Dwarf car museum-unique places to visit in AZ

Over 20 Unique Places and Hidden Gems in Arizona

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While I may not be a travel blogger, we have explored our state in wonderful ways by finding the hidden gems to visit in Arizona.
In fact, some friends have commented that we have seen more in our 3 years here than they have in 20 years.

So join me as I share over 20 unique places that aren’t on the top 10 places to visit in AZ lists. In no particular order, you can read about the hidden gems in Arizona and find out what to wear when you visit.

Quote of the day: “To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, every cubic inch of space is a miracle.” Walt Whitman

Hidden Gems in Arizona
1-USS Arizona Memorial
2-Dwarf Car Museum-Maricopa
3-AZ Heritage Center-Papago Park
4-Mini Time Machine Museum-Tucson
5-Dolly Steamboat
6-Phippen Museum-Prescott
7-Manistee Ranch
9-Scottsdale Museum of the West
11-Sun City Museum
12-Orpheum Theater
13-Tohono Chul-Tucson
14-Wrigley Mansion
15-Desert Caballeros Museum-Wickenburg
16-Shamrock Dairy Farm
17-Riordan Mansion-Flagstaff
18-Tortilla Flats
19-Japanese Friendship Garden
20-St. Anthony’s Greek Monastery-Florence
21-Pima Air & Space Museum-Tucson
22-Cerreta Candy Co.
23-The TOP 8 tourist sights

Most of these hidden gems in Arizona CANNOT be found scouring “the best” places to go when visiting Arizona. Because these are unique spots that not everyone knows about.
How did I find them? A variety of ways. Some were suggested to me by friends, while others were found on the site Only in Your State. I also came upon a list of museums in Arizona that has been helpful and a couple we found by accident.

In all reality, if you are visiting Arizona for a short time, then you are going to want to go to the main sightseeing places (which we have also done) and I have listed at the end of this post. Those are definitely the highlights of the state.
But for those who are here for a longer time or reside here all year long, you’re going to want to save this list and have some of your own adventures.

And since this is also a fashion-focused site, I’m including facts about what to wear.

Insider tip: Many places have different hours during the summer vs the winter. I always recommend to check the website before going.

Related post: Cheap places to visit in Arizona

USS Arizona memorial

1-USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River

7455 North Pima Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85258
In Phoenix
You’re outside so wear weather-appropriate clothing. Very little walking so any shoes are good.
The photos we took when visiting.

Now here’s a hidden gem in Arizona that is tucked away out in the open that is easily overlooked. It’s right off one of the big baseball fields, yet it has a huge significance to the state. And it’s free to visit.

The photo above doesn’t do it justice so make sure to check out the photos on their website from above and at night.
It is a memorial to the men who lost their lives on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Built around the boat house relic, it provides a great place to sit and reflect.

Insider tip: There are no tours at this time. However, go at dusk to see it all lit up. And the names listed on all of the blocks are in alphabetical order.

2-Dwarf Car Museum-Maricopa

52954 West Halfmoon Rd. Maricopa, Arizona 85139
About an hour south of Phoenix
The garage is inside but there are also things to see outside. It’s big and dusty, so I wouldn’t wear your best Sunday gear. But you’re on your feet the whole time, so wear comfy shoes.
The photos we took when visiting.

Who knows how I found this one, but I even showcased more photos and information about it on the blog because it’s so unique.
I may have stumbled upon it while looking for a halfway point to meet up with our friend Sarah and her husband. You met them in an interview about the RV Lifestyle.

It’s another place that is free to explore, and it’s run by the man, Ernie, who makes these cars himself. The old gas station is not just full of these 3/4 size cars but also tons (and I mean tons) of memorabilia of the good ole days.

Insider tip: It says it’s open daily (except in the midst of summer) however, it is advisable to call first if you’re planning a long drive to get there.

AZ Heritage Center Papago Park

3-AZ Heritage Center-Papago Park

1300 N College Ave. Tempe, AZ 85288
Half an hour east of Phoenix
Lots of walking and stairs (there are elevators). Wear comfy shoes.
The photos we took when visiting

This place could be an all-day visit, it’s that’s big. It showcases not only the history of Arizona but you can learn about the environment and see memorabilia of the good ole days.

There is so much to take in at this museum. It’s the first place we learned the 5 C’s of Arizona (the driving force of AZ’s economy): cattle, citrus, climate, cotton, and copper. I bet you didn’t know that.

4-Mini Time Machine Museum-Tucson

4455 E Camp Lowell Dr, Tucson, AZ 85712
2 hours SE of Phoenix
It’s a bigger place than you think. Wear comfy shoes.
The photos we took when visiting

You might think this is a place for kids, but you would be wrong. Or maybe it just brought out the kid in us?

It’s an entire collection of dollhouses and room boxes yet it also includes all sorts of miniatures (like that birdcage carved out of the tip of a pencil).
We were pleasantly surprised at how interesting and enjoyable this museum was.

I even shared more photos on the blog of what we saw inside this museum because we were so enthralled.

Insider tip: Buy your tickets online and save $1 per ticket.

Dolly Steamer

5-Dolly Steamboat

16802 AZ-88, Apache Junction, AZ 85119
An hour east of Phoenix
You can sit either inside or outside depending on the weather. Wear flat shoes to navigate the boat easier.
No photos here because we took them at Tortilla Flats before coming to the ship. See #18.

We chose this activity for a hot summer day since the inside of the ship is air-conditioned. The steamboat runs along Canyon Lake and we took the Scenic Nature Cruise. The site boasts that you may see “desert bighorn sheep, bald eagles, and a host of other animals.” And they weren’t lying!
We did see the sheep, and the eagles and learned a ton of history about the lake itself.

It sounds like a dorky thing to do, but it was really a fun getaway, especially in the summer heat.

Insider tip: They have twilight dinner cruises available too.

6-Phippen Museum-Prescott

4701 AZ-89, Prescott, AZ 86301
1 hour north of Phoenix
It’s a good-sized museum, so wear comfy walking shoes. You’re inside the entire time.
The photos we took when visiting

This is a museum dedicated to Western art and artists. If you aren’t familiar with how sculptures are made, the docent will walk you through the process which makes you appreciate it all that much more.

If you are looking to purchase art, there are some pieces for sale in the gallery too.

Insider tip: They have docent-guided tours that really give you more information about the man the museum is named for as well as the art inside. You need to call to set it up, but it’s not an extra fee!! I would definitely recommend it.

Manistee Ranch: Things to do in Arizona

7-Manistee Ranch

5127 W Northern Ave, Glendale, AZ 85301
Outskirts of Phoenix
You are touring the inside of the house with three flights of stairs, so make sure your shoes are comfy and your knees are lubricated.
The photos we took when visiting (in the backyard area)

This type of ranch is one that the first people out here in Arizona built. It’s quite amazing to hear about the struggles and how they adapted. While much of the land has been sold off to housing developments over time, you really get an appreciation of how hard those early settlers worked.

The grounds are lovely, but it doesn’t mean much unless you take the tour. The “office” area in the unattached building even has the coolest safe in it.

Insider tip: There are tours of the inside on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays from 12-3 pm which makes it much more interesting but they are not available in the middle of summer. Their website says nothing about tours, so your best bet is to call 623-435-0072 to check the dates and times.

8-Arcosanti: Hidden Gems of Arizona

13555 S Cross L Road. Mayer, AZ 86333
1 hour north of Phoenix
Most of the tour is outside so dress weather-appropriate and there is a lot of walking on the uneven ground along with stairs (no elevators)
The photos we took when visiting

Touted as the world’s first arcology prototype, this place was written up in Newsweek and on all the news channels back in the late 70s. It’s exactly what I would call communal living and while I wouldn’t want to live there, it was super interesting to hear about.

While our whole gang wasn’t as enthralled as I was, I thought it was very educational to learn about how this concept came about and how it works. In fact, I would go back again.
Plus, you can even spend the night there and really experience it first-hand which I might want to do.

Insider tip: There is a cafe on the grounds that has fresh and healthy fare. It’s very limited but a nice option for something to eat as well as a great way to support them.

Scottsdale Museum of the West Museum

9-Scottsdale Museum of the West

3830 N Marshall Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
In Old Town Scottsdale
It’s an inside museum and even though it’s not huge, you need comfy shoes.
The photos we took when visiting (the first time)

Even though Scottsdale may be known more for its shopping and restaurants, one of the hidden gems in Arizona is this sleepy little museum that we have visited more than once.

This museum is known for the art, culture, and history of the 19 states in the American West. They have some really fabulous exhibits and the gift shop is wonderful too.
They have started up their docent tours again, so check the website for the times.

Insider tip: There are a couple of exhibits that seem ordinary, but if there is a worker there, they can give you more details. One is the “mural” of the horse and the other is the pyramid-shaped pictures of old towns and trains.


6433 E Doubletree Ranch Rd, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
In Phoenix
Most of this tour is outside, yet much of it is in the shade. The grounds are uneven so good walking shoes are needed.
The photos we took when visiting.

The name may give you a clue that it’s the sister act to Arcosanti (#8). It’s definitely one of the hidden gems in Arizona as it’s among a residential area and you’d never know it was there if you weren’t looking.

The handmade bells and windchimes are a huge draw for both Arcosanti and Cosanti. They are well known all over the globe and at Cosanti, you can see them being created in person. They call it “come watch the pour”.

Insider tip: While you can walk around yourself, I recommend the tour as then you are taken into the buildings and learn more about the history of this place. Tours are donation based.

Sun City Museum as hidden gems in Arizona

11-Sun City Museum

10801 W Oakmont Dr, Sun City, AZ 85351
Half an hour west of Phoenix
It’s inside but not well air-conditioned. You aren’t walking much, but it’s an hour of standing.
The photos we took when visiting.

I couldn’t talk about the hidden gems in Arizona without including our own community museum. In fact, there are more photos of the history of our area in the blog post I linked above. It’s truly more than just another retirement community.

While there aren’t “tours” of the museum, there are docents inside that can guide you through the place.

Want to know more about Sun City?? This article will get you started.

Insider tip: Don’t bother with the sit-down 15-minute video. It’s a cheesy rendition of the marketing from back in the 70s.

12-Orpheum Theater

203 W Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85003
In Phoenix
The tour is all inside with lots of walking and stairs (there is an elevator).
The photos we took when touring

The Orpheum theater is historic in Phoenix and is still showing concerts, plays, and other entertaining events. In fact, months after our tour we attended a play and even sat in the balcony seats.

Taking the tour was an education not only in Arizonian history but also in learning more about how venues like this survive.
The tour was special because you even got to go into the dressing rooms and stand on the stage. It could be your 15 minutes of fame, haha!

But if the tours don’t align with your schedule, I hope you support the Arizona Arts by checking out their line-up of events. The website is not super intuitive, but if you filter by Orpheum theater, this should be the list of upcoming events.

Insider tip: Tours are free but not easy to find on the website, but here is the link. They are offered 2 Tuesdays of the month and you HAVE to make reservations.

Tucson hidden gems to visit in AZ

13-Tohono Chul-Tucson

7366 N Paseo Del Norte, Tucson, AZ 85704
1.5 hours southeast of Phoenix
You are outside in the gardens, so dress weather-appropriate. You will be walking for over an hour, so comfy shoes are a must.
Photos we took while visiting

You may think that all botanical gardens are the same, however, I think you see different things depending on how they are exhibited.
This botanic garden has the most extensive events calendar including yoga, tours, and discovery days for kids. In fact, they have a multitude of tours available including Birds of Tohono Chul, Desert Landscaping, Walk in the Gardens, Connecting Plants and People as well as Butterflies and their Plants.

And for you shoppers, let me just say that they have 3 different gift shops that are all fabulous. PLUS their restaurant is top-notch.

Insider tip: If you have a membership to your area’s botanic gardens, check for reciprocity before buying tickets.

14-Wrigley Mansion

2501 E Telawa Trail Phoenix, AZ 85016
In Phoenix
The mansion is several floors and is quite extensive. While there are places to sit, it’s a good 60 minutes of walking and standing. But you are inside the entire time.
The photos we took while visiting

If you are thinking about Wrigley’s gum, then you are right on the money. This is the mansion of the man who started the iconic gum. And finding out how and why he did it, is eye-opening.

Even if you get bored on tours, the views from this hilltop mansion are worth the boredom. Besides you get to hear the story of this player piano and even listen to it play.

Insider tip: The mansion is also being used for weddings, a wine festival in the spring as well as houses 2 elegant restaurants. Go for the tour, and stay for lunch.

Wickenburg hidden gems in Arizona

15-Desert Caballeros Museum-Wickenburg

21 N Frontier St, Wickenburg, AZ 85390
1 hour NW of Phoenix
This museum is medium-sized, and all indoors. You still want comfy shoes.
Photos of when we visited

We weren’t able to take a tour because tours are only for groups of 8 or more. The museum focuses on the history of the town of Wickenburg and even includes full-scale recreations of a saloon, livery stable, and market.

The town is still considered a cowboy town. That and gold mining are its big claims to historical fame.

Insider tip: There is art on sale at the museum, so bring your wallets.

16-Shamrock Dairy Farms

40034 W Clayton Rd, Stanfield, AZ 85172
1 hour south of Phoenix
The tour is both inside and outside. You are taken around on a tram so there isn’t a lot of walking, but you still want comfy shoes.
Photos taken while visiting

Who needs to see a dairy farm in action, right? But seriously, as I included in the blog post, there is so much information that you don’t realize about the milk we drink.

The tour is very well done, and the area where you wait for the tour to start is chocked full of facts, fun sculptures, and everything to keep you amused.
PLUS you can purchase Shamrock ice cream to keep your belly happy.

Insider tip: At the end of the tour, you get a bottle of milk. You can request chocolate or strawberry milk too.

Riordan house in Flagstaff as hidden gems in Arizona

17-Riordan Mansion-Flagstaff

409 W Riordan Rd, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
2 hours north of Phoenix
You are touring inside of the mansion, and comfy shoes are a plus because there are stairs.
Photos of when we visited Flagstaff

The Riordan mansion is 2 houses combined with a common area that was owned by two brothers married to 2 sisters. These were the founding fathers of Flagstaff and the stories of how they treated the town and their employees are so heartwarming.

You can explore the grounds by yourself, but the only way to see the interior is by taking a tour. Not only do you learn about the Riordans on this tour, but also about Flagstaff’s history and even some information about the furniture.

18-Tortilla Flats

1 Main Street, Tortilla Flat, AZ 85190
1 hour east of Phoenix
You are ambling along old walkways and sitting in the restaurant, so no special outfit is needed.
Photos when visiting the town

The claim to fame of this hidden gem in Arizona is that its population is 6 and is the last surviving stagecoach stop along the Apache Trail.

Our neighbors gave us the 411 about this place, and I even shared more photos of it in the linked blog post. Just visiting the restaurant is fun entertainment from the saddle bar stools to the dollar bills flanking all of the walls in addition to the hilarious bathrooms.

You won’t be here long, as there is only a restaurant, gift shop, and country store. But it’s definitely a hidden gem.

Insider tip: The road to get here from Mesa is windy and steep. Make sure you don’t get car sick and don’t drink a ton at the bar before you head home.

Japanese Friendship Garden as hidden gems in Arizona

19-Japanese Friendship Garden

1125 N 3rd Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003
In Phoenix
This is a small garden, so you don’t need extremely comfortable shoes, but it is all outside so bring a hat.
Photos we took when visiting

This is a beautiful place to go for a serene hour of thinking and resting. There were no tours available when we went but check the website if you are interested. Even if there is no tour, there are many docents hanging around the garden, and they are happy to answer questions.

The trails and plants are impeccably landscaped, and the garden has a tea garden and teahouse on-site.

Insider tip: If you have a botanical gardens membership, check for reciprocity.

20-St. Anthony’s Greek Monastery-Florence

4784 N St Joseph’s Way, Florence, AZ 85132
1 hour SE of Phoenix
There are strict requirements for what to wear when you visit for men and women alike. I shared them in my blog or you can find them on their site.
Photos of when we visited along with more information

This is the exact definition of hidden gems in Arizona because it’s just not something you would expect out in the desert. Yet, it’s incredibly gorgeous and well maintained.

Unfortunately, there aren’t tours, so you have to wander around yourself. The handout does give a lot of factual information about the monastery, but there are very few people around to ask questions.

Insider tip: If you forget about the dress code, they do have items you can borrow in order to explore the sacred grounds respectfully.

Pima Air & Space Museum in Tuscon

21-Pima Air & Space Museum-Tucson

6000 E Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ 85756
1.5 hours SE of Phoenix
You can just explore the inside of the museum, but you’ll still need comfy shoes. There is a tram to show you all of the aircraft outside, so bring a hat and dress weather-appropriate.
Photos we took on our visit

Pima Air & Space Museum is considered a hidden gem in Arizona because it’s one of the largest non-government-funded aerospace museums. And in case you didn’t realize, the dry heat is a good place for old aircraft to hang out and not break down as much.

The inside portion has large aircrafts to see and some to even climb around. But that’s not all, there is also a section showcasing the women that made aerospace history.

Insider tip: Even though the tram tour is an additional fee, it’s well worth the extra $8. Not only do you learn about the planes sitting outside, but it would be quite a distance to walk it yourself. You cannot make reservations beforehand for these tram tours, they aren’t offered every day and they do sell out. I would recommend calling first to check if they are running the dates you’ll be there.

Cerretas candy co in Phoenix

22-Cerreta’s Candy Co

5345 W Glendale Ave, Glendale, AZ 85301
Suburb of Phoenix
This is an inside tour and there is very little walking.
Photos we took on our visit

If you have a sweet tooth then this is one of the hidden gems in Arizona that you need to check out. It’s not a glamorous candy factory store, but it’s a wonderful way to support a local business.

They offer a variety of tours with some to make your own chocolate bar or pizza kit. We just took the Chocolate Tasting Tour where we learned about the factory and family that started Cerreta’s. The nice thing about the tour is you also receive a coupon towards a purchase (now that’s smart marketing).

Insider tip: They have an online store so people from all over can enjoy their wonderful chocolates. The French Mint Chocolates are one of the most popular candies.

The Top 8 Places to See in Arizona

Of course, if you’re a first-time tourist, there are main things that every tourist should explore when they visit. We have done all of these too, so if you want more information, feel free to reach out with questions.

1-Grand CanyonWebsite
2-Desert Botanical GardensWebsite
4-Heard MuseumWebsite
5-Taliesin WestWebsite
6-Phoenix Art MuseumWebsite
7-Musical Instrument MuseumWebsite
8-Saguaro National ParkWebsite

20+ hidden gems in Arizona

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