7 Best Places to Take Kids in Tucson

7 Best Places to Take Kids in Tucson 1How kid-friendly is your city? I give my hometown of Tucson, AZ a 5 (out of ten).

Clean, spacious parks with safe playground equipment are few and far between. Restaurants that offer deals for kids are not especially easy to find. Downtown Tucson is anything but a bustling, cheerful place for children.

That said, there are definitely diamonds in the rough here.

Since we'll be driving out of Tucson in about a week and a half, I thought I'd share our favorite spots:

1. Sabino Canyon - 7Falls Put on your tennis shoes, slather on sunscreen, wear a hat [trust me on the hat], pack a lunch, and bring plenty of water. This 4-8 mile hike (depending on where you start) is worth your while. The best part? There is a waterfall at the end with plenty of water for swimming and splashing.

2. Mt. Lemmon - Certainly, a stay in Tucson isn't complete without a visit up ol' Lem. In about 1 hour, you'll enjoy a 20-degree temperature drop (refreshing in the summer). The little town of Summerhaven is a great place to stop for lunch and a warm cookie.

3. Brandi Fenton Memorial Park - Brandi Fenton offers the traditional amenities of a nice park - green grass to run around in and several playground options (that are safe for the youngest of visitors). What really sets it apart, however, is the free splashpark. Designed with kids 6 and under in mind, the small concrete area has spraying fountains and buckets that pour from overhead.

4. Udall Park - Grab a soccer ball, a few baseball mitts, or a picnic basket...and enjoy this expansive park, equipped with athletic fields. Our favorite part? The winding outdoor track. My 4-year-old and I like going on "runs" around it.

5. Little Anthony's Diner - The food at this 50's parlor isn't anything to speak of, but the environment is colorful and casual. We always order the same thing - a medium pizza and a mint chocolate chip milkshake (split 3 ways).

6. Claim Jumper Restaurant - This chain is a little on the expensive side, but it offers a great atmosphere for kids - fast seating, good food, and enough noise to drown out YOUR kids' noise (ahem). Our favorite thing is that you can request a "baby plate" for your little ones (3 and under?)...and the waiter will bring out a plate of applesauce, cheese sticks, and turkey strips.

7. Cienega Creek - This secluded place of beauty is ideal for a picnic or a leisurely day hike. The overhanging trees and bubbling creek offers an oasis from the blistering sunshine.

Most travel guides list the Reid Park Zoo as a must-see in Tucson, but I'm not a huge fan (it's small and I always get so disheartened when I see the massive polar bear sitting forlornly in 90-degree temperatures).

Surprisingly, we've never been to the Tucson Children's Museum nor have we taken our kids to the Pima Air & Space Museum (anyone want to share their review?).

Also - you'll notice that most of my recommendations are slanted toward the east side of Tucson. I'd love to hear from my NW/Marana friends.

How would you rate your city on the "kid-friendliness" spectrum? If you live in Tucson, what would you add to my list?

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25 comments on “7 Best Places to Take Kids in Tucson”

  1. Told you I would be back here- better late than never. I love your pics and your picks!

    I would add that we enjoy the Desert Museum (although far for us) and love the Botanical Gardens (not too far). I would consider getting a pass there as the girls get older. It is smaller as far as botanical gardens go, but really sort of historic & magical. They have a sweet children's garden, a train, and lots of fun statues and courtyards.

    I agree re: the zoo although I like that our zoo is smaller and doable in an hour or so. I have to say that we recently fell in love with the free parts of Reid park. We hadn't explored much and really enjoyed the big duck pond, rose garden (!), and a great big playground area that we found.

    We have not been to the Children's museum but have heard good things. I am also interested in the Museum of Miniatures and Colossal Cave- been to either?

    Finally, I would mention Saguaro National monument East. I love that place- tough terrain but great views and close by.

    We had a good family friendly and food experience at My Big Fat Greek Resturant recently too.

    1. Now you've piqued my interest in the Botanical Gardens. We may have to check it out before we head out of town.

      I haven't been to the Museum of Miniatures (in fact, I've never even heard of it) nor have I been to Colossal Cave. You'll have to give us a full review when you do. :)

      I love gyros so I'm not opposed to My Big Fat Greek Restaurant, but I will say that it is pretty pricey for what you get. Have you been to Fronimos on Speedway? I prefer it: http://www.fronimos.com/.

  2. I have always wondered if there was a splash park here....thanks for the tip! In Vegas they were numerous(about the only thing I miss from there).

  3. I'd give Tucson a 7/10.

    I think that there are actually a fair number of great places to eat, where you can actually get decent food and enjoy time with your child without raising the eyebrows of other diners: B-Line, Sky-bar on Tuesday evenings (family night) when they have the telescopes to look through) both on 4th, Time Market on University, any Chuy's, out on the patio of Maynard's (great for watching trains) on Pennington (parking is right there), Yoshimatsu on Campbell is fab for a Hello Kitty focused kid.

    I've not run across the problem with playgrounds, we visit Himmel, Ft. Lowell, Reid, the one next to Lighthouse Y on Columbus and yes, Brandi Fenton. Love the splash park. Also love the story hour at Himmel Library.

    We go to the Botanical Gardens at least once a month, it is very close to us, the zoo (I agree about issues with zoos in general), Desert Museum,the Children's Museum and Tohono Chul Park.

    There are great free family friendly events to check out in Tucson too. This weekend we're going to the first of this year's Tucson Symphony free concert series for kids. My daughter enjoyed it at 1, 2 and 3 years of age. There is the Balloon Glow on Campus, and the Glow Parade up at the Triangle L Ranch in Oracle (September?). The Annual Day of the Dead parade has workshops for kids leading up and their own little parade the second weekend in November. The Parade of Lights in December is always fun for kids. Tucson Pops in the Park, the folk festival, and the Mariachi Festival during the Spring and Summer. Tucson Meet Yourself and so it goes on. We participated in the first Cyclovia this Spring http://preview.tinyurl.com/2fvbeg6 which was very fun. Julie over at TucsonMama dot com often lists free family friendly events happening, see here http://www.tucsonmama.com/category/tucson-events/

    1. I just saw a link about the Tucson Symphony concerts on a friend's Facebook page a few days ago. What a great idea!

      1. We went today and it was lovely. Will go to the Brass Quintet first Sat in Feb. Rather a relief to remember this precious moment of a day so marred by tragedy in our Tucson community.

  4. Well, not that my kid is old enough for these places...but when I was elementary age I remember LOVING Old Tucson (I'm assuming in retrospect it's probably overpriced and tacky?). My 9 year old cousin loves the Desert Museum, as do some of my littler cousins.

    A big hit is Traildust Town at Pinnacle Peak. The gazebo/courtyard is fun to play in, the restaurant itself is very kid friendly, the sweets in the candy store are delicious, the little train is fun (I think it's $2 a person?) and then the Wild West show is awesome...and free. Maybe a little scary for teeny tinies, there's some "gunfire", but I'd say age 5-6 and up loooove it.

    And then there's always Golf n Stuff....speaking of tacky and overpriced...but all my little cousins love it. :)

    And, I've never been there, but I hear great things about the Botanical Gardens too. We got a season pass as a Christmas present, I'll keep you posted!

    1. Thanks for the ideas and suggestions, Jess. I've been meaning to take the girls on a little trip to Trail Dust Town. Our high school had prom there (and it was such a neat environment - great for pictures too!).

  5. First off that photo is absolutely stunning. You should run, not walk, to get it blown up and hand it up in your RV. It is perfection.

    This post really made me think! I even discussed it with hubby. I think I honestly would give the Twin Cities a pretty high score. Maybe a 9? We have an endless supply of parks and trails to explore. We haven't even touched half of them yet. We have plenty to do in every single season and most of it is for free. There are two zoos, a Children's museum and a Children's Theater. We have more than 20 splash pads and 6 or so pools/waterparks. We have Early Childhood classes through the public school system that are for ages birth-five years. In the summer there are puppet wagons in the park and a couple of times a year they even roll out a huge screen to play an outdoor movie and everyones comes with their sleeping bags and treats in hand. In the winter this same park (and many others) are flooded to create a free ice skating rink. Save for about 6 weeks out of the year when the weather really gets me down, I honestly love raising my kids here and never run out of things to do.

    1. I am super impressed, Jenny!

      If it wasn't for the long, blizzardy winters, we might consider moving there. ;)

      In fact, maybe we'll consider it anyway...

  6. We live in a suburb of Milwaukee, WI. I would rate the Milwaukee metro area as an 8.5 out of 10. It would be a 10 if the weather were better...it's very hard being stuck inside from Thanksgiving to around March!

    We have a great zoo and they have awesome membership benefits. It's big enough so that it's not boring, but it can be seen in a day. We also have many parks with free amenities like splash ponds, fishing lakes, ice rinks, sledding hills, etc. We do have indoor play areas for the winter. Most restaurants are very kid-friendly as well.

    The one thing I didn't like? The Children's Museum! It doesn't seem very clean and everyone I know who has taken their child there comes home with a sick child!

    Also, I loved taking our son to Claim Jumper, but our restaurant closed a week ago! They said the corporation was having issues and had to close numerous locations. I hope yours is okay!

    1. Oh no! That's sad news about Claim Jumper. What other Milwaukee restaurants are on your "kid-friendly" list? :)

  7. I LOVE that picture! I had so much fun with that big girl today! We were making jokes about the playdough animals we were making and she kept wrinkling up her cute little face and it made my day! I'm gonna miss her this year in there.
    We like going to: Chipotle, Trader Joe's, Brandi Fenton, Michael's, Purple Heart Park, Mt. Lemmon and Hiking.

    1. We're going to miss you too! I think one of the reasons she decided to stay in the class all on her own last week was because of... you. :)

      We like Trader Joe's too. It's fun to get a sample and find Bert the Bird.

      Chipotle is so yummy, but my girls never eat much there.

  8. I didn't you you live (lived) in Tuscon! We have the potential to be moving there from MA within the next year! If we do, I'll be sure to use this list of places to take my 4 year old daughter!

    1. I recommend either Vail/SE Tucson or Marana (they're on opposite sides of Tucson). Both areas have excellent schools and great communities.

  9. Mister eddie's story time at nannini library is a must for any nw side families. He's a little kooky, but the kids love it.

  10. I took the kids to the Children's Museum once and they loved it! Lots of things for kids of very different ages to do. It's not as big as I thought, so I bet if we went a lot they might get bored... I also hear it doesn't change much. But, since we don't live close to there, I think it's great for now and then.

    Air and Space.... we took them there once too. I was actually a bit surprised at how much they loved it. Actually, Zac was an infant I think, and now I'm thinking that he probably NEEDS to go again, with him loving airplanes and "boy stuff" so much.

    I can't think of much else... my kids love the simplicity of playing in the backyard or taking a walk around the block. Oh we also like Lincoln park - they have a fun, short track by Udall but more kid friendly play equipment.

  11. The Children's Museum is completely worth it for the kids. They all love it. For parents who know what bigger children's museums are like? It's a little bit of a downer, but... the kids LOVE it.

    And the Air and Space museum? In our house, it has been declared a "Daddy-Only Zone." That means that the kids love it, Daddy likes it (he was in the Air Force for 15 years, so he's not impressed), but Mommy won't go. I went once and it's just not my thing. But, again, the kids love it :)

  12. We went to the Childrens Museum once and it was REALLY fun. Parking is a bit weird and unless you park across the street next to the tennis court you have to pay a meter. But there is SO much fun things iside. We really enjoyed it. Pima Air. Been there once as well. Its informative and alright, I'm not a HUGE plane person. I've been to better Air Museums but everything is worth trying out once!

  13. I love the Pima Air and Space Museum, but I'm not sure about taking younger kids there. We've had success taking our tween-aged nieces and nephews.

    Zoos depress me too, but there are a lot of open spaces where my little one can run free and there is a lot for him to see and learn. We bought a membership for 2011.

    Our favorite is the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. We have a membership there and visit often. It is great for all ages and I think it's the best membership deal in town.

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