san xavier del bac mission tucson arizona

The Perfect 5 Day Tucson Itinerary with Kids

Tucson is such an amazing place for a family vacation. We absolutely loved our time in Tucson and can’t wait to visit again! Tucson is surrounded by five mountain ranges, is home to the nations largest cacti (the Saguaro), and has some of the best food in the USA. Whether you’re looking for family friendly hikes, unique plants and animals, or a delicious meal – we’ve got you covered with the best 5 day Tucson itinerary with kids!

Day 1 in Tucson Itinerary:

Check in, eat delicious food, and chill at the pool!

We always take it a little low key on the first day we are traveling anywhere with our kids. This day is focused on arriving safely, checking in, getting some good food, and letting the kids burn a little energy at the pool.

Stop #1: Check in to your Accommodations

Wondering where to stay in Tucson?

Tucson has a ton of great options when it comes to accommodations. Whether you’re looking for beautiful boutique hotels in Tucson, vacation rentals, luxury resorts, dude ranches, or just a budget friendly place to stay, you’ll be able to find it all.

We chose to stay fairly central in Tucson for most of our vacation. All the activities we based this itinerary around are in different areas of Tucson so staying centrally will help you cut down on drive time to both restaurants and hiking areas. That being said, I would probably avoid staying directly in downtown Tucson (like around 4th street area) to avoid some of the riff raff. We felt safe the entire time we were in Tucson, but we did encounter some sketchiness around that area.

Stop #2: Borderlands Brewing

Because it’s likely been a long day of travel, you’ll want to eat somewhere where the kids can run around a bit. Borderlands Brewing has a fantastic outdoor patio that is huge and has a few toys for kids to play with. We loved getting a delicious flight of beer and the food was really tasty too. Our kids enjoyed the quesadilla with the bean dip! This is definitely one of the best places to eat with kids in Tucson.

beer flight at borderlands brewing

Stop #3: Back to the Pool

Of course, if you’re up for it, you can get to exploring or catch a sunset on this first night. We find that our family does best if we take it a bit slow on the day we arrive to a new destination. The kids spent the whole day sitting on an airplane or in the car, so we think they deserve some pool time!!

Stop #4: experience an Eegee

Since you’ve been playing in the sun, a quick treat will satisfy everyone. Try an Eegee! Eegees is a fast food chain local to Tucson and you can get their signature “Eegee” treat. An Eegee is a blended icy fruit treat that is a Tucson staple. You will definitely want to get one of these while you’re visiting.

Stop #5: Back to the Hotel

Time for an early night because the desert can get real hot, so the best way to get your hiking in before you have to sunscreen up the kids is by getting there early (plus, then you won’t have to worry about the crowds!)

Day 2 in Tucson Itinerary

Saguaro National Park West

Stop #1: Drive to Saguaro National Park

Wake up early and get going on your drive to Saguaro National Park West. This section of the park is the more popular (but both are beautiful!) Depending on where you’re staying, your drive will likely be 30-45 minutes. It’s a beautiful drive, we were absolutely stunned by the number of Saguaro Cacti.

Here is a list of the best things to do in Saguaro National Park West with kids. If you want more detail on all these stops, check out our post on One Day in Saguaro National Park with Kids!

  • Take a picture with the National Park sign
  • Walk the Desert Discovery Nature Trail
  • Drive the Bajada Loop
  • Hike the Valley View Overlook Trail
  • See the Signal Hill Petroglyphs
  • Stop at the Red Hills Visitor Center
  • Stamp your National Parks Passport

Stop #2 (Optional): Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum, and aquarium all packed into one. It’s a really cool spot, and might be a good stop depending on your family and how old your kids are.

Our experience: Our kids aren’t really old enough to enjoy zoos at this point. It’s also mostly outdoors so you’ll likely need to sunscreen up your kids. We did visit the museum, but it was a bit exhausting and we didn’t really get our money’s worth since our kids weren’t loving it. If you’re just traveling with toddlers/babies, you might want to skip this stop. Every post I’ve read about Tucson says the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is an absolute must visit, so definitely add this to your Tucson itinerary if your family enjoys zoos or botanical gardens.

Stop #3: Back to the HOtel for Naps or pool Time

Take some time back at your hotel or vacation rental to lounge and regain your energy for the afternoon and evening. We still have kids young enough to nap, but we even like a little bit of quiet time in the middle of our day. Plus, Arizona can get HOT. We preferred to spend more time exploring in the mornings/evenings when it was a bit cooler.

*If you want to make a stop for coffee or a snack on your way back to your hotel, check out Estrella Bakery in Mercado San Agustin. They have fantastic homemade Mexican pastries (and they’re super affordable). There’s also a coffee shop right next door, Presta Coffee Roasters, in the open air market if you’re needing a pick me up.

tacos with a pastry from estrella bakery tucson

Stop #4: Dinner at Seis Kitchen

Seis Kitchen is another kid friendly restaurant in Tucson that we loved. It’s located in Mercado San Agustin, an open air market in Tucson with retail shops, restaurants, and more. Seis Kitchen originally started as a food truck and now has a couple different locations in Tucson. They serve delicious Mexican food, and there is room for kids to roam.

Stop #5: Sunset at Gates Pass

Gates Pass is one of the best places to watch sunset in Tucson, and you have to catch at least one desert sunset while visiting Tucson! There are a few things to know before watching sunset at Gates Pass with kids.

Gates Pass is sort of kid friendly. It’s steep, and there are some hazards (broken glass and cacti). It’s a bit of a tough spot if you have toddlers or kids that can’t sit still. But it’s close to town and beautiful, so it’s worth checking out if you can make it work! To reach Gates Pass, take Speedway Blvd West until it turns into Gates Pass Road. Continue on Gates Pass Road until you reach the top of the hill. If you’re coming from Tucson, the parking lot will be on your right. There are a couple different parking lots that had quite a few spaces.

Day 3 in Tucson Itinerary

Catalina State Park & the best restaurant in the USA!

Stop #1: Hike at Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park is a can’t miss spot for getting outdoors in Tucson. We hiked the Sutherland and Canyon Loop (2.3 miles, 200 feet elevation) and it was one of our favorite trails with kids in Tucson. On this trail you’ll see mountain views, a river (depending on the time of year), beautiful Saguaros, and more.

Things to Know Before Visiting Catalina State Park

  • Depending on when you’re visiting you might encounter some water crossings. Make sure you bring waterproof shoes! I had to take my shoes off to cross and it was COLD.
  • If you’re doing this hike in the early morning, it can be cold. You’ll be in a canyon so you won’t get much sun until later in the day.
  • Since this is a state park, you will have to pay a daily entrance fee ($7 per car as of 2024)

Stop #2: Brunch at Tumerico

Time to hit Yelp’s 2024 Best Restaurant in the USA!! Tumerico is a latin based vegan/vegetarian restaurant, and trust me you’ll love it even if you aren’t vegan or vegetarian (we aren’t fully vegetarian either!) We visited twice during our vacation, and LOVED it. Chilaquiles and the tamales were our favorites, but their menu changes daily. They also have tasty coffee, and a great play area for little ones so you can enjoy your meal in peace.

Stop #3: Rest & Relaxation at the Pool

If you don’t have a pool at your hotel or vacation rental, check out this list of 31 different places where you can take a swim in Tucson.

Stop #4: Dinner at El Charro

El Charro is a Tucson institution, and the oldest Mexican restaurant in the USA that has been continuously run by the same family. This place can be super busy so I would highly recommend making a reservation, going for an early dinner to avoid the rush, or be prepared to wait.

They have a big menu with so many delicious options, but one of the main things they are known is machaca (strips of beef steak sun-dried, shredded and then reconstituted with chilies, tomatoes and onions). They actually dry this beef on their roof, check it out if you’re visiting the downtown location. El Charro Cafe also claims to be the birthplace of the chimichanga so those are two must try items here! I would also recommend asking your waiter for recommendations.

Stop #5: Sunset Hike at Enchanted Mountain Peak Via the Tecolote Trail

The Enchanted Mountain Peak trail is a 1.4 mile hike with 229 feet of elevation. It’s a good easy hike in Tucson that’s close to town. At the end, it’s pretty steep and you’ll likely have to carry your kids if they’re little. But the views at the top are worth the climb and this would be another great sunset spot in Tucson. We actually did this hike one of our mornings, and saw a whole bunch of javelinas! So if you aren’t up for a second hike today, add this to one of your mornings.

Stop #5: Grab some Churros

If you’re looking for a sweet treat for the kids (and yourself) grab some churros at Just Churros. This is a quick and easy place to get dessert. Personally, I didn’t think their ice cream was anything special, but they did have delicious churros!

woman with a baby eating churros from just churros tucson

Day 4 in Tucson Itinerary

Saguaro National Park East

Stop #1: Saguaro National Park East

Saguaro National Park is actually split into two different sections, one on each side of Tucson. If you don’t have five days and need to choose one side of the park to visit, check out our post on Saguaro National Park East vs. West: Which Side to Visit? Of course, if you can visit both you should!

Things to do in Saguaro National Park East

  • Drive the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive
  • Hike the Mica View Trail to Cactus Forest Trail
  • Walk the Desert Ecology Trail
  • Head to the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center
  • Catch a Beautiful Desert Sunset on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail

Check out our other post for more details on how to spend One Day in Saguaro National Park

Stop #2: Eat a Delicious Local Lunch

Did you know that Tucson has been designated as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy? That means that Tucson has been recognized for their unique culinary contributions to the world through a mix of culture and food. Tucson was specifically recognized for their creation of delicious and innovative Mexican-Sonoran food. The food in Tucson is really something special and I would highly recommend putting a little extra in the budget to be able to try some of the local food while you’re here.

Fun Lunch Options for your Tucson Itinerary:

  • Rollies Mexican Patio
  • Sonoran Hot Dogs at El Guero Canelo
  • La Chaiteria

There are so many incredible restaurants in Tucson, we ate out a LOT and didn’t even scratch the surface of the food scene in Tucson. We cover a bunch of different foods to try in our “What Food is Tucson Known for: 17 Delicious Foods to Try!

Stop #3: Browse for Books or a Souvenir

The National Parks Visitor Centers always have great gift shops, but if you’re looking for something else to remember your trip by, you’ll want to do a little souvenir shopping.

We spent some time at an amazing local book shop downtown, called Antigone Books (pronounced ANN-TIG-OH-NEE). They had a huge selection of kids books, local books, and everything else you could want. They also had some kids toys to keep the little ones busy while you browse.

Other souvenir shops to stop by are:

  • Why I Love Where I Live for high quality local items
  • Tucson Tamale and their “Wall of Heat” with over 300 hot sauce choices
  • Barrio Bread: to bring home local bread to your friends – is that the best souvenir?
  • The University of Arizona Bookstores if you are looking for Wildcat Gear

Stop #4: Sunset at San Xavier del Bac Mission

San Xavier del Bac Mission is an active Roman Catholic Parish in Tucson. It’s a picturesque church that you can visit from 9-4 PM daily if you want to go inside to the main body of the church. We didn’t actually get to go inside because there was an event that day, but even visiting the outside of the building makes for a beautiful evening. It’s 15-20 minutes South of Tucson.

san xavier del bac mission tucson arizona

If you’re not interested in driving that far, another good place to watch sunset is from “A” Mountain, or Sentinel Peak. We didn’t make it up there for sunset this trip, but it’s closer to town and a good option with less driving.

Day 5 in Tucson Itinerary

Last day in Tucson!!

Stop #1: Breakfast Burritos at Barista Del Barrio

Barista del Barrio is known for having the best breakfast burritos in Tucson. Because they are such an iconic Tucson spot, it can be 30-90 minutes to wait in line. If you can make it there when they open, you’ll have a shorter wait, but it’s worth it. Each order comes with two burritos and this is the perfect way to start your last day in Tucson. They also have great service and yummy iced coffee.

Stop #2: Hiking in the Sweetwater Preserve

Depending on what your travel plans are for later today or early tomorrow morning, you may want to choose a bigger excursion for today. However, Sweetwater Preserve is located right in Tucson, so there will be less driving but still some beautiful hiking through cacti and wildflowers (depending on the season). We hiked the Wildflower Ridge, Oxbow and Desperado Loop (2.0 miles, 160 feet elevation) and loved this quiet trail.

Stop #3: Choose Your Own Adventure

There are so many other things to do in Tucson, here are a few of the other things we did (or wanted to do) while we were there.

  1. Kartchner Caverns State Park – this is what we chose to do on our last day and it was a really amazing cave system. They offer two different tours that you can see here. After doing this, I probably wouldn’t recommend doing Kartchner Caverns with a baby. He did okay, but must have liked the echoing sound, so I spent the whole time trying to keep him quiet while others enjoyed the tour guide’s talking! If you do choose to explore this magical cave, you’ll want to make a reservation ahead of time.
  2. Explore the Tucson Murals – Tucson has over 100 murals around town that make this city even cooler. They are all unique, and I would definitely recommend walking around and exploring some of the murals.
  3. Mount Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains, at taller than 9,000 feet. It’s much cooler up that high, so it’s a great place to cool off if you’re visiting in the Summer or to see snow in the winter. We were visiting Arizona to escape the snow, so we didn’t visit Mount Lemmon this time, but next time we will.
  4. Picacho Peak State Park – a great state park for hiking and seeing wildflowers in the Spring
  5. Sabino Canyon – a fun place to play in the water if you’re visiting in the Spring, and also has some fun hikes. Check out information about the shuttle here.

Tucson Itinerary Map of THings to do

Our Favorite Things to do in Tucson?

Can’t Miss

Two things come to mind that you can’t miss when coming to Tucson – the Saguaros and the Mexican Sonoran food.

You have to spend some time hiking in Tucson through the Saguaros. Whichever hike you choose, long or short, will be great! Just make sure you take some time to get outside and see the beautiful Sonoran Desert.

It would be wrong to visit a UNESCO city of gastronomy and not enjoy this delicious food. Make sure you leave a little room in your budget to try some of the amazing restaurants here, you won’t regret it.

Would Skip

I would skip walking around downtown (around 4th street). It’s worth it to pop in and check out Antigone Books, but other than that I wouldn’t spend much time down there. We encountered quite a few sketchy looking people in this area, and it didn’t seem like the safest area with kids.

Next Time

Next time I would love to check out some of the waterfall hikes in Tucson, Mount Lemmon, more desert sunsets, and eat tons more delicious food!

We hope you enjoy this Tucson itinerary, we absolutely loved our stay here and can’t wait to visit again. Happy travels!

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