “seek & find” challenges that my boys really enjoyed.

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Botanical Garden

Children’s Museum

Let your kids unleash their creativity at the Children’s Museum in Tucson. With interactive exhibits and hands-on activities, they’ll have a blast while learning. Check out the Art Studio called “Imagine It” where kids can make their own masterpieces to take home.

Admission costs $12 for adults and children over 1 year old.  It is half price after 3pm on weekdays!  

Tour Kartchner Cave or Colossal Cave

For a mystical and educational experience, take a tour of one of Tucson’s famous caves. Kartchner Caverns State Park offers guided tours of stunning underground formations. Note that Colossal Cave does not allow any children under 5 on their tour. Kartchner Cave offers one 90 minute tour where kids under 5 are allowed.?

Prices vary by type of tour.

Insider tip: Make reservations in advance especially for weekend tours.

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Colossal Cave

Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

Escape the heat and explore the wonders of science at Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium. It’s a small but mighty science museum on the University of Arizona campus.  Street parking is available. 

With hands-on exhibits, a planetarium show, and live science demonstrations, your kids will be well entertained.   My kids’ favorites were the submarine simulation, the shark race video game, and skeeball, pill-bug style.  I was a fan of the critical thinking puzzles on the lower level.

Admission costs $16 for adults and $12 for children ages 4-17. It is free with ASTC reciprocity.

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Science Center

Biosphere 2

For a one-of-a-kind experience, take your family to the Biosphere 2. This unique research facility allows visitors to see how scientists live and work in a self-sustaining environment. It was intended to be a proof of concept to measure survivability in a human curated ecosystem.

Ticket cost: Adult $27, Senior $25, Child (5-17) $15

We have this on our list for a future visit, as I want my kids to be a bit older to soak in its significance. 

Things to do in Tucson with Kids

Conquer a Playground

Sometimes, all kids need is a simple playground to have fun. Tucson has plenty of options, including Brandi Fenton Memorial Park with its large play area and splash pad. 

Where to Eat in Tucson

Fuel up with a delicious and healthy meal at Tumerico, a popular vegetarian restaurant in Tucson. Their flavorful dishes made from locally sourced ingredients keep guests coming back for more.

Tumerico’s menu offers a rotating selection of dishes every day, ensuring that each visit brings something new to try. Additionally, the restaurant features a dedicated play area that is sure to be a hit with the children, allowing them to have fun while the adults relax and enjoy their meal.

Barrio Brewing was the laid back environment we needed after a long day of exploring. Try the Sonoran Hot Dog and their Hipsterville Hazy IPA.

For a grab and go eat or treat, try Arizona chain favorites like Cane’s or Eegees.

Day Trip to Tombstone

Take a step back in time and visit the “town too tough to die” – Tombstone. Tour the historic streets, visit the Old Courthouse Museum, and take a mine tour at The Good Enough Mine. 

The Good Enough Mine Tour lasted approximately 45 minutes, striking a perfect balance that captivated both my 3-year-old and 5-year-old without waning their interest. It provided a fascinating glimpse into the life of a miner, shedding light on the harsh conditions and mining techniques of the era.

If you walk down the main drag, be prepared to have cowboys selling you on attending the old west stunt show.  With our kids being so young, we skipped that experience but perhaps older families would find entertainment in the attraction!

The rock store at the edge of town, Rock Hounds, was my kids favorite stop.  The shopkeeper has a pile out front of bits and pieces of various minerals that she said was free for the kids to pick through.  You know what they say about one man’s trash! 

For $1-2 to purchase a geode, she’ll give you a hammer for your kids to crack them open too!

Insider tip: Tombstone would pair well with a continued daytrip down to the Copper Mining town of Bisbee.   We plan to head that way next time, as for our visit from Tucson we were set on seeing Tombstone and Chiricahua in one day. 

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Tombstone Day Trip

Day Trip to Chiricahua National Monument

Take a scenic drive to Chiricahua National Monument and explore the unique rock formations and hiking trails.  This is the Bryce Canyon of Arizona.

Admission cost is free as of 2024, but this may change if Arizona can achieve their goal to receive National Park designation.

For families with children, Chiricahua National Monument offers a range of kid-friendly hikes that are perfect for a day of exploration. Options include the Massai Nature Trail, a gentle 0.5-mile walk suitable for all ages, the Echo Grotto Trail, which spans 1.8 miles and is filled with captivating natural features (and acoustics), and a leisurely stroll out to Faraway Ranch, where history comes alive with the stories of Swedish Immigrant’s settlement and the Chiricahua Apache’s history.

Print the Junior Ranger program in advance to save time in the park.  Then stop at the Visitor Center to have a ranger award your little explorer with a Junior Ranger badge.

This day trip was one of my top three experiences from this list of things to do in Tucson with kids.

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Chiricahua

Reid Park Zoo

For a fun day with animals, head to the Reid Park Zoo. This 24-acre zoo is home to over 500 animals, including elephants, lions, and giraffes. Admission costs $10.50 for adults and $6.50 for children ages 2-14.

Insider tip: Check the zoo’s website for special events and feeding schedules to make your visit even more engaging.

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Reid Park Zoo

Old Tucson

Experience the Wild West at Old Tucson, a movie studio turned theme park. Watch live stunt shows, ride the train, and explore the old western town. Admission cost varies depending on the programming you choose. Children 4 and under are typically free.

Old Tucson neighbors the Desert Museum. 

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Old Tucson

Pima Air & Space Museum

For any aviation enthusiasts in the family, a visit to the Pima Air & Space Museum is a must. With over 350 aircraft on display, including a space shuttle and presidential planes, there’s something for everyone. Kids under 12 are free with a paid adult!

Insider tip: You can even book a flight in a warbird!

Drive Through Gates Pass and the Tucson Mountain Park

For breathtaking views and a memorable drive, make your way through Gates Pass located within the Tucson Mountain Park. This scenic route showcases the rugged beauty of the Sonoran Desert, you’ll find panoramic vistas at every turn.  

Bring lots of water and stay on designated trails if you decide to explore the area further on foot. This drive also takes you toward the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson.

Insider tip: The area is known for its stunning sunsets. Stop at one of the many overlooks to capture the landscape’s changing colors as the sun dips below the horizon behind towering Saguaros. 

Things to do in Tucson with Kids sunset

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Our family adventure to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum was nothing short of spectacular. 

Initially, the admission cost made us hesitate; it seemed steep. However, understanding the breadth of educational content, alongside features like the aquarium, cave, and playground, convinced us of its value. It’s touted as one of the premier family activities in Tucson, deserving of at least half a day to fully explore and appreciate. Not to mention, it is acclaimed as one of the best museums in the country

This unique museum blends aspects of a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium.  We spent a rewarding SIX hours exploring! 

Before heading out, we found it incredibly beneficial to review the daily schedule available on the museum’s website. This allowed us to strategically plan our visit, ensuring we could partake in the various live animal presentations, guided tours, and the engaging Raptor Free Flight show, where birds of prey soar overhead in a breathtaking display.

Timeline

8:30 – We arrived at the museum open to buy our tickets, use the restroom, and do some quick cave exploration as soon as they opened. The man-made cave is really extraordinary for kids who like to explore tunnels.

9:00 – Then we hustled back to the Orientation Room to catch the 9am Desert Discovery Tour. This tour led us to the Raptor Free Flight event that began at 10am.

10:00 – Raptor Free Flight This was a real treat, as many returning visitors will tell you.   

10:45 – Lunch.  After the low flying raptors finished their flights, we meandered back toward the entrance so we could head out to our car for a lunch picnic in a shaded area near our parking spot.  (Carry-ins are not allowed.)  Yes, we were already hungry, having skipped snack time!

11:30 – Aquarium and Reptile rooms

12:30 – Live Animal Presentation.  They bring out new animals each day, for us was a tortious, Mexican Beaded Dragon, and a rattlesnake. 

1:15 – Aviary & Tortoise (Could have done the Stingray Touch in the same area, but decided to skip this type of encounter)

1:40 – Packrat Playground – A large indoor play structure themed around animals of the desert.

2:30 – Departure

Insider tips: 

  • Plan to spend a full day at the museum and wear comfortable shoes, as there is a lot of walking involved. The trails throughout are wheelchair or stroller friendly.
  • For the raptor free flight, be sure to secure a spot along one of the railings.  This will give you a front row view of the birds flying overhead.

Visit the Casa Grande National Monument

An easy detour if you’re driving to or from Phoenix, this National Park System site one to behold. The “Casa Grande” is the ruins of a settlement about 800 years old built by the Ancient Sonoran people. It is one of the best preserved of its kind in North America.

The visitor center has a 20 minute video that did a good job of providing the history and significance of the ruins. Kids can complete their junior ranger program as well.

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Casa Grande National Monument

Splash in the Sutherland Wash at Catalina State Park

Escape the heat and take a refreshing dip in the Sutherland Wash, a natural waterway located within Catalina State Park.  Families swarm to this area when the Wash is wet as it’s a perfect natural sandy splash pads for kids to play. 

Pack a picnic and spend the day enjoying the beautiful scenery and cool waters.  We spent 3.5 relaxing hours there and it was still a challenge to tear the kids away.  This was the perfect opportunity for us, as parents, to sneak in some relaxation on an otherwise activity filled vacation. 

The park entrance fee is $7 per vehicle.  They have a Junior Ranger program and with your awarded button you also get a poster of all the Arizona State Parks so you can collect them all! 

Insider tip: Bring water shoes to protect your feet from rocks, plus wear sunscreen and sunhats as there is minimal shade.

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Catalina State Park

Saguaro National Park

No trip to Tucson would be complete without a visit to Saguaro National Park. This iconic desert landscape is home to armies of the giant saguaro cactus, which can grow up to 40 feet tall! Explore the park on a guided nature hike or scenic drive. The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle or free with an America the Beautiful pass. Don’t forget, fourth graders can register for a free park pass! 

There are an east and west segment of the Saguaro National Park.  

We opted to explore the West side as it was conveniently located about 15 minutes away from the renowned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This proximity allows families to plan a day combining both educational and natural experiences.

Start your visit at the Red Hills Visitor Center,  Here, kids can request the Junior Ranger program, a fun way for them to learn about the park’s ecosystem and earn a badge. Be sure to take in the breathtaking views of the desert landscape from the visitor center. 

For families, two trails not to miss are the Desert Discovery Trail and Signal Hill, known for its ancient petroglyphs. The Desert Discovery Trail is an easy, accessible 0.5-mile loop that offers close-up views of the diverse desert plants and wildlife. It’s perfect for all ages, providing educational signs along the way. Meanwhile, the Signal Hill Trail, just a short 0.3-mile hike from the parking area, leads to a viewing platform where you and your children can marvel at petroglyphs created by ancient Sonoran people over 800 years ago.  

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Saguaro National Park

Sentential Peak

For adventurous families, a hike up Sentential Peak is a must-do activity. The 2-mile round trip trail offers stunning views of Tucson and the Sonoran Desert. Best of all, it’s free and easy to reach from central Tucson!

Unlike the State and National Parks, there is no entrance fee.

Things to do in Tucson with Kids Sentential Peak

More Ideas for Things to do in Tucson with Kids

Besides the popular attractions listed above, there are many other things to do in Tucson with kids. Here are a few more ideas to add to your itinerary:

  • Take a family bike ride on The Loop, a 131-mile paved trail that goes around the city and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Cool off at one of Tucson’s many splash pads, such as Brandi Fenton Memorial Park or Heritage River Park Splash Pad.
  • Attend a University of Arizona sporting event, from football to basketball to baseball, and cheer on the Wildcats.
  • Take a day trip to Mount Lemmon and enjoy hiking, camping, or skiing in the winter months.  Should your adventure take you to the peak, don’t miss out on a colossal, family-sized cookie from the Cookie Cabin. It’s wise to pack an abundance of warm clothing, as temperatures tend to plummet with increased elevation. You might even be greeted by a blanket of snow at the summit. 
Things to do in Tucson with Kids More

Where to Stay in Tucson with Kids

Here are three of the top places to book in Tucson for a family:

A Budget Friendly Option with a Pool

Perfect Spot for Large Families (4 Bedrooms)

Funky Decor – Gatsby Style

Closing Thoughts on Things to do in Tucson with Kids

We hope this guide has helped you plan your perfect family vacation in Tucson. From caves to parks to museums, there’s no shortage of fun and educational activities for you and your little ones to enjoy. Plus, the beautiful desert landscape and sunny weather make it the perfect destination for outdoor adventures. 

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