Tucson offers plenty of outdoor adventures, captivating museums, and vibrant attractions worthy of your limited downtime.
Embarking on one of the top things to do in Tucson will give you a well-deserved respite from your busy academic life. From immersing yourself in the beautiful Sonoran Desert at Saguaro National Park to exploring the city’s dynamic cultural scene, there’s an activity for everyone. As you navigate your journey through university, allow yourself to decompress and unwind with these rejuvenating experiences.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the top activities to do in Tucson during your breaks from studying. Remember to take time out and maximize your Tucson experience at the University of Arizona.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is a must-visit destination when you’re in Tucson. You can walk through a unique cactus forest, home to the iconic Saguaro cacti. The park has two districts: the Tucson Mountain District (west) and the Rincon Mountain District (east), each with distinct landscapes and outdoor activities. Go for a scenic drive, hike, or bike through the park, and appreciate the beauty of the Sonoran Desert.
Sabino Canyon, located in the Santa Catalina Mountains, offers a serene escape from the bustling city. The canyon is known for its picturesque trails, lush vegetation, and cascading waterfalls. You can explore the trails on foot or take a narrated tram tour to learn more about the area’s history and ecology.
Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park is situated at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a range of outdoor activities. With over 5,500 acres, the park is an excellent spot for hiking, bird watching, and horseback riding. Watch for unique wildlife, including bighorn sheep, during your visit.
Coronado National Forest
The Coronado National Forest covers many diverse landscapes, including the Sky Island mountain ranges. With numerous recreational opportunities such as hiking, mountain biking, and camping, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Experience southern Arizona’s rugged beauty and natural wonders by exploring the national forest’s various trails and outdoor activities.
Tucson Mountain Park
Tucson Mountain Park is a vast, 20,000-acre park that offers incredible outdoor experiences, from hiking and mountain biking to horseback riding and picnicking. The park is located in the unique Sonoran Desert ecosystem, giving you ample opportunities to appreciate the beauty of the desert flora and fauna.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
Colossal Cave Mountain Park is home to a vast cave system that has been a popular attraction for generations. Enjoy guided cave tours to discover its natural formations, fascinating history, and resident bats. The park also offers a range of outdoor activities, including hiking and horseback riding, along various scenic trails.
Museums and Art Galleries
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
When you need a break from your studies, immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes of the Sonoran Desert at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This unique attraction combines elements of a zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden to showcase the fascinating flora and fauna of the region. Enjoy live animal presentations, explore extensive walking trails, and admire the diverse plant life that the Sonoran Desert has to offer.
Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
Discover the enchanting world of miniatures at the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures. This charming museum transports you through time and space with its collection of over 300 miniature houses, room boxes, and other tiny treasures. The exhibits take you through different eras and styles, all crafted with impeccable precision and detail. Lose yourself in this magical world and marvel at the incredible skill showcased by the artists.
DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum
For art lovers, visiting the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Museum is a must. This historic gallery and studio, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, features the work of renowned artist Ted DeGrazia. With over 15,000 pieces in the collection, you can admire paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and sketches that capture the artist’s unique vision and love for the desert. Wander through the beautiful adobe buildings and courtyards, taking in this artistic oasis’s inspiring artwork and peaceful atmosphere.
Historical Sites and Architecture
San Xavier del Bac Mission
If you’re fascinated by history and beautiful architecture, visit the San Xavier del Bac Mission. This stunning Spanish Catholic mission, founded in 1692, is a gem in the heart of Tucson. Marvel at the intricate details of its exterior and the breathtaking artwork inside. As you explore the church, take a moment to appreciate the peaceful atmosphere and sense of history that pervades this sacred space.
Mount Lemmon and Old Pueblo Architecture
To change scenery, drive to Mt. Lemmon, one of Tucson’s most popular outdoor destinations. While climbing the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, admire the stunning views and immerse yourself in the beauty of the landscape. As you ascend, pay attention to the architecture of the Old Pueblo, which can be seen in the neighborhoods throughout Tucson. These unique styles reflect the blend of Spanish and Tohono O’odham cultures that have shaped the city.
Trail Dust Town
Finally, take a step back by visiting Trail Dust Town, a reconstructed Western town that will transport you to the wild west. This charming, family-friendly attraction features live shows, museums, and shopping opportunities that give you a taste of life in the old west. Don’t forget to try the various games and amusements and enjoy some tasty food at the on-site restaurants.
As you explore these historical sites and architecture in Tucson, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural legacy that the city holds, making your study breaks both enjoyable and enriching.
When you need a break from studying, explore the lively Downtown Tucson area. Various entertainment options, such as restaurants and nightlife venues, are spread across six districts: Main Gate, Fourth Avenue, Congress Street, Presidio, Convention, and Mercado. Each district’s unique history allows you to experience the city’s diverse atmosphere.
Fourth Avenue District
The Fourth Avenue District is a popular spot for shopping and entertainment. Here, you can explore a variety of local boutiques, galleries, and vintage shops, offering unique items and Tucson-made goods.
Some highlights in the Fourth Avenue District include:
- The Mercado San Agustin, an open-air market showcasing local vendors and artisans
- A selection of cafés, bars, and restaurants for a quick bite or a satisfying meal
- Street murals and public art installations perfect for an impromptu photo session
For a unique entertainment experience, pay a visit to the Gaslight Theatre. This family-friendly venue offers fun, interactive performances, including musicals, comedies, and melodramas. Be prepared to laugh and enjoy yourself while taking a well-deserved break from your studies.
Here’s what to expect at the Gaslight Theatre:
- Lively and engaging shows with audience participation
- Theme nights and seasonal events
- A full-service snack bar offering delicious treats to enjoy during the performance
In summary, when you need a break from your studies at the University of Arizona, Downtown Tucson and its districts offer a variety of entertaining activities, including shopping, dining, and live performances at the Gaslight Theatre.
Gardens and Nature
Tucson Botanical Gardens
Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson: For a change of scenery, immerse yourself in the tranquility of Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson. The gardens allow you to experience a traditional Japanese garden with a stunning combination of plants, water features, and architectural elements. Stroll along the tree-lined paths, and soak in the serene atmosphere, perfect for contemplation or a well-deserved break from your studies.
Overall, Tucson Botanical Gardens and Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson provide unique and refreshing escapes in the city’s heart. Enjoy these natural havens to unwind, relax, and rejuvenate during your study breaks at the University of Arizona.
Reid Park Zoo
As a student at the University of Arizona, taking a break from your studies is essential to maintain balance in your life. One unique way to unwind and explore nature is visiting Reid Park Zoo in Tucson. Here’s what you can expect when you take some time off to explore this wildlife gem.
Reid Park Zoo is home to diverse wildlife, allowing you to see and learn about animals you may not encounter elsewhere. At the zoo, you will have the chance to get up close with elephants and giraffes, as well as observe other fascinating animals in their carefully designed habitats. Don’t miss out on the giraffe experience, where you can watch them from a unique perspective.
The zoo focuses on the wildlife experience and offers various activities for you to enjoy. For a more immersive experience, consider taking one of the available adventure or bus tours. For example, the Saguaro National Park East E-Bike Tour is priced at $135.00 per adult, and the Tucson – Behind the Scenes Tour is priced at $50.00 per adult. These tours provide unique and exciting ways to learn about animals and their natural habitats.
In addition to the animal exhibits, Reid Park Zoo offers other attractions to enhance your visit. Some of the entertainment options include:
- A carousel
- A miniature train
- An air-conditioned café
- Educational programs
Furthermore, the zoo hosts various events for adults throughout the year, such as ZOOcson, Brew at the Zoo, and Wine Gone Wild, allowing you to mingle with fellow zoo enthusiasts while enjoying a refreshing drink.
While visiting Reid Park Zoo, remember to capture memories with the beautiful wildlife around you. This is the perfect way to diversify your study break and experience nature in a whole new way. So, when you need a break from your books, go to Reid Park Zoo for an unforgettable experience with wildlife.
Day Trips from Tucson
As a student at the University of Arizona, taking a break from studying is essential for maintaining a balanced lifestyle. When you need a breather, consider these day trips from Tucson that offer scenic views, outdoor activities, and relaxation.
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort
Need a luxurious break? Head to Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, just 30 minutes away from campus. Surrounded by the stunning Catalina Mountain range, this upscale resort offers a variety of amenities to help you unwind:
- Lounge by one of the two swimming pools or indulge in a spa treatment
- Play a round of golf on the two championship courses
- Hike or bike on nearby trails in Sabino Canyon
The resort’s serene atmosphere and elegant facilities create an ideal day trip setting.
For a more urban escape, drive two hours to Phoenix, Arizona’s bustling capital city. With a vibrant downtown area and countless attractions, Phoenix offers something for everyone:
- Visit the renowned Heard Museum, showcasing Native American art and culture
- Explore the Desert Botanical Garden, featuring unique desert plants and flora
- Catch a sports game or live show at an event venue such as Chase Field
Whether it’s for leisure, culture, or a taste of city life, Phoenix provides a variety of engaging experiences for a change of pace.
Take advantage of your proximity to Arizona’s most beautiful national parks. Spending a day outside surrounded by nature can rejuvenate and motivate you to tackle your studies once you return to campus:
- Drive one hour to Saguaro National Park West or East, both home to the iconic saguaro cactus
- Explore the Kartchner Caverns, just an hour south of Tucson, and marvel at the limestone cave formations
- Journey to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, about two hours away, to witness the diverse desert landscape
These national parks offer fresh air and a chance to connect with nature during your day off.
Food and Dining
When you’re in Tucson, you can’t miss out on exploring the city’s unique and diverse food scene. Whether you’re craving delicious Mexican food or looking for a trendy new spot, there’s something for everyone.
Start by indulging in authentic Mexican cuisine in South Tucson. There are many local eateries, like Tucson Foodie’s recommended spots, where you can sample mouth-watering dishes like carne asada, fish, and chicken tacos. Make sure to try some local specialties like chiltepins, cholla buds, and prickly pear syrup.
In addition to Mexican fare, Tucson also offers a variety of restaurants, ranging from American to Thai cuisine. You can enjoy an upscale dining experience at Tito & Pep, which serves American dishes and delicious cocktails. Or suppose you’re in the mood for Asian flavors. In that case, Thuy’s Noodle Shop offers a unique taste of Vietnamese dishes in nearby Bisbee, Arizona, as mentioned in the Ultimate Tucson Visitor’s Guide.
While exploring Tucson’s food scene, you’ll also come across various unique establishments that make the city’s cuisine stand out. Try the famous Sonoran hotdogs at popular food trucks or local joints. You can also sample dishes made from indigenous ingredients like mesquite flour, tepary beans, and White Sonoran wheat at Lonely Planet’s recommended restaurants that showcase Tucson’s UNESCO-recognized food culture.
Don’t forget to take a break from studying by visiting one of Tucson’s many coffee shops or cafes. They’re perfect for grabbing a quick bite, enjoying a cup of your favorite brew, or even getting some work done while surrounded by the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans.
With so many delectable dining options, Tucson has something to satisfy every palate. So take advantage of your time at the University of Arizona, and enjoy the wide range of delicious food and unique culinary experiences the city offers.
Hey, you made it to the end!
Don’t forget to treat yourself to a break from your studies and check out all that Tucson has to offer. With an array of thrilling outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and delicious food, there’s something for every university student looking to unwind. So go ahead, ditch those textbooks and dive into the exciting activities we’ve highlighted. You deserve a well-deserved break!