12 Attractions in Surprise, Arizona

Last Updated on February 10, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Surprise, Arizona is a growing suburb located just outside of Phoenix in the lower Northwest Valley. While still relatively small at around 135,000 residents, Surprise offers a surprisings number of attractions to enjoy, from outdoor recreation and sports, cultural sites, unique cuisine, and even some old west cowboy action. Whether you’re traveling through or live nearby, spending time in Surprise delivers way more excitement than its name suggests.

With Surprise situated right up against the White Tank Mountains, nature lovers will find plenty of hiking, biking, and horseback rides with incredible views right in their backyard. The recreational opportunities continue with sports facilities for baseball, tennis, volleyball, soccer, and more. Several large aquatic centers provide pools, slides, and splash areas when the AZ heat becomes too much.

Along with outdoor recreation, Surprise serves up culture and entertainment from live theater at the Surprise Arts & Cultural Center to interesting museums that cover the region’s history. Ever wanted to see Dale Evans’ famous white performance horse Trigger up close? Yep, you can do that in Surprise too.

To fuel up for a day of adventure, eaters can choose from an eclectic mix of cuisine. Surprise offers everything from all-American diners to East African flavors to some of the best Brazilian churrascaria steakhouses you’ll find outside Rio de Janeiro itself.

No matter whether you want outdoor adventure, cultural enrichment, entertainment, or just great food, Surprise has you covered. Read on to discover 12 top attractions that this Arizona suburb has to offer.

1. White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Spanning over 29,000 acres with more than 58 miles of trails, White Tank Mountain Regional Park stands out as one of the premier outdoor recreation spots in the Surprise area. Mountain bikers, hikers, trail runners, and horseback riders all frequent the park to enjoy the gorgeous desert and mountain scenery.

Several trails cater specifically to mountain biking and range from beginner friendly to advanced for hardcore thrill seekers. Hikers also get seven designated foot trails that vary in difficulty and distance from a simple nature loop to a nearly 9-mile trek to the summit with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Other activities you’ll find at White Tank include camping, birdwatching, stargazing, and even hunting in permitted areas during season.

With outdoor enthusiasts flocking to White Tank year-round, it does stay fairly busy on weekends and in peak seasons. Those hoping for more solitude on the trails may want to plan weekday visits when possible. No matter when you go, make sure to bring plenty of water plus sun protection as the Arizona sun beams strong even during cooler months.

2. Surprise Aquatic Center

When Arizona’s scorching summer heat becomes too intense, the Surprise Aquatic Center offers the perfect escape. This family-friendly waterpark features three main pool areas plus a fun splash playground for little ones.

The highlight attraction is a massive 40-foot tall waterslide tower with four slides all named after famous Arizona rivers – Salt, Verde, Gila, and Colorado. Riders plummet down these brightly colored tubes doing loops, getting soaked in spray tunnels, or sliding on large inflatable rafts. For relaxing instead of heart-pounding action, visitors can float calmly around the lazy river or simply lounge poolside under shady umbrellas.

The aquatic center’s concessions offer snacks, drinks, and pre-made food items for convenient meals so you don’t have to leave mid-day. Lockers provide a secure spot to stash your stuff as well. Through the spring and fall months, the Surprise Aquatic Center operates weekends only. But come summertime when Phoenix outpaces everywhere as one of the hottest places on Earth, this oasis of wet fun opens seven days a week.

3. Arizona Broadway Theatre

While you may not associate Broadway caliber musical theater productions with a modest suburb like Surprise, the Arizona Broadway Theatre brings impressive performances to this southwestern town. Featuring talented professional actors alongside incredible set design and costumes, the Arizona Broadway Theatre truly mimics New York’s famed theater district.

The 2022/2023 season includes blockbuster hits like Kinky Boots, Sister Act, and West Side Story. Holiday favorites The Wizard of Oz, Miracle on 34th Street, and Elf also appear during their respective seasons. With these Broadway musicals showing for more limited runs, visitors passing through Surprise should check the schedule to catch a world-class show during their stay.

Beyond just showing popular, mainstream pieces, The Arizona Broadway Theatre endeavors to highlight works by underrepresented creators as well. Their Elevate series shines a spotlight on musicals written by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander artists and authors. So not only does this theater create an enjoyable night out, but it brings dynamic voices to the stage that reflect the diversity of perspectives within humanity.

4. Original Football Stadium

Sports make up a significant part of American culture, so it seems fitting that Surprise – a true western suburb at heart – would pay homage to the gridiron greats of its high school football team. The Original Stadium may take its name from the fact it was the first sports stadium built in Surprise back in 2001. However, today it serves as a monument to all the players over generations that have put on a Panthers jersey.

Visitors walking up see a massive brick structure with FieldTurf for play along with bleachers that can seat upwards of 7,500 cheering fans. Inside, championship and district pennants plus team photos plaster the walls documenting the big moments of Surprise football lore. Even folks who don’t care much for sports can’t help but feel a swell of small-town pride for these dedicated young athletes walking through.

In addition to varsity football, students compete in field hockey, volleyball, track and field, wrestling, basketball and other sports at Original Stadium. Community members also use the facilities for exercise walking along the outer ring. Though the stadium hosts events year-round, Friday night lights burning bright through football season create an electric atmosphere worth witnessing in person.

5. Sister Cities Mural

Adding vibrant character to downtown Surprise, a colorful mural depicts symbols and landscapes of the city’s four international sister cities – Caborca, Mexico; Clermont-Ferrand, France; Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic and Prosperita, Philippines. Dedicated in 2018, this eye-catching public artwork came together through collaboration between American muralist Eric Adigard and 16 student artists enrolled in the Surprise Youth Arts program.

Spanning the entire side wall of a building at the Surprise City Hall Complex, the massive mural vividly represents each sister city. Iconic landmarks include a hot air balloon and volcanic mountain for Clermont-Ferrand, healing springs and a majestic castle in Karlovy Vary, as well as sugar cane fields and Mt. Mayon volcano for Prosperita. Of course, the blue agave cactus appears front and center highlighting the special Arizona-Mexico bond with Caborca.

The Sister Cities organization fosters global cooperation at the municipal level. These partnerships between Surprise and cities abroad cultivate international understanding through exchanges in areas like culture, education, municipal governance, business, and more. Stop by the vibrant mural on Civic Center Plaza to get a symbolic glimpse into Surprise’s global connections.

6. Surprise Recreation Campus

For families looking to wear out energetic kids or casual athletes hoping to shoot some hoops or knock a few balls out of the park, the immense Surprise Recreation Campus offers fun for all ages. Spread over 75 acres, the huge park area contains a dizzying selection of sports fields, courts, playground equipment plus an awesome skate park.

Visitors can play pick-up games on one of 12 tennis courts or get competitive joining outdoor volleyball or basketball leagues. With 10 multipurpose fields, there’s always space for soccer, football, or even cricket matches to accommodate Surprise’s diverse population. Adults tend sticks at one of two dedicated hockey rinks while kids shoot goals into four small nets.

Eight playground structures give little ones plenty of slides, ladders, forts and more to explore. Meanwhile daredevils on boards and bikes catch air off the skate park’s ramps and rails. Sheltered picnic ramadas offer respite from the sun for families between activities. With so much recreation packed into one space, Surprise’s aptly named campus could occupy active tourists for days.

7. Surprise Community Park

Despite its small town upbringing, Surprise now shares many characteristics of far larger cities, including need for centrally located green space. Developed on the original site of Surprise’s baseball spring training facility, the Community Park provides a peaceful place for residents and visitors to enjoy natural serenity. The park encompasses eight acres filled with scenic landscaping, walking paths, play areas plus a large duck pond.

Upon entering the park, paved pathways lined with benches guide people underneath flowering shade trees. Further in, ducks, geese and other waterfowl frequent the central pond welcoming guests who want to get closer views or feed them cracked corn and birdseed bought from dispensers. Kids delight in watching tadpoles growing up among the reeds and lily pads too.

Younger children burn off energy climbing on top of play structures while tweens and teens congregate around ping pong and foosball tables by the recreation building. With green grass, structures to play on and access to snacks from an on-site concession stand, Surprise Community Park also works beautifully to host birthday parties, family reunions and even weddings.

8. Surprise Heritage & Arts Museum

Residents fondly describe Surprise as having a “small town heart” despite considerable growth happening across the region. Anyone longing for simpler old western days can step back into Surprise’s past at this modest local history museum. Through photographs, artifacts and exhibits, the museum shares how the city rose up out of the farmlands and desert scrub over generations.

Some interesting highlights include Native American tools excavated from archeological digs nearby along with vintage household items belonging to city founder Flora Mae Statler who started selling land here in 1938. Visitors will learn about Surprise’s agricultural days producing cotton and citrus plus see early 20th century clothing and cow milking machines.

For pop culture fans, the museum also displays memorabilia related to western singer, actor and local celebrity Dick Curtis whose horse ranch / movie set still stands today. Kids especially get a thrill seeing the stuffed horses that belonged to beloved cowboy sidekicks The Sons of the Pioneers who filmed in Surprise and neighboring towns.

Through its collection, the Heritage & Arts Museum gives tourists a better sense of Surprise’s western small-town foundations while also displaying works by local modern artists. Make sure to check upcoming exhibits and collections on loan from other museums to see different aspects of Surprise’s creative community.

9. Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex

As home to the CZTennis Academy and host site for tournaments like the USTA League 40+ National Championships, Surprise provides first-rate facilities for both casual and competitive racquet sport athletes. The immense Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex boasts 24 hard surface tennis courts plus eight pickleball courts for players to volley away in delight.

Tennis enthusiasts can join round robin socials, try drop-in drills, take private lessons or enter ladder leagues and tournaments happening year-round. Special activities like Tennis Fest celebration in October and SUMC series combining singles and mixed doubles draws players from across Arizona to compete. The complex also contains a pro shop for picking up new gear while concession stands and shaded seating areas let spectators enjoy matches in comfort.

Pickleball provides similar opportunities for competitive social play and tournaments including September’s Surprise Pickleball Championships. Beginners can try drop-in lessons while more advanced players join ladder matchups. With dedicated courts for each sport painted bright Surprise blue, this complex serves up smiling faces and new friendships built through shared love of racquet play.

10. Surprise Aquatic Center’s Recreation Campus

Expanding Surprise’s nearly unmatched recreational offerings, the Surprise Aquatic Center broke ground on an ambitious 80-acre campus development kicking off 2023. Once finished over the next two years, visitors will gain access to even more sports fields, courts and play structures plus an epic ninja-style obstacle course. Early renderings preview zip lines over water, warped walls to scale, balance beams to cross, rock climbing overhangs, rope swings and more adventure packed into one spectacular park.

Current plans call for pickleball and basketball facilities, multipurpose fields with potential for hosting concerts or other big events, shaded play spaces, walking trails that connect to Surprise’s greater path system and plenty of picnic tables when athletes need a good refueling.

Keeping with Surprise Aquatic Center’s identity as a haven of wet fun during Arizona’s hotter months, the expanded campus will also contain pools and splash pads. Architectural drawings show the pool area encircled by an artificial stream you can float in circles or traverse from one end to the other. Smaller water playgrounds give kids room to dash through spray features and dump buckets in shorter sprints.

Slated for opening in 2025, this epic Rec Campus extension should quickly rise toward the top as a must-experience attraction for active families visiting Greater Phoenix.

11. Chef Al’s Seafood

Many travelers seek out local cuisine when visiting a new destination. For fantastic seafood with chef inspired panache, visitors to Surprise need look no further than Chef Al’s. Run by Al and Linda Dominski, this humble restaurant in a strip mall preparing incredible dishes that keep patrons returning again and again. Chef Al sources only the freshest seafood like Pacific Swordfish, Florida Grouper, diver scallops, live lobster and jumbo prawns shipped overnight. Linda expertly manages the front of house delivering exceptional hospitality.

Beyond serving up simply grilled or blackened fish, Chef Al creates luscious composed plates like his pecan crusted trout sitting atop butternut squash risotto then drizzled in brown butter sauce. House made pastas and risottos also delight along with surprising landlocked options like Wagyu tri-tip steak or succulent pork osso buco.

Make sure to leave room for decadent desserts too. Standouts include the crème brûlée cheesecake or chocolate pecan bourbon pie. There’s always a great selection of craft beers and interesting wines by the glass as well. Thanks to Al and Linda’s dedication over the past 15 years, Chef Al’s rates as the longest running upscale dining locale to embrace Surprise visitors with innovative dishes and genuine hospitality.

12. Cowtown

Just down the road from Surprise proper, the township of Buckeye embraces its wild west history through attractions like Pyeatt’s Cowtown Ranch Museum. Visitors here get to witness with wagons, saddles plus all sorts of paraphernalia filling its five historic buildings collected by grandson of town founder Henry Pyeatt. Kids especially delight in petting miniature horses, gazing at the exotic longhorn steer and touring the sweet shops serving up old fashion candy.

Cowtown truly springs to life during regular reenactments of frontier life like horse breaking demonstrations, blacksmith shops revival and shootouts by the OK Corral. Monthly bonfires, cowboy breakfasts and holiday celebrations carry on that same spirit as well. Festival weekends up the ante even more with chuckwagon cook off challenges, Native American dances, trick riding performances and plenty of good old boot scootin’ at the saloon.

Considering Buckeye stayed mainly rural with around 600 residents up until recent decades, Pyeatt’s vision to share stories of those rugged ranchers and lawmen from yesteryear provides an illuminating glimpse into the greater region’s not so distant past. Today over 75,000 call Buckeye home, however Cowtown keeps those bygone cowboy days burning bright. After exploring this western attraction, you’ll hear that iconic Dawn Wells song “The Ballad of Buckeye” playing on repeat in your head down every dusty trail you ride.

Conclusion

Surprise, Arizona may seem like your average suburban community on the surface, but dig a little deeper to uncover an exciting array of attractions for all interests and ages. Outdoor enthusiasts will love exploring the trails and scenery of White Tank Mountain Regional Park while families can make a splash at Surprise Aquatic Center’s pools and thrilling waterslides. Cultural experiences like Broadway-worthy musicals at Arizona Broadway Theatre satisfy artistic souls and sports fans cheer on local teams at arenas like the Original Stadium.

From scenic natural sites and museums to cultural performing arts venues and recreation facilities, Surprise hosts it all. The city even continues expanding attractions like the future epic adventure course and pools planned for the Surprise Aquatic Center. No matter whether singles, couples, families or groups come to stay, experiencing these 12 iconic sites promises fun and excitement that exceeds the expectations of this modest southwest suburb.

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