You’ve heard Tucson is awesome, and, naturally, now you want to go. Despite being surrounded by a desert, Tucson doesn’t feel lifeless or like you’re in the middle of nowhere, but what exactly makes it so attractive to tourists?
Moreover, what are the best and the worst times to visit this unusual city? After all, nailing the season is key to ensuring the perfect trip!
Find out all you need to know about Tucson’s on and off-season in our detailed guide. We’ll help you pick the most suitable dates for your stay as well as answer some frequently asked questions!
Why You Should Visit Tucson
Tucson’s cultural diversity, natural landscapes, dynamic downtown, hot climate, historic monuments, versatile museums, and authentic cuisine make it one of the loveliest (and liveliest!) US cities.
If this isn’t enough to convince you to visit Tucson, let’s dive into more specific reasons why this interesting city should make it to your bucket list:
- It has stunning sunsets. Just head over to the Saguaro National Park or the Gates Pass. Those interested in learning more about planets, galaxies, constellations, and star clusters should go to Kitt Peak National Observatory.
- Going on a brewery crawl is awesome. Tucson’s craft brewing scene has been growing over the last decade, so its beer is worth giving a shot! Some cool breweries include MotoSonora, Pueblo Vida, 1912, and, of course, Barrio — the oldest Tucson brewery.
- Tucson has one of the best music venues — if possible, go see a concert at the over 100-year-old Rialto Theatre.
- It has diverse lodging options fitting every travel lifestyle. If you’re into shopping and fine dining, consider staying on the famous 4th Avenue. If you prefer walking to most major attractions, staying downtown is the way to go. In case the city hustle and bustle isn’t your thing, and you prefer a mountain-view accommodation, check out the Catalina Foothills.
- You can get sent back in time to the Wild West by visiting Old Town, an American movie studio and themed park. Some popular attractions include the Silver Lake Gold Panning, Photographer Studio, Western Games, Shooting Gallery, and Petting Zoo.
- Tucson has a wide range of attractive bars. If you’re looking for a speakeasy venue, head over to Tough Luck Club. If having a drink at a JFK-inspired bar sounds fun, consider The Shelter (they serve some of the cheapest drinks in town). If you’re into live music and appreciate nice interior design, go to Club Congress. For a gay bar, see IBT’s.
- If you’re into hiking, Tucson will feel like a paradise. We suggest some of the following hiking trails: Painted Hills Trailhead, Butterfly Trail, Seven Falls Trail, and Finger Rock Trailhead (note that this one takes all day, so start early).
- Tucson has activities for those who enjoy spending time indoors too. Visit the Arizona State Museum, Tucson Museum of Art & Historic Block, Pima Air & Space Museum, Ignite Sign Art Museum, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Overall Best Time to Visit Tucson
The overall best time to visit Tucson is during the November–March period due to the overall great weather in comparison to other places with more temperate climates.
In November, the average high temperature is 71°F, and the average low is 51°F. In March, similar temperatures are observed — the average high is 72°F, while the average low is the same, 51°F.
It hardly ever rains. In any case, if you’re heading to Tucson in these months, pack light clothes for the daytime and a warm jumper or a coat for the evenings.
Winter officially marks the beginning of Tucson’s tourist season, so this is also when accommodation rates peak, especially due to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is the oldest, largest, and most prestigious mineral and gem show worldwide. It has enjoyed an international status since the 70s, and it was the first show of this kind to unite the public.
Hobby enthusiasts and professionals alike are in search of discovery. If you’re visiting in this period, book a room at least a month before.
Besides the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, Tucson visitors can enjoy other well-known events in the winter months, such as:
- All Souls Procession (November), which is all about celebrating life and honoring ancestors and lost loved ones;
- 4th Avenue Winter Street Fair (December), promising delicious food, local entertainment, artists from around the world, and a lot of fun;
- Tucson Jazz Festival (January), an event bringing world-class jazz performers and jazz lovers to Tucson;
- Tucson Festival of Books (March), heaven for all bibliophiles.
Cheapest Time to Visit Tucson
Folks on a budget should visit Tucson in September or October. The temperature in September fluctuates between 89°F and 71°F.
In October, the average high temperature is 81°F, and the average low is 60°F. If you’re visiting Tucson in September, bring some shorts and T-shirts, as it’s warm most of the time.
However, if you’re heading there in October, make sure to pack a light jumper for the evening, as the nights get cool. Also, do expect to see a bit more rain these days as opposed to spring.
The monsoon season runs through mid-September, but you’ll find most days sunny and suitable for outdoor activities. Plus, beating the winter travelers means getting some cheap room rates.
Some key events that take place in September and October in Tucson are:
- Tucson LGBT Pride Festival (September), founded in 1977, which makes it Arizona’s first LGBTQ Organization. The festival seeks to empower the LGBT community and enhance its visibility.
- University of Arizona Homecoming (October), an event where thousands of alumni go back to the campus to celebrate their Wildcat pride and reunite with peers.
- Tucson Meet Yourself Festival (October), which is a folklife festival and an annual celebration of the traditional arts of Northern Mexico’s and Southern Arizona’s diverse folk community. This three-day event includes dancers, artisans, home cooks, and musicians who honor beauty in all its forms.
Least Busy Time to Visit Tucson
If you wish to avoid large crowds, head to Tucson in April or May. In April, the average high temperature is 78°F and the average low is 55°F.
In May, the average temperature ranges between 86°F and 61°F. Visiting Tucson in April or May means packing T-shirts and a few light jumpers for the evening.
While April and May are generally off-season, in case you visit Tucson in May, try to avoid the University of Arizona’s commencement weekend. Not only does the city get slightly crowded, but hotel rooms also get pretty scarce.
Other key events during this period include:
- Spring Fling (April), an awesome family-friendly event known for games, carnival rides, food booths (both local and original), and local entertainment.
- Arizona International Film Festival (April), Arizona’s oldest film celebration, which runs The Screening Room (downtown), the Loft Cinema, the Mercado Annex (Westside), the Historic Hotel Congress, UA Main Gate, the Loft Cinema, and other venues. Not only is the festival a great experience movie-wise, but it’s also an opportunity to see different areas of the city.
- Tucson Folk Festival (April), one of the oldest folk festivals in the country honoring Folk Music and Americana traditions alongside variations such as blues, jazz, zydeco, bluegrass, Celtic, and more. The annual festival is traditionally held in some of Tucson’s most historic areas.
- Fiesta de Garibaldi (April), a wonderful evening filled with dance and music by the students of the TIMC (Tucson International Mariachi Conference) and Folklorico workshops.
- Cinco de Mayo Parades & Parties (May), typically celebrated with a parade, parties, and a lot of food.
Worst Time to Visit Tucson
The worst time to end up in Tucson is definitely in summer, which is in the months of June, July, and August.
Some days the temperatures pass 100°F, and the heat is truly unlike anywhere else. Spending time outdoors is difficult, but it’s summer, so you don’t really have a lot of choices when it comes to the available activities.
June is also a very dry month accompanied by strong, hot winds. Can’t imagine what that feels like? Try blowing a hairdryer in your face for the whole day, and you’ll understand it right away.
Also, mid-July marks the beginning of Tucson’s monsoon season, so frequent thunderstorms become the norm. That said, visiting Tucson in the summer doesn’t have to be that bad.
For example, hotel rates drop during the summer, and lower temperatures are just a ride away from the city (it’s 20 degrees cooler at some close mountain ranges).
Those ready to not only face the heat but fully embrace it can try attending some events such as:
- Juneteenth (June), held at Kennedy Park and attended by thousands of people each year;
- Southeast Arizona Birding Festival (August), featuring keynote speakers, photography, workshops, professional field trips, and a Nature Expo;
- World Margarita Championship (August), perfect for those who wish to taste original Margaritas and enjoy menu samplings from local Tucson restaurants.
Things to Consider
Knowing what to bring, where to go, and what to do is just as important as knowing the best time to visit Tucson. Our tips and tricks below might answer any pending questions you may have.
- Hablas Español? If you don’t, it’s a good idea to learn a thing or two. Speaking Spanish can be a big asset during your stay in Tucson. Plus, Mexican food is the go-to in Tucson, and understanding how spicy your meal is can make or break your food experiences in Tucson. That said, you won’t have any problems navigating the city using only English.
- Prepare for scorching temperatures. Especially if you’re visiting in summer. Tucson’s heat can really test people’s high-temperature endurance. Also, note that many attractions reduce their work hours in the afternoon during summer months.
- Don’t go hiking without a hiking buddy. Getting lost or injured in the desert isn’t impossible, and snakes and Gila monsters are common to come across, so make sure you’re always accompanied on your desert adventures.
- Know when to expect traffic and crowds. As Tucson is a college town, basketball and football game days translate into a buzzing atmosphere and heavier traffic than on the usual days.
- Get the Tucson Attractions Passport and enjoy a bunch of deals at major attractions such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, The Arizona Opera, the Saguaro National Park, and many others.
- Consider flying to the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Being bigger and having more traffic, the Phoenix airport may provide better airfare offers than the Tucson International Airport.
- Try ingredients such as prickly pear, cactus, and chiltepin to truly experience Tucson’s local cuisine. If you feel like your taste buds aren’t ready for such spicy flavors and need some reassurance, it’s probably worth mentioning that in 2015, Tucson became the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States.
- Your food experience won’t be complete until you sample some of the region’s wine. For a sophisticated wine experience in Tucson, we recommend booking a guided tour with the Arizona Winery Tours.
- Take a day trip from Tucson. While you’re there, it’s a shame not to see as much as you can. You can go to Tubac, Bisbee, Tombstone, Kartchner Caverns State Park, or Mission San Xavier del Bac. You can take a day trip to Mexico too!
- Finally, don’t forget your travel insurance! It’s simply not worth the risk.
Frequently Asked Questions
What animals live in the Tucson desert?
Tucson desert animals and reptiles include:
- The Gila monster;
- The roadrunner;
- The jackrabbit;
- The prairie dog;
- Horned toad;
- Bighorn sheep;
- The rattlesnake
How many days should I spend in Tucson?
If you’re going to Tucson, you’ll probably want to spend at least three days there to see most places and do most activities.
Here are our suggestions for the perfect three-day Tucson itinerary:
- Day 1: Begin your Tucson trip by exploring the downtown area but not before having breakfast at the Cup Café. Then, wander around Congress Street, Broadway, and 4th Avenue to see some of Tucson’s most magnificent murals. If you’re an art enthusiast, visit the Tucson Museum of Art as well. Next, check out the University of Arizona. Enjoy Tucson at dusk by having a drink before returning to your accommodation.
- Day 2: Focus on seeing as much as you can in Tucson’s west and south side. The Sentinel Peak is a must, as it’s one of the city’s major attractions, San Xavier del Bac Mission is another awesome landmark, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is favored both by locals and travelers.
- Day 3: Spend your day in nature, relaxing or taking a hike. We suggest starting your day in the foothills at Tohono Chul, a botanical garden. For lunch, try the well-known red and green chili at Poco & Mom’s, alongside one of their signature margaritas. If you have more time left, the Sabino Canyon is worth checking out too!
Is Tucson, AZ cheap?
Yes, Tucson has costs of living 5% lower than the state average and 6% lower than the national average. This makes the city one of Arizona’s most affordable cities.
As a visitor, here’s what your potential expenses would look like in Tucson based on your travel style:
- $56 a day when traveling on a budget;
- $126 a day with mid-range expenses;
- $261 a day for those who can afford it all.
What food is Tucson famous for?
Tucson is famous for its Mexican-inspired cuisine, but its culinary scene is much more versatile than that. The city offers a plethora of delicious options for every price and taste.
What makes Tucson cuisine so unique is its close proximity to the Mexican border and its location between Southern California and Sante Fe.
To get you started on what you could try food-wise in Tucson, here are several suggestions:
- Carne Seca at El Charro Cafe
- Sonoran-Style Shrimp and Grits at Lerua’s
- Quesadilla with Cochinita Pibil at Seis Kitchen
- Spiced Fruit Salad at Taqueria Pico de Gallo
- Taquitos at Seis Kitchen
- Duro at Juice & Fruit
- Tostilocos at Jason’s Mexican
- Sonoran Hot Dog at BK Carne Asada
Finally, don’t forget the iconic Tucson chimichanga!
What is Tucson, Arizona best known for?
Tucson is known for its amazing cuisine, the Sonoran Desert, versatile hobby communities, and having some of the cleanest air of most major cities across the world. Its hiking trails, unique climate, heritage, and world-class rodeo are quite recognizable too.
Do you need a car in Tucson?
Most of the city is flat, so walking and/or biking is easier than in hilly cities. However, the best way to get around Tucson is by car.
Car rentals offer reasonable prices, and there are a few public transportation options too. That said, reaching sites such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or the Saguaro National Park is only possible by car.
Is Tucson safe for tourists?
Yes, Tucson is generally safe for tourists, however, you should be cautious when wandering the city in the late hours of the night. As theft is two and a half times higher than the national average, and Tucson’s homicide rates almost doubled from 2019 to 2021, the overall crime rate is medium.
As in all places frequented by tourists, crime typically includes petty theft and not any violence, so make sure you know where your belongings are at all times and avoid carrying travel documents or expensive items with you.
What do people wear in Tucson?
People in Tucson wear T-shirts and shorts in summer, and light sweaters, long-sleeve blouses, scarves, and jeans or long pants in winter.
There’s no need for formal clothes — casual is more or less the norm. This makes sense considering there’s a plethora of outdoor activities in Tucson that require comfortable footwear.
What is the closest Mexican city to Tucson?
The closest Mexican city to Tucson is Nogales. If you’re visiting Tucson, considering a trip to Nogales is a great idea. Nogales is approximately 60 miles south of Tucson on Interstate 19 (roughly a one-hour drive).
Going to Nogales means getting a taste of the Old Mexico charm and famous traditions. You’ll discover hand-made crafts that you can’t find in the United States.
You can purchase décor, jewelry, art, leather goods, rugs, basketry, furniture, paintings, and other hand-crafted items. Do note that crossing the border into Nogales means taking into account some Mexican laws and travel requirements.
That’s why many decide to park their cars on the US side of the border and not the Mexican one (this makes sense if you’re going there for the day, though).
So, When Should You Travel to Tucson?
We’ve covered a lot in this Tucson guide, so let’s recap the most important information. Overall, the best time to visit Tucson is anytime from November to March.
It’s perfect for travelers who seek mild winters, outdoor activities while the temperatures are bearable, and some of the most popular festivals and events.
September and October are the cheapest because summer is gone, and winter visitors are yet to arrive. If you’re trying to stick to a budget, finding nice airfare deals and accommodation packages in this period should be easy.
Also, the weather is pretty comfortable, especially at night, when you might even need a light sweater. Tucson is a student city, which means things are always dynamic, but if you’re not a fan of large crowds and want a calmer stay, going in April or May might do it.
Keep in mind that in May, the University of Arizona’s commencement weekend takes place, so avoiding it would be a smart move. Come in June, July, or August, and you’ll wish you never came.
Joke aside, you’ll still have a whale of a time, but summers in Tucson are truly unbearable due to its oven-like temperatures. Mid-July is the onset of Tucson’s monsoon season, so if the intense heat isn’t enough, you’ll have heavy rainfall and thunderstorms to deal with too.
Take our guidelines while planning your trip. Whether you come to Tucson for hiking or its incredible dining, the best time to visit it is whenever it works for you. Happy travels!