Dreaming of the Desert: Five Family-Friendly Activities in Tucson
Easy access to the Sonoran Desert makes the city of Tucson in southern Arizona an ideal destination for the adventurous family looking to bond with nature. Admire the region's rich flora and fauna at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, then see how many of those plants and animals you can spot in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. And, with an interactive museum for children and a water park, the next diversion is always just around the corner. As a rule of thumb, try to avoid Tucson during the height of summer, when temperatures climb as high as 115 degrees F.
See the Giant Saguaro at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
A zoo and botanical garden rolled into one, Tucson's Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (2021 N. Kinney Rd., Tucson, AZ) showcases the biological treasures of the Sonoran Desert to spectacular effect. Take a stroll along the half-mile Desert Loop Trail to admire coyotes, javelinas and giant Saguaro cacti; stop by the Riparian Corridor to see adorable otters and beavers; and pay a visit to Cat Canyon to observe the ocelots and bobcats. Admission is $15 for residents of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, and $21 for everyone else. Kids between the ages of 3 and 12 pay $8; younger tykes get in for free. Because most of the exhibits are outdoors, the museum recommends visiting in the morning to avoid the brutal midday heat in summer.
Hike and Swim at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
To get better acquainted with the Sonoran desert, spend a morning or afternoon exploring the oasis that is Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, which offers beautiful scenery and kid-friendly hiking trails along soothing creeks. The cascades here offer great photo ops. To keep little feet from getting too tired, consider a narrated tram tour with Sabino Canyon Tours (5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd., Tucson, AZ), which makes nine stops along the main road. You'll find restrooms and picnic tables along the route. Tram tours costs $10 per adult and $5 for children between the ages of 3 and 12. Children 2 and under ride for free.
Beat the Heat at Breakers Water Park
Boasting an oversized wave pool and multiple tube slides, Breakers Water Park (8555 West Tangerine Rd., Marana, AZ) is a perfect way to beat the desert heat. Toddlers can frolic hours away in the Captain Kidd's Surfari area, with pools, waterfalls and sprayers. Traditional theme park fare, like hot dogs, nachos and pizza, can be purchased inside the park. Breakers Water Park is open between late May and early September, with limited hours in August and September. Admission for patrons ages 12 and older is $27; children between the ages of 4 and 11 pay $20.
Ride Off Into the Sunset at Old Tucson Studios
A movie set that moonlights as a theme park, Old Tucson Studios (201 S. Kinney Rd., Tucson, AZ) is a fantastic way to introduce kids to the Western film genre. Visitors drive miniature antique cars, pan for gold and ride a western-themed carousel. Throughout the day, there are staged gun fights and stunt demonstrations that'll make you feel like an extra in a John Wayne flick. Presentations by costumed historians offer the chance to learn about American cowboy culture. Admission to Old Tucson Studios is $19 for visitors ages 12 and up. Children between the ages of 4 and 11 pay $11.
Experiment, Learn and Create at the Children's Museum Tucson
Scientific inquiry becomes child's play—literally—at the Children's Museum Tucson (200 S. 6th Ave., Tucson, AZ), where young patrons can learn about the principles behind electricity, simple machines and gravity; pretend to be veterinarians; and compose tunes on instruments in the outdoor Music Garden. Artistically inclined kids can let their creativity run wild in the Imaginarium Art Studio, where they fashion recycled materials into something new. Admission for adults and children is $8. Infants less than one year are free. Visit on the third day of the month and you'll pay only $3 per person.
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- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: What to See and Do
- Old Tucson Studios: Visit Us
- Breakers Water Park: Rides & Attractions
- Children's Museum Tucson: Tucson - Exhibits
- USDA: Coronado National Forest - Recreation
- Sabino Canyon Tours: Sabino Canyon Trail
- Frommer's: When to Go in Arizona
- Fodor's Travel Guides: Arizona - How's the Weather?
- Sabino Canyon Tours: Hours and Fees
Since beginning her career as a professional journalist in 2007, Nathalie Alonso has covered a myriad of topics, including arts, culture and travel, for newspapers and magazines in New York City. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Columbia University and lives in Queens with her two cats.