Did you know that Tucson, Arizona is considered to be one of the best cities in the world for stargazing? The city has taken many steps to reduce light noise and pollution and gosh it gets very dark in Tucson once the sun goes down.
It is perhaps unsurprising that a city with such clean skies also hosts some spectacular sunsets – particularly when its signature saguaro cactus is in the foreground. One of the most enjoyable things to do when visiting this charming Arizona town is to watch the sunset in Tucson.
In this article, I will go through the best places to watch the sunset in Tucson as well as some tips and tricks for getting the best out of your sunset experience. Plus I’ll cover some of the best places to eat in Tucson as well as some of the other awesome things to do in this beautiful southwest city.
11 Best Places to See the Sunset in Tucson
Table of Contents
- 11 Best Places to See the Sunset in Tucson
- 1. Gates Pass
- Things to do Nearby
- 2. Windy Point Vista
- Things to do near Windy Vista Point
- 3. Hacienda Del Sol
- Things to do nearby
- 4. Tumamoc Hill
- 5. JW Marriott at Starr Pass Resort
- 6. Mission San Xavier Del Bac
- 7. Saguaro National Park East
- 8. Rio Vista Natural Resources Park
- 9. Catalina State Park
- 10. Kitt Peak National Observatory Park Visitor Centre
- 11. Sentinel Peak or A Mountain
- Things to do Nearby
- Boutique Hotels in Tucson
- Hacienda del Sol
- Citizen Hotel
- How to Get to Tucson and get around
1. Gates Pass
Gates Pass is located in Tucson Mountain Park and has one of the most dramatic views of the Tucson sunset. This is one of the most popular places to watch the sunset in Tucson so do try to get there as early as possible.
It’s a big windy ride up Gates Pass Road. There are several pullouts along the way that offer some great views but Gates Pass itself is literally at the top of the mountain. I took some shots at a couple of the pullouts but parking spots are limited.
At Gates Pass itself, there is a parking lot. There are several viewing platforms close to the parking lot or take one of the many trails to find your own perfect sunset view.
NB My navigation got quite confused as to where Gates Pass actually was so do stop into the Visitor Centre to get a map so they can point mark it for you.
Things to do Nearby
The perfect way to spend an afternoon before watching the sunset at Gates Pass is by making a visit to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. This “museum” is spread over 98 acres and is a zoo, an aquarium, a botanical garden, and an art gallery in one. There are over 230 animal species on display as well as over 1,200 types of plants.
If you want to understand more about the desert this is the place and I must say I loved it – no wonder it is Tucson’s top tourist attraction. There are two miles of walking paths through the different habitats. There is the opportunity to see everything from mountain lions to Mexican grey wolves to bobcats, hummingbirds, and much more.
There are five different botanical gardens at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: agave, cactus, people and pollinators, desert and pollinators. Allow at least two hours for your visit to this unique and fascinating indoor/outdoor/interactive museum.
2. Windy Point Vista
The Santa Catalina Mountains are one of the four ranges to surround the city of Tucson and are located in the north and northeast of the city. Mount Lemmon is the highest point of these mountains at nearly 2,800 metres above sea level.
Believe it or not in a city with the temperatures of Tucson, Mount Lemmon is the southernmost ski destination in the United States.
Follow the Sky Island Scenic Byway up the Santa Catalina Mountains to reach Windy Point Vista. Windy Point Vista is considered by many to be the “best” spot on the byway to watch the sunset over Tucson and it draws in the crowds. It is at the 14-mile point on the nearly 30 miles long Sky Island Scenic Byway.
Allow plenty of time to get to Windy Point Vista. There are many fantastic viewpoints along the Sky Island Scenic Byway and you will most likely want to stop for photos in that lovely pre-sunset golden light. It is also a very windy road so you’ll want to take your time.
Once you arrive at Windy Point Vista there is limited parking slightly off-road, another reason to try to arrive early. If you arrive and all parks are head a little further up the mountains to Geology Vista. Geology Vista has views to the east and southeast which are not the right directions for sunset but they do have more parking.
There are numerous places at Windy Point Vista to watch the sunset in Tucson. Stand along the fenced road area or head to one of the two points which benches. If you’re feeling more adventurous and wearing the right shoes climb over the rocks to find your perfect sunset spot.
Many people bring rugs, picnics etc with them to enjoy the Windy Point Vista sunset.
If like me, you’re not a local I would advise heading down the mountain once the sun has dipped. Whilst those clean Tucson skies are great for stars and sunsets they can be a bit intimidating when you are a tourist and driving on unfamiliar and windy roads.
Additionally, there are other spots to stop as you head down the mountains for some more photos. I got some of these shots at the Babad Do’ag Vista. The big advantage of this spot is that it is possible to capture the Tucson sunset with the stunning Saguaro cactus in the foreground.
You will need to purchase a permit to drive up the Sky Island Scenic Byway. From Tanque Verde Road take the Catalina Highway to the base of the mountain range.
Things to do near Windy Vista Point
Sabino Canyon is in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. This beautiful canyon is lined with saguaros and other native plants and is loved by walkers, hikers and road riders in Tucson. There is a 3.8-mile paved road that leads into the canyon and crisscrosses Sabina Creek.
There are lots of different trail options in the canyon. I started on the paved road and then headed down Canyon Road to the creek and took the Creek Trail back to Bear Canyon Trail and to the visitor’s centre in a loop.
3. Hacienda Del Sol
Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort is a charming boutique hotel in Tucson (I’ll cover the rooms, services etc later in this post). The property first opened in 1929 and was a private girls school. It was turned into a hotel and resort in 1944 and over the years many famous people and celebrities have stayed at Hacienda del Sol.
Head to the Terraza Garden Patio for stunning sunset views as well as margaritas. If you can head to the nearby infinity pool (make sure you use plastic rather than glass for your margaritas) for the best views of the sunset over the mountains.
Things to do nearby
Stay for dinner at Hacienda Del Sol after the colours of the sunset have receded. The Grill at Hacienda del Sol is popular with locals and tourists.
Before you head to Hacienda Del Sol visit the lovely DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun. This 10 acre property was developed by the late Arizona artist Ted DeGrazia. It includes an adobe gallery, gift shop, cactus courtyard, the artist’s grave and Mission in the Sun, DeGrazia’s former home. The adobe gallery has one of the only floors made from cactus in the world.
DeGrazia was a prolific artist who created everything from paintings to cactus bowls often in his signature turquoise glaze (the recipe for this went with him to his grave and has never been replicated). There are over 20,000 pieces by DeGrazia at the gallery and at least as many as that are in private hands.
This is a beautiful property – don’t miss the lovely little church and DeGrazia’s home.
4. Tumamoc Hill
Tumamoc Hill belongs to the University of Arizona but it is open between 4 am and 10 pm for hikers. It is actually an active study and research site as well as an ecological reserve. The switchback road is paved and for hikers/walkers only. Leave your car parked on Anklam Road. Bicycles are also not allowed on the hill.
The round trip walk to the summit is 3 miles and you will climb 700 feet in that time. Unfortunately, the road is most gentle at the beginning and will get steeper as you ascend. There are benches along the way if you’d like a break as well as a portable loo and water fountain at the halfway point.
On the walk, you’ll see lots of cactus and potentially animals and birds (there are quite a few informative signs along the way to tell you what to look out for along the path). Do take a torch with you for the walk back.
The views from the top are outstanding and the good news is that it is a much easier walk back down Tumamoc Hill!
5. JW Marriott at Starr Pass Resort
This luxury resort is home to a spa, multi-level pool, golf course, and some amazing sunset views over Tucson. If you feel like a relaxing sunset with a drink head to the bar patio at the JW Marriott at Starr Pass Resort.
If you’re feeling like an active sunset experience get your boots on and head to the Hidden Canyon Bowen Trail. This is a less popular hiking path than most of the others in this article – thus the use of the word hidden! You’ll get some great mountain views and may even see some local wildlife.
The trail is only a 2-mile round trip and there is very little elevation so it’s not too strenuous. The path starts at the JW Marriott at Starr Pass Resort.
6. Mission San Xavier Del Bac
This Catholic mission was built between 1783 and 1797 and is generally considered the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. It is also the oldest European structure in Arizona. The mission was named for Francis Xavier, a Christian missionary who was the co-founder of the Society of Jesus in Europe.
Today Mission San Xavier Del Bac receives over 200,000 visitors a year and is a well-known pilgrimage site. It is also a great place to watch the Tucson sunset. Head to the nearby Grotto Hill which is a gentle stroll from the mission. From the top of Grotto Hill you will be able to see the Catalina Mountains and of course the Mission.
In the late afternoon, the soft light glistens over the mission and Tucson and provides a lovely Tucson sunset. But do make sure you get to Mission San Xavier Del Bac whilst it is still open so you can visit this beautiful mission.
Mission San Xavier Del Bac is located about 10 miles south of Tucson. Take the San Xavier exit on the I-19.
7. Saguaro National Park East
I would highly recommend arriving at Saguaro National Park East a good couple of hours before sunset so that you have time to explore this beautiful park and its stunning cactus forest. There are some cacti that are over 50 feet high.
Start your visit at the super helpful Visitor Centre. They have some fantastic maps and the staff is extremely helpful. However, do note that the Visitor Centre closes at 5pm. If you’re a hiker and have the time try to arrive early afternoon so you have time to take one of the many hiking or biking trails in the park.
If you’re a bit short on time and in a car head to the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. This 8-mile road provides a very scenic exploration of the Sonoran desert with lots of pullouts and trailheads. I lost track of how many times I stopped to take photos along this road.
As the sun begins to drop head for Mica View which is about halfway along the loop road. This will give you some fantastic sunset views complete with cacti in the foreground.
If you’re not able to get to Saguaro National Park East for sunset do make sure you drive at least the Cactus Forest Loop Drive at any time of day. It is a stunning drive.
NB: There is an entrance fee for visiting Saguaro National Park East
8. Rio Vista Natural Resources Park
Rio Vista Park is at the north end of Tucson Boulevard where it hits the river Rillito. The park has a big grass area and shaded picnic tables. Take one of the loop trails east towards the racquetball club to see a lovely sunset with a clear view of the Catalina mountains.
Prep and Pastry is one of Tucson’s top brunch/lunch/breakfast restaurants. This light and airy restaurant opened in 2013 with a simple interior highlighted by gorgeous blue and white french chairs.
The menu goes far beyond the expected offers for brunch. I don’t often see Cast Iron Duck Confit on brunch menus or Breakfast Poutine. It is a great fun menu with loads of interesting options.
I tried the Poblano Verde Beni which was a version of eggs benedict with roasted poblano and carnitas and a herbed cheddar biscuit. It came with smashed breakfast potatoes. Both were absolutely outstanding.
Tito and Pep is a midtown neighborhood bistro known for its relaxed atmosphere, great service, and mesquite-fired cuisines. There is a big focus on vegetables although they also serve meat. This was Tucson meets Ottolenghi, one of my favourite London chefs.
The dishes are designed for sharing. We started with their well-known Golden Tumeric Ginger Cauliflower with black bean hummus, red cabbage slaw, and grilled bread, and the Roasted Squash Salad. Next up was a special of room temperature carrots with labneh.
The Grilled pear and radicchio salad was the perfect appetizer for our shared main course of some extremely succulent chicken which was special for the day. Dessert was creamy pannacotta and Tito and Pep’s famous olive oil cake.
For some fantastic Mexican street food in a comfortably seated environment head to Seis in Joesler Village. There is an extensive selection of tacos on offer including zucchini and squash, battered avocado, and lots of pork options. Tortillas are homemade and they are well known for their fire-roasted salsas.
9. Catalina State Park
This beautiful state park is located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. It is home to over 5,000 saguaro cacti.
Explore the 2.3 mile Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park and then choose any of the trails that lead into the foothills of the mountains and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning Tucson sunset with the granite peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the foreground.
10. Kitt Peak National Observatory Park Visitor Centre
Established in 1964, more than two million people have visited the Kitt Peak Visitor Centre. It is home to one of the largest and most diverse collections of telescopes in the world. It also runs the popular Nightly Observing Program. This tour allows visitors to enjoy Tucson’s extremely clear skies. It also offers some great opportunities for sunset photos.
NB: Do make sure you book ahead. The Observatory was closed for some time due to Covid.
11. Sentinel Peak or A Mountain
Sentinel Peak is just moments from downtown Tucson. In 1910 a group of University of Arizona students took some rock and constructed a 160 block giant “A” on the east face of Sentinel Peak and it’s still there and one of Tucson’s most prominent landmarks. Every year University of Arizona students and alumni kick off homecoming week by lighting up the A.
Today the mountain is part of Sentinel Peak Park which has loads of hiking and running trails as well as, of course, saguaro. Plus it has a great view of the sunset over Tucson. Take Congress Street West from downtown Tucson and then turn left up Sentinel Peak Road. Keep going until you hit the large parking lot.
From the parking lot, there are loop trails that curve around the east face and up to the summit. It’s a short hike from the parking lot to the summit.
Things to do Nearby
How about a bike tour around Tucson before sunset? One of the best ways to explore downtown Tucson is on a bike. Tucson is a bike-friendly town with many bike tracks. Let Jimmy from Tucson Bike Tours be your guide as you explore Tucson’s historic neighborhoods.
Cycle down fourth avenue, home to loads of local artisans selling vintage clothing, jewelry, artwork, specialty coffee and more. Visit the quaint little side streets with their colorful adobe properties.
We cycled past the Tucson Museum of Art, the Presidio, the moving memorial to Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, the Cathedral of St Augustine and more.
Tucson’s historic neighborhoods are quite flat so this is a tour for cyclists of all levels.
As Sentinel Park is so near downtown there are lots of great options nearby for before and after the sunset. The El Charro Cafe in Tucson is America‘s oldest Mexican restaurant and is still operated by the same family. The cafe opened in 1922 and named its signature steak is named after the Charro horsemen of Mexico. Today the steaks come from Montana.
Charro Steak and Del Rey combine the well-known Charro steaks with some fantastic seafood. The restaurant has an oyster bar and is best known for its Billy Dune oysters. These are oysters from British Columbia that are served cold with Cerveza, bacon, and salsa Negra.
Charro Steak and Del Rey also make their own fire-smoked salsa which is served with chips on arrival.
Boca Tacos and Tequila is located on quirky 4th street and offers 24 different varieties of tacos. Their best-known tacos are salmon, cauliflower, and the Dan Gibson which is beef Barbacoa style in a chili broth with cilantro and onions. The Dan Gibson was my personal favorite – the beef just fell apart and the flavours were outstanding.
All tacos at Bora Tacos and Tequila are served with 4 different hot sauces. The restaurant also makes its own salsa fresh daily and recipes vary. Plus they have 30 varieties of local craft beers and 40 different tequilas.
Hotel Congress is an atmospheric and quirky hotel in downtown Tucson. This historic property was built in 1919 and its heritage is evident in the design and styling of the hotel. It is also home to the Cup Cafe which has won a load of Best of Tucson awards.
The Cup Cafe is well known for its delicious homemade desserts and exceptional brunches. The menu features everything from omelets to the Deposition (pancakes, eggs, bacon, maple syrup) to vegan breakfast tacos. There is an impressive display of homemade desserts inside and I very much enjoyed the Oreo cheesecake.
Boutique Hotels in Tucson
Hacienda del Sol
This gorgeous luxury resort is nestled into the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. It’s a big property but it doesn’t feel that way. There is real attention to detail at Hacienda Del Sol. As you walk through the property your eye is constantly caught by charming details like quirky tiles on stairs, the many artworks and sculptures, and of course the cactus.
The rooms are furnished with a strong hint of Tex Mex but not in a way that is overpowering. As they say on their website it is southwest elegance meets modern comforts. The bed was huge and extremely comfortable. My room was a good size and also came with a balcony and an outdoor shower.
The bathroom was big with two different sink areas. A carved-out area to the right of the entrance was a perfect place for luggage storage and keeps it well out of sight.
Hacienda Del Sol has three pools, two of which have fantastic sunset views. One of those pools is for adults only. As mentioned earlier there is a restaurant and an indoor and outdoor bar.
Breakfast is a fantastic event at Hacienda Del Sol. I was presented with a huge breakfast menu and choices ranging from healthy (which of course I ignored) to waffles, pancakes, Hacienda Benedict and many more all sourced from local suppliers.
Hacienda Del Sol has a beautiful garden area near reception as well as a second larger garden. Don’t miss the gift shop which features a well-curated selection of local businesses.
Read more Reviews on Trip Advisor – Book Hacienda Del Sol Now
One of Tucson’s newest boutique hotels, the Citizen Hotel opened in January 2022. This 12 room boutique hotel has all been designed around wine and it aims to provide an immersive Arizona wine experience. The design of the hotel is based on the Sonoita wine region in Arizona.
The Citizen Hotel is located in a historic building that was first built in 1921. The building was originally a Sunday school and then became home to the first Arizona newspaper, The Arizona Citizen (thus the hotel’s name). The printing presses for the newspaper were in the basement. Now the basement will be home to tanks and barrels.
Daily wine tastings will take place at the Citizen in its stunning bar/tasting room with high ceilings and a view of the basement wine tanks and barrels. Winemakers will make regular visits to host tastings.
So who knew Arizona wine was a thing? I didn’t until I visited Tucson. The Arizona wine industry first began 30 years ago but has gained some traction in the last 3 years. Arizona has three main wine regions.
The biggest source of most Arizona wine is the Willcox region. Willcox has great wine-growing conditions but the area is still building its cute and charming wine area infrastructure. The other two regions are Sonoita and the Verde Valley near Sedona.
The most common grapes in Arizona are tempranillo, grenache and Malvasia. Most Arizona wine is still just drunk in Arizona at the moment so this is a great opportunity to sample an emerging wine region.
I was able to do a tasting of Sand Reckoner wines at the Citizen Hotel. This family-owned winery has a high altitude with a cooler climate that works well for the Malvasia grapes. The winery has been operating for 10 years and the winemaker is Rob Hammelman.
Hammelman trained in South Australia and France. Whilst in France he fell in love with Rhone varieties, particularly Grenache. He now uses those skills to produce tasty Arizona wines at Sand Reckoner.
Willcox is just 80 miles from Tucson and the Citizen Hotel is offering day trips to the region for tastings.
How to Get to Tucson and get around
Tucson has an international airport. Seven airlines provide flights to 18 different destinations.
I had hired a car and drove around Arizona. I drove from Sedona to Tucson which took just under 4 hours (traffic dependent of course). Tucson to Arizona is less than a two-hour drive.
The best way to get around Tucson is to hire a car. The distances are quite big and it would be quite painful to try to get around on public transport. I did take ubers in the evening and they were available quickly with polite drivers.
NB: Downtown Tucson has the Sun Link Streetcar which covers 4 miles. This is a great way to explore downtown.
Visit Tucson hosted all of my stay in Tucson eg accommodation, meals and activities – thanks Mary! I covered the cost of getting to Tucson and the hire car that got me around. Also, this sunset in Tucson post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.