The Ultimate Tucson, AZ Bucket List: A Journey Through the Desert Oasis

Welcome to Tucson, Arizona, a vibrant desert oasis nestled in the heart of the American Southwest. From the expansive Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to the bustling energy of local festivals and restaurants, Tucson’s allure lies in its ability to seamlessly merge the tranquility of nature with the vibrancy of the city.

Join us on a journey with Redfin’s ultimate Tucson bucket list, where we’ll uncover the hidden gems and iconic landmarks that make Tucson a great place to live. Whether you’re looking for apartments for rent, considering buying a home in Tucson, or you’re already a local, get ready to experience the magic of Tucson, Arizona, like never before.  

Tucson Arizona skyline cityscape and Santa Catalina Mountains at dusk

1. Explore Tucson’s outdoor playground

Outdoor activity is one of the things Tucson is known for. Though Tucson may be known by most as a major city, time in nature is just a quick drive away. “As one who loves the outdoors, I never imagined living in a city,” admits Tucson local Paul Van Helden of Paul Van Helden Photography, “but Tucson is different. It doesn’t feel like a city at all. It has all the amenities and convenience that city life offers, yet within minutes I can be hiking a trail at one of many nearby parks and doing what I love most – photography.”

In fact, the city of Tucson maintains 132 parks, with plenty more just outside the city limits, so there’s always a place to hike, walk, or climb. “Parks like Catalina State Park or trekking up to Mount Lemmon are definitely favorites of myself and my family,” recommends local photographer Anouschka Rokebrand. “Nothing beats seeing and photographing all the cacti blooming in the springtime.”

With plenty of hikes and biking trails to choose from, it’s hard to decide. However, for Coree Silvera, marketing manager for Safari Jeep Tours, “it’s all about the breathtaking beauty of Box Canyon.” And it’s easy to see why Coree recommends Box Canyon so heartily. The Canyon can be appreciated by a breathtaking scenic drive through its beautiful and diverse scenery or through a short hike along Box Canyon Trail to a small private swimming hole. 

2. Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Any Tucson bucket list needs to include a trip to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Katie Yaeli, founder of local community resource for parents, The Play District, describes the museum as, “a combination of a zoo, botanical garden, and museum. It even has an indoor play place called Packrat Playhouse.” So, if you’re traveling with little ones, this place has you covered. 

With so much to do and see, you’ll have no problem spending a whole day within this glorious place. “The living desert comes alive every day by the way they present the people, animals and plants that make up the Sonoran Desert,” shares Tom Moulton of Southern Arizona Attractions Alliance, a non-profit organization that aims to boost tourism to Southern Arizona. 

Stay for an art class, walk through the galleries, or catch the annual WineDown with Wildlife festival during your visit. Can’t see everything? Feel free to visit again.

Cacti stand high in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, an essential for any Tucson bucket list

3. Tucson Meet Yourself event

If you’re visiting in October, then you have to spend some time at the Tucson Meet Yourself folklife festival. Founded in 1974 by folklorist Jim Griffith and his wife, Loma Griffith, this multi-day festival celebrates the diverse ethnic and folk communities of Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona. Featuring artists, cooks, car enthusiasts, musicians, dancers, and more, this festival is not one to be missed.

4. Take a day trip to Sonoita Wine Country

With its beautiful rolling hills and more than 20 wineries, Sonoita wine country is a favorite day trip for Tucson locals. One must-add to your Tucson bucket list is a visit to the innovative Arizona Hops and Vines. “Arizona Hops and Vines has an eclectic and fun twist on wine tasting – each award-winning wine is paired with a fun snack, like a chip or cheese puff,” shares Amanda Haller of Arizona Hops and Vines. “Enjoy beautiful views, plenty of local art, and live music every weekend while sipping on a glass.” This women-owned small business also hosts fun events and wine festivals almost monthly, so there is always something to do.

Wine barrels line the walls in long cellar

5. Experience the local cuisine foodies rave about

With a strong influence from the Southern-bordering Mexican state of Sonora and the Native Americans of this land, the food in Tucson is rich in both flavor and history. “It’s only one of two USA cities to be distinguished as a UNESCO City of Creative Gastronomy,” explains Brad Couch of Whiskey University, a school that specializes in teaching the art of bourbon and whiskey tasting. “The food here tells a story that dates back 4,000 years. Southern Arizona also hosts varied growing regions of wine, beer and spirits makers” The Elgin Winery and Distillery team agrees, saying, “Tucson is the City of Gastronomy!  Fantastic local food, spirits, wine, and beer abound.” 

The restaurants in Tucson are incredible. “For food, anywhere downtown is great!” says Katie from The Play District. “Mexican – La Chingada Cocina, Pizza – Reilly Craft Pizza, A little of everything – The Monica. For an upscale dining experience, definitely check out BATA, voted one of the best restaurants in the country.” 

Beverely Elliott of the African American Museum of Southern Arizona suggests Guadalajara Grill as a can’t-miss. “They will make fresh salsa or guacamole at your table and there are various flavors of their large margaritas to choose from–try the prickly pear! There’s enough to share!” 

Another popular spot is Ghini’s French Caffe. Featuring award-winning breakfast and lunch menus, Chef Coralie Satta, also known as Chef Ghini, has been a staple in the community since 1992. “My philosophy of Ghini’s is to emphasize freshness and simplicity. We only use whole and locally grown foods, creating dishes that taste amazing and are good for your mind, body, and soul.” A visit to Ghini’s French Caffe is essential to any Tucson bucket list.

When in Tucson, be adventurous with your food choices. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re in a city renowned by foodies everywhere. 

6. Watch the people and observe the animals 

Being so close to nature, Tucson experiences a unique blend of wildlife and city life. Beverely Elliott loves catching glimpses of critters in Tucson. 

“On sunny days, I often see people strolling, horseback riding, and dogs playing joyfully on the sand,” she says. “I also enjoy watching roadrunner birds freely crossing the riverbed and observing runners, cyclists, and families with strollers enjoying the serene moments along the river path. Antelope Squirrels live here as well, and the trees of nearby residents are adorned with various bird feeders, attracting colorful birds.”

A roadrunner bird stands perched on a rock

7. Visit the Gem and Mineral Show

Interested in expanding your crystals or gem collection? Then you’re in luck. Held annually in February, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is one of the biggest displays of gemstones, minerals, fossils, and jewelry in the country. People come from all over the world to experience this event highlighting Earth’s geological treasures. It’s a can’t miss for anyone building a Tucson bucket list.

8. Catch an Arizona Sunset 

Experiencing a sunset in Arizona is an essential to any Tucson bucket list. “Nowhere has the amazing desert sunsets that Tucson has,” says Judson Kinkade of local family-owned gluten-free bakery and café Dedicated. With wide open landscapes, the splendor of such a sight continues to make locals stop what they’re doing to watch. For the best spot to catch a sunset that will take your breath away, head to Gates Pass for an unobstructed view of the skyline.

Sunset silhouetting saguaro cacti in the Sonoran desert near Tucson, Arizona, USA. Soft focus. Scanned film.

9. Visit the African American Museum of Southern Arizona

Another museum that cannot be missed is the African American Museum of Southern Arizona. This museum is dedicated to gathering, sharing, and preserving stories of African American and Black life, culture, and history within Southern Arizona. Featuring plenty of exhibits and educational programs, this is sure to be a favorite stop on your journey.

10. Bike around town

Tucson is one of Arizona’s most bikeable cities, and is actually one of the most bikeable places in the whole country. The famous Chuck Huckelberry Loop captures the hearts of many with its approximately 137 miles of paved pathways. “The surrounding mountains, a haven for hikers, add another layer of appeal to Tucson’s charm,” says Tony Ray Baker of The Tucson Gallery. “The city is embraced by picturesque mountain ranges, offering countless trails for outdoor enthusiasts to explore and enjoy breathtaking vistas.”

If you’re an avid cycler, check out El Tour de Tucson in April. “People come from all over the world to spectate and participate in our annual ‘El Tour de Tucson’ bicycling event,” shares Coralie Satta, Chef and Owner of Ghini’s French Caffe. Enjoy the festival, cheer on the riders, and maybe even pick up a bike and join the race.

Not big on biking? There are other ways to explore the city. Tucson Trolley Tours offers walking, streetcar, bus, and trolley tours so you can discover all the hidden gems Tucson has to offer. 

Female mountain biker follows trail, in desert

11. Day trip to Tubac

If you’re looking to get out of the city and want a small-town experience, then Tubac is a must-add to your Tucson bucket list. Just a 40-minute drive from Tucson, Tubac is described as the place where art and history meet. “It’s been named by a USA Today National Poll as the ‘Best Small-Town Arts Scene’ for the past 3 consecutive years – and may very well do it again this year,” shares Johann Loutsch, director of Tubac School of Fine Art

Tubac sports an assortment of private art classes and workshops to experience during your visit, including several from Johann’s school, ranging from pottery to acrylics.

12. Experience the community

One of the best aspects of living in Tucson is the strong sense of community. “We at Ghini’s love how community minded our city is. We have successfully been in business since 1992 because of our local support and the bonus of our snowbirds to support us in the cooler months,” says Coralie Satta, owner of Ghini’s French Caffe. 

Supporting small businesses is vital to Tucson residents as it fosters a sense of community pride, preserves the unique character of local neighborhoods, and bolsters the local economy by creating jobs and promoting sustainable growth. “Tucson has some of the friendliest and most community focused people I’ve ever met. Residents appreciate supporting locally owned coffee shops like Roadrunner Coffee,” shares Darren Mills, one of the owners of Roadrunner Coffee.

David Weinstein of Defy Tucson, a local air sports and trampoline park, found himself drawn to the unique balance of a sprawling metropolitan city with a small-town feel. “Tucson is large enough to offer a variety of shopping, restaurants, cultural celebrations, recreation and world class gatherings like the Gem and Mineral Show, yet small enough that it retains a strong spirit of community.”

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