Most people avoid Tucson in the summer. It can seem extremely hot, especially if you aren’t used to our “dry heat.” However if you’re adventurous and willing to visit Tucson in the off-season you can score fabulous summer resort rates. Besides hanging out at the pool, you can stay cool by visiting some local museums that are fun and kid-friendly.
There's no shortage of fun and great deals if you visit Tucson during the hot months. Score great deals at local resorts like the Hilton El Conquistador and don't miss these free, family-friendly ideas in Tucson. Plus check out the fun you can have at these cool museums in Tucson.
Pima Air & Space Museum
The Pima Air & Space Museum is good for toddlers through teens. Airplanes fascinate most kids and this museum lets them get up close and personal with lots of aircraft. There are interactive exhibits to keep little ones busy – cockpits to climb in, buttons to push etc. I’m sure the release of Disney’s Planes later this summer, will make this museum even more appealing to the younger set. With more than 300 air and spacecraft at the Pima Air & Space Museum, there is plenty to see.
One-hour tram tours of the aircraft on display outside are available for an additional fee. You can explore outside for free but I don’t recommend doing this in the summer because of the heat. Or anytime without a stroller if you have little kids because it can be a lot of walking. The museum does have complimentary strollers and wagons available on a first come first served basis.
The warm temperatures may limit the outside exploring but the Pima Air & Space Museum is still great for summertime visits because the aircraft hangars and the Dorothy Finley Space Gallery are air-cooled. Unless you have super aviation fans on your hand, a couple of hours would be plenty of time for your visit. If you do visit in cooler weather, a new playground was installed just outside the main hangar.
Admission includes an optional 50-minute tour of the indoor exhibits – We don’t do it because my boys (3 and 5) prefer exploring things at their own pace. The Flight Grill serves hamburgers, salads, kid’s meals and ice cream on site. If you don’t have time for a full visit, you can eat at the Flight Grill without paying museum admission and still enjoy views of the adjacent hangar and aircraft outside. With the floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s almost like eating at an airport.
Children's Museum Tucson & Oro Valley
The Children’s Museum Tucson is a wonderful hands-on activity filled place, that’s great for kids 10 and under. It’s open daily throughout the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day) and closed on Mondays the rest of the year.
There are exhibits that focus on technology (TechTopia), oceans (Ocean Discovery Center), fire trucks (Public Safety exhibit) and more, so just about every kid should be able to find something that intrigues them. There is even an exhibit geared specifically toward the preschool set, The Enchanted Rain Forest.
My kids love the train-themed Whistle Stop gallery and grocery store exhibit the best. The Whistle Stop gallery has a model train that runs around the room when kids push the button. My kids love pushing buttons. There’s a camera on board that gives kids an “engineer’s view” as the train travels around. A large train engine dominates the room where kids can pretend to be a train engineer. You will find a Thomas the Train activity table in the room as well.
The grocery store features bins of healthy play foods that kids can pretend to buy. The store is complete with shopping carts and cash registers. There’s even a play kitchen area set up where they can pretend to cook too.
My biggest complaint is the lack of free parking but that’s common with a downtown location. Metered parking is available surrounding the museum. For budget conscious families, the museum offers free and/or discount days each month but I think it’s worth paying a few extra bucks to avoid the crowds.
There is no restaurant on site, although there are picnic tables available outside if you bring your own food. This would not be a good choice in the summer though with Tucson’s “dry heat”. There are several restaurants within walking distance; my recommendation is Hub Restaurant and Ice Creamery with a variety of yummy foods and homemade ice cream made on site!
The Children's Museum Oro Valley location is geared toward kids 5 and under and is a much smaller location.
International Wildlife Museum
The International Wildlife Museum features more than 400 species of insects, mammals, and birds from around the world. Note: This is a museum, not a zoo – the animals are stuffed. This gives you a chance to see lots of animals up close and personal. My boys have fun year-round at this museum but I really appreciate the air-conditioned fun during the hot summer months.
The museum has lots of engaging features including a ferret tunnel that the boys love crawling through and a dark nocturnal desert exhibit they bravely walk through. Most exhibits have some sort of hands-on feature. My boys enjoy the display of animal eyes that light up as you push the buttons. The scat (animal poop) and fur displays are also popular; don’t worry only the fur one is interactive.
You can catch various animal movies throughout the day in the Wildlife Theater. We tend to catch just part of a movie at the tail end of our visits. If your kids enjoy watching animal movies you might check the movie schedule before you arrive so you can plan your visit with their movie preferences in mind.
It’s not a large museum, so a stroller isn’t necessary but it is allowed. There is no restaurant on site but the gift shop does sell drinks and snacks. My tip is to stop and pick up sandwiches on your way to the museum. There is an indoor seating area, perfect for a picnic lunch after your visit.