This year, for our annual Thanksgiving vacation, we decided to road trip through the American Southwest and visit Saguaro National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Big Bend National Park. While researching the parks and how much time we would need for each one, I discovered some fun things to do near Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arziona, like the Pima Air & Space Museum, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Mission San Xavier del Bac, and Old Tucson Studios.
I definitely wanted to work at least a few of those into our trip, so we added an extra day to our trip, extending our stay in Tucson from one day to two days. It worked out great because the park is split in half, divided by the city of Tucson, so we did half the park one day and half the park the next day. Each side of the park only took a little over a half day to explore, so we had the afternoons to check out other family-friendly attractions!
Old Tucson Studios
At Old Tucson, you’ll enjoy classic Wild West experiences like Gunfights, saloon musicals, live action stunt shows, living history presentations, vintage rides, traveling salesman pitches, film history tours, southwestern BBQ, and more.
Immortalized in more than 400 films and commercial productions, Old Tucson is a premiere film location made famous by movie legends such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Elizabeth Taylor, Steve Martin, Sharon Stone, and Martin Short.
We were so excited to walk through the doors of Old Tucson Studios and step back in time to visit the Wild West, enjoy live entertainment, and eat some great barbecue.
After spending the morning in the hot sun exploring Saguaro National Park, we made a beeline for the beautiful Grand Palace Hotel and Saloon to snag seats for the live CanCan Show and to grab a beer, cold drinks, popcorn, and a hot pretzel before it started. Next we walked across the way to Big Jake’s Bar-B-Q for a late lunch of barbecue chicken, baked beans, corn on the cob, and cole slaw (yum!).
Exploring The Wild West
With full bellies, we set out to explore this awesome wild west town, snapping photos in front of the western storefronts, wandering through old buildings, checking out vintage equipment, and of course, peeking in the shops and stores like:
- McLintock Store, Old Tucson’s general store with themed merchandise and cowboy gear.
- The Corner Store, featuring old west-inspired clothing and accessories.
- Olsen’s Mercantile with hand-crafted Native American jewelry, Zapotec rugs, and beautiful pottery.
- The Last Outpost with t-shirts, cactus items, artwork, and gifts.
We also stopped in the Old Tucson Story Museum to learn the history of Old Tucson and see costumes worn in Little House on the Prairie and Bonanza and wandered over to snap photos with The Reno locomotive that has been in more than 100 movies and television shows.
Rides And Activities
In addition to all the various live entertainment options included with your Old Tucson admission, there are also rides and activities you can participate in at no extra charge (which we really appreciated).
We took a narrated ride on the C.P. Huntington Train through Old Tucson and the beautiful Sonoran Desert, then headed into the Iron Door Mine for an underground adventure that was sort of like walking through a haunted house, but mining themed — it was fun, but might be a bit scary for little kids!
If you have little kids, there is also an Antique Car Track where they can drive the cars (like the ones at Disneyland), the Toltec Mine, and a Wild West Carousel you can ride as many times as you want.
Of course, there are also some fun attractions available that require an additional fee, like Dead Eye Dan’s shooting gallery, the Old West gold panning, and the stagecoach rides through town.
Before calling it quits for the day, Brian, Natalie, and Carter stopped by La Plaza Ice Cream for some cool cones and we listened in on one of the guided film tours, covering 70 years of film and television history.
Know Before You Go
- Old Tucson is located at 201 S. Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 85735 in Pima County right next door to Saguaro National Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
- From Interstate 10, take Exit 257 Speedway Blvd. and head west following signs to Old Tucson. From Interstate 19, take Exit 99 Ajo Way (AZ 86) exit and head west following signs to Old Tucson.
- General Admission is $19.95/Adult 12-64, $17.95/Senior 65+, and $10.95/Child 4-11
- Historic Tours that provide a look at Old Tucson’s 75 years of film history are available and included with admission. Highlights include locations where many classic films — including three John Wayne Westerns — were shot.
- Also included with admission are riding the the Wild West Carousel and the C.P. Huntington Train, experiencing the Iron Door Mine Adventure, and various Wild West shows like gunfights, can-can musicals, and a snake oil salesman pitch!
- Want one of those kitsch Wild West costume photos to commemorate your visit? Stop by the Old Tucson Print & Photo Emporium.
- Old Tucson is pet friendly as long as your pet is friendly. Pets must always remain on a leash and are welcome throughout the park, bu they may not enter the restaurants.