Family fun and sun in Tucson

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona

Arizona, particularly Tucson, has always been one of our family’s favorite vacation destinations. The dramatic rocky landscapes of America’s southwest, deep blue skies, and majestic saguaro cactus are worlds away from our typical scenery at home and with more than 300 days of sunshine a year, a sunny vacation is virtually guaranteed (except possibly “monsoon” season July–September).

Metropolitan Tucson lies in a flat valley with five mountain ranges encircling it, three with peaks of 9,000 feet and higher. To the west and east lie the saguaro-studded hills of Saguaro National Park. Development and redevelopment radiates from Tucson’s historic downtown and original adobe fortress or presidio which marks Tucson’s formal founding in 1775. A car is essential for sightseeing, but the area is easily navigated on just a few major roads and many of Tucson’s most unique sights can be reached within an hour or less.

Tucson’s accommodations range from basic hotels and motels, historic bed and breakfasts and guest ranches to luxurious resorts and world-renowned wellness spas. The main resort area is tucked into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains about ten miles north of downtown. Major resorts to choose from include Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort, Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort, The Lodge at Ventana Canyon, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Omni Tucson National Resort, Tanque Verde Ranch, The Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa, and Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa.

Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort

Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort

Stretched over 500 acres under the sheer red granite cliffs of Pusch Ridge in the Santa Catalina Mountains, the setting for the Hilton El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort is truly spectacular. 428 guest rooms include 92 one, two and three bedroom casitas, ideal accommodations for families. A one-bedroom master suite can be joined on one side or both with another bedroom with bath to make a spacious 2 or 3-bedroom unit with shared living room with fireplace, tv, dining room, and efficiency kitchen.

All rooms have a private balcony or patio with sweeping mountain, desert or courtyard views. Natural vegetation and flowering plants line the winding pathways through the casita complex and to the adults-only casita pool and hot tubs. Renovation of all guest rooms, including casitas, are scheduled to be completed by August 31, 2016.

Outside the main hotel, the Desert Springs Water Oasis keeps the kids entertained on a 143-foot natural-looking rock water slide (42-inch height requirement), splash pool for younger children, hot springs, waterfall-fed cold plunge, and large traditional pool. While typical December temperatures only approach the mid-60s, by mid-afternoon, the sun can be warm enough to swim, lounge in the hot tub and cool off on the waterslide.

For golfers, Tucson is an ideal destination, offering year round play on championship courses designed by notable architects including Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Weiskopf. The Hilton El Conquistador features 45 holes of golf on three different courses and a golf academy. The 9-hole Pusch Ridge Course is located at the resort and winds, dips and climbs through a 175-foot vertical drop in the foothills. The Cañada, a desert-style design, and the Conquistador courses are located seven minutes west of the hotel via hotel shuttle. Rolling terrain, emerald green fairways and greens combined with spectacular mountain views and a perfect climate create an exceptional day outdoors.

With all the on-site activities at the Hilton El Conquistador—swimming, golf, tennis, hiking, biking, spa services, and dining—a family could easily hole up here for the week and never leave the premises.

Besides resort life, though, there are many sites unique to the area that are well worth a visit.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

For sightseeing, there’s no better place to start than the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It is the best introduction to the unusual and complex environment of the Sonoran Desert. An area encompassing parts of Arizona and California in the United States and the Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, Baja California Sur and the Sea of Cortez, the Sonoran Desert is the only place in the world where the giant saguaro cactus grows.

Experiencing the Desert Museum is just like taking a walk through the desert, except in a controlled outdoor environment with interpretive signs and docents on hand to introduce you to the distinctive plants and animals. Almost two miles of winding paths traverse 21 acres through mountain woodlands, desert grasslands, a riparian corridor, desert cave and walk-in aviaries with plenty of opportunities for hands-on action. Invisinet mesh is used to create strong, safe, nearly transparent enclosures in large, open exhibits. You will see coati, beaver, river otters, desert fishes, black-tailed prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, reptiles and spiders, bobcats, coyotes, birds and leave with a much better understanding of the Sonoran Desert’s unique world. Gardens identify commonly seen cacti, succulents and trees. The gift shop at the Museum is one of the best we visited, carrying souvenirs, natural history books and fine native crafts.

Other attractions worth a visit are listed below.



Visit Tucson
The Tucson Attractions Passport is an exceptional value if you are planning on touring multiple museums and attractions. Purchase online, at the Visitor Center or at museum entrances and receive 2-for-1 admission and other discounts.
La Placita Village
100 S. Church Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85701


Temperatures may soar, but you will find the best rates and many special packages offered during summer.

Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort
10000 N. Oracle Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85704

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort
7000 N. Resort Dr.
Tucson, AZ 85750

Arizona Dude Ranch Association
P. O. Box 603
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
2021 N. Kinney Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85743

Saguaro National Park (East & West)
Rincon Mountain District Visitor Center
3693 S. Old Spanish Trail
Tucson, AZ 85730
Tucson Mountain District Visitor Center
2700 N. Kinney Rd. (2 miles north of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum)
Tucson, AZ 85743
A recommended stop for saguaro facts at the Red Hills Visitor Center, a ranger talk-walk, and short walk to view ancient petroglyphs from the Signal Hill Picnic Area. Be prepared and bring walking shoes, water and a hat.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area
Hike the 3.8-mile paved trail into the canyon, or take a narrated tram ride to learn about the history and wildlife of this unique, surprisingly green, desert oasis.
5700 N. Sabino Canyon Rd.

Pima Air & Space Museum
See more than 300 aircraft and spacecraft indoors and outdoors in one of the largest air and space museums in the world. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear World War II veteran pilot docents share their personal flying experiences.
6000 E. Valencia Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85706

Titan Missile Museum
Tour the only publicly accessible Titan II missile site in the nation. Visiting the underground launch control center and experiencing a simulated launch brings the front line of the Cold War dramatically to life.
1580 W. Duval Mine Rd.
Sahuarita, AZ

Hotel Congress
Stop at the Cup Cafe in this historic 1919 hotel for a delicious breakfast or lunch. Old newpaper clippings posted in the lobby tell the amazing story of the accidental capture of John Dillinger, one of the country’s most notorious criminals, when a fire broke out at the hotel in 1934.
311 E. Congress St.
Tucson, AZ 85701

Kartchner Caverns State Park
Take a 1 1/2 hour tour of this “living” cave discovered in 1974.
2980 S. Highway 90
Bensen, AZ 85602

Kitt Peak National Observatory
Located high above the Sonoran Desert, Kitt Peak is home to the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes. The Visitor Center is open to the public daily, offering exhibits, guided tours, stargazing and other programs.
Tohono O’Odham Reservation
State Rt. 86 to Rt. 386 (56 miles southwest of Tucson)

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