Photobomb the Scenery in Tucson

Discover the best places to take Instagram photos in Tucson, AZ

By Ciara Jean

Tucson is known for being a college town. Because most Instagram users are between the ages of 18 and 34, a lot of IG pictures of Tucson are taken around campus. Don’t get me wrong, the University of Arizona is a gorgeous place to take beautiful photos, but Tucson is more than UArizona. It’s filled with culture, amazing food, and unforgettable desert adventures that give you Instagram-worthy photo ops. Plan your next photoshoot at these adventurous places around Tucson.

Sentinel Peak, “A Mountain”

Photo courtesy of Mikaela

Known for its giant white “A” painted by students from the University of Arizona in 1915, Sentinel Peak is a scenic spot to take stylish photos. Filled with a rich history and agriculture, the peak is known for being one of the city’s best lookouts to watch sunrises and sunsets. People have the option to walk or drive up the mountain to get to the top, so whether you want to hike and take an “I accomplished the mountain” photo or drive and take a “fashionista” photo, there are many locations on the mountain to snap your shot. You would be on high ground, so you have the option for your background to be the mountain or the gorgeous city.

Location: 1000 S. Sentinel Peak Rd.
Best time to go: Sunset (Please note: The park closes 30 minutes after sunset, and the road is closed to vehicles on Mondays.)

Historic 4th Avenue

Photo courtesy of Stacey Gregory

As one of the most popular spots in Tucson, 4th Avenue is packed with multiple picture opportunities. Lined with dozens of restaurants, locally owned stores, and colorful murals, the Avenue will bring your photo ops alive to life with character, culture, and beautiful hues. Historic 4th Avenue is directly northeast and adjacent to downtown Tucson and takes part in keeping the city center thriving. You can show off your favorite food spots and take photos inside restaurants, making everyone jealous of what you are experiencing in this UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Depending on the time of the year, events, fairs, and activities take up the street and bring a whole new kind of background. 

Location: 4th Ave. between University Blvd. and 9th St.
Best time to go: Daytime or sunset

Greetings from Tucson Mural

Photo courtesy of Stacey Gregory

If you haven’t seen the Greetings from Tucson Mural yet, then you need to go visit the most Insta-famous street art in Tucson. This Tucson landmark displays everything about what makes up the city of Tucson. Victor Ving and Lisa Beggs, the creators of the mural, spent time with the locals to make sure that the mural reflects the culture of the city. The art features the University of Arizona, the Sonoran Desert, Tucson landmarks, Mexican culture, and the amazing food you can find here.

Location: E. 7th St. & N. Arizona Ave.
Best time to go: Sunrise or sunset so that the sun isn’t too strong

Fox Tucson Theatre

Known for its beautiful Southwest Art Deco architecture,  has unique decor on the inside and outside of the building. The nonprofit theater was built in the 1930s and is distinctive from the outside for its eye-catching neon lights and vintage sign. With its location in downtown Tucson, it is the perfect place to take nighttime photos when you are out on the town. Although the inside is a two-tiered theatre filled with red velvet seats and colorful ceilings, the most vibrant photos can be taken outside in front of the ticket box or from a distance to get all the lively lights in the background.

Location: 17 W. Congress St.
Best time to go: Night

Tucson Botanical Gardens

Photo courtesy of Stacey Gregory

If you are looking for a different kind of nature photo without a desert background, the Tucson Botanical Gardens is a stunning green paradise. Bursting with color, the trees, plants, and architecture create a bright background and a happy photo. The garden is filled with art, culture, and history, so there are many options for backdrops depending on the picture that you are looking for. There is a fee and limited hours to visit the garden, but it is worth stopping by to soak up the aesthetically pleasing setting.

Location: 2150 N. Alvernon Way
Best time to go: Right when they open when the sun is still low

Barrio Viejo

Photo courtesy of Amanda Conkel

One of Tucson’s oldest neighborhoods, Barrio Viejo is filled with culture and bold colors. Traditional Sonoran adobe homes built in the 19th century—both residential and businesses—are painted in vibrant, bright shades that reflect the personalities of Tucson locals. With centuries of history in the area, Barrio Viejo is mainly made up of 19th century homes and commercial buildings. During the 1880s and 90s the neighborhood was a culturally diverse community of working-class people from Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. In the 1960s most of the neighborhood was bulldozed to create the Tucson Convention Center. The neighborhood is not what it used to look like as it has gone through changes during city development, but many houses have been preserved. With the right lighting and a decent area, photos can be just as colorful as the community.

Location: Between I-10 and Stone Ave. and Cushing and 18th Sts.
Best time to go: Early in the day when the sun hits the buildings

Hotel Congress

A Tucson staple, Hotel Congress is recognized for its rich history and countless annual events and activities. Built in 1919, the hotel has been expanded and renovated over the years to become more than just a hotel. Whether you want to stay in their haunted rooms, participate in their nightlife and experiences, or dine there, the location offers many photo ops that will fill in the gaps in your Instagram feed. Hotel Congress is filled with neon lights both inside and outside, so you can’t miss it when walking or driving downtown. Plus, bars surround the landmark, so getting the red neon sign in the background is easier than you think. The outside walls are covered in murals if you want art in your background. Other backdrops include their outside patio, the stairs in the lobby with the Tap Room Bar sign in the background, phone booths, and their southern-style rooms.

Location: 311 E. Congress St.
Best time to go: Night would be ideal for most photos, but during the day would give you other options too.

If going around town makes you want to eat, check out this Dining Guide for your restaurant ideas.

Camping Made Easy in Southern Arizona

Discover 7 can’t-miss campsites near Tucson

By Ciara Jean

Southern Arizona is known for its beautiful scenery. Sunsets and sunrises, mountains, saguaro cacti, and green bushes all around is what makes Southern Arizona the best place to take an overnight trip in the Sonoran Desert. Start planning your getaway under the stars with this list of seven amazing campsites any outdoor enthusiast must explore.

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

If you are looking for an adventure within another adventure, Colossal Cave Mountain Park is the perfect place to camp. Located in Vail, Arizona, less than 40 minutes outside of Tucson, the campground has 30 campsites within two large areas, El Bosquecito and La Selvilla, and multiple smaller spots. During the day, there are plenty of family-friendly activities including a guided cave tour, guided horseback riding, and hiking and biking trails. At night, you can start a campfire under some of the largest saguaro cacti and mesquite trees in Arizona.

The campground is more tailored to tent camping, but there are some areas where a limited number of RVs can park and camp too. The sites come with tables and barbecue grills but have no electric and offer limited places to use the restroom and refill water.

Address: 16721 E Old Spanish Trail, Vail, AZ
Tent camping: $10 per vehicle/night
RV and Horse Trailer Camping: $15 per vehicle/night

Rose Canyon Lake

If you are looking to go camping during the warmer months, Rose Canyon Lake is a beautiful destination. Located on Mount Lemmon, the campground has an elevation of 7,000 feet and is surrounded by ponderosa pines and oak trees that give the feeling you are camping in the forest. This is a good location for hiking, fishing for stocked trout, and bird-watching. Plus, it is close to nearby activities on Mount Lemmon, such as the shops and restaurants in Summerhaven.

There are more than 70 campsites, with half reservable and the other half on a first come, first served basis. The campground accommodates both tent camping and RV camping, but there are no electric outlets for either. Credit cards are not accepted, so bring cash.

Address: Catalina Hwy, Mt Lemmon, AZ
Cost: Sites start at $24 per vehicle/night

Picacho Peak State Park Campground

Photography by Kevin Dooley flickr

If you want a more developed option, Picacho Peak State Park Campground is a great place to stay. When coming into Tucson from Phoenix, there is no way you would miss this beautiful peak right off Interstate 10 just 40 miles outside of Tucson. The campsites are located at the bottom of the peak and offer more than 85 sites for both tents and RV campers.

There are multiple activities for families and individuals, such as hiking trails, historical markers, animal watching, and playgrounds for children. Nearby there are also opportunities to go skydiving, visit the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch, and see national monuments like the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

The state park usually has both reservable spots and first come, first served spots, but due to COVID-19, they are only accepting reservations. Their facilities include restrooms, showers, electric sites, sewage dump station, and trash dumpsters. There is a $7 entry fee to the state park.

Address: 15520 Picacho Peak Rd, Picacho, AZ
Cost: $25–$30 per vehicle/night depending on the season

Patagonia Lake

Photography by Alan Stark flickr

For family fun, Patagonia Lake is a wonderful spot. Located in Nogales, Arizona, about an hour and a half from Tucson, the park has two campgrounds and 105 campsites around the huge lake. Some spots are more secluded, while others are side by side to accommodate larger groups. They also offer boat-in sites for camping on boats. Activities for all ages include a designated swimming area, boating, kayaking, and hiking trails. Canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and paddleboats are also available for rent at Lakeside Market. Birds seem to find this lake a paradise, so if you like to bird-watch, this is a prime spot. The park is known for waterskiing and fishing.

The campsites include a firepit, tables, barbecue grills, and electric. Some have ramadas and water spouts. The beach has a picnic area and outdoor showers.

Address: 400 Patagonia Lake Rd, Nogales, AZ
Cost: $15–$20 per vehicle

Roper Lake

This campground is for people who want to camp but are not sure if they want to stay in a tent. Roper Lake is located in Safford, Arizona, nearly two hours away from Tucson, and has three campgrounds. Two campgrounds, Hacienda and Cottonwood, offer 45 campsites for tent and RV camping, but the third campground, Gila, offers eight cabins, five non-electric sites, and 14 group camp areas.

Activities here include a designated swimming area with a beach, boating, fishing, and many hiking trails. If you want to adventure off the campground, check out the Hot Well Dunes, Mt. Graham International Observatory, and Discovery Park: Nature’s Hideaway

Hacienda and Cottonwood sites come with water, electric, firepits, picnic tables, and some small ramadas. They also include bathrooms and hot showers by the entrance of the campgrounds. The Gila cabins come with a variety of furniture, beds, electric, and air conditioning and heating.

Address: 101 E Roper Lake Rd, Safford, AZ
Cost: $10 per vehicle for entrance fee, $65–$70 a night for cabins

Parker Canyon Lake

Photography by Alan Stark flickr

If you want a great escape from the Arizona heat, Parker Canyon Lake is the best place to be. Located in Elgin, Arizona, this campground is more than a mile high in elevation. Therefore, it is 20 degrees cooler in temperature than Tucson. They have 40 campsites and 25 RV sites scattered among oak trees and junipers. The campgrounds are just a short walk from the lakeshore and a short drive from the boat ramp and fishing pier. Activities here are boundless and include swimming, fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, boating, and pedal boating. You can bring your own equipment or rent it. You are also able to rent fishing boats, fishing gear, and get your fishing licenses.

Bathrooms are located at the campgrounds, and they have a small concession-operated marina and store open every day. Drinking water, picnic tables, and bear-proof food lockers are available at the campground too.

Address: 9000 S Parker Canyon Rd Elgin, AZ
Cost: Parking: $8 per day or $10 per week
Camping: $20 per night

Saguaro National Park

Photography by John Fowler flickr

Located in the Rincon Mountain District, Saguaro National Park East will have you camping with only what you can carry on your back. This campground is for nature lovers. It is packed with endless hiking trails and wildlife watching. If you are ready to escape electronics, then this is your haven.

The six campgrounds can only be accessed by hiking, but be warned—these are intense hikes with an incline into higher elevations. It is highly recommended that you bring a gallon of water, per person, per day. Temperatures are much cooler at a high elevation, so wearing layers is a must. Permits are required to camp and can be purchased online. The campsites do have bathrooms. There are some sites that do not allow fires. For more information about each campsite visit their website.

Address: See website for campground locations.
Cost: $8 per night, $25 for permit