While known for it's stunning desert landscapes and tepid temperatures, Tucson is also full of unique, offbeat attractions and one-of-a-kind places. I mean, where else can you pet an ostrich, visit a fantasy fairyland, and see a missile silo all within a few miles? And don't even get us started on The Thing... A town you must see to believe, we've put together a list of some of the coolest and quirkiest places from all corners of this dazzling desert city.
Not your average petting zoo, the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch is truly one of a kind. First opened in 1999, this family-owned farm started as a welcoming place for visitors to stop and feed ostriches (hence the name). Since then, the family has kept the endearing giant birds but also added a plethora of new animals, including stingrays, parrots, deer, miniature donkeys, and dwarf goats. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Monday, admission costs $15 per person and covers both food and quality time with all the animals. But please don't try to kiss the ostriches... Rooster Cogburn lost a front tooth doing that!
A visit to the Titan Missile Museum will take you back in time, bringing you face-to-face with the front lines of the Cold War. Both educational and interactive, this museum is actually the only remaining Titan II site still open to the public. Quick history lesson, the Titan II is a missile that stood on alert during the Cold War years, ready to launch at a moment's notice. Luckily, the missile never launched and now visitors can get up close and personal with it (without the bomb inside, of course!). One-hour guided tours of the underground site are offered every day, except Christmas and Thanksgiving. Tickets cost $13.50 for adults and $10 for kids—totally worth it considering nowhere else in the world allows visitors get this close to an intercontinental ballistic missile...
A tiny shrine with a huge heart, the history behind El Tiradito is quite romantic—reminiscent of that of Romeo and Juliet. We won't give away the whole story but rumor has it that the Catholic Church refused to bury a man named Juan Oliveras on church-sanctioned grounds due to the adulterous nature of his actions. The shrine was built as both a memorial and a place for Oliveras' friends and family to pray that his soul be freed from purgatory. Now, El Tiradito has become a popular place for people from all over to share what's on their hearts. Regardless if you're single or married, in love or dealing with a heartbreak, it's worth a stop. Come by, light a candle, and slip a love note into the wall. Who knows, maybe Oliveras will listen and grant your wish...
While it may not look like much from the outside, stepping inside the Ignite Sign Art Museum is quite dazzling. Every corner of this small space is filled with lights, lamps, and neon. Jude Cook's personal collection of lights and signs was getting so big that he decided to open up a museum. His hope is that people will not only enjoy the visually entertaining experience, but also learn about the value that signs bring to our everyday lives. For a small fee, visitors can see rooms of beautifully-restored neon, classic brand signs, old advertisements, and even glowing medical devices. Bring your kids and watch their faces light up (literally).
What's inside Mat Bevel's Museum of Kinetic Art is almost as fascinating as how it got there. Featuring over 150 different sculptures from artist Ned Schaper, each piece is made from local, raw materials that happened to be laying around. But the most interesting part? Schaper has no idea what the sculpture will turn into—he lets the object’s ultimate function emerge on its own, leading to some beautiful and unexpected results. Referred to as Beveldom, this unique collection features things like a shark car and a robotic pilot. Check the website before you go to see if there are any classes, demonstrations, or presentations during your visit.
Located in the heart of the University of Arizona, the History of Pharmacy Museum is the world’s leading collection of pharmacy artifacts. This medicinal museum features hundreds of thousands of items, including old medicines, intricate bottles, original drug containers, and a full-scale replica of an old drugstore. Even if you don't work in the medical field, there is something for everyone, with exhibits regularly being added and updated. One of the most popular displays is probably the Upjohn Disneyland collection. Unfamiliar with the name? Be sure to ask the curator about it when you're there.
You can't take a road trip through Tucson and not pay homage to the automobile. Specifically, the Franklin automobile. The Franklin Auto Museum may be hard to find (enter Vine Road from Prince Road and take the unpaved road down to the entrance) but it's worth the trip. Founded by well-known car restorer Thomas Hubbard, the museum is a means to continue his collection of classic Franklin autos and showcase the many unique features of this revolutionary car. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, general admission costs $10 and kids under 12 get in for free.
There's really only one way to describe Valley of the Moon: magical. Designed by artist George Phar Legler, Valley of the Moon was built for the purpose of appealing to the uninhibited imagination of children. Full of wooden castle, stone caves, detailed sculptures, and tender gardens, this small plot of wonder is located near the Rillito River at the base of the Catalina Foothills. Kids will love crawling around the large, mythical sculptures, and adults will admire the creative genius found in every corner. For some of the best views (and special light shows) try to visit at sunset. Ticket prices vary based on what events and shows are happening, so be sure to check the calendar online before you go.
Driving into Tucson, there's a good chance you passed not one but many billboards advertising "The Thing." However, Arizona’s most mysterious roadside attraction (as it is described on the signs) is hard to explain... Up until just recently, The Thing was merely one literal object. But now, this one thing has transformed into a collection of weird, bizarre, and inexplainable things. We're talking wood carvings representing tortured souls, a car claiming to have belonged to Hitler, and ray-gun wielding aliens riding dinosaurs. Sound weird? Just wait until you visit...
With all of its quirky attractions, charming shops, and fascinating museums, Tucson is pretty much the ideal place for a weekend of offbeat exploration. Just be sure to pack a camera on this trip, as you'll want to remember these special places for a long, long time.
Tucson (pronounced TOO-sawn) is the second-largest city in the state of Arizona, with nearly one million residents in the metro area.