I don’t have a lot of disposable income. So, some of my favorite ways to vacation involve places that are cheap or free, like 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. Here’s how to have the best day ever at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Why 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. The adult admission price is $21.95 each, with cheaper rates for seniors and children. That might be pricier than your budget allows too. But if this place sounds as amazing to you as it did to me, then you should allow at least two days to explore. Since my husband and I were exploring together, two days of admission would normally cost us about $44 per day, or $88 total…but, if you purchase a membership, it’s only $80 total for the two of you! And they’re open 365 days a year!
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.)
Step 3: Explore!
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!
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 (and there are additional options elsewhere on site).
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 (though they have some on site if you forget) and a hat, bring a water bottle and in March – 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!
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