Phoenix is a growing urban metropolis that rises out of the desert and is one of the foremost centers of art and culture in the American Southwest. A rich blend of frontier history and modern flair, Phoenix is a city that deserves your time. 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.

011 Take 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 iconic, peculiar destinations you can find in Phoenix. It originated as a luxury resort, but it's since become part of the Arizona parks system. Despite being located in the heart of the city, its frontier charm persists 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.

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

people talking and toasting in a pub with the beers
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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 learning at the Rose Room, where the Valley Bar plies a number of cocktails named for infamous Arizona personalities.

033 Fly 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 nicest views you can take is over the city. As the sun sets, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Phoenix that changes ever so subtly each minute that the sun sinks beyond the horizon.

044 Learn 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.

055 Marvel 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 built her a castle using local sandstone and any other building materials he could find to construct a sturdy structure 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.

066 Take a companion to the Japanese Friendship Garden

Tranquil secluded Japanese Garden with pond
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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 serve to promote and inform visitors about Japanese culture.

077 Enjoy 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.

088 Party 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.

099 Explore 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 artifacts 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 performances that inform and educate visitors, as well as live music shows that play most weekends.

1010 Walk 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. A walk down this street will treat you to views of positively 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 to see the variety of impressive, contemporary art on display. If you visit during a First Friday, taking a self-guided walking tour among the displays and exhibits should be a high priority.