If you have been following me, you may know that I have some deep roots in Arizona… Tucson in particular. While my heart will always be in the Bay Area, my soul is in Tucson. Let me explain… I was born in Tucson, moved to San Jose, CA when I was two-years-old and lived there until I was 16. Then, we moved back to Tucson, where I graduated high school, and went on to college (University of Arizona…Bear Down!!!!). After college, I moved back to the Bay, after a short stint in Los Angeles, and haven’t really left since. Bottom line is, I consider myself from both Tucson, Arizona and the Bay Area. I make it a point to visit Tucson as much as possible and since summer is not ideal (it is excruciatingly HOT), winter break is when we visited recently.
The desert in the winter can be surprisingly cold. In fact, it was freezing for a few days of our trip with even a little snowfall. The last leg of our vacation was beautiful and sunny, so we had a variety of experiences while we were there. Here are a few things that I recommend for anyone traveling to Tucson with children. I would not recommend doing the outdoor activities in the summer months.
- VISIT OLD TUCSON – Talk about an amazing experience! If you are a fan of movies like Tombstone, Young Guns, The Three Amigos or many many more… Old Tucson will have you feeling all kinds of nostalgia! It is like you are LIVING in the Old West! There is something for everyone from saloons to rides to the best BBQ around! And the photos you can take in this setting are unbeatable!
- REID PARK ZOO – Perfect size for the little ones! There are not too many zoos that are as great for toddler and preschool agers that also work for school-aged kids. Reid Park Zoo has everything you need in the size us parents enjoy (mostly because we don’t have to chase our littles too far). You can feed the giraffes, see the elephants and ride the animal carousel all within 20 minutes! I would recommend bringing your own food or planning someplace else for lunch though since the food situation is sparse.
- TRAIL DUST TOWN – This is a journey through the streets of a pioneer town. From shopping, to events to dining… you will not be disappointed. Get your Old Western photos taken and head to Pinnacle Peak for a Cowboy Steak!
- GASLIGHT THEATER – Order food while watching a live show. This place is so much fun!
- CHILDREN’S MUSEUM – A Play-based learning exhibit at its best!
- ARIZONA-SONORAN DESERT MUSEUM – Learn more about the desert in a way that will alter how you view it with many activities for little ones.
Tucson also has some AMAZING restaurants! I have put together a five of my favorite places that are child-friendly but there are so many more! I also have several adult dining recommendations that I can send at your request.
- PINNACLE PEAK – This place will always have a special place in my heart. Located in Trail Dust Town (an old western town with gun fights and all) Pinnacle Peak is a MUST for anyone visiting Tucson. The steaks are delicious, and the ambiance is casual, fun and right out of the old west. Make sure someone in your party wears a tie to dinner…because someone will come over and CUT IT OFF!
- EL CORRAL – OMG the PRIME RIB!!
- TERESA’S MOSAIC CAFE – Otherwise known as ‘The Mosaic’. I love the ambiance and food. My children love watching their tortillas made in house! It is light, bright and has some of the best Mexican food in Tucson (in my opinion). Try the menudo!!
- LITTLE ANTHONY’S DINER – This was actually my first job when I moved to Tucson back in high school. I was an ice cream girl and made 50’s style desserts while wearing a poodle skirt! This place is a classic and is about as family friendly as you can get. It is also right next to the Gaslight Theater (see above).
- BISON WITCHES – I seriously CRAVE these sandwiches when I am not in Tucson! While this is a bar, it is still family-friendly in my opinion. It is casual, quick and so delicious! My personal favorites… The Wildcat and The Reuben. From what I remember, the Bloody Mary’s are delicious too!
Of course to this list I would add exploring the University of Arizona campus. There is shopping, food and so much history to see. This being my Alma Mater, as well as the place where my grandparents met many years ago, so the personal history for me will always leave a special place in my heart.
I hope you enjoy your stay in Tucson. If you have any family-friendly activities you would like to add, please do so in the comments!