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This world-famous museum is also a zoo that displays the creatures of the surrounding desert in their natural habitats. Located in the middle of the Sonoran desert about a half an hour drive from Tucson's city center, it also provides breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The gift shop has an excellent selection of Sonoran desert souvenirs. This is a must for any visitor staying in Tucson for more than just one day.
Of all the natural attractions in and around Tucson, Sabino Canyon is certainly the most popular. This large chasm in the Santa Catalina Mountains is where ancient Hohokam people built irrigation dams while mammoths roamed the ground. Access is free, but there is a charge for parking. Highlights are swimming (conditions allowing) in clear pools after a six-mile (ten kilometer) hike to Seven Falls and summer evening shuttle rides (paid for by pre-paid reservations). Sabino tram and bear shuttles rides are available.
Tucson Botanical Gardens is a major tourist attraction in the city that's not meant just for plant lovers. Apart from a rich collection of cacti and desert wildflowers, the gardens offer an educational walk around the history of the native Tohono O'odham Indians and the efforts of local scientists to preserve native seeds. Don't miss the wonderful Nuestro Jardin, the traditional Mexican-American neighborhood garden, or the shaded restaurant patio.
The Reid Park Zoo is one of the major attractions in the city. Due to its relatively small size, the zoo can be explored at a leisurely pace in less than two hours. In their natural habitats, the wild animals make for a fascinating sight. From giraffes, tigers to peacocks, rhinos, elephants and bears, Reid Park Zoo has them all and many more.
Tohono Chul Park, located on Tucson's northwest side, is a very picturesque piece of the Sonoran desert. This park features a wide variety of desert plants around pleasant trails, which lead visitors to a gift shop and a shaded tea room serving delicious scones for tea time. Regular "Walk in the Park" tours provide an educational experience about the park's flora. Be sure to bring your sunblock to protect yourself from the sun.
This institution is totally dedicated to the preservation of the history of flight, be it commercial, military, or even interplanetary. The museum opened in 1976 with just 75 aircrafts and has now grown to have more than 250 on display. A recent addition is the Northrop F-5B "Freedom Fighter." Be prepared to spend the entire day if you, or someone in your party, is a aircraft buff. The exhibits on the floor here rotate, and special events and conferences are scheduled regularly.
The Mission San Xavier del Bac is perhaps Tucson's best-known historic landmark. Established in 1692 by the Spanish missionary Father Kino, 16.09 kilometers (10 miles) south of what is now downtown Tucson on the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation, San Xavier del Bac is considered one of the finest examples of Mexican folk baroque architecture. The mission's spotless whitewashed walls are embellished with the contrasting colors of the ornately handcrafted mesquite-wood entrance that adds a tinge of old-world finesse to the structure. The mission that stands today is, in fact, the second mission built between 1783 to 1797, and yet is the oldest European building in the state of Arizona. The parish is still active and holds mass every week.
The locals commonly refer to this high elevation peak, located just west of downtown, as "A" Mountain because since 1915, University of Arizona students have whitewashed the letter "A" on its eastern slope. Its history, however, goes much further back: it was at the foot of this mountain that the earliest traces of human settlements in the Tucson area were found. The top of the mountain offers one of the best panoramic views of the Tucson basin, as well as a few BBQ grills.
At 9,159 feet (2,792 m), Mount Lemmon is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The mountain is part of the Coronado National Forest, where giant Saguaro cacti tower and a variety of desert vegetation blooms year around. The mountain is also home to the Mount Lemmon Observatory, which is used by the University of Arizona. Crowned by the dainty town of Summerhaven, this mighty mountain is traversed by a tapestry of windblown roads as well as the serpentine Catalina Highway. A hiking and camping wonderland, Mount Lemmon proudly watches over the enchanting desert landscape that unfolds along its lap. The Seven Cataracts and Windy Pointe Vista are some of the best vantage points on Mount Lemmon, offering incredible panoramas of Tucson.
Referred to as "Hollywood in the Desert," Old Tucson Studios is one of the most famous movie studios in the world. Plan to take the entire family and spend an entire day immersed in the "Old West" theme. Take care, you might run into bandits while strolling the streets or witness a bank robbery in progress. More than 350 movies have been filmed in this studio, now home to commercial photography, film and television productions.