Our first stop when visiting Tucson is always visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It is ranked in TripAdvisor as one of the Top 10 Museums in the country and the #1 Tucson attraction. The best part is 85% of the experience is outdoors!
The “museum” (its more like a park/zoo/combo) is massive and has a seemingly unlimited array of things to do. We’ve highlighted our favorites below which should give you a good starting point!
The truth is that you don’t really need a guide for this one. Just show up, buy tickets, and have fun. It is great for kids of all ages. Think of it like going to a desert-themed zoo, just even more amazing!
What is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and where is it located?
The Desert Museum is a fusion experience that includes a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery & classes, natural history museum, and aquarium, all mixed together. Take your idea of a museum and turn it inside out! There probably isn’t a better experience for kids in the Tucson area, especially if you are looking for it to be active and educational!
The Desert Museum is located west of Tucson right at the border with Saguaro National Park at 2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743.
What amenities does The Desert Museum offer?
The Desert Museum offers may of the amenities that you would expect from one of TripAdvisor’s top museums in the country! They have ample parking, bathrooms, drinking water, snacks, a little store, hiking, classes… literally everything! Tickets are $29.95 for adults and kids 13 and older, $19.95 for kids 3-12, and free for kids under 3.
It is open 365 days per year from 8:30am to 5pm. In the summer it operates under reduced hours from 7:30am to 2pm.
The Desert Museum currently has 20 exhibits and experiences on their website, ranging from a live raptor flight and stingray touching station to beautiful gardens and the Warden Aquarium. Expect it to take a coupled of days to see it all!
What are our Top 5 experiences at The Desert Museum?
This really is a tough question! Our kids look forward to visiting the museum every year. They tend to spend their first hour running around like crazies (might be over stimulation…), but seem to settle each year on the following:
1. Raptor Free Flight
What kid doesn’t love a live bird show? The staff at The Desert Museum are amazing. These birds are so well trained you literally can feel the brush of their feathers as they wizz by! There is a broad range of birds that fly, including Chihuahuan ravens, great horned owls, caracaras, red-tailed hawks, gray hawks, and Harris’s hawks. Our favorite are the owls!
2. Packrat Playhouse
Packrat Playhouse is air conditioned! It is the perfect spot to cool off after the excitement of Raptor Free Flight. The whole experience is modeled after the life of the desert packrat. Encourage them to be little rats and climb and slide to their hearts desire!
3. Life Underground
Life Underground is a zoo-like experience focused on burrowing animals. You may spot a ringtail or our favorite, the giant gila monster! Did you know that many giant gila monsters spend the majority of their lives underground? No wonder we never see them on our hikes!
4. Mountain Woodland
Mountain Woodland offers the rare opportunities to see a mountain lion, mule deer, Mexican grey wolves, and a black bear! Most people only think of the open desert when they think of Tucson. Think again! The Mexican Pine-Oak Woodland is an amazing ecosystem!
5. Live Animal Theater Program
Every day at 12:30PM they host a live animal presentation in the Warden Oasis Theater. The presentations vary on a day to day basis. Kids can ask questions and the staff are super fun. The last presentation we saw focused on rattlesnakes. Best part is that our kids were able to take their new knowledge and decrease their fear of actually being bitten in the wild!
Why do we love the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum with Kids?
If we had to pick one thing, it would be the variety. Most of our active time in Tucson is based around hiking, which is great but can get boring after a week or so! At the Desert Museum the kids are still active, however in very different ways. The staff do a wonderful job of sparking curiosity and our kids are always little chatterboxes on our drive home telling us about all of their newfound knowledge.
The museum is ADA accessible and great for strollers. Plus, part is air conditioned! If we were to pick one stop in Tucson with kids, it would be the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum!
Other Kid-friendly Options in Tucson
Looking for other options for kids in Tucson? Here are some of our favorites!
- Best Hiking in Sabino Canyon with Kids
- Best Hiking in Madera Canyon with Kids
- Best Hiking in Catalina State Park with Kids
- Best Hiking in Saguaro National Park (West) with Kids
- The Ultimate Guide to Canoa Hills Trails Park with Kids
- Ultimate Guide to Canoa Ranch Conservation Park with Kids
- Ultimate Guide to Desert Meadows Park with Kids