Tucson: Like No Place Else

Biosphere 2 and Old Tucson Studios are two of the more unusual attractions in this desert city.
By: Jennifer Netherby
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Prickly Pear Cactus with Yellow Blooms

Prickly Pear Cactus with Yellow Blooms

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum 

A great place to familiarize yourself with all the desert flora and fauna you’re likely to find in the wild. The museum is designed more like a zoo or botanical garden as visitors walk through re-created desert landscapes to get a closeup with mountain lions, Gila monsters, hummingbirds and other desert species in their natural habitats. Don’t worry, snakes and other reptiles are kept safely behind glass cases.  

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Also called the White Dove of the Desert, the Spanish mission is the oldest Catholic church in the country and was built in the 1700s by the Tohono O’odham Indians under the direction of Spanish missionaries trying to emulate Europe’s baroque-style facades. It's even more breathtaking after a restoration, and it's used for services to this day.

Fourth Avenue

Just off the University of Arizona campus, the walkable strip between University Boulevard and Ninth Street, has a mix of off-center boutiques, graffiti-painted coffeehouses, bars and some of the city’s best restaurants appealing to both the college crowd and post-college crowd. Twice a year the city hosts the popular Fourth Avenue Street Fair with dozens of local artists and craftspeople. Don’t miss the B Line restaurant or the Old Pueblo Trolley.

Old Tucson Studios

Originally built for the 1940 movie Arizona, Old Tucson studios continues to stand in for the Wild West in major films. It also operates as an amusement park with Old West stunt shows, shootouts and stagecoach rides. For a more authentic experience, though no less touristy, drive an hour south to Tombstone, “the town too tough to die.”

Mount Lemmon Ski Valley

Not only does it sometimes snow in the desert, Tucson residents only need to drive an hour out of town to go skiing. Mount Lemmon is generally open for skiing from December through April, but keep in mind it’s the southernmost ski resort in the United States and in a desert, so the weather doesn’t always cooperate. It’s not Aspen, but it’s good for a short ski or snowboard fix.

Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

Jewelers and dealers from around the world show off a treasure trove of gems every February at what has become the largest gem show in the United States. Plenty of awe-inspiring jewels are on exhibit on the show floor, but if you want to see more, there are lectures and special exhibits.

Biosphere 2

This futuristic-looking, glass-domed research center was built in the late 1980s to replicate the Earth’s atmosphere and allow scientists or an ecological cult of theater majors, depending on who you believe, to live on site and study the atmosphere. It’s since been sold to the U of A for research and is now open to the public. A tour takes you through rain forests, savanna and past a million-gallon salt-water ocean.


A little over an hour south of Tucson, this Old West mining town is now a hub of art galleries, restaurants and quirky residents. Take a train underground through the old mines on the Queen Mining Tour, or grab a drink in the saloon of the Victorian-style Copper Queen Hotel.