The Sunflower community has so many activities that you could spend your entire time within Sunflower and not be wanting for things to do. However, Tucson has many local area attractions so rich in natural and historical sites that your visit is not complete without getting out and seeing some of these. The following is a short list of things to do. For a more comprehensive list of local attractions and events, click here.
For a list of area golf courses, click
Biking & Walking Paths
Colossal Cave Mountain Park
DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun
Flandrau Science Center
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Kitt Peak National
Saguaro National Park
San Xavier Mission
Zoo (Reid Park)
Air & Space Museum
American Indian Museum
Fort Huachuca Museums
Fort Lowell Museum
Jewish History Museum
Mining & Mineral Museums
Titan Missile Museum
Toy Train Museum
Perhaps Tucson's most notable, or should we say most easily noted, landmark is "A" Mountain. Rising above downtown, the peak has witnessed the history and growth of the city. Stjukson, meaning "spring at the foot of the black mountain," was the name of the original Native American settlement in the shelter of the peak. The US Army named the mountain Sentinel Peak for its strategic importance. Since 1916, U of A freshmen have made a yearly tradition of painting the now namesake letter "A." You can drive to the top of the peak to enjoy a panoramic view of the city Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sun. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information, phone the City of Tucson Parks & Recreation Department, (520) 791-5909. For interesting historical information, click here.
Take a step back into the military heyday of the Old Pueblo at
the Fort Lowell Museum (in Fort Lowell Park, 2900 N. Craycroft
Rd., (520) 885-3832, click here for information).
Located in an adobe reproduction of an officer's quarters, this museum features exhibits about life on the Arizona frontier. The outpost, established in 1873, housed several Army regiments, provided protection to settlers, and served as a supply base. Open Fri. – Sat., 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Admission fees: $3 for adults; $2 for students and seniors; free for children under 12. Free admission on the first Saturday of each month.
One of the largest collections of historic aircraft in the US is
at the Pima Air & Space Museum, 6000 E. Valencia Rd. Its
Space Gallery offers a historical look at space travel, while
several hangars house memorabilia, airplanes, and exhibits. More
than 250 aircraft are on display, inside and out, from 9 a.m. to
5 p.m. daily. Admission fee. Phone (520) 574-0462. While you're
there, stop by the Challenger Learning Center of the Southwest,
where you'll find a mission-briefing room, transportation room,
mission-control area, and space station. Click here for more
Another sure bet is the partly underground tour at the Titan Missile Museum. You can see the massive 760-ton rollback silo door, visit the launch-control center, and experience a simulated launch. In Sahuarita (take Duval Mine Rd. west, exit 69, off I-19). Phone (520) 625-7736. Click here for more information.
Take a jaunt into southeastern Arizona for Fort Huachuca's Main, Annex, and US Army Intelligence Museums (520-533-5736). The Main and Annex Museums explore our military past from 1877 to the present, and the Intelligence Museum records Fort Huachuca's place in the history of US Army intelligence. Open weekdays 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and weekends 1-4 p.m. Free admission; donations accepted. Click here for visitor information.
Toy-train aficionados will want to make a stop at the Gadsden-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum (888-2222), with more than 6,000 square feet of displays and detailed scenic tracks. Located at 3975 N. Miller Ave. near N. Romero and W. Roger Rds., it's a little hard to find but well worth the effort. Attractions include videos about train history, old telegraph equipment, and other historic memorabilia including hundreds of toy trains that date back to the 1940s. Call ahead for days and hours of operation or click here for complete information. Next stop: fun!
A winding uphill drive west on Speedway Blvd. (which becomes Gates Pass Rd.) brings you, at its apex, to Gates Pass – and panoramic views of Tucson to the east and Saguaro National Park to the west (described below). It's a perfect setting for inspiring sunrises, midday contemplation, and romantic sunsets. (It's a favorite ride for bicyclists, too – so be aware!) Click here for photos, history and a map.
The Amerind Foundation Museum (Amerind is short for American
Indian) contains a fine collection of archaeological and
ethnographic materials. The Amerind Art Gallery features
works by Native American and Anglo-American artists. Visit the museum
store and enjoy the scenic picnic area. Located east of Benson,
an hour from Tucson, in the spectacular rock formations of Texas
Canyon. Take I-10 east to exit 318 (Dragoon Rd.). Open 10 a.m.-4
p.m. Tues.-Sun. Admission fee, free for children 12 and younger.
Phone 520-586-3666 or visit www.amerind.org.
The Arizona State Museum in Tucson (on the University of Arizona campus) also has an outstanding collection of Southwest Native American art and artifacts.
Wandering through this living museum is like taking an enchanted
walk through the desert – with no fear of snakes or critters.
There's lots of information, plenty of shade and water, and
close-up views of bobcats, prairie dogs, coyotes, hawks, Mexican
gray wolves, scorpions, rattlesnakes, roadrunners, quail, and
more. Aviaries offer a birder's haven. Trees and cacti are
identified for you as well. The internationally famous museum has
seasonal fine dining and year-round casual dining. Trained museum
docents give live-animal demonstrations and seasonal guided
tours. Admission fees vary with season. Open daily 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Oct.-Feb. and 7:30 a.m.- 5 p.m. Mar.-Sept.
Located on the western edge of the Tucson Mountains at 2021 N. Kinney Rd. From Sunflower, go south on Silverbell Rd. to Wade Rd. and trun right. After about 2 miles, the road becomes Picture Rocks Rd. Continue on for about 6 miles to Sandario Rd. and turn left. Go about 4 miles to Mile Wide Rd and trun left; follow to Kinney Rd. (do not turn left onto Kinney) and proceed to the museum entrance which will be on your right. (Click here and scroll down for a map.)
Phone (520) 883-2702 or visit www.desertmuseum.org for more information.
You can bet Tucson has its share of casinos.
Desert Diamond Casino & Hotel, owned and operated by the Tohono O'odham Nation – 7350 S. Nogales Hwy., 294-7777, ddcaz.com. Or check out its 2nd area location in Sahuarita at I-19 and Pima Mine Rd.
Casino of the Sun, owned and operated by the Pascua Yaqui Nation (7406 S. Camino de Oeste, with a 2nd location, Casino del Sol, at 5655 W. Valencia Rd., 800-344-9435, www.casinodelsolresort.com), brings a little piece of Vegas to the Old Pueblo.
Local area casinos offer live blackjack, video poker, slot machines, bingo, and more. If you're not having any luck with the one-armed bandit, grab something to eat or catch a show; most casinos offer big-name entertainment.
You must be 21 or older to enter any of the casinos.
Cave explorers of all ages and abilities can have a field day in
Kartchner Caverns State Park, near Benson, has been described as an underground nature preserve. Providing spectacular sights in a football field-sized room, this living cave also features a 51.5-foottall stone column dubbed "Kubla Khan." Reservations are recommended (520-586-CAVE). Click here for complete information.
Colossal Cave Mountain Park, 17 miles east of Tucson on Old Spanish Trail (647-7275), www.colossalcave.com/, is a cave that has earned its name – it's one of the largest "dry," or dormant, caves in the country. In the 1880s, outlaws sought refuge in the passageways and secret exits, and rumor has it there is hidden treasure within.
Coronado Cave, near the Mexican border and part of Coronado National Memorial (520-366-5515), is a more primitive cave, but it's worth the effort to enjoy the cool temperature and calcite formations. Obtain a free permit at the visitors center. At least two flashlights per person are required for exploring the cave. For more information and some travel reviews, click here.
All caves except Coronado Cave charge admission fees.
Many works by one of Tucson's most famous artists, Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia, are housed in DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, a group of low-slung adobes set amid the modern structures of the Swan and Sunrise area. Built by the artist with the help of close friends, the compound (constructed of materials from the surrounding desert) at one time served as his home and studio. The permanent collection includes works by DeGrazia on subjects such as Padre Kino, Cabeza de Vaca, and Tohono O'odham legends. Rotating exhibits and a gift shop round out the mix. The 10-acre site, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, is located at 6300 N. Swan Rd. Phone (520) 299-9191 or visit degrazia.org.
The University of Arizona Biosphere 2 currently serves as a laboratory for controlled scientific studies that monitor global environmental change. This 3.1-acre glass and steel complex – originally designed as a prototype for space colonization contains a million-gallon ocean and living coral reef, rain forest, savannah, marsh, and desert. Visitors can explore various parts of the attraction and go on an "under the glass" tour of Biosphere 2 itself. The facility also offers a visitors center that includes a movie on Bio2, a snack bar, and gift shops. Visit from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; tours offered daily. On AZ Hwy. 77 at mile marker 96.5, about 20 minutes north of Tucson. Admission for adults is $20; $18 for seniors, military, and AAA members; $13 for kids ages 6-12; ages 5 and under free. Phone (520) 838-6200 or visit b2science.org.
The science center provides the public with exciting family
activities and access to all of the ground-breaking science going
on at the University of Arizona. Highlights include planetarium
shows, laser light shows, interactive science exhibits and
demonstrations, the Mars Wall and a 16-inch telescope observatory.
Open 7 days a week, hours vary seasonally. Check flandrau.org or call (520) 621-4516 for current public hours and information on special exhibits. The observatory is usually open 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday (weather permitting). Laser light shows usually available Friday and Saturday nights.
Science Center and Mineral Museum: $7.00 adults, $5 children (4 to 17 years old). Children under 3 free. $2 for Arizona college students with ID.
Laser light shows: $10 adults, $7.00 children.
Observatory: free (donations encouraged).
On the U of A campus at the corner of Cherry Avenue and University Boulevard. From I-10, exit at Speedway Blvd. and go east to Cherry Ave. Turn right and go 3 blocks; the Science Center will be on the corner to your left.
You can park in the Cherry Avenue parking garage, just a short distance south at the end of the street (see map). Parking is free after 5 p.m. Friday and on weekends.
Just northeast of the Main Gate of the U of A campus, the Arizona
State Museum exhibits pottery, artifacts, and contemporary
objects while presenting important facts about the ways of life,
including trading and commerce, of prehistoric and modern Native
Americans. Don't miss the museum's permanent exhibit Paths of
Life: American Indians of the Southwest. Phone (520) 621-6302
or visit www.statemuseum.arizona.edu for information on
current and upcoming exhitits.
The nearby Arizona Historical Society, established when Arizona was a territory, features period rooms, the Mining Hall mine-shaft replica, photo exhibits, self-guided tours, and hands-on exhibits for all ages. At 949 E. 2nd St. Phone (520) 628-5774 or click here for information. Free for kids 11 and younger.
The museum is housed in the oldest synagogue building in Arizona, the original home of Temple Emanu-El, at 564 S. Stone Ave (click here for a map). Open to the public 1 - 4 pm Wednesday through Sunday, the museum's exhibits explore various aspects of the Jewish communities of the area from pioneer years (1855-1900) through modern times. Visit the museum's web site for current exhibit information.
This natural history museum features more than 400 displays of mammals, birds, and insects from around the world. Interactive computer programs and hands-on exhibits provide educational entertainment. View hourly nature films in the Wildlife Theater and enjoy lunch at the Oasis Grille. Open Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Located at 4800 W. Gates Pass Rd. (the west end of Speedway Blvd.), 5 miles west of I-10. Visit www.thewildlifemuseum.org or call (520) 617-1439.
Walk in the footsteps of a miner by touring a simulated mine, or
meander through the many exhibits at Arizona's mining and mineral
museums. The University of Arizona Mineral Museum (on the
lower level of The University of Arizona Flandrau Science Center,
described above) houses one of the
largest mineral collections in Southern Arizona, with approximately
2,200 minerals, gemstones, and meteorites on display from its
permanent collection of more than 27,000.
The Arizona Historical Society (628-5774) features a mine-shaft replica, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Earth Sciences Center (520-883-1380) has an extensive trove of minerals and exhibits.
Travel south to Sahuarita and tour the Asarco Mineral Discovery Center (625-7513). A little farther southeast is The Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum (520-432-7071), with stunning mineral collections from prominent pioneer families dating back to the turn of the last century. Also in Bisbee, you can check out the Lavender Pit Mine or take an underground tour with Queen Mine Tours (520-432-2071).
The first US National Optical Observatory is located about 60
miles west of Tucson high above the Sonoran Desert on the Tohono
O’odham Reservation. The observatory contains the world’s largest
collection of optical telescopes. The Observatory Visitor Center
is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s day. Guided tours are
offered daily at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1:30 p.m.
To reach the observatory from Sunflower, drive east (really south...) on I-10 to I-19, then take the Ajo Road exit and head west (right). Proceed past Ryan Airfield and Three Points to the junction with Hwy 386 (Kitt Peak turnoff). The Visitor Center is located at the summit (12 miles). The road is paved and not particularly steep, but watch for rocks and wildlife.
The summit of Kitt Peak is at an elevation of 6,875 feet. People with cardiac and respiratory concerns should be aware that walking paths to several of the telescopes are a bit steep. Temperatures on the mountain can be up to 20 degrees cooler than in Tucson, so be prepared with warm clothing. No food or gas facilities are available at Kitt Peak. Snacks and soft drinks are available in the Visitor Center, and there is a picknick area about 3/4 mile down the mountain.
Evening, night-time and special programs are also available. For more information, visit www.noao.edu/kpvc or call (520) 318-8726.
About 40 miles south of Tucson, the Santa Rita Mountains are home to Madera Canyon, one of the prettiest spots around. There are trails for hikers, tables for picnickers, a clear stream, and a variety of trees for all. In the cooler months, you should take a coat or a jacket. Take I-19 south of Tucson to the clearly marked turnoff near Continental, just south of Green Valley. Madera Canyon is a National Recreation Fee Area (Golden Age and other national recreation area passes are accepted). Click here for information on facilities and hiking trails.
The permanent collection of The University of Arizona Museum of
Art includes Spanish medieval and Renaissance art, as well as
19th-century American, contemporary, and modernist works. It's on
the U of A campus just south of Speedway Blvd. and east of Park
Ave. near the pedestrian underpass. Phone (520) 621-7567 or
Since the completion of a $2.7-million renovation, the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block (downtown at the corner of N. Main Ave. and Alameda St.) has been able to display more of its fine collection and attract larger traveling exhibits. The museum renovated the historic Hiram Stevens House into the Palice Pavilion for its permanent collection of pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial, and Latin American folk art. Phone (520) 624-2333 or visit tucsonmuseumofart.org.
You can also visit the John K. Goodman Pavilion of Western Art, Corbett House (a local model for the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century), and La Casa Cordova, with its early- to mid-19th-century period rooms. Phone (520) 624-2333.
And don't miss Cafe la C'Art (628-8533) for a little something to snack on.
Called "the White Dove of the Desert," the San Xavier del Bac Mission was founded by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in the late 1600s. The church, built by the Franciscans in the 1700s, is one of the finest examples of Spanish mission architecture in the US. The church also houses a museum devoted to the native people of the area, mission architecture and numerous religious artifacts. Visitors can enjoy the results of a major restoration of the mission, portions of it by experts who restored the Sistine Chapel. Take I-19 to exit 92, then watch for signs once you get onto the Tohono O'odham reservation. Phone (520) 294-2624 or visit www.sanxaviermission.org for more information and for a mass schedule.
For most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the
American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a
small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects
some of the most impressive forests of these subtropical giants,
on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.
The park is divided into two districts, one on the eastern edge of Tucson and the other on the western edge of Tucson in the Tucson Mountains. Both districts feature a visitor center, picknick areas and miles of hiking trails.
The western district is an easy drive from Sunflower and is well worth a visit. Go south on Silverbell Road to Wade Road and turn right. Drive about 2 miles to a big curve. At this point, Wade Road will become Picture Rocks Road. Drive 6 miles west on Picture Rocks Road to Sandario Road and turn left. While on Picture Rocks Road you will enter and exit Saguaro National Park. Drive 3.5 miles south on Sandario Road to Kinney Road and turn left. Drive 2 miles down Kinney Road to the visitor center, which will be on your left. There you will find many displays, a short nature trail and information on other trails. If you are not up to a long hike, there is a short paved interpretive loop trail not far from the visitor center.
There is an entrance fee of $10 for private vehicles payable at the visitor center. Golden Passport and other National Recreation Area passes are accepted. For additional park information, you can phone the visitor center at (520) 733-5158 or visit the park's web site.
If you see a young giraffe learning to run across an open field; a polar bear taking a plunge; or ostriches, cranes, and other birds sharing an African grassland with antelope, you must be at Reid Park Zoo. The zoo has carefully created natural habitats and multi species exhibits – a pleasant setting for animals and visitors alike. The South American exhibit has jaguars, bears, and capybaras. Don't miss the rhinos, elephants, tigers, and lions, too. In Reid Park off 22nd St., between Alvernon Way and Country Club Rd. Open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission fee. Phone (520) 791-3204 or visit reidparkzoo.org.
In addition to hiking trails in the Sagurao National
Park and the Tucson Mountain Park, the Tucson area has over
100 miles of paved multiuse paths for biking, walking and in some
places horse back riding. The majority of these paths ae part of a
large network called The
Loop which extends around the Tucson metropolitan area with links
to Marana and Oro Valley. Part of this system parallels the Santa Curz
River and is part of the Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail.
The south end of the Marana section of The Loop is easily accessible from Sunflower by a connector path from Coachline Rd. just north of Sunflower Park – click here for a printable map. The trail on the west side of the river now extends north to Avra Valley Road.
More information on biking paths in Marana can be found here.
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