Jamie Feinberg
by Jamie Feinberg
Posted December 8, 2020

I don’t have a lot of disposable income, so, some of my favorite ways to vacation involve places that are cheap or free— think national parks, botanical gardens, and free performances. But when my husband and I planned to spend a couple of weeks in Tucson last winter, I knew there was one thing we’d have to budget some extra cash for, and you should too: The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

This special museum has a mission to “inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert“.

If you love nature or history, listen up! Here’s how to have the best day ever at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Why visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum?

I first learned about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum from a few bloggers that I follow. They all made it clear that seeing it all in one day would be tough, and it was obvious to me that I was going to love it. Check out this video from Brave Wilderness and you’ll see what makes it so amazing!

Ticket Prices for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

As of 2020, the admission prices for the Desert Museum are:

  • Adult admission: $23.95/person
  • Senior admission: $21.95/person
  • Youth admission: $11.95/person
  • Military admission: $19.95/person
  • Arizona/Sonora resident admission: $19.95/person

If you plan on visiting several days or coming back later in the year, consider a membership. The museum offers several plans, including a family membership for only $125. This will grant unlimited admission for two adult members and children/grandchildren that are 17 years old or younger. It’s a great deal if you plan on making several road trips to the area!

Up close with a cactus in bloom.
Up close with a cactus in bloom.

How to Plan Your Trip to the Desert Museum

Step 1: Purchase Your Membership

Technically, you’ll want to park first. They have a huge parking lot great for accommodating tourists and locals, including hordes of school children. There are even RV parking spots!

Then head to the ticket booth. Membership here is fantastic! You’ll save 10% at the restaurants on-site and on any workshops you attend, and you’ll get a free coffee or tea every day you visit! There are other perks too, depending on which membership you get. It even comes with some guest passes, although you’ll have to wait for those to arrive in the mail before you can use them.

You’ll want LOTS of time to explore, so I recommend arriving within the first hour that they open. (And remember: the desert gets HOT. Early and late in the day will be the coolest.)

Step 2: Plan Your Itinerary

There’s a daily display that tells you when you can watch animals being fed, listen to talks from experts, watch the raptor “free flight” experience and more.

Much of the schedule varies day to day, and in my experience most of the events happen before 2 PM. So arrive early and plan out your day accordingly. You may also want to plan when to take breaks. You’re welcome to bring your own food with you. But if you can afford it, it’s probably easier to eat on-site.

I brought my own food, either in my purse or I’d take a break and eat in the RV. But I can vouch for the soft serve ice cream being tasty and the coffee and tea being delicious.

Plan Your Day daily calendar
Sign at entrance to museum

Step 3: Explore!

A raptor, wings open, soars against a blue sky
Part of the Raptor Free Flight show.

Whether you’re the type who likes to follow a map or wander on your own, there is an insane amount of awesomeness at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Docent-led tours are available (free) or you can wander at your own pace. The key to having the best day ever is to take advantage of what interests you and enjoy it, your way!

Like the ocean? Don’t miss the aquarium. It can get very congested with children, but this aquarium is informative and beautiful, if rather small. There are also two “touch tank” experiences daily.

Like flowers? One of my favorite things to do on vacation is visit botanical gardens, and this museum technically has 16 individual desert botanical gardens! You’ll see a variety of cacti and other plants in their natural habit. So gorgeous. And there are more than two miles of walking trails to explore!

A bobcat follows the commands of a trainer
A bobcat during a keeper-animal interaction.

Want to learn more about the geology and minerals of the region? Or just like cool stuff? Explore their Earth Sciences Cave!

This place is also a zoo! Wander the trails and see coyotes, prairie dogs and much, much more in their natural environment.

Get closer to the wildlife through theater presentations with wildlife or a keeper-animal interaction (feeding, training etc.)!

Don’t miss Raptor Free Flight – it’s incredible to see what these raptors can do, and choose to do, because they’re free to fly where they want to.

There’s also a gorgeous art gallery, a butterfly experience, a hummingbird enclosure and much more!

Step 4: Take a Break!

There’s an insane amount of stuff to see at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and it’s possible to feel museum fatigue. Take a break for a snack or lunch, and mix it up by visiting the theaters, art gallery and aquarium out of the heat of the sun.

Step 5: Visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Gift Shop

You know you want to! Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has a fabulous gift shop. During certain times of the year, members can save at the gift shop, but even at full price you’ll probably find a real treasure to take home here. The book collection and art collection are truly wonderful.

And if you’re a member and haven’t gotten your free tea or coffee yet, do that on your way home— it’s attached to the gift shop. They’ve got some nice light food options here too, as well as additional options elsewhere on sit).

In the span of a couple of weeks, I managed to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum at least six times. Whether you have a full day or just a few hours to spare, there is so much to enjoy here. Always wear your sunscreen and hat and bring a water bottle. In March through September, avoid going out in the middle of the day.

I felt such sheer joy during my visits that it reminded me of being at Disney World! I hope you’ll have the best day ever at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum too.

Rent your RV to explore the Tucson area, mark your calendar and enjoy your trip!

Jamie Feinberg

Jamie Feinberg is a blogger, musician, theater artist and educator traveling the country full-time in her RV. She performs with her husband Ross Malcolm Boyd as they travel, and they co-own Tiny Village Music, offering private music lessons online in guitar, piano, ukulele, voice and more.

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