A Sonoran Adventure for the Family

Unplug and reconnect in the Sonoran Southwest


Family vacations are all about slowing down, unplugging, and connecting with each other through new experiences and adventures. What better place to unplug than the deserts of Tucson? But don’t worry – Tucson's deserts are nothing like the Sahara. The Sonoran Desert is more lush and full of life than you’d expect. 

Whether you have a toddler in tow or travel with teens, find your next family adventure strolling through the sprawling deserts of Saguaro National Park, perusing one of the many interactive museums in the city, tasting America’s Best Mexican Food together, or taking advantage of the 300+ days of sunshine by splashing into one of Tucson's many resort pools by way of waterslide.  

Mad About Museums 

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the perfect first introduction to Southern Arizona's unique biodiversity. There you’ll see some of the 230 animal species that call the Sonoran Desert home. The Desert Museum is part zoo, aquarium (yes—there are aquatic animals in the Sonoran Desert!), botanical garden, museum, and art gallery educating the public on how to conserve at protect our region’s unique ecosystem. Their Raptor Free Flight showcase is a family favorite – kids love learning about birds of prey while watching them in-action, flying freely.  
Your minis will love the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, where everything is microscopic. Their iconic Enchanted Tree is embedded with eight mini-displays at a low height for little ones. Throughout the museum you’ll find intricate carvings on the tips of pencils, miniature dollhouses and dioramas, and the smallest of sculptures. Be sure to bring a pair of headphones and ask about their audio tours to get the full experience.  

The Children’s Museum Tucson is a great place for indoor play for kids up to 10 years old. Their interactive exhibits encourage hands-on learning and creativity through STEM and arts-based play. Their original location in downtown Tucson, the Children’s Museum has 11 exhibits on electricity, gravity, music, public safety and more. Meanwhile, the Children’s Museum Oro Valley at Tohono Chul boasts indoor and outdoor play spaces focusing on the animals, plants and culture found in the Sonoran Desert. 
Take flight at the Pima Air & Space Museum, exploring five hangars of military, commercial, and civil aircrafts. Younger family members love riding on their guided tram tour which takes passengers through the museum’s 80 acres (about the area of a large shopping mall) to view more than 150 planes and their space exhibit is a favorite for all ages. Even kids without a special interest in airplanes will enjoy sitting in the pilot’s seat of some of the retired planes on display.  


Wild West Experience

Tucson has two all-inclusive guests ranches where families can get a taste of the wild west, blending a luxury resort with a cowboy experience. White Stallion Ranch offers weekly rodeos and nightly entertainment out in the unspoiled desert right next to Saguaro National Park West. Parents and guests 21+ love their specialty rides like their Beer and Cheetos horseback ride while the whole family can enjoy cattle sorting, rock climbing, biking, archery and, of course, horseback riding before relaxing on their on-site spa or taking a dip in their heated pool. 
Nestled below the Rincon and Santa Catalina Mountain ranges sits Tanque Verde Ranch with a history dating back 150 years. Guests especially love their famous Pancake Breakfast Ride – an unforgettable morning horseback ride that takes you past towering cacti and rolling hills as you ride out to their Old Homestead for their famous blueberry pancake breakfast, complete with an epic view of the Sonoran Desert. Your family will love their kids' program with supervised activities for those up to 12-years-old, or roaming the ranch and horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, or partaking in archery, axe throwing, or silversmithing. Tanque Verde also offers some activities a-la-carte for those not staying at the ranch.  

Old Tucson, located between Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park to the west of downtown Tucson, brings the wild west to life. This movie set was once the filming location for iconic films and TV shows like Arizona, El Dorado, Tombstone, and Three Amigos. Now you can wander through this old western “town” watching live daily gunfight stunt shows, exploring their interactive gold mine, or grabbing a bite in their old-school saloon.  


Slide Into Resort Life  

A great pool with a waterslide is a staple for many a family vacation and Tucson’s 300+ days of sunshine make it possible to take a splash nearly year-round. 

The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort’s heated Canyon River and Monsoon Falls Waterslide are favorites for locals and out of town guests. While only 15 minutes away from the heart of downtown Tucson, the JW Marriott Starr Pass is tucked away in Tucson Mountain Park, giving you a desert oasis feel while remaining close to all the action. Tee off on the golf course with stunning views of the desert and Tucson’s signature pink skies, enjoy their Hashani Spa or join in on one of their many free daily activities like their morning hikes, yoga, a Native American Mitakuye Oyasin ritual, or evening Tequila Toast.  
For the best waterslide in town at a AAA Four Diamond hotel look no further than The Westin La Paloma. Located in the Catalina Foothills minutes from excellent hiking, dining and shopping options, the Westin La Paloma boasts four heated pools including an adult-only pool with a mineral waterfall, and Tucson’s longest waterslide. You’ll love taking advantage of their resort spa and their Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course or dining at the AZul Lounge or AZuL Restaurant to experience authentic regional cuisine.  

More Outdoor 

You’ll never feel short of outdoor adventure in Tucson. The city is flanked on both sides by Saguaro National Park’s East and West districts and surrounded by five mountain ranges, meaning the opportunities for hiking, biking, and even birding are endless. Even if your family isn’t the outdoorsy type, the Sabino Canyon Crawler near The Santa Catalina mountains is a great, accessible way to experience nature. The Canyon Crawler is an emission-free open-air shuttle that guests can ride through Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon to the east of the city for those who can’t or don’t want to go for a hike. 
For some classic family fun, rent a bike from one of Tucson’s many bike share stations and take a family cruise along The Chuck Huckelberry Loop. It’s 137-miles of paved, shared-use paths winding through and around Tucson, South Tucson, unincorporated Pima County, Marana and Oro Valley connecting parks, trailheads, shopping areas, restaurants, hotels and more. If biking isn’t your thing, you can enjoy The Loop on skates, foot, or skateboard as well. Make sure to keep an eye out for the many murals, sculptures, and other public art pieces you can spot from The Loop as you ride.  


Astronomy or Gastronomy? 

As the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S., home to America’s Best Mexican Food and headquarters to DarkSky International, Tucson has long been a hub for astronomy and gastronomy. 
Take the whole family on a trip to Tucson for something stellar by all accounts. Spencer’s Observatory at Cat Mountain Lodge just south of Saguaro National Park West offers bookable guided stargazing nights at their private observatory, home to a Celestron 14” SCT telescope. While only 20 minutes from downtown, Tucson’s strict light ordinances mean that you’ll be sure to have exceptionally dark skies that show off a plethora of stars and planets that the experts at Spencer’s Observatory can guide you through.  
If you consider yourself something a bit more than an astronomy enthusiast, step it up a notch at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter’s SkyNights. Run by the University of Arizona, this five-hour program starts two hours before sunset and depending on the time of year you’ll have the chance to view neighboring planets or galaxies and nebulas millions of light-years away. The professionals at the SkyCenter will guide the whole family through the night sky using Schulman 32-inch and Phillips 24-inch telescopes. 

The Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium is the perfect place to pique kids’ interest in science with interactive displays on our solar system, the Mars rover, and Mars Orbiter. Plus, their 146-seat planetarium theater offers 4k full dome projection shows on black holes, asteroids, constellations, and planets among other things. 

Once the family has its fill of astronomy, it’s time to tackle Tucson’s gastronomy. What better place to celebrate a Taco Tuesday than the home of America’s Best Mexican Food? Sign up for a Taco Bike Tour with Tucson Bike Tours for a little taste of everything. On the tour you’ll stop for up to five authentic tacos and a loaded Sonoran hot dog – a can’t-miss Tucson specialty. A Downtown Tucson Food Tour is another great tour for an overview of Tucson’s cuisine, culture and history. Our downtown area is uniquely locally focused – you'd be hard pressed to find a chain in our downtown area -- and the downtown tour includes six local vendors and some insight on how Tucson became the first city in the U.S. to be recognized as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy. 
For even more food history, stop by Mission Garden, a living agricultural museum and garden, lovingly known as Tucson’s birthplace. Entry is by donation (with a recommended amount of $5 a person) making it affordable for families. There you’ll learn about Native American food staples: beans, squash and corn -- also known as the “three sisters,” -- and how these ingredients influenced our region’s cuisine. What better way to help your kids learn than by pairing lessons with something tasty? Stop by Barrio Bread for a fresh loaf of bread that uses heritage Sonoran White Wheat, break for lunch at a Tucson staple like Rollies Mexican Patio to taste a Sonoran-style enchilada (spoiler alert: Tucson does enchiladas flat) or a quesabirria pizza at Zio Peppe for a great example of a Sonoran staple -- beef. 

No matter where you stop in Tucson, you’ll be sure to taste something you will never forget. Just remember to pack some of our amazing flour tortillas to take home!  

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