What is Tucson Known for? 15 Ways to Get to Know Tucson

As the second-largest city in Arizona, Tucson is well-known for its desert landscapes, including the iconic Saguaro cactus, as well as its vibrant Mexican-American culture and delicious cuisine. But there is so much more to discover about this unique city, from its thriving arts and culture scene to its historic sites and outdoor activities. In this article, we will explore 16 different things that Tucson is known for, providing you with a comprehensive guide to getting to know this one-of-a-kind city. 

Whether you’ve just moved and are renting an apartment in Tucson, or you’re curious about what it’s like to live here before buying a home in the area, you’ll likely learn something new.. Let’s get started. 

Saguaro cactus forest in Saguaro National Park Arizona

1. Desert landscapes

Tucson, Arizona is renowned for its breathtaking and beautiful desert landscapes that draw in visitors from all over the world. Located in the Sonoran Desert, the city is surrounded by stunning vistas that include towering cacti, rugged mountains, and a range of unique flora and fauna. One of the most iconic sights in the region is the Saguaro cactus, which is found only in the Sonoran Desert.

2. The University of Arizona

The University of Arizona, located in Tucson, is a prestigious public research university with a distinguished history of academic excellence. The university is renowned for its strong programs in fields such as astronomy, optical sciences, and space exploration, making it a top destination for students and researchers from around the world. The university’s campus is also home to several world-class research facilities, including the Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory, which is responsible for manufacturing some of the world’s largest and most advanced telescope mirrors. In addition to its academic reputation, the University of Arizona is also known for its rich cultural and athletic programs, which offer students a well-rounded college experience.

3. Mexican-American culture

Tucson’s proximity to Mexico and its location in the Southwest has contributed to its unique and diverse food culture, which draws heavily from both Mexican and American influences. Mexican-American heritage is celebrated throughout the city with colorful festivals, lively music, and, of course, delicious food. Visitors can sample a wide range of dishes, from traditional Sonoran-style Mexican fare, such as burritos and tacos, to classic American comfort food like burgers and fries. Tucson is also home to several iconic Mexican restaurants, including El Charro Cafe, which claims to be the oldest Mexican restaurant in the United States.

Female mountain biker follows trail, in desert

4. Outdoor activities

Tucson’s year-round warm climate and stunning natural landscapes make it a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking is a popular outdoor activity, with dozens of trails within close proximity to the city, including the picturesque Sabino Canyon and Catalina State Park. Cyclists can also enjoy the city’s extensive bike paths and routes, while rock climbers can test their skills on the granite cliffs of Mount Lemmon. Horseback riding is also a popular activity, with several ranches offering guided tours of the stunning desert landscapes. 

5. Historic sites

Tucson boasts a rich history that is reflected in its various historical landmarks and sites, such as the San Xavier del Bac Mission. This stunning Spanish colonial mission, founded in 1692 and completed in 1797, is an impressive example of Baroque architecture and a testament to the influence of Catholicism in the region. Other notable historic sites in the city include the Tucson Presidio and the Arizona Historical Society, which offer a glimpse into the city’s past and its transformation into the vibrant cultural hub that it is today.

6. Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is the largest and most prestigious event of its kind in the world, attracting gem and mineral enthusiasts from around the globe. The show features exhibits and vendors showcasing a vast array of gems, minerals, fossils, and jewelry, as well as educational programs and lectures by experts in the field.

7. The Tucson Rodeo

For over 90 years, the Tucson Rodeo has been a beloved tradition and a significant part of Tucson’s history, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world. The event is a top-rated PRCA rodeo and is considered one of the top 25 rodeos in North America, featuring top-ranked cowboys and cowgirls in various events.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

8. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is a United States Air Force base located in Tucson. It is home to the 355th Wing, which is responsible for combat readiness and the training of pilots and support personnel. The base is also the location of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, commonly known as the “Boneyard,” which is a storage and preservation facility for retired military aircraft. The Boneyard is the largest aircraft storage and preservation facility in the world, and draws aviation enthusiasts from around the globe.

9. Old Tucson Studios 

Old Tucson Studios, a western-themed movie studio and amusement park located in Tucson, Arizona, has a rich history in the film industry. Established in 1939 as a set for the movie “Arizona,” it has been the filming location for many classic western films and TV shows, including “Tombstone,” “Little House on the Prairie,” and “The Three Amigos.” Today, visitors can take a step back in time and experience the Wild West through the park’s live performances, historic buildings, and exciting attractions such as stagecoach rides and gunfight shows. 

wild west studios in tucson arizona

10. Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 is a one-of-a-kind facility that allows visitors to experience what life would be like inside a completely self-sustaining ecosystem. With guided tours, visitors can explore the various biomes, including rainforest, desert, and ocean, and learn about the cutting-edge research being conducted on sustainable living practices. It’s a fascinating destination for anyone interested in the intersection of science and sustainability.

11. Fourth Avenue

The Fourth Avenue district in Tucson is a vibrant hub for local culture, featuring an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and street performers that make it a must-visit destination for anyone in the city. The bi-annual Fourth Avenue Street Fair held in spring and fall is a particularly lively time to experience this neighborhood, as it showcases a range of unique and creative goods, food, and art from over 400 vendors, drawing visitors from all over the region.

12. The Sonoran Hot Dog

The Sonoran Hot Dog is a Tucson specialty, featuring a bacon-wrapped hot dog served on a fluffy bun and topped with a variety of condiments, including beans, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños. It has become a symbol of the city’s unique fusion of Mexican and American cultures and is often found at local street vendors and restaurants.

man in space suit at pima air and space museum in tucson

13. Pima Air & Space Museum

The Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the largest aviation museums in the world, featuring more than 350 aircraft and spacecraft on display. The museum’s collection includes historic aircraft from World War II, as well as experimental aircraft and space capsules used by NASA.

14. Arts and culture

Tucson’s arts and culture scene is diverse and vibrant, with a range of museums, galleries, and performance venues such as the Tucson Museum of Art and the Fox Tucson Theatre. Additionally, the city hosts many cultural festivals and events throughout the year, such as the All Souls Procession and the Tucson Folk Festival, providing visitors and residents the opportunity to experience the rich and diverse culture of the city.

15. Mount Lemmon

Perched on the northeastern border of the city, the 9,157-foot summit of Mount Lemmon offers a cool respite from Tucson’s desert heat and provides a panoramic view of the city below. The mountain’s SkyCenter observatory is an ideal location for stargazing, offering visitors an opportunity to explore the cosmos under the clear skies of southern Arizona. In addition, the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, a winding 27-mile drive up the mountain, is a popular scenic route with many lookout points and picnic areas for visitors to enjoy.

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