In Spanish, Oro means gold, which is probably a reference to the gold in the surrounding mountains and rock that drew in optimistic prospectors in years past.
Like a lot of Arizona’s small towns, Oro Valley has a distinct flavor that you’ll probably notice right away. There are distinct Spanish and Mexican influences in the architecture, food, clothing, and art too.
Oro Valley boasts a lot of great things to see and do, and its nearness to Tucson opens up a bunch of other opportunities.
So whether it’s the sophistication of the nearby city, or the beauty of the surrounding mountains and desert, you’ll find something you like near Oro Valley.
1. Naranja Park
If you’ve ever fantasized about shooting an arrow into the middle of a target or splitting your first arrow in two like Robin Hood, then Naranja Park is for you.
More than just trails, ponds, and ducks, the park has an archery range for beginners, experts, and everyone in between.
And if that isn’t enough, there’s a separate dog area, where it’s okay to let your dog roam leash-free.
There’s even an area for radio controlled aircraft enthusiasts.
If you can’t find something fun to do here, you’re not trying hard enough.
2. Oro Valley Farmer’s Market
Arizona has more than its fair share of farmer’s markets and they’re always packed with enthusiastic local vendors and interesting products.
Located on North Oracle Road, The Oro Valley Farmer’s Market has been open for business since 2004.
Open every Saturday morning, the market features produce, art, and street food.
There are special events throughout the year, so you never know what you’ll find.
The location can be a bit tricky to locate, so ask a local before Saturday so you don’t get lost and miss all the fun.
3. Honey Bee Canyon Park
Parks are great places to get out into nature and get some exercise without putting a dent in your wallet.
Located on North Rancho Vistoso Boulevard in Oro Valley, the park sports nearly 80 acres of open space for runners, hikers and anyone else looking to get out of the house.
There are ample well-marked trails and covered seating areas if you’d like to have a picnic or just read a book in the shade.
If you’re staying nearby, drop by some afternoon after a day filled with activities and watch the sun set behind the mountains.
4. Oro Valley Aquatic Center
Although winter in Oro Valley is wonderful, it can be downright hot for most of the year.
On West Calle Concordia in Oro Valley, the Aquatic Center is a family fun and refreshment center ideally situated at the base of the nearby mountains.
There are pools for all ages and abilities, not to mention diving boards, slides, and fountains.
Portions of the center are available to rent for private parties and events, and there are lots of lessons and instructional programs available, so check out their website for more information.
5. Catalina State Park
Conveniently located next to Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is close to Oro Valley, about 10 miles north of Tucson.
The Santa Catalina Mountains are stark, majestic, and crisscrossed with hiking trails for all levels.
The park is full of canyons, arroyos, jagged peaks, and more than 5,000 amazing saguaros, which are the massive, thick-armed cacti that often tower over the desert more than 40 feet.
With nearly 6,000 acres of land, the park is a hotspot for bird-watchers and wildflower enthusiasts.
RV and camping sites are available for rent as well.
6. Vista Sun Wheel
Sun wheels are manmade objects that were used in the past to track the years and seasons, among other things.
On East Miravista Lane in Tucson, Vista Sun Wheel isn’t ancient like many others around the world, but what it lacks in age it makes up for in grandness and the beautiful scenery surrounding it.
There’s no charge to visit the site, and if you’re lucky, you may meet the man who constructed it.
The wheel is next to a church, and you can park in the lot.
Look by the entrance, as there are often small brochures there that will tell you a bit about the wheel’s history and significance.
7. Hike the Pima Canyon Trail
At just shy of four miles, the Pima Canyon Trail isn’t far from Oro Valley. Due to its moderately difficult rating, it’s a great place to do a little hiking, even for those who aren’t in tip-top shape.
The trail is horse-friendly too if you’d like to get a bird’s eye view and let a horse do all the work.
This trail is near the Santa Catalina Mountains and is busiest during winter and fall when the temperatures aren’t so hot.
In spring, and after a good rain, the valleys can come alive with wildflowers, but they don’t last long.
8. Fourth Avenue Tucson
Known as a hot spot for trendy shopping and dining, Fourth Avenue Tucson is one of the places near Oro Valley that is full of the region’s unique character.
The vast majority of vendors on Fourth Avenue are local entrepreneurs who live and work in the area, so supporting them is important for the city’s economy.
The avenue is a great place for an afternoon espresso or an evening drink or two. Throughout the year, there are live concerts, art shows, and other events, so check online or ask around before you go.
It’s also close to U of A’s downtown campus, which is also worth a look.
9. Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium
Conveniently located about 15 minutes from Oro Valley, the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium are located on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson.
Even if you’re not an enthusiastic star-gazer, the dim lights, air conditioning, and reclining seats will lull you into a peaceful stupor – you may just learn a thing or two also.
The center has interactive activities and lots of fascinating exhibits, with plenty of information so you’ll learn about what it is you’re seeing.
It’s a great way to spend a morning or afternoon, so check out their websites for schedules, hours of operation and pricing.
10. Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway
Hiking is great, but sometimes it’s just nice to see magnificent views from the comfort of your car.
If that sounds like your cup of tea, consider a drive along the Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, often referred to as southern Arizona’s jewel.
The drive will take you past breathtaking geology, waterfalls and elevated views of Tucson far below.
Much of the area is part of the great Sonoran Desert, but you’ll be surprised to find forests of pine and maple trees too.
Camping sites are available, and due to its elevation, there’s a ski resort too.
11. Saguaro National Park
Few things symbolize the great state of Arizona like the kingly saguaro cactus.
At nearly 100,000 acres, Saguaro National Park was created to preserve the habitat of these national treasures, many of which are hundreds of years old.
Like many of southern Arizona’s attractions, the park is best visited in the fall and winter, as it’s not quite so hot and the multitude of cacti of all types are more likely to be in bloom.
The park is divided into two sections: Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District.
Each area has a welcome center, facilities, and ample parking.
The park and its sites can be seen on foot or by car.
12. Mission San Xavier del Bac
Arizona and neighboring New Mexico and California are dotted with stunning, mission-style churches, many of which are the actual structures that have been in use for hundreds of years, left behind by the Spanish missionaries who came to the area in the 17th century.
One of the most amazing is the Mission San Xavier del Back, not far from Oro Valley, and south of Tucson.
Known as ‘The White Dove of the Desert,’ the church still holds regular mass and is a stunning conglomeration of different architecture – covered in whitewashed plaster, making it stand out like a beacon against the blue Arizona sky.
13. Pima Air and Space Museum
Located near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on East Valencia Road in Tucson, the Pima Air and Space Museum is a place that brings the history of aviation to life.
The museum houses over 350 planes from all eras and countries, and even a few of my personal favorites: the Russian MiGs that battled American jets over Vietnam.
There’s also a massive outdoor portion called ‘The Boneyard.’ It’s the final resting place of hundreds of aircraft deemed obsolete.
There’s a relatively inexpensive charge to see each area, though both are well worth it.
14. Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block
With a similar spiral walkway layout to the Guggenheim in New York, the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block is a must-see for lovers of contemporary art and Americana who happen to find themselves in the area.
An easy drive from Oro Valley, on North Main Avenue in Tucson, the museum focuses on art from the American West, Central and South Americas, and Mexico.
At different times of the year, the museum hosts exhibits from different parts of the country and world, so there’s no telling what you might see.
The museum is comprised of Mexican-style adobe houses, each of which hosts a different artistic theme.
15. Hike the Wild Burro Trail
Named for the poor wild burros who used to lug heavy loads up the steep canyons in pioneer days, Wild Burro Trail is more than seven miles long and best visited in non-summer months.
Though not as easy as some other trails in the area, your effort will be rewarded with unparalleled views of the desert landscape, which may include cactus blooms, hummingbirds and wildflowers if your timing is good.
The trail isn’t for beginners, so bring plenty of water and a good hat.
The trail is in Tortolita Mountain Park, and there’s a large trail map near the trailhead, so check it out to avoid getting lost.