Things to See and Do in Arizona

Located in southwestern United States, the state of Arizona is the sixth largest and 15th most populous state in the country. Being one of the four-corner states, it borders on New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California and Mexico. It is most notable for its desert climate with very hot summers and mild winters. The northern half of the state is alive with Pine, Douglas Fir and Spruce forests, mountain ranges and canyons. It has much more mild temperatures in the summer than the southern part and significant snowfall amounts in the winter making it a great place for ski resorts. With such diverse landscape and climate, Arizona is a great destination for your vacation.

12. Big Surf

Located in Tempe, Big Surf is a waterpark that opened in 1969 and is reputed to have had the first wave pool in the United States. The Waikiki Beach Wave Pool was recognized for being “the first inland surfing facility in North America” and became the first waterpark to receive status as an ASME Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

Big Surf is the perfect destination for the entire family with the wave pool where you can surf, boogie board or raft. They even have surf boards, boogie boards and rafts on hand for your use. Bora Bora Bay is great for the kids who love to climb but adults must be accompanied by children to enter. The slides are incredible…with Otter Slides, Hurricane Slides, The Black Hole, Tornado Twisters and more. The park even has the Mauna Kea Zip Line which sends you zipping over the wave pool from one side to the other. Thrilling, safe and fun times will be had by all.

Photo by: Big Surf
Photo by: Big Surf

11. Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped portion of the Colorado River located near the town of Page, Arizona. A hike of 1.5 miles (2.4 km) round trip off U.S. Route 89 will take you there, but there is also an access road available because it is part of a state park. You can also view the bend from the cliff above.

Venture out to Horseshoe Bend on foot or in your vehicle or you can see it via other means. There are helicopter tours where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the bend from above, showing you the full expanse and beautiful colors of the waters and land below. There is also the Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon Tour where you can be picked up from your hotel in Flagstaff or Sedona, go north to Antelope Canyon after a walk through a slot canyon and then over to Horseshoe Bend for a hike to the rim overlook. Though there is some hiking involved, this trip is suitable for just about anyone.

Horseshoe Bend

10. Bird Cage Theater

Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater was a theater, saloon, gambling parlor and brothel that operated from 1881 to 1889. The name actually referred to the fourteen cages or boxes that were situated on the two balconies on either side of the main central hall. The boxes were equipped with drapes that could be drawn while the ladies of the brothel entertained their customers. The main hall contained a stage and orchestra pit where live performances took place. It is now a tourist attraction preserving the old west.

It has a reputation for being one of the wildest and wickedest places in Tombstone during its eight year stint in the 1880s where it is said that 26 people were killed there. Over one hundred and twenty bullet holes remain as evidence of the wild and dangerous past of the building. The theater is full of authentic memorabilia from back then with photographs adorning the walls. I would take several days to really see and experience everything housed in this theater.

Bird Cage Theater

9. O.K. Corral

The O.K. Corral is located in Tombstone and was originally a livery and horse corral. Though best known for the infamous ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’, the shootout actually took place in a lot six door west of the rear entrance to the corral. The 1957 movie, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was responsible for making this particular shootout a classic movie moment engrained in the public’s memories.

The actual gunfight at the O.K. Corral lasted only about 30 seconds between outlaw cowboys and lawmen and is touted as the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Wild West. It was the result of a long-time feud involving Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury and the opposing lawmen of the town – Marshall Virgil Earp, Assistant Town Marshall Morgan Earp and temporary deputy Marshalls Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Though Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne walked away unharmed, Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were not so fortunate and were killed. Virgil, Morgan and Doc Holiday were injured but Wyatt Earp walked away unscathed. You can experience this famous gunfight with entertaining re-enactments in an Old West setting.

Atomazul /
Atomazul /

8. Reid Park Zoo

The Reid Park Zoo is a 24 acre (97 hectare) non-profit city-owned zoo located in Tucson. With over 500 animals it consists of four zones organized by habitats and the animals housed there. The Adaptation Zone houses animals including grizzly bears and the Aldabra giant tortoise, the South America Zone houses animals like the jaguar and spectacled bear, the Asian Zone houses such animals as tigers and Malayan sun bear and the African Animals Zone is home to animals such as lions and giraffes. An expansion to the African Animals Zone is Expedition Tanzania which houses a herd of 6 African elephants. Flight Connection is a large aviary which serves as home to dozens of bird species from Australia, Africa and Asia.

The Zoo hosts summer camps, free workshops for teachers and even hosts a tour of South Africa. This very interactive Zoo is not only fun but also educational and exciting because of the many programs and activities always going on.


7. Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon, often referred to as the little cousin of the Grand Canyon because of its breathtaking scenery, is a river gorge located between Flagstaff and Sedona. You can enter the canyon via many hairpin turns on Route 89A and continue down until it reaches the bottom in Sedona. It’s about 12 miles (19 km) long, ranges in width from about 0.8 to 2.5 miles (1.3 to 4.0 km) and ranges in depth from 800 to 2,000 feet (240 to 610 m). Oak Creek runs through the bottom of the canyon.

Touted as one of the top 5 most scenic drives in America, the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive is about 14 miles (22.5 km) long. You can ascend the canyon from Sedona or descend from Flagstaff since either route is equally beautiful. The red-faced cliffs, massive oak trees and evergreen pine trees make for a stunning vibrant panorama. A popular stop along the drive is Slide Rock where you can enjoy some aquatic recreation. Passengers have the advantage during the drive, since the driver’s full attention is needed for the hairpin turns, but there are many places to pull off and enjoy the view along the way.

Oak Creek Canyon

6. Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam, formerly known as Boulder Dam, is located on the Colorado River between the borders of Arizona and Nevada. Constructed during the great depression, the dam was built at the cost of over one hundred lives. The concrete arch-gravity dam holds back Lake Mead and produces hydroelectric power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona and California.

The view from the dam is awe-inspiring and no trip to Arizona would be complete without stopping there. Even if you have time constraints, driving over the dam just to experience its massive size and amazing view is well worth the trip. There are many viewpoints around the dam too where you can just stop for a few moments to take it all in and snap some pictures. If you have more time, there are power plant tours which offer presentations and exhibits on how the dam operates and will allow you to see some of the lesser known areas of the dam. There are many accommodations close to the dam including hotels and campgrounds if you want to stay in the area a little longer.

Hoover Dam

5. Phoenix Zoo

Opened in 1962, the Phoenix Zoo is a privately owned non-profit zoo and has been designated a Phoenix Point of Pride. There are over 1,400 animals who call the zoo home and has 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of walking trails. The trails are divided into four distinct theme areas: The Arizona Trail, the Africa Trail, the Tropics Trail and the Children’s Trail.

The Arizona Trail features the wildlife and plants native to the state of Arizona which include coyotes, the collared peccary, mountain lion and bobcat to name a few, as well as plants including the saguaro cactus. The Africa Trail showcases animals like African wild dogs, mandrills, ostriches, white rhinos, meerkats, giraffes, African lions, Sumatran tigers and more. The Tropics Trail has two parts with the inner trail following the lake and home to Tropical Flights aviary as well as ring-tailed lemurs, and Monkey Village. The outer trail runs by the Land of the Dragons exhibit, Asian elephants, anteaters and many different kinds of tropical birds. The Children’s Trail features a petting zoo at the Harmony Farm and lets children get up close and personal with small mammals from around the world.


4. River Rafting

If you are the adventuresome type, there are opportunities for river rafting all over the state of Arizona. The natural beauty and rivers all over this state are abundant just about everywhere you go. You can go to Phoenix, Scottsdale, Flagstaff or Marble Canyon for rafting adventure with one of the many river rafting adventure companies.

You can contact Arizona River Runners for a Grand Canyon adventure of a lifetime. You will see the soaring canyon walls, Indian ruins, wildlife and of course the amazing white water guided by knowledgeable professionals. Salt River Rafting runs guided white water rafting trips through Salt River Canyon and is family-friendly…a safe and fun adventure for everyone. You can take half-day, one-day or multi-day and camp-out raft trips which include wetsuits and great guides. Arizona Raft Adventures specialize in 6 to 16 day raft trips through the Grand Canyon if you are a die-hard rafter. No matter what your skill/fear level, the professionals can assure that you enjoy a safe and amazing experience.

rafting grand canyon

3. Saguaro National Park

The Saguaro National Park is divided in two districts with Rincon Mountain District lying approximately 20 miles (32 km) east and the Tucson Mountain District lying 15 miles (24 km) west of the center of Tucson, Arizona. There are two visitors’ centers, one in each district and are both easily accessible by car but there is no public transportation available into the park. The name Saguaro comes from the name of a cactus native to the area though there are many other kinds of cacti abundant in the park as well.

In 1933 the Saguaro National Monument was erected. If you travel in the heat of summer, you can find some great deals at local resorts but in the winter months when the weather is milder, prices tend to rise significantly. The park has some amazing trails like the narrow, rocky and steep Tanque Verde Ridge Trail in the east district featuring a spectacular view of the Tucson Basin and King Canyon Trail in the west which leads to the summit of Wasson Peak, the highest point in the park.

Saguaro National Park

2. Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden is a 140 acres (57 hectares) botanical garden in Phoenix, Arizona. The garden houses more than 21,000 plants, of which one third is native to the area and 139 are endangered or threatened and very rare. It has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.

You can tour the Botanical Gardens independently on their scenic trails or take a tour and join in on some of the special family-friendly activities hosted there. There is an Ask a Gardener held on weekends where you can get hints and advice from professionals for your own garden. The Garden Flashlight Tours are Thursday and Saturday evening events where you get to see, hear and feel the desert night. It’s a self-paced tour and perfect for all ages. Other activities include Garden Discovery Stations, Talks in the Garden, Birds in the Garden, audio tours and activities specially designed for children. The Music in the Garden Concert Series is held from October to June and allows you to stroll through the garden to the Ullman Terrace where you can sit and listen to the Valley’s premier musicians.

Sue Stokes /
Sue Stokes /

1. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States. The central feature consists of the Grand Canyon and is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The park covers 1,217,262 acres (492,608 hectares) in two counties. Though the landmark was well known long before, it wasn’t declared a National Park until 1919.

You can visit the South Rim which has close to two dozen vantage points giving you the most common views over the canyon as seen on TV and movies. Grand Canyon West is a little harder to get to so requires some prior planning but is well worth the effort with its three blue-green waterfalls. Grand Canyon East is home to two of the canyon’s hidden treasures, the Little Colorado River Tribal Park and Horseshoe Bend where you can have your photo taken with the Colorado River in the background and The North Rim, though part of the same canyon, feels like a totally different area where you can hear the echoes of canyon wren in the peace and tranquility all around you.

Grand Canyon South Rim

10 Things to See and Do in Tucson

Tucson, Arizona is a city of over 500,000 and is the second-highest populated city in Arizona behind Phoenix. It has been nicknamed Optic valley because of its roughly 150 companies involved in the design and manufacturing of optics and optoelectronics systems. The Spanish name Tucson comes from the O’odham word Cuk Son meaning “at the base of the black hill” for the volcanic mountain in the vicinity. It has more to offer than just the desert and surrounding mountain range however, with its fascinating history. You can visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucson Studios or Kitt Peak National Observatory to name a few featured here. It will feel like you’ve entered another planet in this surreal setting.

10. El Tiradito

The El Tiradito wishing shrine is located in the Old Barrio area of Tucson and consists of the remains of a brick building and offers a large metal rack. On the stand and along the building, large candles depicting Roman Catholic Saints are left burning. Small slips of paper containing prayers and messages of thanks are pressed into the cracks in the walls or left elsewhere in the shrine.

The name El Tiradito translates to “the little throwaway or castaway” and for the last 140 years, has served as a place for prayers and wishes for Tucson believers and thousands of others. The irony behind the symbolism of the shrine is that it pays homage to a married man, Juan Oliveras, who had a torrid affair with his mother-in-law in the 1870s. His father-in-law killed him with an ax and he was then buried where he was killed. The ‘Curse of The Wishing Shrine’ dictates that if people go there with an open and forgiving heart, they will pass the test and possibly have their wishes come true. However, for others it could be the start of history repeating itself. An intriguing place to visit with a very rich history.

Photo by: this lucid moment
Photo by: this lucid moment

9. Pusch Ridge

Located in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness area of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, Pusch Ridge is the most prominent feature. It was named after George Pusch who in 1874, established a large cattle ranch known as the Steam Pump Ranch at the base of the ridge in what is now known as Oro Valley. The ridge primarily consists of three peaks – Pusch Peak which rises to 5,361 feet, Bighorn Mountain at a height of 5,633 and Table Mountain at an elevation of 6,265 feet. There is also a less significant peak located between Pusch Peak and Bighorn Mountain called the Cleaver which rises to a height of 4,910 feet.

Pusch Ridge serves as one of the last places where you will see Desert Bighorn Sheep in Arizona. The area features impressive ridges, deep canyons and lots of biodiversity caused by the dramatic changes in elevation and the view of the Oro Valley and the city of Tucson is breathtaking. There are trails from Tucson that lead to heavenly natural phenomenon not to be missed. Just be sure to check on restrictions due to the Bighorn Sheep breeding seasons.

Pusch Ridge

8. Rialto Theater

The Rialto Theater, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, is a performance theater and concert venue located in downtown Tucson. When it opened in 1922, it was one of the first movie theaters, primarily playing silent movies and hosting Vaudeville shows. By the 1930s, the Rialto was showing talking pictures along with their Vaudeville shows and plays. During the recession in 1963, the Rialto was closed as a motion-picture house and then served as storage for a furniture store until 1971. After re-opening in 1971, it became a Spanish movie-house until 1973 when it became an adult film movie-house for five years. It then changed back to a Spanish-language movie-house until 1984 when an explosion caused it to be condemned. In 1995 it was re-opened as a very successful concert venue and has been ever since.

The Rialto is host to music concerts of all genres as well as dance, performance theater and occasional film screenings. To give you some perspective on the quality of performances held there, some of the 2014 performers include, Jonny Lang, Leon Russell, BB King, the 2nd Annual Rialto Gala, Stirling, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Los Lonely Boys and YES to name a few.

Photo by: Ross Griff
Photo by: Ross Griff

7. Fox Tucson Theater

Fox Tucson Theater hosts live concerts, theater and more and is reputed to be the “Crowned Jewel” of downtown Tucson. Originally called “The Tower”, the theater was opened on April 11, 1930 and closed June 18, 1974 becoming a rather rundown home to over 40 homeless people. After sitting empty for 25 years, the theater, then almost beyond restoration, was sold to the non-profit organization, Fox Tucson Theater Foundation for $250,000 in 1999. Following a six-year, $14 million restoration, it reopened December 31, 2005 and has become the hub of cultural entertainment for Tucson.

The building has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places because of its “Southwestern Art Deco” decor and world-class acoustics. The theater seats 1,164…just the right size to attract national and international talent and still offering an intimate show. You can check out the big screen 35 mm classic movies shown there or enjoy a live concert with some great names in music like Don Williams, Zap Mama & Antibalas and comedienne Paula Poundstone who is known for her one of a kind shows where she improvises and interacts with the audience. This is a must-see destination in Tucson so don’t miss out.

Photo by: Randy Heinitz
Photo by: Randy Heinitz

6. Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium

Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, formerly known as Tucson Electric Park (TEP) is a baseball stadium with a seating capacity of 11,500 and located in the city of Tuscon. Teams such as the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago White Sox have used the park for Cactus League games each March and it was a temporary home to the Tucson Padres (formerly the Portland Beavers) until 2013 when they moved to El Paso, Texas. It’s also a venue for many spectacular concerts and music festivals and is home to the Pima Community College Aztec football team.

The entire complex consists of 12 practice fields and three practice in-fields making it a very popular place for little league and soccer games. The stadium is well-known as the place where Randy Johnson hit a bird with a pitch during spring training for the Diamondbacks. Parking at the stadium is easy and free of charge and the stadium is easy to navigate. Some of the concerts you might get to see include Monster Jam, Audra McDonald, Alton Brown and more. There are music festivals, farmers’ markets, the Pima County Fair and book fairs hosted there as well. It’s worth adding this as a stop when visiting Tucson.

Debby Wong /
Debby Wong /

5. Sentinel Peak

Sentinel Peak also known as “A” Mountain, is a ridge prominent in the Tucson Mountains. The peak is 2,901 feet (884 m) and is west of the Santa Cruz River. Because the underground ridge once pushed groundwater to the surface creating a floodplain, agricultural fields were able to be developed from about 4,000 years ago to the 1930s. The peak was used by sentinels to keep watch over the newly built Presidio of Tucson in 1775 for raiding Apache warriors.

The mountain is known as “A” mountain for the large, painted, man-made basalt rock formation in the shape of the letter “A”, created by students of the University of Arizona. There are many interesting species of cacti in the area and the peak is comprised of lava rock. The view of the city from peak is amazing and not to be missed. You can drive up to the top of the peak on a narrow winding road and park at the top where a rocky 360º foot trail awaits for an amazing view of the scenery all around you. There are also overlooks that feature information boards about Tucson and the Peak’s history. It’s a wonderful place to stop and take in nature’s raw beauty.

Tuscon Az

4. Cathedral of Saint Augustine

Located in Tucson is the Cathedral of Saint Augustine which is the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. The cathedral has a rich history in the Catholic Church and has been dramatically transformed over the years to become what it is like now. The incredible stone facade and large 12th or 13th century crucifix hanging in the vestibule are two of the beautiful features of the church.

When you approach the front doors of the cathedral, you will be greeted by an elaborate cast stone facade of desert plants and the coat of arms of Pope Pius XI, who was pope at the time of its construction. You will be awestruck by the beauty of the Pamplona Crucifix which was carved in Spain about 600 years ago and installed in the church behind the altar in 1981. It stands 7 ft (5.2 m) tall and weighs 2,000 lbs (910 kg). All of the stained-glass windows have been refreshed and feature the apostles and first four bishops of Tucson. Trompe l’oeil style paintings and ornamental art create a warm and beautiful setting when you enter the church. It is a pleasure to the eyes and the soul and definitely worth the visit.

meunierd /
meunierd /

3. Kitt Peak National Observatory

Located at an elevation of 2,096 m (6,880 ft) on Kitt Peak, the Kitt Peak National Observatory is a United States astronomical observatory. It’s the largest and most diverse collection of astronomical instruments in the world with 24 optical and two radio telescopes. Kitt Peak is most famous for being the first telescope to search for near-Earth asteroids and calculating the possibility of impact with the planet Earth. Recently, the Southeastern Association for Research and Astronomy (SARA) Telescope, part of the collection at Kitt Peak, was featured in the documentary Seeing Stars in Indiana.

The public can take part in any of three tours daily guided by staff who speak about the history of the observatory while touring a major research telescope. A Nightly Observing Program lets visitors watch the sunset and observe the cosmos using binoculars and telescopes. For amateur astronomers, there is the Advanced Observing Program (AOP), a one-on-one full-night tour which allows guests to use any of the visitor’s center’s telescopes. You will never look at the skies the same way after seeing it through the telescopes located at the observatory where the sky seems to be within your reach.

Kitt Peak Observatory

2. Old Tucson Studios

Old Tucson Studios is a movie studio and theme park located just west of Tucson. It was built in 1939 for the movie Arizona and has since been used in several more Western movies. It was opened to the public in 1960 and features live stunt shows and shootouts. On April 25, 1995 a fire set by an arsonist destroyed many of the buildings, costumes and memorabilia at a cost of over $10 million. After being closed for 20 months for reconstruction, the Old Tucson Studios re-opened on January 2, 1997.

If you’d like to experience the old west as seen in over 300 movies and TV shows, then Old Tucson is the place to visit. The rich film history adds to the charm of this fun and authentic feeling Western experience. You can check out the living history presentations with original costumes worn by stars in shows like Little House on the Prairie and Gunsmoke, historic tours that will help you explore the streets that many movie stars have traveled in over 70 years of film and television history and special events.

meunierd /
meunierd /

1. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Opened in 1952, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a 98 acre (40 hectare) zoo and art gallery. There are 2 miles (3.2 km) of walking trails crossing 21 acres (8.5 hectares) of desert. The zoo focuses on the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert and is home to over 230 animal species and 1,200 varieties of plant life. The museum is open all year round and is a non-profit organization.

Some of the museum exhibits include Earth Sciences which focuses on geology and how the earth is actually constantly changing and reshaping itself, Mountain Woodland which serves as a refuge for plants and animals that would otherwise not survive in the desert, Desert Grasslands which is home to prairie dogs and a replica of a mammoth kill site, Warden Aquarium which lets you get up close and personal with creatures of the Gulf of California tide pool like sea stars, crabs and turbo snails, Cactus Garden which features a regional collection of dozens of species of cacti and succulents and Earth from Space: A Satellite’s View of Earth which shows videos of a satellite view of wildfires, extreme weather and more – which all makes for a fascinating desert experience.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum