The year-round sunshine, spectacular craggy mountains, and stark desert landscapes surrounding Tucson provide a colorful backdrop for a picturesque getaway. Aside from the city’s more ostentatious attractions, Tucson offers numerous lesser-known wonders like a shop packed with gems galore, as well as a curious museum filled with miniatures. Stay at one of many Tucson vacation rentals to easily enjoy access to pristine parks, fascinating museums, historic marvels, and breathtaking artwork. Here are the top hidden gems in the city of Tucson.
1. Sweetwater Wetlands
Sweetwater Wetlands Park is a water reclamation facility and wildlife reserve in northwestern Tucson. This lovely natural environment in the midst of the city is home to bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, and numerous other species of wildlife. Additionally, the site shelters hundreds of species of birds, such as hawks, herons, wrens, hummingbirds, and roadrunners. The park features over two and a half miles of flat, pleasant walking trails where you can take self-guided tours of the facility. The Tucson Audubon Society also offers weekly guided field excursions for bird watching enthusiasts.
2. Aircraft Boneyard
The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, unofficially known as the Aircraft Boneyard, is a storage facility for over 4,000 out-of-service aircraft, making it the world’s largest aircraft storage facility. Included in the collection are most types of airplanes that the U.S. military has used since World War II. The unique nature of the location has made it a popular filming site for numerous TV shows and movies. Because the Aircraft Boneyard is on Davis-Montham Air Force Base, which is a controlled access area, public access is only allowed via guided bus tours by the Pima Air and Space Museum.
3. Tucson Mineral and Gem World
The Tucson Mineral and Gem World lies at the western edge of Tucson in a desert setting with a teepee on one side and a large-scale model of a tyrannosaurus rex on the other. The shop features cabinets full of specimens of minerals, gems, fossils, and meteorites. Also on display in the rustic museum-like building are curiosities such as the skull of a Roman gladiator, a vampire bat skeleton, and a dried rattlesnake head. The experienced owners offer invaluable advice for those interested in geology and rock collections.
4. Valley of the Moon
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Valley of the Moon is a unique fantasy theme park near vacation rentals in northern Tucson. Created by George Ledger out of tons of cement and local rock, the Valley of the Moon is a wonderland of stone towers, hidden grottos, winding paths, waterfalls, and ponds. Within these elaborate landscapes are figurines of trolls, gnomes, fairies, and mythological creatures. The site offers historical tours and other special events.
5. Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
Located in northern Tucson, the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures features over 400 room boxes and dollhouses full of imaginative miniature figurines. The collection is divided into three sections. The History Gallery highlights classic dollhouses from the 18th through 20th centuries. In the Enchanted Realm are fantasy settings populated with dragons, fairies, witches, elves, and other magical creatures. The Exploring the World Gallery depicts life around the world through international backgrounds, furniture, and figurines. The museum store offers numerous finely crafted miniatures for sale.
6. Pontatoc Ridge Trail
The breathtaking Pontatoc Ridge Trail lies on the northern border of Tucson on the southwestern edge of the Santa Catalina Mountains. This six-mile, round-trip hike offers you a spectacular view of the Santa Catalina Mountains and the city of Tucson. Along the way, you pass rugged canyons, jagged rock formations, and saguaro cacti and other desert flora. You may catch glimpses of bighorn sheep, hawks, lizards, and other desert wildlife.
7. DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun
The beautiful DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun Historic District lies in the Catalina Foothills of northern Tucson. Now a museum, the property consists of a series of adobe buildings housing the unique and lovely artwork of Ettore DeGrazia. Artwork on display in the mission-style complex includes paintings, sketches, sculpture, ceramics, and jewelry. The gift shop offers a wide selection of originals and reproductions.
8. Titan Missile Museum
The Titan Missile Museum, or Air Force Facility Missile Site 8, is located at the site of a former ICBM missile silo on the southern outskirts of Tucson. This fascinating remnant of the Cold War includes an eight-level silo, a three-level control room, the decommissioned missile, access tunnels, and equipment. The visitor center features displays on the history of the facility and a gift shop. Guided tours take you to view the blast doors, stand under the Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile, and into the control center where you experience a simulated missile launch.
9. Signal Hill
Signal Hill lies on the western outskirts of Tucson in Saguaro National Park. A short walk takes you from a picnic area to the top of a small hill with a beautiful view of the surrounding desert landscape. Scattered around the summit are dozens of rocks carved with amazing petroglyphs dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. Some of the markings are faint with age, while others are strikingly legible. Interpretive signs along the way offer information about the Hohokam people who created the artwork.
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