10 Favorite Tourist Attractions in Phoenix (That Are Still Fun for Locals)

Ah, tourists. In Phoenix, we'll be hardpressed to point out a tourist at any given theater, museum, or cultural center -- we're all wearing T-shirts and shorts, most of us are taking pictures and instagramming anything that moves, and no matter how many times we say we've acclimated, there's not a soul who won't break a sweat.

There are plenty of places to drag your extended family on a day trip or drive around the city, but let's face it, we could go to these spots any day. Here are a few of our favorite Phoenix attractions -- touristy or not.

10. Desert Botanical Gardens The Botanical Gardens are a standard for any weekend or day-trip through Phoenix, but if you're staying the night (or forever) and want to take a cooler walk through the desert landscape, you'll want to see what the natural reserve has on the calendar. Through September staff members give flashlight tours where viewers can check out desert blossoms and bugs after the sun goes down.

9. Arizona Science Center Easy to find and easy to spend an afternoon in is Downtown's Arizona Science Center, which is packed with exhibitions and activities to keep geeks of all ages occupied. On view starting July 8 is MathAlive! featuring interactive sports, games, and science experiments that involve the fun (and more practical) uses of mathematics. The center's permanent exhibitions will also be on view throughout the summer and include films and visuals in the Dorrance Planetarium, anatomy activities, physics and construction-themed interactive displays, public art installations, and musical shows.

10 Favorite Tourist Attractions in Phoenix (That Are Still Fun for Locals)
Jonathan McNamara

8. Japanese Friendship Garden If you're looking for a Zen experience, look no further than the Japanese Friendship Garden. The 3.5-acre park is a symbol of friendship between Phoenix and her sister city Himeji in Japan, and took 50 architects from Japan more than 60 trips to Phoenix to build since 1987. Here, you won't find Sakura, the popular Japanese cherry blossom trees, but you will spot purple leaf plums, Japanese maples, and evergreen pears that provide plenty of shady spots to take a zen moment.


7. Phoenix Art Museum Phoenix Art Museum is easy to find, just follow the light of Josiah McElheny's The Last Scattering Surface -- a handblown glass, chrome plated aluminum, electric, hanging installation that lights the entrance to the museum on Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix. We could spend hours perusing the modern art collection on the second floor, the latest couture exhibition curated by the sharp and careful eyes of Dennita Sewell, the sculpture garden, or the museum's current contemporary show (and grab lunch or drinks between at the museum's restaurant).

6. The Arizona Grand Resort The Pointe at South Mountain wasn't too shabby, but $52 mil can buy some killer upgrades and an awful lot of water. That's why the remodeled luxury hotel, now called the Arizona Grand Resort, was a shoe-in for one of our favorite pools in town. There's an eight-story tower with three water slides, a huge wave pool with waterfalls, and a faux river perfect for inner tubing. Order a frozen margarita at the swim-up bar or relax in the 25-person hot tub while the little ones play beach volleyball in the kid-friendly Wild Cat Springs. The only downside is that Oasis Park is for resort guests only, so you'll have to sneak in, splurge for a romantic local getaway, or schmooze your way into a company freebie.


10 Favorite Tourist Attractions in Phoenix (That Are Still Fun for Locals)
Photo by Claire Lawton

5. Tovrea Castle You can't miss the sight of Tovrea Castle, which rests just off of the Loop 202. The Castle looks like a wedding cake and is surrounded by well-placed cacti and whitewashed rocks. It was built in 1928 by Italian entrepreneur Alessio Carraro and named after meat-packing magnate Edward Tovrea, who bought it for his wife Della in 1931. You can currently take tours of the building and of the Carraro Cactus Garden, which are scheduled intermittently throughout the year.

4. ASU Planetarium Don't be alarmed if you happen to hear indecipherable nerd babble echoing off the fluorescent bathed hallways of ASU's Bateman Physical Science building. That's because Physics and Astronomy graduate students are high off cool neutrons and totally hot electrons. Housed in the School of Earth and Space Exploration is the planetarium and the new Science Theater, which was built for undergraduate students studying space sciences. But throughout the school year, the doors are open to public tours, stargazing nights and lectures. Stay tuned to the program's website for more details.

3. Sunrise Trail at McDowell Mountains The McDowell Mountains may be in the middle of the city, but when you're at the top, you can still soak in a good dose of landscape and seclusion. The mountain's Sunrise Trail is one of the more popular trails and cuts through the south area of the range. The trail's 4.4 miles long with a 1,300 climb in elevation, which loosely translates to a seriously awesome hike. In this area, all things begin or end at the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead; get there with a good pair of shoes, and you're ready to hike.


10 Favorite Tourist Attractions in Phoenix (That Are Still Fun for Locals)
Photo by Esther Groves

2. Cosanti ​Cosanti is a Zen arts and nature compound in the middle of town. This historic site in Paradise Valley (and home of Italian architect, educator, and designer of the Arcosanti community near Cordes Junction, Paolo Soleri) features several eco-friendly buildings, artist studios, garden walkways, and most famously, countless Soleri Wind Bells. The word Cosanti is a combination of two Italian words: cosa (things) and anti (against). Property construction began with Soleri's house in 1956, and expanded over the years to include student dorms, a pool, a gift shop, and an "Earth House" that's partially underground. These buildings are designed with a combination of architecture and ecology, and take advantage of natural solar power and shaded cooling.

1. Mining and Mineral Museum The museum's "Banquet of Rocks" display features more than a dozen rock and mineral dishes that look startlingly edible, from a steak (quartz and jasper) platter featuring corn-on-the-cob (limonite) and carrots (stalactite tips) to a breakfast platter including pancakes (sandstone), milk (tin oxide) and coffee (garnet sand). It was donated to the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in the late 1990s, and many visitors have marveled at the meals, which are detailed right down to condiments like ketchup (quartz sand with iron oxide coating) and pickle relish (olivine/peridot).The museum is housed in the old El Zaribah Shrine Temple, and has huge displays out front, including a giant mining shovel and tire, the Swallow Mine Stamp Mill, and an Arizona Copper Company locomotive.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest.
Use Current Location

Related Locations

Arizona Science Center

600 E. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004


Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix/Ro Ho En
Arizona Grand Resort

8000 S. Arizona Grand Parkway
Ahwatukee, AZ 85044


Phoenix Art Museum

1625 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85004


McDowell Mountain Regional Park

16300 McDowell Mountain Park Dr.
Scottsdale, AZ 85255


Tovrea Castle and Carraro Cactus Garden
Cosanti Originals

6433 E. Doubletree Ranch Rd.
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253


Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >