Phoenix is a growing urban metropolis that rises out of the desert. A rich blend of frontier history and modern flair, the city is one of the foremost centers of art and culture in the American Southwest. If contemporary art and night clubs are your thing, or if you'd love to learn about local history and the universe, it's hard to imagine a better place in this corner of the world than Phoenix.

01Take a tour of Tovrea Castle

The historic Tovrea Castle in Phoenix, Arizona. It is one of the city's Points of Pride.

The Tovrea Castle is one of the most peculiar and iconic destinations you can find in Phoenix. Once a luxury resort, it's now become part of the Arizona parks system. Despite being located in the heart of the city, its frontier charm remains thanks to forty-four acres of preserved desert that surround it. The castle stands at the tallest point of the hilly area, ringed by cactuses and oblivious to the passage of time.

02Learn about Arizona’s most infamous people at the Valley Bar

people talking and toasting in a pub with the beers

How many political drinking games have you played? You might want to take a shot every time you hear an odd story about a notorious Arizonian, but that’d be too much liquor at this peculiar bar. You can get your fill of cocktails and learn about the state's politics at the Rose Room, where the Valley Bar plies several cocktails named for infamous Arizona personalities.

03Fly over Downtown in a helicopter

A helicopter preparing for takeoff 1001nights / Getty Images

If you head over to the Falcon Field Airport, you can book a helicopter ride all around Phoenix. You can run out into the deserts and valleys that ring the city, but one of the best views you can take is over the city. As the sun sets, experience a breathtaking view of Phoenix that changes ever so subtly each minute that the sun sinks beyond the horizon.

04Learn at the Arizona Science Center

A captivating image of space cemagraphics / Getty Images

The Arizona Science Center is one of the most compelling, interactive learning experiences in the United States. It’s home to over 350 permanent exhibits, including the innovative Darrance Planetarium. It’s one of the largest, most technologically advanced planetariums found anywhere in the country, and over two million visitors have enjoyed this exhibit since it opened in 1997.

05Marvel at the Mystery Castle

Tourists visit the Mystery Castle in Phoenix on November 30, 2013. The castle was built in the 1930s and 40s by Boyce Gully for his daughter.

The Mystery Castle is a touching, heartwarming monument of a father’s devotion to his daughter, even in the face of the unimaginable. Diagnosed with a terminal disease, Boyce Luther Gully left his regular life behind to spend all the time he could with his daughter, Mary Lou. He used local sandstone and other building materials he could find to build her a castle that stands tall over half a century later. After her dad's passing, Mary Lou happily received visitors and gave tours, which the Mystery Castle Foundation continues to provide in her memory.

06Take a companion to the Japanese Friendship Garden

Tranquil secluded Japanese Garden with pond

The Japanese Friendship Garden might be the most peaceful place in downtown Phoenix. It’s over three acres large, and it’s overflowing with lush greenery and beautiful, Japanese-style garden ornaments. The garden is filled with long, winding trails that beg to be explored. It’s a great destination year-round, as it’s home to many events that promote and educate visitors about Japanese culture.

07Enjoy a performance at the Orpheum Theater

The historic Orpheum Theatre located on West Adams Street in the downtown area was opened in 1929 and restored and reopened in 1997.

Visiting the gorgeous Orpheum Theater is a must if you love theater and history. It once held vaudeville shows as part of the nation-spanning Orpheum Theatre network. Today, it operates as a gorgeous vintage theater. It has comfortable, spacious seating, and the lines and crowds rarely grow long enough to be as much as an inconvenience.

08Party at the Gypsy Bar

A friendly, relaxed bar Predrag Vuckovic / Getty Images

The Gypsy Bar is a beloved local bar in Phoenix. Come for live music, and stay for the live art shows. Part of the unique appeal of the bar is that it embraces painting, dance, and other performance arts. You can also unwind after a busy day at their bowling alley, or just lay back and enjoy the pleasant atmosphere.

09Explore Indigenous culture at the Heard Museum

View of the Heard Museum, a private, not-for-profit museum dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art in the Sonora Desert near Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Heard Museum is one of the finest displays of Native American culture anywhere in the United States. The rich selection of objects and indigenous artwork is enough reason to come, but that’s not even close to everything this museum has to offer. It also hosts live educative performances as well as live music shows that play most weekends.

10Walk Roosevelt Row, the bohemian heart of the Phoenix Art Scene

A stunning graffiti mural dorian2013 / Getty Images

Roosevelt Row is the most vibrant destination in Phoenix. This street will treat you to views of gorgeous graffiti murals and all sorts of contemporary art. During the First Friday art shows, numerous vendors will put up all sorts of art displays all along the street. It's worth planning your trip around the occasion; if you visit during a First Friday, taking a self-guided walking tour among the displays and exhibits should be a high priority.