The rich history and desert beauty of Tucson and the nearby Sonoran desert makes it an interesting and diverse place to visit, and a surprisingly great choice as a family vacation destination. In addition to the many annual cultural events and fairs that take place around the city throughout the year, there are also a variety of kid-friendly and family-themed attractions in the area. These are ten of the best things to do with your kids in the Tucson area, each of which makes a strong argument for choosing Tucson for your next family vacation.
- 390th Memorial Museum Foundation (Tucson, AZ 85756) – More than 10,000 photographs, 90,000 pages of combat history and the collected oral histories of 100 World War II veterans take center stage at the 390th Memorial Museum Foundation, which celebrates the 390th Bomb Group. Responsible for cutting supply lines to the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, among other heroic feats.
- Abraham Lincoln Regional Park (Tucson, AZ 85730) – Sprawling over 191 acres, the Abraham Lincoln Regional Park features a four-field softball complex complete with a concession stand, a swimming pool, playgrounds, volleyball courts and a walking path. The Attrubury Bird and Animal Sanctuary is also located on the premises, ensuring that there’s something to entertain every member of your family.
- Arizona State Museum (Tucson, AZ 85721) – The history and rich culture of Arizona, the entire American Southwest and northern Mexico are celebrated at the Arizona State Museum, which is both the oldest and the largest anthropological museum in the region. Boasting the largest collection of Southwest American Indian Pottery in the world, the ASM is also affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.
- Colossal Cave Mountain Park (Vail, AZ 85641) – This 2,000-acre park is on the National Historic Register, with the La Posta Quemada Ranch and crystal-filled caverns on the premises. Museums, trail rides and cave tours are offered daily, and picnicking is permitted on park grounds.
- Gadsden-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum, Ltd. (Tucson, AZ 85754) – There’s something about toy trains that inspire unbridled joy in some kids. If there’s a model train aficionado in your family, you simply can’t pass up a visit to the 6,000-square-foot Gadsden-Pacific. Upwards of fifteen loops of track with a variety of trains running, railroad memorabilia and a rug system complete with wooden trains for the very small set are among the attractions, along with the full-sized caboose and real switch controllers.
- Kitt Peak National Observatory (Tucson, AZ 85726) – Perched above the Sonoran Desert is the Kitt Peak Natural Observatory, which makes it easy for kids and adults alike to explore the universe, thanks to the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes. Tours are of either the docent-lead or self-guided varieties, with nightly stargazing in the Visitor Center Public Telescopes available through advance reservations.
- Children’s Museum Tucson (Tucson, AZ 85701) – Play-based, interactive learning is the name of the game at Children’s Museum Tucson, which sprawls over more than 11,000 square feet packed with hands-on activities and exhibits. Adults are encouraged to participate, meaning you won’t be reduced to supervisor duty during the visit.
- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Tucson, AZ 85743) – With a renowned zoo, botanical gardens and a natural history museum on-site, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is actually an interactive, educational complex. More than 1,200 types of plant and 300 animal species call the site home, easily explored via two miles of walking paths.
- Biosphere 2 – University of Arizona, Tucson (Oracle, AZ 85623) – An hour north-east of Tucson, the University of Arizona, Tucson-sponsored Biosphere 2 lies. The living laboratory is a glass-enclosed structure that boasts three separate habitats, including a Savannah and a Rainforest.
- Old Tucson Studios (Tucson, AZ 85735) – Train rides, a simulacrum of an Old West schoolhouse and a small selection of rides aimed at the smaller set make Old Tucson Studios an exciting destination for kids. Adults with an affection for old Western films may also get a kick out of touring the attraction, as a number of the golden-age films were shot at Old Tucson Studios.
While Tucson is a beautiful and vibrant city, there are certain safety precautions you’ll need to take if you’re planning to visit. It’s important to always bring plenty of water and a fully-charged, functional cell phone if you’re planning to explore the desert parks, as it’s quite easy to become disoriented and lost in the desert. Make sure that you wear proper protective footwear, as there are rattlesnakes in the area. Also, flash flooding is a very real possibility during the monsoon season, which stretches from July to September. Never attempt to drive across a flooded road, especially if it’s barricaded. Not only is this behavior dangerous, but can be quite costly if you’re issued a citation by police under the 1995 “Stupid Motorist Law.”