Hollywood in the desert – Tucson, AZ

Old Tucson Studios

Another attraction we checked out while hanging in the Tucson area was the Old Tucson Studios, a movie studio / theme park.  The complete western town spread out over 300 acres in the beautiful Tucson Mountain Park and the incomparable Saguaro National Park. It was built by Columbia Pictures in 1939 on a Pima County-owned site as a replica of 1860’s Tucson.  It was originally configured for the movie Arizona starring William Holden and Jean Arthur, and since then it’s been the backdrop in hundreds of western movies, TV shows and commercials.

Chinese Alley, Old Tucson
The Chinese Laundry and Hop Sing’s Restaurant in Chinese Alley have appeared in several western movies and television shows, including Bonanza

As usual, we joined a guided historic tour and were shown several buildings and other locations where movies featured the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.  This tour is interesting for folks who like westerns, and the town consists of several streets with old west buildings including a spanish mission, courthouse, old Indian village, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop and railroad depot.

Steve couldn’t wait to ask the guide which areas had been featured in his favorite series, Gunsmoke.  Unfortunately, the only structures used in that series were destroyed in the studio’s major fire of 1995.

Old Tucson Studios
Main Street

More than 300 films and TV productions have been filmed here, but it was hard for me to imagine casts and crews making well-known scenes amongst these western facades, as I was not into westerns in the past.  However, I did recognize a few buildings, such as the chapel seen on Little House on the Prairie (yes I did watch that one).

Old Tucson Studio
The little chapel used for Little House on the Prairie

The mock-up mission church facade built for Arizona was also used for the introductory wedding sequence of the 1993 film Tombstone, and was featured in the movie Three Amigos.  It was the stage for a stunt show involving several young cowboys that we watched during our visit.

Mission Church at Old Tucson Studios
A lady in red wants to be in a western gunfight!

 “The Quick and the Dead”

The mountain overlooking Old Tucson Studios is Golden Gate Peak, an often-filmed background in many western movies.

Set from the TV series “High Chaparral”, with Golden Gate Peak in the background
Old Tucson Studios
Cowboys planning their next shootout
Saloon entertainment
The ladies in the saloon show were quite entertaining

While still considered a functioning studio, Old Tucson doesn’t draw big Hollywood productions as it did in its heyday.  And if you are not a western movie buff this may not be the place for you.  However, the shows (indoor and outdoor), rides (stagecoach and train), and games could keep a family occupied for most of a day.

Old Tucson Studios

For a list of movies filmed at this studio, click here.




  1. Oh hooray! Thanks for telling about this place; we skipped it when we were in Tucson in December, thinking it would be too touristy. Now I’m thinking we might have enjoyed it after all. Next time!

  2. We have been by that area a few times but we just can’t get ourselves to stop and see it. Instead we spend our time in Saguaro NP as that is scenery that you just can’t beat!

  3. Thanks for the inside tour of Old Tucson Studios! I’ve often wondered what it was like. I imagine there was some major gun fighting over that lady in the red jacket:) I clicked over to see what movie were produced there and ended up reading about the fire. That was quite a fire!

  4. Can you believe we haven’t stopped by there yet. Last year our neighbor across the street here at Lazydays was an “actor” in several commercials there. Joe and I both love westerns. After looking at your post, we might just have to check it out. I agree with Pam…I bet the lady in the red jacket caused quite a ruckus amongst the cowboys!

  5. I’m not a western fan any more but David has become one so I think we would really like this. I did watch TV westerns Roy Rogers, Gunsmoke, Little House on the Prairie, Zorro and some Bonanza. But never cared for John Wayne and the western movies. Love your red outfit. Did you get to try on a 6 shooter to see if you could handle the shootout??

  6. We’ve driven by Tucson Studios many times in our visits to Tucson, but thought the attraction would be too touristy. But it looks like fun! Cool photo you captured on Main Street — it looks like a group of people from 2016 were transported back to the Wild West! Cute photo of the lady in red. 🙂

  7. Hop Sing … there’s a name from the past. I thought all of the Bonanza episodes were filmed on the ranch set in the Lake Tahoe area,

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