There’s little left in Tucson to suggest that back in the mid-19th-century the city served as the Southwest’s hub for highway robbers. But it's a fact that the area hosted a string of stagecoach holdups and served as the starting point for Wyatt Earp’s infamous vendetta ride. At the Arizona History Museum, relics stand testament to this harrowed past, including an original Concord stagecoach, not unlike those whose occupants were forced to surrender their valuables to roadside brigands. The museum doesn’t only explore infamy, though; it illuminates all the forces that took part in Tucson’s transition from Paleo-Indian hunting ground to Spanish colonial outpost to the commercial center it is today. Exhibits cover this vast span of time creatively, including a full-size replica of an underground mine that provides a glimpse into early-20th-century working conditions, hands-on exhibits that recall the day-to-day lives of Native Americans, and archaeology displays that detail the surrounding environment's history over the past 4,000 years.
At Sea Life Arizona Aquarium, you can watch Ziva, a rescued green sea turtle, graciously share the limelight with the 5,000 other oceanic creatures that populate the aquarium's tanks, including white-tip reef sharks and cownose stingrays. Rays swarm in live feeding shows, sea stars wait in tanks to be touched, and crabs don't mind if you hold them in your hand or whisper sweet nothings in their ears.
Mesa Arts Center curates artistic goings-on inside a sleek structure filled with four theaters, five art galleries, and 14 art studios. Graced by the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Bill Cosby, the stages of the facility's theaters showcase a cultural cocktail of live music, Broadway, dance, and comedy performances. Grooming the next generation of artisans with the help of advanced equipment, seasoned instructors teach everything from acting and beading to woodworking and welding during art classes tailored to both kids and adults.
For inspiration, students and visitors can stroll through the galleries of the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum for glimpses at a revolving selection of contemporary art from international artists. Speckled with gardens, shapely architecture, and colorful lighting, the facility’s modern grounds welcome guests for everyday visits or annual events and festivals.
Self-expression and imagination have no age limits. That's the idea behind Arizona Museum for Youth, a gathering place for youngsters to explore art and their own creativity. Rotating exhibitions, which have included glow-in-the-dark portraits and bead art, showcase that stimulate children's imaginations as well as the sense of sight. Guests can follow the spark of inspiration and create their own magnum opuses during art classes or in the museum's interactive play area, Artville. Decorated with giant-size paint brushes and other art equipment, Artville presents kids with a colorful array of play stations and even a performance arts center to stage productions of Waiting for Go Dog Go.
SunDust Art Gallery is truly a family-run operation—Ron Floyd, a retired university art professor and a recognized abstract artist, opened the 5,000-square-foot gallery with the help of his wife Mary Lou Floyd and son Chris Floyd. Opened in 2009, the studio's initial goal was to provide the Southwest's eclectic and often-unnoticed artists a home, and today it has grown to encompass a gallery collection that regularly features many such artists and mediums for which the region is well known, such as sculpture, jewelry, and photography. Throughout his long career as an art professor, Ron learned to teach students how to overcome artistry's intricacies, and he now operates out of SunDust's studios with accessible painting and drawing classes.