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Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

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Tucson was our point of departure for a 1300-mile road trip, part of our effort to reach all 50 states before my son goes off to college, as I mentioned in my previous article, Traveling with Kids: Raising an Intrepid Traveler. Given that we only had seven days, we had little time in Tucson, but I definitely wanted my kids to experience part of the desert before heading north.

We were fortunate to stay at Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, just north of the city. If you choose to stay there, you’ll see why my fellow writer, Tricia called this her Favorite Family Resort in Tucson. This is a beautiful resort that the kids will love.

Morning at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Resort

A beautiful morning at Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort.

I had heard great things about the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, and it sounded perfectly suited to us. This is not your typical museum; the vast majority of the museum is outdoors and highlights all the amazing features of the Sonoran Desert: animals, plants, minerals, and even art. They really have everything covered. Here are my tips for seeing the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum with kids.

Driving to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

From Hilton Tucson El Conquistador, it’s about a 45-minute drive to the museum if you drive there directly; however, we opted for the long, meandering route through Saguaro National Park, which will add 15 minutes onto your drive. For those of us coming from the eastern U.S., the sight of so many Saguaro cacti is well worth the extra time.

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Discounts

Check the museum’s web site for the most up to date information on hours and rates, but I have to mention that they offer a fantastic discount for kids, with kids 3 and under free, and kids 4–12 at less than one-third of the cost of an adult ticket, making it a really affordable visit for a family. They even offer about 25% off the adult fare for teenagers, something you don’t see at many places.

What to See at the Museum

The museum is large and as with so many museums, it’s hard to see everything with kids in one trip. As recommended by Mary Ellen in her article Tips for Taking Kids to Museums, I let my kids set the pace.

Our favorite areas were the Desert Loop Trail, the walk-in aviary, the hummingbird aviary, and the raptor free-flight demonstration. The Desert Loop Trail is only a half-mile walk, and even has two drinking fountains along the trail. We loved seeing the javelinas and lizards, although we missed the coyotes that are also housed along the trail.

At the walk-in aviary, visitors can pick up a guide that lists every bird in the aviary, and with my determined daughter, we didn’t leave until we had identified every bird in that book. As of this writing, the walk-in aviary is currently closed for a mini-facelift until mid-September.

The hummingbird aviary is a great place to sit and wait for the hummingbirds to come to you, but we were really most impressed by the raptor demonstration. Raptors are birds of prey; in this case, we were able to see two different types of hawks, learn a bit about their habitat and behavior, and see them soar around the open desert.

It’s Arizona, it’s hot, and it’s sunny. Make sure to check their web site before your visit to see which activities may be impacted by the season. For example, the raptor demonstration is not held during the summer months, but at this time, the museum hosts Cool Summer Nights, where the museum is open until 10 pm with special themes and activities.

We finished our visit with a much needed root beer float from Phoebe’s Coffee Bar near the entrance of the museum. This museum and the surrounding area is a must-visit with the kids on your next trip to Tucson.

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Andrea is a single mom in Arlington, Virginia with a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. Her children took their first trips when they were just four…

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