FROM WORLD-CLASS museums to historical places, trails in the mountain preserves within the city limits, parks, cafes and restaurants, Phoenix has a lot to offer. But if you want to escape the run-of-the-mill attractions, here are a few interesting spots that are frequently overlooked.
1. Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve
The Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve is an archaeological site in North Phoenix, unvisited even by most residents. This is a good place to learn about ancient times, and about the Hohokam and Patayan. Stop at the museum to look at the exhibits, then head out to the paths. You’ll stroll through huge basalt boulders filled with over 1,500 petroglyphs between 7,000 and 500 years old.
2. White Tank Mountains Regional Park
If you want to see more petroglyphs, head to the White Tank Mountain Regional Park, a lesser-known wilderness on the western side of Phoenix. Though the park features a library and a nature center, don’t overlook its trails. The Waterfall Trail is a short, easy one-mile walk ending at a narrow canyon and a seasonal waterfall.
3. Desert Vista Trail
The Desert Vista Trailhead is a little-known access to the wilderness in North Phoenix — it is hard to find unless you know where to look. The Hawk Nest Trail starts out steep, but it soon levels up and winds around the hills. Take the Desert Tortoise Trail for an easy walk, or continue to the Dixie Mountain Loop for a more challenging, 6-mile hike. Either way, you’ll go through different areas of desert vegetation, including a great concentration of saguaros, and many cholla varieties. Most wildlife you see are birds, but watch out for rattlesnakes and scorpions during the spring months.
4. Phoenix Mountain Preserve 40th Street Trailhead
Phoenix Mountain Park lies over a very large range through the city. Most trail heads are well-known, and they get crowded during nice weather, but the 40th Street Trailhead remains remote and less-traveled. As soon as you step off the road, you’ll hear the distinct call of quails and see a few running around. Walk slowly and you will most likely spot a few hares, roadrunners, even coyotes. You’ll also share the trail with mountain bikers who ride Trail 100, the longest one through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.
5. Southwest Wildlife Rescue Center
To learn about and better recognize the local wildlife, take a tour of the Southwest Wildlife Rescue Center. Though it is the largest sanctuary for Southwest native animals in the country, the rescue center is mostly unknown, even to locals. At the end of a dirt road in North Phoenix, it is the only sanctuary equipped to care for large mammals, like black bears, mountain lions, Mexican gray wolves. In addition to rehabilitating some animals, and offering a permanent home for others, the center helps with the reintroduction of the endangered Mexican gray wolves into the wild. Tours are offered only for those who sign up beforehand, so make sure you make a reservation. During the tour, you’ll meet the resident animals, learn about them, and have the opportunity to feed some of them. Stay as late as possible to hear the wolves howling at dusk.
6. Book Gallery
The very best place for rare and old books is the Book Gallery. The bookstore, tucked in a shopping plaza on Indian School Road, is packed with rare books, first editions, full collections and antique books. Some of the most valuable ones are behind glass. Even if you don’t have the budget to buy them, you can spend long hours browsing through the store, enjoying the smell of old books, amid antique and new bookcases decorated with vintage bookends. If you are looking for something specific, the knowledgeable and friendly staff will help you find it.
7. Half Price Books on Cactus Road
If you are looking for budget-friendly books, check out Half Price Books on Cactus Road and Tatum. It has a great selection of modern and older used books. This bookstore has a pleasant atmosphere as well, with knowledgeable staff. In addition to books for every interest, they carry CDs, DVDs, journals, games, and book-related gifts. In the summer months, you’ll find local families with school-age children browsing the store, to get away from the heat and hopefully find new books or puzzles for the kids for the summer months. You can’t beat the prices on books here.
8. 32Shea Coffee House
A pleasant neighborhood café, 32Shea is located, well, on 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard. Most locals stop there for the atmosphere, for a drink, or a snack in the Zen garden. The staff is pleasant, the food is delicious, and if you return a few times, they’ll remember your preferences. Try any of their specialty sandwiches or salads, but don’t leave without sampling their house-made Nutella cheesecake.
9. Via De Los Santos Mexican Café
Once inside Via De Los Santos Mexican Café you are transported to a small neighborhood Mexican restaurant. The food is the emphasis here, and locals who know about the place, return over and over. Try their pollo fundido or chimichanga for an authentic Mexican experience.
10. Viet Kitchen in North Phoenix
If you feel like Asian food, one of your best choices is the Viet Kitchen in North Phoenix. Mostly known to locals in the area, the small restaurant seems hidden. It is close to the Costco center, just off Highway 101 and Cave Creek Road. You can’t go wrong with anything you order here.
11. Roadrunner Park and Farmers Market
Head over to the Roadrunner Park and Farmers Market, just off Highway 51, on Cactus Rd. The market is held each Saturday, offering farm fresh produce when in season, honey, jams and jellies, jerkies and handmade crafts. The neighborhood park is a favorite for local families with young children anytime. The large playground has covered equipment, surrounded by shade trees, and the pond on the premises is home to several families of ducks and geese. In addition, the park has a swimming pool, soccer fields, volleyball, baseball, basketball and tennis fields, as well as ramadas and grills for picnics and gatherings.
12. The Mystery Castle
An unusual and frequently overlooked landmark in Phoenix, the Mystery Castle provides a good example of reusing and recycling. The three-story, eighteen-room castle features rocks and boulders, car components, railroad tracks, phone poles, adobe blocks, and much more. Learn the moving reason that the Boyce Luther Gulley build it and enjoy a tour of this unique structure.
13. Steele Indian School Park
Another neighborhood park worth visiting is the Steele Indian School Park in the heart of Central Phoenix. It was previously home to the Phoenix Indian School, a boarding school for Native American children, operated between 1891-1990. The park’s design pays homage to its history, using elements that reflect Native American way of life and beliefs. The Circle of Life walkway takes you around the three historic buildings that remain from the original school. The water cistern in the center is surrounded by a poem etched in the concrete that explains the Native American theme. The park also includes a large lake, an amphitheater, a great playground, basketball and volleyball fields, covered ramadas, grills and picnic areas.
14. Cerreta Candy Company
The family-owned candy factory, the Cerreta Candy Company, has been in operation for 40 years, founded by Jim Cerreta, Sr., who still overlooks the operation. His family, including the grandchildren, are involved in every aspect of candy making. They still use the old methods of making their candies and chocolates, which ensures the high quality and homemade taste of each of their products. Take one of the daily tours they offer for a glimpse into their operation, and a taste of some of their signature chocolates, barks, or brittles.
15. Stuffington Bear Factory
For a unique experience, visit the Stuffington Bear Factory, a small, local stuffed toy-making company. The factory offers tours for groups of any size, where you learn about the manufacturing process and history of making teddy bears and other stuffed toys. The free daily drop-in tour only takes about 20 minutes, but it is a great way to spend some time learning about this well-loved toy, especially for families with children. At the end of the tour, you have the chance to custom-make and purchase one of your own teddy bears, or other stuffed toys.