Phoenix is well-known for its tourist traps: Desert Botanical Gardens, the Arizona Science Center and the Phoenix Art Museum. Shopping, hiking and sunbathing fill desert vacations and getaways. However, there are a slew of attractions across the Valley often overlooked by even the most adventurous natives.
10. Glendale Drive-In
5650 N. 55th Ave, Glendale, AZ 85301
A seemingly empty lot by day is transported back in time at night.
With large, white screens looming over a multitude of parking spaces, it resembles the drive-in theaters reminiscent of “Grease” and other films set in the traditional 50s era.
However, while many drive-ins eventually fell into ruin, the Glendale Drive-In is fully functional and has daily digital showings of movies playing in your typical indoor theater.
The drive-in is family-friendly and provides a unique and vintage experience for couples and groups of friends to enjoy a film and the springtime weather.
9. Valley Art Theater
509 S. Mill Ave.
Monday – Thursday: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday: 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: Closed
There is an old building situated on Mill Avenue. The box office stands in solitude, enclosed in glass in the middle of the entrance. The Valley Art sign sits vertically perched on the front of the building, sending visitors back to a time of single-screen simplicity.
The structure and cosmetics of the building are a blast from the past.
Built in 1940, the Valley Art Theater, originally named the College Theatre, is Arizona’s oldest and longest operating movie theater.
The historic landmark was designed and constructed by Red Harkins at the age of 25. The Valley Art Theater was innovative in it’s prime, with advancements such as glow-in-the-dark carpeting, headphones for the hearing impaired and electronic drinking fountains, setting a new standard for theaters and establishing a tradition of innovation for the Harkins company.
Today, Valley Art is a modern-day Harkins on the inside, all the while keeping up with the historic facade that those strutting along Mill Avenue see.
It is an official historic landmark in the city of Tempe and still offers movie showings of the best in foreign, art and independent film.
8. The Hole in the Rock
625 N. Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008
The light wind whistles past those hiking up the mountain. Reddish-brown dirt accumulates on shoes walking the short path up the rock formation.
But this is no ordinary hike.
At the top, a precarious hole awaits and offers a beautiful view of the city.
These sand-hill formations are the perfect place for people to stand and look out onto the western portion of the city. The Hole in the Rock provides a new perspective on the Valley and doesn’t require extreme physical fitness to experience it.
7. Japanese Friendship Garden
1125 N. 3rd Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003
Peace and serenity radiate from the garden. The light swoosh of the waterfall fills the air as it flows back into the pond and calms visitors. Plants and flowers cover the ground —a beautiful sight.
The Japanese Friendship Garden aims to bring the essence of Japan to the Arizona desert, promoting educational and cultural awareness between the East and the West, according to its website.
The garden features more than 1,500 tons of hand-picked rock, stone footbridges, lanterns and more than 50 varieties of plants. Several streams, a waterfall and a Koi pond equipped with hundreds of colorful fish greet visitors as they wander along the path.
A beautiful and peaceful place, the Japanese Friendship Garden offers a walk through the gorgeous grounds to take in nature and let the serenity and authenticity of the garden wash over them.
6. Burton Barr Central Library
1221 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85004
Monday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
The architecture alone is captivating.
Five stories of windows pile high into the sky, with triangular formations vertically separating them.
Walking in, the place is so surreal you cannot figure out where to look first. Whether it be at the art gallery or the pond surrounding the glass elevator that squeaks with its levers and pulleys, or the copious amounts of every kind of written work, visitors’ eyes will widen to take in their surroundings.
The Burton Barr Central Library has floors and floors of books, magazines, resources and computers. It even has a Rare Book Room.
In the Rare Book Room, there are shelves lined with the works of the authors that elicit audible groans from many high school students. But for any avid reader, the room is a treasure trove. It is even equipped with a vintage printing press.
The Burton Barr Central Library is a great place to spend the afternoon and has the potential to bring out the inner book-loving nerd in everyone.
5. Musical Instrument Museum
4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix, AZ 85050
Monday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
First Friday: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Slip the headphones on and the journey through the music world begins.
Turning the corner, visitors’ eyes dart from the multiple guitars hanging on the wall to the large instruments of all kind and caliber suspended from the ceiling.
With the headphones on, all goes silent, there is a swift crack and the music begins. Sounds from all over the world quickly envelop the visitor.
Walking through the ground floor, you are met with the sounds of string instruments that creates a sense of peace and tranquility.
As you ascend the staircase to view exhibits about music from around the world, you’ll see a quote painted on the wall: “Music is the language of the soul.”
Medium-size pictures of maps illuminate the country where the genre of music originates from. With sections ranging from Tunisia to the Ivory Coast, visitors are transported into unfamiliar cultures and the videos illuminate important aspects of each country. They also show the instruments being played by natives.
Walking through the different partitions of countries and their instruments, the music playing from the headphones pauses and jumps to whichever country one is closest to, creating a seamless transition through the different places of the world.
The exhibits incorporate instruments that most people have never seen before, made from different textiles, beads, strings and wood that come from each individual country.
In the Asia exhibit, bright colors illuminate the room, with not only instruments but costumes and cultural figures as well. There are also many elaborate gongs in each country. The songs filling the ears of visitors suddenly change to a slower pace with people singing.
The visitor soon travels from Asia to Latin America.
Mariachi costumes line one wall as the music picks up tempo.
The instruments begin to look more similar to those common in the United States, until it comes to Puerto Rico. Here items have been recycled to create instruments, such as bottle caps serving as buttons and cutlery serving as drum sticks.
The United States exhibits offer something different, including a dissected piano and guitar.
The Musical Instrument Museum is a phenomenal place to understand the history and culture of other countries. You’ll walk out with a sense of fulfillment that you had fun and learned something along the way.
4. The Rosson House Museum
113 N. 6th St.
Docent-led tours are available Wednesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sundays from 12 – 4 p.m.
In the midst of Heritage Square stands a vintage house with a green roof and brown paneling. A turret juts upward on the side and the gates beg questions from passersby about what it is and how it got there.
Arches on the pull-out porch greet visitors embarking on the tour of the Rosson House Museum.
The beautiful Victorian-style home, built in 1895, houses 10 rooms and five fireplaces. The house, now owned by the city, was once the home of Dr. Ronald Lee Rosson and his wife. It has been authentically restored since 1974 through contributions from many individuals, groups and businesses.
The house is a great place to peruse Phoenix history while gazing at the wonderful architecture that is the Rosson House.
3. The Duce
525 S. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Tuesday – Thursday: 11 a.m. – 12 a.m.
Friday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 1 a.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Opening the rustic, sliding metal door, you are faced with a confounding question: “Where on earth am I?”
Inside the partitioned-off warehouse, there stands a boxing ring fully equipped with punching bags where people are sliding on boxing gloves and channeling their inner Muhammad Ali. In the same section, there is a store selling an assortment of t-shirts, tank-tops and workout attire.
In the farthest corner of the warehouse there is a restaurant and bar, where patrons are drinking out of mason jars and munching on meals and snacks.
The building itself looks vintage and rustic, but the interior is fully renovated and ready for anything.
The unique atmosphere of The Duce brings in crowds with its promise of good vibes and a fun time.
Located in the warehouse district of downtown Phoenix, The Duce is unlike any place you’ve seen. With so many things going on in one building, it has become a favorite of downtown Phoenix residents.
The Duce serves both lunch and dinner as a staple to its many other services. The “art of old-school training” is put into practice at their in-house gym. Other variations of retro recreation await visitors who can purchase The Duce’s own line of R&R Surplus workout clothing. The venue can also be reserved for parties and events, according to The Duce’s official website.
Open until the wee hours of the morning, this diamond in the rough ensures that the old-school fun continues throughout the night.
2. Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights
5025 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix, AZ 85008
January – April: 8:30 a.m. & 11:00 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
May: 7:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
June: 7:30 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
There is a castle on top of a hill that has been a mystery to drivers on the 202 freeway in Arizona for many years.
A golf-cart tour commences at the bottom of the hill, winding through the garden of desert plants.
Through the bumps and turns of the golf cart tour, visitors admire the many cactuses and trees native to the dry landscape. The castle looms over the foliage and visitors’ curiosity swells.
Small and personal details surround the castle, such as light fixtures on the porch in the shape of the castle itself and the whitewashed river rocks that create borders around the blooming trees and cactuses.
Visitors step back to the Roaring Twenties as they enter. The interior is filled with art-deco styles and colorful stenciling on the walls and ceiling. Artifacts from the house in its prime are roped off in the middle of the great room. Visitors must first put on booties to walk on the original hardwood flooring.
Looking out the many windows inside the castle, visitors see an extraordinary view of the city of Phoenix and the beautiful desert landscape that surrounds the structure. It is a truly unique perspective to be on the inside looking out of this mysterious “wedding cake” castle perched atop a hill.
There are informative posters and flip books around the room that tell the detailed story of how the castle and the cactus garden came to be.
Built by Alessio Carraro, the land was bought with the intention of building “Carraro Heights,” a slew of homes and in the center, a hotel, now the castle.
Carraro built the castle without the use of any blueprints, but with great attention to detail. He used dynamite to level the hill to create the platform for the castle and other plateaus throughout the grounds.
E.A. Tovrea, a stockyard mogul, bought the castle in 1931. Tovrea died one year later but his wife Della remained in the castle. That is, until two armed robbers stormed it and robbed Della. She died two months later.
In 1993, the city of Phoenix acquired the castle and it now serves as a place for visitors to tour it and learn its history.
The gardens are kept up by volunteers, as well as the Carraro and Tovrea families. The families are looking to expand to an internship program where students learn the history of the castle, help sustain the gardens and can even become docents leading the tours.
1. Mystery Castle at South Mountain
800 E. Mineral Rd., Phoenix, Arizona 85040
Tours are offered from 11am to 4pm on Thursday through Sunday each week.
“Watch your step,” the guide repeats for the thousandth time.
With the uneven ground and flagstone stairs leading visitors through the maze of rooms, it can be easy to loose one’s footing.
But it is difficult to pay attention to the floor when there are many other things craning for attention. Art, hand-crafted nooks and crannies, personal touches, vintage furnishings and tattered textiles are strewn about as visitors follow their guide.
The South Mountain Mystery Castle is a testament to the true artistry and dedication of its sole creator, Boyce Luther Gulley.
To understand the South Mountain Mystery Castle and its architecture is to understand the undying love one father had for his daughter.
Gulley and his young wife and daughter, Mary Lou, lived together in Seattle. There, Gulley and his daughter would make sand castles. One day, Mary Lou begged her father to promise to build her a castle one day that she could live in. And she requested it be built in the desert.
When Gulley was diagnosed as terminally ill, he moved to Arizona, leaving his girls in Seattle. In Arizona, he worked a series of odd-jobs and proceeded to build his princess her castle.
He regained his health and finished the castle by himself. It houses 18 rooms, 13 fireplaces, parapets and an assortment of other charming fixtures, including a window that oversees downtown Phoenix.
Unfortunately, Gulley died in 1945 before he could send for his family. His wife and daughter later found out about the castle and inhabited it for many years.
Mary Lou maintained the castle and held tours up until her death in 2010. But tours of this breathtakingly beautiful castle continue to tell the story of father and daughter.
Reach the writer at Alexa.Dangelo@asu.edu.