Fun and Free in Tucson: Mission San Xavier del Bac

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Look west out the window when traveling down I-19 in Tucson, and you’re likely to see the “white dove of the desert,” historic Spanish Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Situated on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation, the mission is an active Roman Catholic Parish. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the building on the site today was built between 1783 and 1797.

As someone from the United States who is not accustomed to centuries-old structures, the first time I visited, I was awestruck by the statues, paintings, carvings, and ornate architectural elements of the mission.

View inside the main doors of Mission San Xavier del Bac

San Xavier del Bac is a stunner with its towering ceilings, colorful frescoes, and amazing carved statues. As soon as I walked through the carved mesquite wood doors of the entrance, I felt I had been transported to a cathedral in Europe rather than being in the desert in the United States.

Although standing out with its beauty, the mission fits right in its environment. It’s amazingly cool inside despite it not being air-conditioned. Outside, many desert creatures, from lizards to birds to ground squirrels call it home.

Curious Sonoran ground squirrel outside Mission San Xavier del Bac Mission

The hospitality and culture of the Tohono O’odham people can be experienced in every corner of the grounds.

There are food vendors along the front of the mission cooking up fry bread with honey, and in the nearby courtyard, there are stores selling everything from hand-woven baskets to American Indian paintings.

The mission is open to the public every day unless there are church services taking place. While the museum and tours are currently closed due to COVID-19, the gift shop is open for a limited number of visitors at a time.

If you like history, native American culture, architecture, or just need to get some fresh air in a beautiful place, we recommend making a stop at San Xavier del Bac Mission.

See our photo gallery below for more of what to expect when you visit!