Phoenix is full of surprises. While some are more widely known than others, we've gone beyond the top attractions to round up the best of the wild, quirky and definitely unexpected for you here.
Who knew you could find castles, a pyramid, waterfalls, ostrich races and so much more in the Greater Phoenix area? Check out these unexpected landmarks and prepare to be surprised.
Perched atop a cactus-covered hill in east-central Phoenix, Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights is an unusual structure home to three different local families throughout its history. Tours, which get you into the strange castle and its massive cactus garden, often sell out months in advance. Read more about Tovrea Castle here.
5025 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix
The Japanese Friendship Garden, Ro Ho En, features 1,500 tons of handpicked rock, more than 50 varieties of plants, flowing streams, a 12-foot waterfall and a Koi pond—all right near downtown. The garden is the product and shared cultural vision of the Sister Cities of Phoenix and Himeji, Japan. This unexpected Phoenix attraction is a great way to spend a sunny day. Read more about Japanese Friendship Garden here.
1125 N. Third Ave., Phoenix
Beautiful red sandstone buttes define Papago Park, a popular spot to get in an easy hike and admire the desert landscape. This park is also home to the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix Zoo, Papago Gold Course and Hole-in-the-Rock Trail, which leads to a unique windswept formation you can climb inside for great views — but that's not why it made this list. Instead, follow the signs for Hunt's Tomb, a stark white pyramid where Arizona's first Governor is buried with this family. Follow the steep climb up to this site (it's too short to give it trail designation) and you'll be treated to some Arizona history as well as can't-miss views of the surrounding park and distant skyline.
625 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
Who knew urban waterfalls could look so good? Originally built in 1902 and a popular gathering spot since the late 1800s, this natural 20-foot drop in the Arizona Canal is now a modern hydroelectric plant as well as a beautiful piece of art.
After her sandcastles were washed away by the tide, young Mary Lou implored her father to build her a strong castle she could live in (and perhaps in the desert, where it wouldn't be at risk for disappearing). The daughter's dream was realized in the form of the eclectic, 18 room "castle" in the foothills of South Mountain, which you can tour October through May.
The Fountain Hills Fountain is a water display where it's most appreciated, the Arizona desert. Three times as high as the Washington Monument, this 560 foot water fountain is hard to miss. Catch the show every hour on the hour. Pro tip: the fountain turns emerald green every St. Patrick's Day.
12925 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills
This decades old Chandler festival the city's roots and culture with an epic tradition: ostrich racing. These hefty birds toe the line to kick off a three day festival in March, with everything from a petting zoo to a zombie carnival to camel rides.
745 E. Germann Road, Chandler
America's Largest Sundial
Measure time by day and track the North Star by night with America's largest sundial in the Carefree Desert Gardens, spanning 90 feet in diameter with a Sonoran desert backdrop.
Head to Central Phoenix's Curious Nature Shop for all of your freeze dried bats and a bisected pig heart needs. That's right: this natural history emporium is full of taxidermy you won't be able to look away from...or is it looking at you? Read more on Curious Nature here.
5032 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
The Fire Breathing Dragon at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen West
Frank Lloyd Wright often sent his third wife, Olgivanna, gifts from his travels abroad, with one of the most impressive still on display at Taliesin West. This dragon was intended to be a serene water fountain, but Olgivanna had a gas pipe installed so that the creature would instead breath fire. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to quite a few other unexpected feature — including petroglyphs, a wind tunnel and an acoustically perfect cabaret and more — but the fire-breathing dragon is best viewed on a Friday evening Night Lights Tour.
12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale
This super secret spot is almost unnoticeable from the nearby I-10. Behind overgrown palms, other flora, fences and weathered decor lies a rustic oasis of five distinctly different soaking pools as well as a the common area that hosts variety of smaller tubs in a shared space (people are coming and going at their leisure and in whatever attire they deem appropriate for soaking). Reservations are required and payment (by the hour) is due at check-in.
41225 Indian School Road, Tonopah
Did you know Phoenix has a great urban bat-watching spot? Each summer several thousand Mexican free-tailed bats and western pipistrelle bats use the Maricopa County Flood Control Tunnel near 40th Street and Camelback Road as a day roost.