A trip to Phoenix is sure to be unforgettable, but a visit to some of the city's weirder attractions will really make your trip here memorable. From ostrich races to strange pyramid tombs to a place simply called "The Mystery Castle," there's plenty of quirk to be had across Phoenix. Eat, sleep, and play at some of the most unique, interesting, and offbeat places across the city.
Within Papago Park is one of the weirdest hidden gems in Phoenix: the strange, white pyramid tomb of Governor Hunt. Easily visible from just about anywhere in the park, the tomb is located atop a hill, and you can get some pretty stellar views of the city of Phoenix from the gravesite. Inside the tomb is the body of seven-term Arizona governor George W.P. Hunt, along with some members of his family. Hunt was (you can tell by his grave) a colorful individual, known for his handlebar mustache, who spent breaks between governorships learning how to "drive an automobile" and serving as a minister to Siam.
The Ostrich Races festival, held just outside Phoenix at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler every spring, is hands down one of America's most offbeat events. Every year, professional ostrich racers converge in a battle royale of sorts, pitting ostrich racer against ostrich racer on a stadium race track. The competitors either ride in a chariot, steering the ostriches by reins, or they ride bareback atop the massive birds. In 2016 the festival added camel, zebra and emu races as well. There's plenty of entertainment, and tons of food and drinks to keep you well fueled for this delightful weird festival.
A curious-looking structure lies atop a knoll on East Van Buren Street in Phoenix, and over the years it's attracted the interest of locals and travelers far and wide. Built in the 1920s, the Tovrea Castle has been home to three distinguished Phoenix families, and is referred to as a "Jewel in the Desert." The 5,000-square-foot castle is smack dab in the middle of Phoenix, and surrounded by roughly 44 acres of preserved desert land. In 2012, the Tovrea Carraro Society opened the Castle up to the public for tours, and it's absolutely worth visiting to get an up-close and personal look at this American architectural wonder. Pro tip: Tours here sell out months in advance, so book your tickets early!
Nature lovers and outdoorsy folks will love Dreamy Draw Recreation Area for its incredibly-scenic and diverse landscapes and valleys. Located at the foot of Piestewa Peak, it has loads of hiking trails and picnic areas, as well as 14-million-year-old rocks that are certain to delight everyone's inner geologist. The area was used for mercury mining, which led to the area's unusual name. Mercury is toxic and causes nerve damage, and the miners who were digging it up suffered some pretty severe neurological side effects. It's said that towards the end, the miners looked spaced-out and in a dreamlike state... hence the name Dreamy Draw. It was annexed by the city of Phoenix in 1959, and ever since it has played an important role in helping to preserve the mountain against development.
Opened in 1928, the Hotel San Carlos has the distinction of being Phoenix's oldest continuously-operated boutique hotel. But the history of the beautiful building and the land upon which it was constructed goes back even further. According to lore, local Native Americans worshipped "The God of Learning" on the exact spot the hotel was built. In 1874, the city of Phoenix built the very first school house there, which taught the children of Phoenix until 1916. In 1927 the Hotel San Carlos was built in the Italian Renaissance style. From 1928 to 1960, the hotel was the Phoenix hot spot for local elites, political figures and members of high society, as well as Hollywood stars and starlets, such as Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Mae West. According to the hotel, when West stayed in 1929, she left orders with the front desk to "wake her at 3 p.m. with a bottle of champagne and two glasses." Other notable celebrities included Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Jean Harlow. During World War II, the hotel was used to house American troops, and the hotel bar was known as "Base Operations".
The Valley Bar is a much-loved local drinkery. A must-visit here is the Rose Mofford Lounge, named in honor of Arizona's first female governor. She was a very beloved political figure as well as an All-American softball player, and even turned down the chance to play professional basketball. The Rose Room is another great lounge where you can try their signature cocktails "named after local politicians of varying degrees of infamy". Also be on the lookout for the mobile, which is backlit against white cloth, above the bar: It tells the story of Winnie Ruth Judd, the Trunk Murderess of Phoenix. After being found guilty of murder, she was sent to an asylum, from which she escaped six times, once for more than six years!
Boyce Luther Gully has become a bit of an American folkloric hero over the years. When faced with a terminal illness, he decided to travel with his daughter, Mary Lou, and it was during these travels that he decided to take a path that would eventually result in the building of the Mystery Castle. After playing in the sand at a beach in Seattle, Mary Lou asked her father to build her a "big and strong castle" that she could live in, one that wouldn't be washed away by the tide. She suggested building a castle in the desert. And that's exactly what Boyce did. Mary Lou got her castle in the foothills of South Mountain Park in Phoenix. It was made of native stone, with eighteen rooms, thirteen fireplaces, and even parapets. When her father died in 1945, Mary Lou continued to live in her castle, and even gave guided tours until she passed away in 2010. Today, the Mystery Castle Foundation continues to provide tours.
As America's sixth most populous city, Phoenix is a veritable wonderland of incredible outdoor adventures, amazing places to eat, some absolutely fantastic bars, and of course, more than a few offbeat gems.
It's time to go beyond. Follow trails that reveal mighty mountaintops. Wander among iconic landscapes beneath picture-perfect skies. Let the Sonoran Desert be your guide to limitless adventure.