Five Fun and Easy Things to Do in One Day in Tucson Arizona

Part of the You Can Learn Travel series.
By Ken Brown
Editor, You Can Learn Series
January 30, 2011

Are You Looking for 5 Fun and Easy Things to Do in One Day in Tucson, AZ?

On a recent trip to Arizona, my wife and I had the pleasure of spending a day in Tucson, Arizona. We planned out a day that would be fun for us, but wouldn't beat us up by trying to do too much in one day. I think we found the perfect mix of culture, hiking and historical fun things to do in one day in Tucson.

We started the day late by not even leaving the hotel until after 10 AM. (Normally, we are up by 6AM and already hiking or something by 8AM. But, this trip was leisurely. We weren't in a hurry. We could do one, two, three, four or five of the side trips on our itinerary and we would be happy.

First Stop is San Xavier Mission

Our first destination was San Xavier Mission on the Southwest side of Tucson. It is a beautiful church originally built in the 1700s long before Arizona became a state of the United States. The paintings inside the church are unique but beautiful. Statues of angels, St Francis, Saint Xavier and Mary the mother of Jesus are must see. The color palette used in the church is unusual in the Midwest, but felt right at home in the Arizona desert.

You can take as long as you want in the church and the surrounding buildings. We spent a couple of hours taking photos and studying the art and architecture. Then we climbed the little hill next door and spent time with the Grotto which depicts the visitation of Mary in Fatima.
Click on San Xavier Mission photo.
San Xavier Mission is a wonderful place to visit in Tucson, AZ
San Xavier Mission is a wonderful place to visit if you only have one day in Tucson.
Click to see larger photo of San Xavier Mission Iron Work.
An example of the iron fence at San Xavier Mission
An example of the iron fence at San Xavier Mission

Stop Two is the Snake Pathway

Okay if you are going to be traveling through Tucson anyway then hop on Broadway and go east from the highway. As you drive through the city you will see the famous footbridge built to resemble a giant rattlesnake. Stop as soon as you pass through it at the first restaurant you see and walk back to the bridge. You can take pictures and walk through the belly of the snake to cross over the cars traveling below.

This is an easy stop to spend 2 minutes or 30 minutes. We spent 30 minutes as we took photos, walked to the tail and heard the snake shake its rattles. The rattle on the tail is maybe 20 feet high. Then walking through to the other side you come out from the snake's massive head and 12 foot fangs. It isn't much but it is unique and fun.

Three - See the Works of Arizona's Best Artists

If you crave a little culture drive to the Northeast corner of Tucson to where East Skyline Drive meets North Campbell Avenue. On the Northeast corner of the intersection is a tiny little shopping mall. There are 3 or 4 art galleries in the mall. All have wonderful works of art. Some are paintings, photography, black and white, color, subdued landscapes, wild color fun road adventures and many more surprises. There is no charge to wander and admire the artist's creations.

If you are looking for more art galleries then head out of that mall to the Southwest part of that same intersection and you will find a couple of more Southwest artisan's works. If you are looking for small pieces for that one corner in your bedroom or massive hand painted masterpieces for your living room then you will find it on this little adventure. In one of the shops you can choose canvas paintings or Steinway pianos.

If you haven't eaten yet, you may want to find a restaurant, sit down or fast food, before step 4.

Next Up - Catalina State Park

Hopefully, you brought some water and hiking shoes with you because next is a visit to Catalina State Park. They have many trails from simple to strenuous. We recommend a simple trail for our visit today. We don't want to tire you out too much.

Take the Canyon Loop trail. It is only 2.5 miles long. It starts with a fairly tough hill on loose sand, but then it is fairly level. You get some great views of the mountains and if it is nearing dusk you will see the red sky begin to color the mountain landscapes. You can't miss the Saguaro Cactus. They are everywhere. Get loads of photos.

As you begin to descend, you will enter into the canyon. We were surprised because there was water in the river bed. We were expecting it to be dry. We were there in January.
Click on Arizona Catalina State Park photo.
Catalina State Park, Canyon Trail in Tucson, AZ
Visit Catalina State Park if you only have one day in Tucson.
Click to see larger photo of Catalina State Park Saguaro.
You can't leave Arizona without a close up view of Saguaro Cactus in Catalina State Park
Saguaro Cactus in Catalina State Park

Final Destination is Sunset

If you are still feeling good and you have an hour before sunset then hop back on Interstate 10 and head south. You want to see the sunset and there is no better place to be than at the top of Gates Pass. To get there from Interstate 10 get off at Speedway Boulevard and head west. It takes about 15 minutes from the time you get off the Interstate.

Just before you crest the mountain there is a Parking lot on the right hand side of the street. Pull in. Turn off the car and walk a short distance to the lookout point. Hug your sweetheart and enjoy the sunset. Your day is done so, you don't have to be in a hurry. Watch as the sky begins to change colors till it runs to darkness. It won't disappoint you.

We enjoyed our day in Tucson. It was a relaxing day. We didn't hurry on the trails. We took time to enjoy the art work and the cactus. We enjoyed the history of Tucson. We got a feel for the fun outdoor adventures available in Catalina State Park. Five fun and easy things to do in Tucson in one day. I think we got them right. For us it was a perfect day with a perfect sunset.
Click on Tucson Arizona Sunset photo.
Sunset in Tucson, AZ
See the Tucson Sunset at the end of your 5 things to do in Tucson in One Day.
Click to see larger photo of Tucson Sunset.
You can't leave Arizona without a Sunset View
Sunset from the mountain tops of Tucson

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