Five Fun Frugal or Free Activities for Tucson Families

Tucson is the second largest city in Arizona. Known for sunny days, clear blue skies, and warm weather year-round, Tucson offers abundant opportunities to get out and spend time together as a family. However, you are on a budget. No problem! Just look around and you will find that there are many fun family activities that cost very little. Some are even free! Here are five fun activities for frugal families.

Sabino Canyon is a true desert oasis. This recreation area is located at the foot of the stunning Santa Catalina Mountains. Water from the snowmelt in the spring and the monsoons in the summer provides swimming holes, waterfalls, and trickling Sabino Creek. Pack an ice chest and swimsuits and plan to spend the day splashing in the cool water or lying on a big flat rock soaking in some rays. Besides playing in the refreshing H2O, your kids will love spotting rabbits, roadrunners, and lizards. Play hooky from work one weekday and load up the family – Sabino Canyon is open 365 days a year. There is a vehicle fee of $5 per day. Alternatively, buy an annual pass for only $20 and enjoy the canyon all year. A tram is available for a cost of $7.50 for adults and $3.00 for kids ages 3 – 12. However, unless you want to go to the top of the Sabino Canyon Trail, all you need is comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and some drinking water. There are very short hikes to get to water. The Visitor’s Center will be happy to direct you. Bathroom facilities and drinking water are available along the trail, but anytime you are experiencing Tucson’s outdoors, it is always a good idea to bring water along for everyone. To get to Sabino Canyon take Tanque Verde Road to Sabino Canyon Road and head north just past Sunrise Road to the Recreation Area entrance.

A man named George Legler originally opened Tucson’s Valley of the Moon in 1932. Mr. Legler’s philosophy was “kindness to all, especially children”. Mr. Legler built the Valley of the Moon to provide mental and spiritual relaxation and offered free tours of its enchanted gardens where fairies and gnomes lived, so they say. Today, Valley of the Moon is an outdoor theater for children of all ages. Past events include Harry Potter wizardry classes, The Princess Bride, and a Quest for the Golden Key to Happiness, an interactive family tour. Many of the Valley’s presentations are free to the public, others only cost a few bucks. (They do accept donations.) Valley of the Moon is located at 2544 East Allen Road: take Broadway to Country Club Road; head north on Country Club, then west on Allen Road. For a listing of upcoming events, call 520.323.1331.

The Gadsden-Pacific Division Toy Train Operating Museum will thrill your little wannabe engineer. As many as thirteen toy trains on numerous tracks can be set up to run at any given time, and visitors can participate by pushing various buttons to operate the set-ups. The displays include a few static exhibits as well as others, which are changed regularly, so you can visit again and again. The Toy Train Museum is a non-profit organization and the hours of operation vary, so you have to call 520.888.2222 and plan ahead. Admission is free, although donations are accepted. The museum is located in North Tucson at 3975 North Miller Avenue. From I-10 take the Prince Road exit and head east to Romero Road. Go north on Romero, turn left on Price Street, and then left on Miller Avenue to the museum.

Tucson is home to America’s only children’s dinosaur museum. The T-Rex Museum will thrill your kids with real fossils of tyrannosaur eggs, cast reconstructions of ancient monsters, bones, art, and more! Rexie’s Kids Club meets once a month to work on special fun projects. This exciting, hands-on museum is surprisingly affordable. Admission for adults and kids is only $5, and babies are free. Consider a membership: Rexie’s Kids Club is only $20 a year; a family membership is just $50 and provides you and anyone in your immediate family one year of admission. Make it a monthly outing for less than five bucks! The museum is located in Central Tucson at 100 East Drachman. Take Speedway Boulevard east to Sixth Avenue. Head north on Sixth to Drachman and turn left. The museum will be less than one block down on the left. Call 520.792.2884 for more information.

Agua Caliente Park is the ideal place to spend a pleasant spring or fall Tucson Saturday. The park is a huge 101 acres and boasts a permanent warm spring that flows in to three beautiful ponds. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the waterfowl and other wildlife that inhabits this desert oasis. A bunkhouse built in the 1920’s is still standing for your family to investigate. A refurbished ranch house from the same era now houses the Tucson Audubon Society’s Nature Shop. Other features include horseshoe pits, picnic areas, restrooms and drinking fountains, and walking paths. Entrance to the park is free, and once you have visited this East Tucson haven, it is sure to become a family favorite. To get to the park, take Catalina Highway to Snyder Road. Head east on Snyder to Soldier Trail, go south on Soldier Trail to Roger Road. The park’s address is 12325 East Roger, but once you are close, you just cannot miss it.

Don’t let your budget be a barrier. Let these five fun and frugal – even free! – outing ideas help you to enjoy your favorite people in the world. Your children.

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