Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

  • Posted in Museums
  • Updated

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is an amazing stop near Tuscon, Arizona. A visit to this museum is a must if you are visiting Saguaro National Park, in fact, the rangers recommended it to us. Be warned, though, this “museum” is much, much more than just a museum. The museum is huge and takes a good half day to walk the entire thing. We carefully used our map to plan a route, so we didn’t miss anything.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a bit like a zoo or a walk-through wild animal park. We enjoyed seeing so many wild animals in their desert habitats. We are animal lovers, and there were so many amazing things to see that we had a hard time spotting in the desert.

There is a lot to see at this museum!

Here are some of our favorite areas of the museum, in no particular order. We definitely recommend planning your route to hit the areas you will most enjoy at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.


Most of what we enjoyed was animal life throughout the museum. However, we don’t want to forget the garden areas. There were small places with displays of cactus, agave, and other desert foliage. This may not have been as exciting to the kids, but we parents enjoyed reading about the vegetation in the Sonoran Desert.

There are many paths through the gardens.
Information signs are everywhere to help you learn as you explore.

Hummingbird Arboretum

Probably our favorite area exhibit was the hummingbird arboretum. We walked into this thickly vegetated exhibit and saw over a dozen hummingbirds flitting about among the flowers. They were actually pretty difficult to spot, so it was quite exciting to see and identify one of the many species. We were able to identify each hummingbird from a large display board that talked about the birds. As bird lovers, this was one of our favorite parts of the visit.

Hummingbirds are so small. It was awesome to get so close to them.
We had to wait for them to land to catch a picture.

Butterfly Exhibit

If you are not into hummingbirds, you may enjoy the butterfly exhibit at this museum. This was a large open area with hundreds of butterflies and flowers, and they were much easier to spot! Most of the butterflies allowed you to get right up close to them for a photo, so we spent a fair amount of time in this area.

This entire area was full of butterflies flitting around.
The butterflies were very photogenic.

Aquarium & Reptile House

A large aquarium has a lot of varieties of fish. We especially enjoyed the eels and pipe fish. Nearby, we visited the desert tortoises and other desert reptiles there were rattlesnakes (under glass, of course), and other snakes, too.

We love these pencil eels. They are so cute.
The aquarium area is the first building once you enter the museum.
We liked all of the frogs, snakes, and turtles, too.


One of our favorite areas was the cave. We went into a large, manmade cave exhibit. Inside, it was dark, and a little creepy, but there were cool natural cave features. One section allows you to walk through like you are exploring a cave. The boys thought the cave was fun. There were a few animals inside, too, including scorpions, and other nocturnal desert dwellers.

Near the cave was a fairly large geologic area. Many colorful rocks were displayed and lit up. This area felt more like an actual museum.

Walking through this man-made cave was one of the best parts.
We love seeing all the colors of rocks in the world.
There were lots of places for hands-on play for children.


We really wanted to see some big mammals when we visited Arizona, and javelinas were at the top of our list. Even though we spent a lot of time hiking in the desert, we didn’t manage to see a single hog. Our boys were so excited to see a half dozen javelinas in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It turned out to be one of our favorite parts of the visit.

There is one long trail that heads out more into the desert than by the museum.
The javelinas were sleeping.

Large Cat Area

Another highlight of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is the cat area. We saw cougars, ringtails, bobcats, and ocelots. These animals were pretty active, and there were some great vantage points to see them. Other mammals that we enjoyed were coyotes, skunks, Mexican wolves, foxes, and jackrabbits.

We love mountain lions!
The ocelot was fun to watch. He was moving all over!

We also spent a significant amount of time watching the beaver and the otter, and the bighorn sheep were fun to spot. Many of the exhibits have a view from above and also below. This made watching the animals extra fun because you could see the beaver swimming in the water, and the cats stalking down by the glass or up on the ledges.

The beaver swam right next to us.
We really love that you can see them above AND below the water.

Sting Rays

For an extra fee, you can feed some of the animals at the museum. The most popular attraction for feeding and touching is the stingray tank. We skipped over this adventure because we get to feed stingrays at our local aquarium in Utah, but if you’ve never had the opportunity to touch a ray, it is definitely worth the few dollars that it costs to try it.

Much More

There are so many more animals and spots to see at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. We like the walk-though bird exhibits and the large tortoises. One of our favorite things about this museum is that there are actual wildlife creatures who pop up, too. We saw squirrels, rabbits, lizards, and different birds that aren’t in cages, but are enjoying the gardens.

Can you spot this lizard?

We enjoyed our visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum a lot. It was a museum, zoo, aquarium, and more, all mixed into one visit. It was definitely a highlight of our trip to Tucson. For more details about hours and admission prices, visit their website. Parking is free, and the museum is located just a few miles from the west side of Saguaro National Park.

Leave a Reply