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Five totally Tucson things to do to introduce your family to the Old Pueblo

Saguaro+National+Park+entrance+sign.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Giorgia+Menetre%29

Saguaro National Park entrance sign. (Photo courtesy of Giorgia Menetre)

Mom and dad are coming to town, and after two months, you may have gotten used to the Tucson way of life.

Now it’s time to show your parents most of it.

You might want to keep a few things a secret, but the great places that make Tucson unique should be on your personal Family Weekend to-do list.

Need some suggestions?

Here are five activities to help you give the fam the full Tucson-local experience.

Drive through Saguaro National Park 

Tucson is positioned smack dab in the middle of Saguaro National Park. On the east and west sides of Tucson, the national park protects the saguaro cacti, which only grow in the Sonoran Desert.

A drive through Saguaro National Park is the perfect activity for all ages. Open from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, the park, protecting the Sonoran Desert, is the only place where these magical and uniquely shaped cacti grow in the world. 

Whether at sunrise or sunset, saguaro cacti have arms that twist and curve every which way. Some look like they’re flipping you off, while others look like they’ll give you a big prickly hug. Then there are the ones that look downright strange, with tangled, contorted arms shooting out from the trunk.  

These crazy cacti and other desert flora can be seen from the winding road that runs through the park or from one of the accessible walking trails. Remember to bring water and sunscreen if you decide to step into the incredible and unforgiving desert landscape. 

At the visitors’ center you can find information about the park, trail maps and activities to do, as well as a bookstore that sells postcards, posters, Mata Ortiz pottery and food. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 

Tucson Meet Yourself 

This is one of Tucson’s annual events and it’s returning to the downtown area Oct. 7-9. Tucson Meet Yourself, known among the Tucson locals as Tucson Eat Yourself, is a folklife festival that focuses on regional food, artists and communities of Tucson that make this desert city so unique. 

The festival takes up three city blocks and Jacomé Plaza in front of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave. The hours and full schedule for the festival can be found on their website.

Students and community members come for the food but stay for the fun. Some of the highlights include interactive demos, workshops and performances by movement and wellness experts, and musicians focusing on how music and music-making traditions keep us connected across time. The Dukes Car Club of Tucson will show off their wheels and there’s an altar to Tucson Meet Yourself founder James “Big Jim” Griffith, who died in December 2021 at the age of 86.

James Griffith and his wife Loma Griffith co-founded Tucson Meet Yourself. James Griffith was known for attending the event every year and gracing the audience with his wisdom, charm, enthusiasm and love for banjo playing. 

Take a hike up Tumamoc Hill  

If you’ve driven into Tucson from any direction, you’ve probably seen Tumamoc Hill in the backdrop of “A” Mountain. Situated on 860 acres of desert wildlands, Tumamoc Hill is an ecological preserve and a U.S. National Historical Landmark.

The name derives from the Tohono O’odham place-name Chemamagi Du’ag — Horned Lizard Mountain. The site is also home to the desert laboratory run by UA.

 Tucson from the top Tumamoc. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra O’Neal)
 Tucson from the top Tumamoc. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra O’Neal)

The paved trail to the top is steep, but the view from the top is well worth the pain. Open 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, the 3-mile round-trip hike is perfect for an early morning family walk to catch a glimpse of the city. 

The panoramic views from the top are sure to make your dad believe the pain was worth the gain, and a family selfie at the top is a must. 

Bear Down Friday

Bear Down Fridays is a giant pep rally held the night before a home football game on University Boulevard at Main Gate Square. The Marshall Foundation, which is the landlord for most of the Main Gate businesses, hosts and the fun gets started at 4 p.m.

Activities include speeches from head coach Jedd Fisch, Athletic Director Dave Heeke and members of the official Arizona student section ZonaZoo. 

“Bear Down Fridays are so fun and enjoyable as you get to see the band, pomline, Wilbur and Wilma, as well as the cheer team,”  Daniel Susa, a UA senior and member of the cheer team, said. “With all these groups of people, you get to show off your school spirit, and it is a great way to meet some new people, see different businesses that support Tucson and the UA and even get some free stuff.”

Drive up Mount Lemmon and get lunch at Summer Haven 

Mount Lemmon, known as a sky island, is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. With an elevation of 9,171 feet above sea level at the peak, Mount Lemmon offers an escape from the desert landscape with activities to quench your thirst for outdoor recreation. Activities include hiking, biking, rock climbing and shredding on the southernmost ski resort in the Continental U.S., Mount Lemmon Ski Valley.

The view from Mount Lemmon. (Photo courtesy of Cassidy Frost)
The view from Mount Lemmon. (Photo courtesy of Cassidy Frost)

On the drive up to Mount Lemmon, be sure to look out the car window and observe how the landscape changes from saguaro cacti to pine trees in the short hour-long drive. Want to challenge your aerobic endurance? Try the 26-mile bike ride to the top, a typical training route for the pro-cyclists who call the desert home. 

At Summerhaven on the top of Mount Lemmon, the temperature averages 30 degrees cooler than in the Tucson valley. Grab a snack at one of the restaurants in the small village and Ski Valley. Visitors might enjoy the massive cookie from Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin


*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.


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