an orange sky behind the moutain backdrop of tucson with the city in the foreground

An Unforgettable 3-Day Tucson Itinerary: Best Things To Do (2023)

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Are you looking for a Tucson itinerary to keep you busy for just a few days? You’ve come to the right place as we cover what you can do if you only have three days in this incredible city.

Hello fellow travelers!

We understand the dilemma you might face when traveling to a city like Tucson: how to make the most of your time while ensuring you experience the city’s true essence. It’s a tricky balancing act, especially when you only have a few days.

No worries, we’ve got your back!

Our passion for travel has taken us to numerous cities worldwide, and Tucson, with its remarkable blend of vibrant culture, rich history, and breathtaking landscapes, has a special place in our hearts.

Having visited this beautiful city and spent a decent amount of time exploring its corners, we’re delighted to share an itinerary enabling you to see the best of Tucson.

The adventure that awaits you is filled with awe-inspiring views, mouthwatering cuisine, and vibrant culture and history.

Get ready to fall in love with Tucson, just like we did.

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3 Days In Tucson Itinerary

From exploring the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to experiencing Tucson’s rich history and indulging in its culinary delights, prepare to be captivated by the diverse range of activities this city offers.

Let’s dive in and discover the best things to do in Tucson in just three days with our carefully crafted Tucson itinerary!

a doorway with colorful purple and blue painted adobe walls and red door, seeing these gorgeous homes downtown is part of our tucson itinerary

Check Out The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum


The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, located just outside Tucson, is a truly unique fusion of a zoo, botanical garden, aquarium, natural history museum, and art gallery.

Spanning 98 acres and showcasing the diverse fauna and flora of the Sonoran Desert, this museum offers a comprehensive insight into the region’s natural wonders and conservation efforts.

Zoo:

The zoo portion of the museum houses more than 230 animal species native to the Sonoran Desert.

In naturalistic enclosures, you can encounter bobcats, coyotes, Gila monsters, and even mountain lions.

The museum’s Raptor Free Flight program is a must-see, featuring birds of prey in an open-air demonstration.

📎 Tip: If you don’t get your fill of animals here at the museum, swing by the Reid Park Zoo as well. You can spot giraffes, elephants, grizzly bears, lions, and more.

Botanical Garden:

The botanical garden component highlights the desert’s plant life, featuring more than 1,200 varieties of plants.

These range from the iconic saguaro cactus to various species of agave and wildflowers.

Several walking trails take you through different desert landscapes, providing an immersive and educational botanical experience.

If you don’t get your fill of botanical gardens here at the museum, we have a couple more options for you.

The Tucson Botanical Gardens is a beautiful place to explore a variety of themed gardens, such as the butterfly garden, historical garden, wildflower garden, and Mexican-American neighborhood garden.

Watch for hummingbirds, quails, cardinals, and butterflies as you wander the many trails.

For a more tranquil experience, visit Tohono Chul, a botanical garden with cacti, succulents, herbs, flowers, sculptures, and hiking trails.

Take a break and treat yourself to a delicious meal at either Edna’s Eatery in the Tucson Botanical Garden or the on-site Phoebe’s Coffee Bar and Ocotillo Cafe at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Aquarium:

Experience the wonders of the underwater world at the Warden Aquarium, located within the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

The aquarium showcases exhibits on freshwater rivers and the Gulf of Mexico, providing a captivating glimpse into the diverse aquatic life in the Sonoran Desert region.

Overall, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum provides an enriching, multidimensional experience, making it a must-visit destination in Tucson.

a ram stands among the red rocks at the zoo section of arizona-sonora desert museum

Take Flight At Pima Air & Space Museum

The Pima Air & Space Museum is an absolute must-see, showcasing over 300 military, commercial, and private aircraft spanning over 100 years of aviation history.

The museum’s impressive collection ranges from a replica of the Wright brothers’ 1903 flyer to modern military jets, including an SR-71 Blackbird and a B-29 Superfortress.

It also showcases commercial and civilian aircraft, highlighting the broader scope of aviation history.

You can explore five large hangars and numerous outdoor exhibits, some focusing on specific themes like WWII or space exploration.

To make the most of your Pima Air & Space Museum visit, hop on the tram for a 45-minute ride that provides plenty of information about the impressive collection of jets, planes, and other equipment on display.

Discover Saguaro National Park

It’s time to head to the iconic Saguaro National Park, named after the majestic saguaro cactus that only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

Split into two distinct districts – the Rincon Mountain District (East) and the Tucson Mountain District (West) – the park offers a variety of experiences and breathtaking views for nature enthusiasts.

East District (Rincon Mountain)

Begin your journey through Saguaro National Park in the East District (Rincon Mountain), known for its spectacular views and long hiking trails.

Popular trails in the park include Freeman Homestead Trail, Loma Verde Loop, and Bridal Wreath Falls Trail, providing an immersive experience of the diverse landscapes of the Sonoran Desert.

For a short yet rewarding hike, tackle the Desert Ecology Trail Loop.

For a different perspective, drive the Cactus Forest Loop Drive, a paved road that takes you through the heart of the park, offering breathtaking views and access to trailheads.

a saguaro cactus stands next to the paved road in saguaro national park, spend time in saguaro national park as part of your tucson itinerary

West District (Tucson Mountain)

Time to head to the other half of Saguaro National Park. You can divide your day into halves and spend time on each side. OR devote your day to just one side of the park.

If you decide to visit just one district, we vote you focus on the West District (Tucson Mountain) as it is the smaller and more popular side.

This district is famous for its sunset spots and incredible views of the impressive saguaro cacti that dot the landscape.

As you explore this side of the park, you’ll be captivated by the towering cacti and the diverse wildlife that calls the Sonoran Desert home.

A must-visit spot in the West District is the Signal Hill Trail, which leads to petroglyphs left behind by the ancient Hohokam people.

These ancient markings offer a glimpse into the region’s rich history, and the breathtaking sunset views will leave you in awe at the end of the day.

When you are ready to rest your feet, drive the Bajada Loop, a packed dirt path that takes you through some of the densest areas of saguaro cacti inside the park.

Explore Tucson’s Rich History

Now that you’ve experienced the natural wonders of Tucson, it’s time to explore the city’s rich history, from Mission San Xavier del Bac’s stunning Spanish colonial architecture to the diverse Tucson Museum of Art collection.

As you immerse yourself in the stories of the past, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the city’s unique heritage and the cultural tapestry that makes Tucson such a fascinating destination.

mission san xavier del bac from a slight angle and shot low so it appears large and fills the frame with dark clouds

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Begin your historical journey at Mission San Xavier del Bac, a Catholic mission built in 1783 that boasts exquisite Spanish colonial architecture and beautifully painted frescoes.

As you explore this National Historic Landmark, marvel at the intricate details and craftsmanship that have stood the test of time.

The mission continues to serve the local community, offering a glimpse into the enduring spirit and traditions of the region.

Take a free 45-minute docent-led tour to fully appreciate the history and significance of Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Don’t miss the retablo, a massive altarpiece depicting Native American and colonial scenes, a testament to the blending of cultures in the region.

📎 Tip: After your tour, enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the mission and the city from the small hill next to the church.

Tucson Museum of Art

Next, visit the Tucson Museum of Art, a cultural institution showcasing art from around the world.

Housed in restored 19th-century adobe buildings, the museum features a diverse art collection, including indigenous pieces dating back over a thousand years.

Explore the museum’s galleries, where you’ll encounter permanent and traveling exhibits that span various styles, periods, and cultures.

After immersing yourself in Tucson’s rich history and art, stroll around the El Presidio neighborhood to admire the well-preserved adobe homes, Sonoran Row houses, and Hohokam pit houses that showcase the city’s architectural evolution.

As you wander the city streets, don’t forget to keep an eye out for Tucson’s vibrant murals, a testament to the city’s thriving arts scene.

various potted cacti sit in the sun on a tucson patio

Culinary Delights of Tucson

A visit to Tucson wouldn’t be complete without indulging in the city’s mouthwatering culinary delights, including the iconic El Charro Café, the oldest family-run Mexican restaurant in the United States.

From the delicious chimichanga to the famous Sonoran hot dog at El Güero Canelo, Tucson’s food scene will satisfy your cravings and leave your taste buds wanting more.

El Charro Café

Treat yourself to a meal at El Charro Café, a historic Mexican restaurant that has delighted diners since 1922.

Sample their famous chimichanga or the Carne Seca Platter, both bursting with flavor and showcasing the restaurant’s authentic Mexican cuisine.

El Charro Café also offers a dedicated plant-based menu, ensuring that vegan and vegetarian diners can enjoy a taste.

Located near Old Town Artisans, El Charro Café is the perfect spot to refuel after exploring Tucson’s vibrant arts and culture scene.

With its warm ambiance and delicious menu, this historic restaurant is a must-visit for anyone seeking to experience the true flavors of Tucson.

Sonoran Hot Dog at El Güero Canelo

Head to El Güero Canelo, where you can savor the famous Sonoran Hot Dog.

This Tucson must-try food is a bacon-wrapped hot dog served on a bolillo-style bun with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, and condiments like mayo, mustard, and jalapeno salsa.

Originating in the Mexican state of Sonora, the Sonoran Hot Dog has become a beloved snack on the streets of Tucson and an authentic taste of the region.

Don’t leave the city without indulging in this delicious and iconic dish, which perfectly encapsulates the unique flavors of Tucson.

three homemade sonoran hot dogs filled with colorful condiments, eating unique cuisine should be part of your tucson itinerary

Outdoor Adventures in and Around Tucson

With its stunning desertscape and dramatic mountains, Tucson offers a plethora of outdoor adventures for nature enthusiasts.

From the picturesque Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, with its diverse trails and recreational opportunities, to the winding Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway, which affords breathtaking views of the desert and mountains, there’s no shortage of ways to explore the great outdoors in and around Tucson.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Start your outdoor adventure at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, a popular spot for hiking, swimming, camping, and picnicking.

With its diverse trails and stunning views of nature, Sabino Canyon is the perfect destination for a day of exploration and adventure.

To make the most of your visit, consider taking a tram ride through the canyon, which provides an informative and scenic way to experience this popular attraction.

After working up an appetite, enjoy a picnic with a view at one of the many picturesque spots within the recreation area.

If you prefer a sit-down meal, head to one of the nearby restaurants on Sabino Canyon Road, such as Arizona Pizza Company, Nico’s Mexican Food, or the Hidden Grill.

With its captivating scenery and range of outdoor activities, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a perfect destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

the city of tucson with a mountain backdrop

Catalina State park

The nearby Catalina State Park is a gem of Arizona’s state park system. It is a 5,500-acre park at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains, perfect for hiking, camping, and even bringing your pup along for the adventure.

The park is home to over 150 species of birds, making it a paradise for bird watchers. It also hosts diverse wildlife, including bobcats, javelinas, and the occasional mountain lion.

The park provides a home to more than 5,000 saguaros and several unique desert plants, serving as a living botanical garden.

With more than 50 miles of trails for hiking and equestrian use, you can explore the Sonoran Desert landscape and enjoy breathtaking views, particularly from the Romero Ruins Trail leading to the ancient Hohokam village.

Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway

For a different perspective of Tucson’s natural beauty, drive the Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway.

This winding road takes you through the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers stunning views of the desert and mountains.

While the drive could be done in an hour, with so many scenic overlooks and photo opportunities, you may end up passing the whole day away by frequently stopping to take in the awe-inspiring views.

The Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway provides a visual feast for the eyes and offers access to numerous hiking trails, picnic spots, and campgrounds along the way.

Whether you’re seeking a leisurely drive or a more active adventure, the Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway is for anyone looking to experience Tucson’s diverse landscapes and outdoor activities.

the scenic drive at mt lemmon, photo shows the road heading between two mountains in the distance

Unwinding in Tucson’s Nightlife

After a day of exploration and adventure, it’s time to unwind and experience Tucson’s nightlife’s warm and festive spirit.

Downtown Tucson is home to an array of bars, clubs, and lounges, offering the perfect setting for a night on the town.

From historic landmarks like the Hotel Congress to trendy craft beer bars, there’s something for everyone in Tucson’s vibrant nighttime scene.

If you’re looking for a more laid-back atmosphere, head to Speedway Boulevard, where you’ll find a selection of bars and taverns offering craft beer and cocktails in a relaxed setting.

For a more lively night out, the El Presidio neighborhood boasts a range of bars and clubs featuring live music, dancing, and an energetic atmosphere.

Rundown Of Your Tucson Itinerary

Whew! That was a lot of suggestions on what to do in Tucson, huh?

But how do you break it up into your three days?

Honestly, you can mix and match it in any way you want, but here is a possible way to do it. If you want to spend some quality time in the natural areas, you will likely have to pick between options rather than fit them all in.

3-day Breakdown Option

  • Day 1:
    • Arizona-Sonora Museum
    • San Xavier del Bac Mission
    • Tucson Museum of Art
    • El Charro Cafe For Authentic Mexican
  • Day 2:
    • Saguaro National Park (either split your day or focus only on the West District)
    • El Guero Canelo For A Sonoran Hot Dog
  • Day 3:
    • Pima Air & Space Museum
    • Sabino Canyon Recreation Area OR Catalina State Park
    • Mt Lemmon Scenic Byway
  • Optional If Time: Day Trips to Tombstone, Bisbee, or Chiricahua National Monument

Map For Things To Do In Tucson, Az

We love a good map and know that tons of people are more visual learners. So we have created this map to help you locate all the spots we discussed here in our 3-day Tucson itinerary.

If you are on your phone, click the square box at the top right, and it will open directly into google maps for directions from your location.


Where to Stay in Tucson

We have selected a few recommendations for their unique character, comfort, and convenience. These picks cater to various travel budgets, ensuring a stay that meets everyone’s needs in Tucson, Arizona.

Luxury 💵 💵 💵 – Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort

  • Offers a luxurious and tranquil setting in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains, surrounded by natural beauty
  • Provides several dining options that showcase Southwestern-inspired cuisine using locally sourced ingredients
  • Amenities include a heated pool, a full-service spa, a fitness center, and horseback riding trails

➡️ Check Prices & Availability at Hacienda Del Sol


Mid-Range 💵 💵 – Lodge On The Desert

  • Historic boutique hotel in central Tucson featuring authentic Southwestern architecture and decor
  • Offers a range of amenities, including an outdoor pool, a hot tub, and a locally loved restaurant featuring a modern American menu with a Southwestern twist
  • Lodge is surrounded by manicured lawns and gardens, creating a serene desert oasis

➡️ Check Prices & Availability at Lodge On The Desert


Budget 💵 – Hotel McCoy

  • Retro-style boutique hotel with modern amenities celebrating Tucson’s arts and culture
  • Offers unique perks like a complimentary local craft beer at check-in and an art-filled space with murals and installations by local artists
  • Features a pool, an outdoor lounge, and provides free shuttle service to downtown and the airport

➡️ Check Prices & Availability at Hotel McCoy


a saguaro cactus up close so you can see the arms and a portion of the main stalk in front of the bright sunlight

Getting Around Tucson

Navigating Tucson is a breeze thanks to the city’s accessible transportation options.

While the Sun Tran bus system offers over 40 routes, including 13 express services throughout the city, renting a car or using Uber/Lyft is the best way to get around Tucson.

This allows you the freedom and flexibility to explore the city at your own pace, ensuring that you don’t miss any of Tucson’s incredible attractions and experiences.

We always recommend Discover Cars to compare prices when renting because they carry all the big rental companies in one place, like Hertz and Dollar.

🚙 Check Prices for your Ride with Discover Cars

Day Trips near Tucson

With only three days to see the sights in the city, we doubt you will want to take the time to take a day trip. But we are providing a few options in case you end up having the extra time or just really want to see what else Arizona offers.

Tombstone

A mere 75 miles southeast of Tucson, Tombstone, Arizona, invites you on a unique journey back to the Wild West.

Its preserved 19th-century architecture, dirt roads, and the legendary O.K. Corral – the site of the notorious 1881 gunfight – instantly transport you back to the days of gunslingers and saloons.

A stroll down East Allen Street reveals period-specific saloons, shops, and the fascinating Bird Cage Theatre, a saloon-turned-museum that recaptures the spirit of the town’s vibrant past.

You can also visit the Boothill Graveyard for a stark reminder of the violent frontier life.

picture of rocky mountains and cacti in arizona, getting out in the nature surrounding tucson is part of our tucson itinerary

Bisbee

Bisbee, approximately 100 miles southeast of Tucson, is a captivating destination beloved for its rich mining history, well-preserved architecture, and flourishing art scene.

Once the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco, Bisbee’s past is rooted in copper mining.

A visit to the Queen Mine, one of the oldest copper mines in Arizona, provides an in-depth look at the area’s mining history.

Above ground, the town’s character shines through its Victorian and European-style architecture, with colorful buildings nestled into the hillsides. Art lovers will appreciate the many galleries showcasing local and regional artists.

A stroll through the charming district of Old Bisbee offers a mix of the town’s vibrant past and its dynamic present, making it the perfect day trip.

Chiricahua National Monument

The Chiricahua National Monument, about 120 miles east of Tucson, is a hidden treasure of the Southwest.

Known as a “Wonderland of Rocks,” this park offers awe-inspiring landscapes of extensive rock formations, known as hoodoos, crafted by millions of years of volcanic activity and erosion.

Covering 12,000 acres, the park offers over 17 miles of day-use hiking trails varying from easy walks to strenuous hikes. The Heart of Rocks Loop is a particular highlight, showcasing some of the park’s most intricate and fascinating formations.

Bird watchers will enjoy the monument’s status as a globally important bird area, with over 170 species recorded.

And the monument’s secluded location also makes for excellent stargazing.

a small building sits along the mountain with saguaro cactus throughout the image

FAQS For 3 Days In Tucson

Let’s answer some common questions about visiting Tucson.

How many days do you need in Tucson?

If you’re planning a trip to Tucson, we’d recommend setting aside at least three days to take in some of the sights. From exploring the nearby mountains to sampling some of the city’s excellent restaurants and museums, there’s plenty to see and do during your stay.

Is Tucson better than Sedona?

Both Tucson and Sedona offer beautiful natural landscapes with plenty of outdoor activities, making it hard to decide which is better. While Tucson’s mountainous backdrop can provide a scenic view, Sedona stands out with its distinct red rocks and hiking trails. Ultimately, the answer comes down to personal preference and what type of scenery you prefer.

What is the best month to visit Tucson?

The best time to visit Tucson, Arizona, is during spring, specifically March and April. This period offers mild temperatures, low rainfall, and a particularly stunning desert bloom. October and November in the fall also provide comfortable weather for outdoor activities and sightseeing.

What Is Tucson Most Known For?

Tucson is known for its stunning desert landscape, rich Native American history, vibrant Mexican-influenced culture, and food. It’s home to the University of Arizona, Saguaro National Park and renowned for its clear skies, making it a premier destination for stargazing and home to the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Is Tucson An Expensive City?

Tucson is generally considered more affordable than many other U.S. cities. Its cost of living is lower than the national average, with housing being particularly inexpensive. However, like in any city, expenses can vary depending on personal lifestyle and choices, such as dining preferences and entertainment activities.

an orange sky behind the moutain backdrop of tucson with the city in the foreground

To Finish – UnforgettableTucson Itinerary: The Best Things To Do

In just three days, you’ll be able to explore Tucson’s natural wonders, rich history, and vibrant culture.

From the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park to the exquisite architecture of Mission San Xavier del Bac and the diverse Tucson Museum of Art collection, there’s something for everyone in this southwestern gem.

As you venture through our Tucson itinerary, you’ll discover a city as diverse and captivating as the desert surrounding it.

With its unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, Tucson promises a memorable adventure that will leave you longing to return for more.