Southeastern Arizona's varied elevation, mild seasons, and unique geography mean there are plenty of chances to watch local and migratory birds. In and around Tucson, watch for vermillion flycatchers, greater roadrunners, and cactus wrens. To see, and learn about, other desert animals—from pythons to bats—visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which has a number of educational critters.
Throughout southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico, 57 "sky islands" rise independently from "seas" of grass and desert. This oak and pine-studded Madrean Archipelago ranges from 3,000 to more than 10,000 feet and shelters more than 7,000 species of plants and animals—including jaguars and chiltepin peppers—making this one of the world's most biodiverse regions.
Flanking Tucson on the east and west, Saguaro National Park's two districts span a total of 91,000 acres, protecting forests of the country's largest and most recognizable cactus. The park, ranging from 2,180 to 4,687 feet, contains six biotic communities, from desert scrub to mixed conifer forest and is home to coyote, desert tortoise, black bear, and Mexican spotted owl.
The original Presidio San Agustín del Tucson was built by Spanish soldiers in the mid-1770s. The walled-in complex was one of the largest in the western states. Today, the historic site and museum offers a window into early Tucson life through docent-led tours and archaeological exhibits, such as remnants of a pit house.
Tucson is one of six UNESCO-recognized Creative Cities in the United States and the only one with a designation for gastronomy. With a 300-year tradition of growing crops and raising livestock, it has the nation's longest agricultural history and an established array of heritage foods. Be sure to sample local ingredients at restaurants, farmers markets, and food festivals.
Built in the late 1600s for the Tohono O'odham community, the Mission San Xavier del Bac is a National Historic Landmark and the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. Its elaborate ceiling and wall paintings have earned it the unofficial title of the "Sistine Chapel of North America" and it remains in use as a Catholic parish today.
Best Day Trip
Less than an hour away, Tubac is the perfect small town to escape to for a day or several. Nearly 20 galleries feature fine art, local crafts, and the opportunity to chat with makers while they work. In between shopping and art-gazing, slip into Flying Leap Vineyards' tasting room or have a cigar and a whiskey at Grumpy Gringo's.
Most Iconic Attraction
More than 400 movie and television projects, including Bonanza, Calamity Jane, and Young Guns have been filmed in Old Tucson since its construction in 1939. The film set and replica of 1960s Tucson gives visitors the chance to immerse themselves in Hollywood's version of the Wild West, complete with gunfights, saloon musicals, film history tours, and more.
A walking tour of Barrio Viejo provides a glimpse of 19th-century Tucson. Colorful adobes, once home to Southern Pacific Railroad employees, have been preserved and renovated. Tucked among the old houses are El Tiradito, also known as the Wishing Shrine, and Teatro Carmen, formerly a Spanish-language theater, both stops on the Arizona Women's Heritage Trail.
Random Museum Tour
Tucson is home to several unusual museums. The Titan Missile Museum is the only place in the US where visitors can tour a Titan II missile silo that was active during the Cold War. The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures holds a large collection of dollhouses, artifacts, and other collectibles. And Biosphere 2, a science research facility owned by The University of Arizona, is open for tours.