Why Your Family Should Start Planning to Visit Tucson Now

Horsing around at a dude ranch, floating on a lazy river and eating America’s best Mexican food.

Arizona’s second largest city shines as one of the sunniest cities in the United States with 350+ days of sunshine per year. Tucson is America’s first UNESCO City of Gastronomy, serving up phenomenal Mexican and Native American cuisines.

Plus, there’s plenty of family adventure to be had, from top-rate dude ranches to resorts with winding lazy rivers. Plan now to extend your summer in Tucson, where September and October high temperatures are still in the upper 80s and 90s. 

Dude ranch adventures

Tuscon with Kids
Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Surrounded by desert mountains and brimming with Western heritage, Tucson rounds up some of the best dude ranch vacations. My family of four loved our time horseback riding, e-biking, rock climbing and shooting archery at White Stallion Ranch.

Owned by the True family for over 55 years, White Stallion Ranch has won numerous awards and been featured in many movies. The Full American Plan Outdoor Adventure Package includes your choice of activities from sun up to sun down, including slow to fast horseback rides to axe throwing and cookie decorating as well as warm, homecooked meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, hash browns and fruit salad, my family saddled up for a slow morning horseback ride. It was almost meditative hearing the hoof beats in the quiet desert landscape.

E-biking was a hit with our kids, who pulled the throttle and took off down dirt trails for high-speed exhilaration. We cooled off in the pool and relaxed in the hot tub before the dinner bell rang each night. Buffets of steaks fresh off the grill, juicy brisket and barbecue chicken were served with enchiladas, salads and house-made deserts. Our daughter is gluten-free and the ranch was wonderful about offering her mouthwatering options, like fresh gluten-free muffins. 

Choose from a range of rooms and suites that offer plenty of space for your crew to relax after adventurous days. The grounds are gorgeous with cactus gardens and views of the Saguaro National Park. I often visited the horses to pet and feed them horse cookies. The lodge features a bar with saddle seats, where you can choose your choice of refreshing drinks.

The staff was always helpful and fun, showing us how to make the most of our vacation. We also enjoyed the recreation center, where we played shuffleboard, billiards, Pac Man, foosball and ping pong. Sport courts offer a chance to play tennis or basketball. After dinner, we sat around the campfire and listened to cowboy music and even kicked up our heels during line dancing. Trying new things as a family is a fast way to bond and seal in special memories.

Relaxing resort with championship golf and water amenities

Tuscon with Kids
Photo credit: Cortney Fries

JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa is a sprawling, AAA Four Diamond property at the base of Tucson National Park. A water slide, lazy river and multiple outdoor pools pull in families for water play. Twenty-seven holes of Arnold Palmer-designed golf challenge players of all levels. Desert hiking is available right out the front door. Serene pink sunsets are best viewed from the outdoor terrace around crackling firepits surrounded by friends and family.

Take part in unique experiences like the daily Native American morning ritual, Mitakuye Oyasin. It’s a calming, intentional way to start the day, with the soft sounds of a Native American flute and discussion about our connection with nature. We assembled our own sage prayer ties and watched them burn under the warming sun. 

We gobbled up excellent breakfast, lunch and dinner at The Signature Grill at JW Marriott. The ahi tuna tostada, warm queso dip with mushrooms, pozole soup with braised pork and hominy, and rosemary scallop skewer were some of the most delightful dishes. You can also order poolside service, eat on the gorgeous patio, especially when all the windows open for the evening, and start your day with a  caffeine kick at the on-property Starbucks. 

Family-friendly desert excursions

Tuscon with Kids
Photo credit: Visit Tucson/Steven Meckler

Saguaro National Park is super close to Tucson and features huge saguaro cacti that can only be found in the American West. Hike gorgeous desert landscapes with tall cacti as far as the eye can see.  Signal Hill Picnic Area features a short 1/4 mile hike to petroglyphs. The friendly folks at the Red Hill Visitors Center can direct you to the perfect paths for your trip. Just make sure to take plenty of water. You can also drive scenic loops if you’d rather take it all in from the car. There are plenty of places to park, walk around and take pictures. 

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is near the national park visitor’s center, and more of a zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden than a museum. Many of the attractions in the 98-acre museum are outside. You can cool off in a cave or while viewing seahorses in the aquarium. Some local children happily led our kids through a cave tunnel and showed them fun spots to check out. The gift shop was a hit with prickly pear candy, an interesting gemstone collection and cold drinks. 

Stroll the University of Tucson urban campus. Center for Creative Photography is free to the public Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. View photography exhibitions  that explore culture and creativity. Across the street, The University of Arizona Museum of Art featured an origin story exhibition when we visited that was quite engaging. Check their schedule to see what exhibits and events might interest your family. 

Explore the MSA Annex shipping container village, which houses small businesses like local restaurants and retail spaces. Stop by in the evenings when there’s live performances and cool off with a cocktail.

Excellent restaurants in Tucson

Tucson with Kids
Photo credit: Seis Kitchen

Tucson is a UNESCO city of gastronomy, serving up thousands of years of Mexican and Native American traditions. There are so many great restaurants to try. Seis Kitchen was the perfect place for our daughter to eat her first tacos (and she devoured them!). Inspired by the six culinary regions of Mexico, Seis is an award-winning, family-owned business with three locations around Tucson.

Poc Chuc achiote-marinated chicken tacos were our runaway favorite. The Al Pastor with pineapple salsa is also quite good. They serve a variety of agua fresca drinks. All are tasty and refreshing. After you’re good and full, walk around the surrounding Mercado San Agustin open-air courtyard. Browse independent apparel shops, a border-style bakery and other unique finds.

For breakfast, try 5 Points Market & Restaurant. We started with a beautiful prickly pear drink and cappuccino. My daughter is gluten-free and we’ve never seen a gluten-free English muffin on a menu before. Theirs was so good, she gobbled it up before I could even try a bite. We also recommend the huevos rancheros with roasted pork should and congee, a rice porridge. 

The Cup Café in the funky Hotel Congress is a must-visit in Tucson. They serve upscale comfort food, and the house-made desserts are to-die-for. My family wanted to lick every bit off their plates. Outlaw John Dillinger was captured at the Hotel Congress. Peruse mug shots and memorabilia on the walls to learn more about Tucson’s past.  

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Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.


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