Friday, 30 October 2015

Tourists looking for a warm weather destination filled with cultural attractions and outdoor activities should think about Tucson.

Home to the University of Arizona, the greater Tucson area is sprawling at 236 square miles and counts more than half a million residents. If you're headed there on vacation, we have 25 things you can do for less than $25. Enjoy your trip to the desert!

1. Walk through the desert

At the  Arizona–Sonora Desert Museum, visitors can walk through two miles of well–groomed paths and see a variety of desert habitats, with 230 animal species and 1,200 different types of plants  on display. Admission is $19.50 for adults, $15.50 for those 13 to 17 years old, and $6 for kids 4 to 12 years old. Bonus: a free, docent-led tour is included with admission.

2. Visit a Western movie set

Tucson has served as the background for many popular Westerns like "Rio Bravo" and television shows like "Little House on the Prairie." You and your family can experience those films with a visit to  Old Tucson. Living history presentations are available, as well as tours and shows. Tickets are $17.95 for adults and $10.95 for kids 4 to 11 years old, with tours included. Check online for the event calendar.

3. Visit a historic mission

Mission San Xavier del Bac  was founded as a Catholic mission in 1692, and the church was built from 1783 to 1797. Rich in architecture and artwork, it's the oldest European structure in Arizona and was actually a part of Mexico until 1854. Visitors are welcome free of charge, but donations are appreciated.

4. Hike through a national park

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park  is a regional treasure and is home to the iconic Saguaro cacti. There are a variety of guided programs scheduled within the park, and the hiking trails are open to the public. Note: temperatures regularly reach upward of 100 degrees, so bring enough water, and wear sunscreen and a hat. Entry to the park is just $10 per car.

5. Enjoy art and nature

Looking for a leisurely way to spend a day? Head over to  Tohono Chul, a 49–acre complex that includes trails lined with cacti, gorgeous botanical gardens, art exhibits, a cafe, and a gift shop. Tickets are $10 for adults and $3 for kids 3 to 12 years old.

6. Get close to a grizzly bear

The  Reid Park Zoo  is impressive for its size and a fun place to see more than 500 animals, including the bears, rhinos, zebras, and giraffes. It's also home to Nandi, the first elephant ever born in Arizona. Admission is $9 for adults and $5 for kids 2 to 14 years old.

7. Snack on calamari

Risky Business  is a family restaurant and sports bar with two locations in Tucson. Their spot on East Tanque Verde Road allows kids to eat free on Tuesday nights with the purchase of a $10 adult meal. There's also $6 appetizers during happy hour. Try the angry calamari and taco salad.

8. Check out the stars

Here's your chance to really  see the stars in the sky. The  Kitt Peak National Observatory offers access to multiple telescopes and tours for the public. You'll need to drive to the top of Kitt Peak–about 12 miles up–but there are plenty of opportunities for picture-taking. Tickets (including tours), are $9.75 for adults and $3.25 for kids 7 to 12 years old.

9. Learn about aircraft history

The Pima Air Space Museum

The Pima Air & Space Museum  is perfect for the aerospace lover in your family. It's one of the largest aviation museums in the country with more than 300 aircrafts on display. Check the calendar for events. Admission is $15.50 for adults and $9 for kids 7 to 12 years old.

10. Relax among gardens

The Tucson Botanical Gardens  offers a whopping 16 gorgeous gardens for you and your family to stroll through. Gardens of butterflies, birds, wildflowers, and cacti are all curated to promote education as well as their aesthetic beauty. Admission depends on the time of year, but are not more than $13 for adults and $7.50 for kids 4 to 12 years old.

11. Get into oil paintings

The  DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun  displays the works of Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia, who specialized in oil paintings of the Southwest landscape. The six permanent collections of the late artist are divided by different themes and periods of DeGrazia's work and offer strong, colorful depictions of the culture and history. Admission and tours are free, but need to be scheduled in advance. The 90-minute tour includes 30 minutes outside, so wear comfortable shoes.

12. Grab a beer

Craft beer fans will want to check out the  Thunder Canyon Brewery Restaurant and Pub, which has two locations in Tucson. Its Foothills Mall spot offers $2.50 kids meals on Mondays with the adult purchase of an entrée. Make sure to try the Blackout Stout and Broadway Brown Porter when you're there.

13. Learn about Jewish culture in Arizona

The Jewish History Museum is in a beautiful building on South Stone Avenue and was the first Jewish house of worship when it was built in 1910. Though the building has gone under periodic restorations and renovations, the architecture still retains the original classical influence. Admission is $7 per person–check the website for current hours.

14. Hike up Pusch Peak

Ready for a strenuous hike? If so, drive over to the trailhead of  Pusch Peak  and hike the 3.9-mile round-trip trek. Note: This hike is very difficult, so only experienced hikers should give it a try. Protect yourself with sunscreen and a hat, and bring plenty of water. Budget at least three hours for this free experience.

15. Eat some Mexican food

Mexican restaurant  Casa Molina, a Tucson original since 1947, serves arguably some of the best beef tacos in the United States. The eatery allows kids under 6 years old to eat for free from the buffet on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

16. Admire works of artistic genius

Mark Rothko is one of the great postwar American artists and his "Green on Blue" is on display until mid–May 2016 at  The University of Arizona Museum of Art. Other American greats like Edward Hopper and Jackson Pollack also have works on display here. Admission is $5 for adults and free for everyone else. Docent-led tours are also free.

17. Visit a cathedral

St. Augustine Cathedral

The  Saint Augustine Cathedral  was built in 1858 and stands today as one of the most beautiful churches in Tucson. Guided tours are available by appointment, but it is free to walk inside and look around the cathedral.

18. Go to a Smithsonian Observatory

Located just south of Tucson, the  Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory  is a Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory that offers multiple mirror telescopes to view the sky with. Also interesting is the Native American petroglyph on display on the outdoor patio. Tours cost $10 for adults and $5 for kids 6 to 12 years old.

19. Walk the Turquoise Trail

Interested in going for a leisurely stroll? If so, check out the  Turquoise Trail, a 2.5-mile-long loop through downtown Tucson. Formerly the Presidio Trail, the self-guided tour will take you to many historic buildings and statues. Pick up a map at the Tucson Visitors Center or download it from the website. This experience is free of charge.

20. Look at incredible photography

The Center for Creative Photography  is free to the public and a fascinating place for shutterbugs to spend an afternoon in Tucson. Check out artwork from local photographers and listen to lectures from the artists themselves. View the website for the exhibitions and events calendar.

21. Learn about the history of transportation

The restoration of the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in downtown Tucson was completed in 2004 and the  Southern Arizona Transportation Museum  opened in its place. Here, you and your family can learn about the history of train travel in Arizona, as well as how the railroads influenced the state. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

22. Hike Tumamoc Hill

Those looking for a leisurely walk should head over to  Tumamoc Hill. The hike is 3.1 miles round-trip and is along a paved road, so you won't need hiking boots. Night hiking is allowed, so it offers fantastic views of Tucson's sunrises and sunsets. It's free to the public.

23. Take in modern art

Challenge your perceptions of modern art at  the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson, Arizona  (MOCA), which has exhibitions featuring many up-and-coming artists bringing their visions to life across different mediums. The museum often has free public days, so check the website for dates.

24. Check out rocks and minerals

If you have a young scientist interested in mineralogy,  the University of Arizona Mineral Museum  is the place to go in Tucson. There's over 2,000 minerals on display, as well as meteorites and fossil exhibits. Bonus: there is also a planetarium on site. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for kids 4 to 15 years old.

25. Learn about Southwestern culture

Spend a day learning about Southwestern art and culture at the Arizona State Museum. Their comprehensive archaeological artifacts include extensive collections of American Indian basketry, Mexican folk masks, and Navajo textiles. See the website for current and ongoing exhibitions. Tickets to the museum cost $15 for adults, and kids get in for free.


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