One of the many things we love about living in the great state of Arizona is that the state is full of surprises. There’s always more to explore, and these destinations are truly unique.
From a remote desert bar to a massive science experiment just outside of Tucson, here are seven of Arizona’s weirdest destinations.
Nellie E. Saloon or The Desert Bar
Cienega Springs Road in Parker
The Nellie E. Saloon or The Desert Bar might just be the most unusual watering hole in the entire country. Open seasonally on the weekends from October through April, a high clearance vehicle is required to reach this remote bar. This is also a cash-only establishment—and there’s also little to no cell service by the bar.
Your reward for venturing to such a hard to reach place? A bar unlike any other. The bar is surrounded by the Buckskin Mountains on land that once was a mining camp. Once you reach the bar, you’ll find a full-service solar-powered bar, a full-service restaurant, a church made of steel (yes, really), an outside bar, a cooking area, a stage, and a dance floor. Look forward to a lively atmosphere. Behind the bar is a horseshoe pit, and live bands also play most weekends. Dogs are allowed outside, but not inside.
Before you visit: The bar is open from noon until 6 p.m., weather permitting. Be sure to check the bar’s Facebook page to ensure it’s open before you drive out there.
Dateland Date Gardens
1737 S. Avenue 64 E in Dateland
Located just off Interstate 8, Dateland is a place that’s entirely devoted to the fruit, dates. Medjool dates—originally grown for Moroccan royalty and said to be the best variety due to their sweetness, large size and juicy flesh—are a specialty at Dateland. They’re harvested from the palm trees. Find raw, stuffed, and rolled dates along with date butter, date BBQ sauce, date steak sauce, and date raspberry jam.
Pro tip: Legend has it that date shakes were invented here way back in the 1920s.
Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin
12781 N. Sabino Canyon Park in Mt. Lemmon
If we told you there was a cookie cabin at the top of Mt. Lemmon outside of Tucson that’s renowned for its oversized sweets, you’d probably think you were in a Willy Wonka fantasy. But thankfully, the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin is a very real place.
Family-owned and operated since 1990, this spot resembles an actual cabin and serves cookies about the size of a small plate. Flavors include chocolate chip, brownie, white chocolate Macadamia nut, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, and the “Rachel,” which includes oats, coconut, and butterscotch chips. Each cookie costs $8. Other menu items include pizzas and ice cream that you can top your cookie with. Dogs are welcome on the patio.
Before you go: The cabin will sometimes close due to inclement weather. Call the cabin at 520-576-1010 to ensure it’s open.
Erie Street in Bisbee
Bisbee is a quirky town in general, but one of the weirdest and most fascinating places in the former mining town in Southern Arizona is Lowell, located on Erie Street just outside of downtown Bisbee.
It’s also largely abandoned. Take your time strolling this road. You’ll see a yellow and red Shell gas station, a Harley Davidson store, a police department, and a karate studio. Last time this author visited, we spotted mannequin heads and legs inside of one display that made for a quietly eerie scene.
There are some signs of life here, though. Housed in the historic Rexall Drug building, the Bisbee Breakfast Club is a great place to get huevos rancheros and the only business on the street that’s still in operation.
Fun fact: The Lowell Americana Project is dedicated to preserving this historic district.
Casa Grande Neon Sign Park
408 N. Sacaton St. in Casa Grande
Next time you’re headed down Interstate 10, consider making a pit stop at the Casa Grande Neon Sign Park. The park is home to numerous neon signs that light up downtown Casa Grande and capture history in a small way.
See signs from the historic Horse Shoe Motel—this was one of the first hotels in town to have air conditioning and was demolished in 2004. Another sign on display is a navy and yellow Valley National Bank sign. This bank was purchased by Chase Bank in 2004 and was one of Arizona’s leading financial institutions.
Being in a neon sign park at night is quite the experience with the signs all aglow. Plus, the pictures are always good and endlessly shareable.
Before you visit: The park is open daily from dusk until 11 p.m. The lights are shut off at 11 p.m.
800 E. Mineral Road in Phoenix
Located in the foothills of South Mountain Park, the Mystery Castle is a home unlike any other. Open from October to May, the Mystery Castle was built in the 1930s by Boyce Luther Gully to honor his daughter, Mary Lou. The pair would build sand castles on the beach in Seattle. She would cry when the sea washed away the castles and told her father she wanted him to build one her that would last, so he constructed a stone castle in the desert.
This mansion features 18 rooms, 13 fireplaces, and is furnished with Southwestern antiques. Gully died in 1945, and his daughter Mary resided there until her death in 2010. Rooms are constructed of stone and feature antique goods like a piano, wood bed frames, and vintage plates.
Expect to find quirky items in every nook and cranny of this truly unique home. On this author’s last visit, we saw orange couches and a decorative metal alligator. Look forward to crooked staircases everywhere. This is the kind of place where you could visit it countless times and still discover something new.
Admission costs $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 12. Tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. from Thursday through Sunday.
Before you go: The Castle can close either during or after rain. If it’s just rained, it’s possible tours will not take place. Contact the castle before you visit to ensure it’s open.
32540 S. Biosphere Road in Oracle
A 3.14-acre laboratory, Biosphere 2 (Earth is the first biosphere) is intended to recreate earth systems in an enclosed space. Today, the facility is owned by the University of Arizona and is used, in part, to study climate change. The biosphere features seven biomes including a rainforest, an ocean with a coral reef, mangrove wetlands, a fog desert, a savannah grassland, an agricultural system, and a human habitat. Some of the biomes are enclosed in a massive greenhouse-like structure. The ocean even has waves and feels humid. Being in the Biosphere is like being in a living scientific experiment. The tour is about one mile and will take you in and outside the facility.
Historical fact: The Biosphere was constructed between 1987 to 1991 and was at one time used as an experiment to see if life could be supported in outer space.