You, Too, Can Play Tourist This Summer in Greater Phoenix
Sure, Phoenix overflows with our own distinctive arts, entertainment, and culture, plus world-class visiting events and attractions, but these warmer months are . . . different. The wild rumpus heads indoors. More happenings shift to after-dark timeframes. We prefer our fun wetter and/or less fully clothed. Winter visitors, bless them, have returned home for a while, kids are out of school, and we don't mind occasionally forgetting where we are (and that the weather can kill you in minutes).
Some of our grittiest artists are traveling, or resting, or can't afford to air condition their venues. They'll be back when "the season" starts. Meanwhile, play tourist, and go a little mainstream yet local, guilt-free.
Wildlife World Zoo's aquarium (16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, 623-935-9453, www.wildlifeworld.com) fills three buildings, y'all. When's the last time you visited more than 100 species of freshwater and ocean creatures such as alligators, turtles, fish galore, sharks, stingrays you can pet, funky deep-sea freaks in crazy colors, and the black-footed penguin? It's all near the flume ride on the east end of the zoo, a sprawling landmark that's open every day, has lots of other animals, exhibits, shows, food, and attractions, and offers special evening discounts on aquarium-only admission.
Your new penguin pals are African, monogamous, and also known as the "Jackass," but only because of the adorable sound they make. They're just as eager to meet you as you are to meet them (come on — penguins!), so make sure you have water and a charged-up phone, and head out.
Phoenix Art Museum's "The Sea" exhibition (1625 N. Central Ave., 602-257-1222, www.phxart.org) merges PAM's deservedly renowned Fashion Design archive with pieces on loan from other collectors and famed designers. As you peep garments worn by sailors and swimmers throughout the centuries, couture embellished with precious pearls, coral, and shells, and fresh threads inspired by all themes nautical and marine, you'll be more overwhelmed than Captain Ahab and Princess Ariel at their first Frankie and Annette beach movie.
Besides how exotic the ocean seems to us landlocked types (at least until Yuma becomes a coastal town), it's been a focus of adventure, commerce, science, cuisine, art, mythology, and environmental concerns since humanity's earliest days. The show, continuing through Sunday, July 15, is included in admission to the museum, which is open Wednesdays through Sundays and, like many civilized summery places, has a nice restaurant you don't have to get back in the car to visit.
For a solid day trip option, consider the annual Summer Plant Sale and Penstemon Festival at the Arboretum at Flagstaff (4001 S. Woody Mountain Road, Flagstaff, 928-774-1442, www.thearb.org). Penstemons are those lipstick-bloomed perennials that are so rampantly popular with both hummingbirds and xeriscapers. You'll see more varieties than you knew existed (there are hundreds, and the Arboretum's got one of the most diverse collections in North America) and have a chance to admire numerous other unusual plants for sale, some of which have a good chance of staying alive back in the Valley's climate.
Admission to the festival is free, and it runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 14. Rise earlier for a guided birdwatching walk — the Arb is big, quiet, and pretty, smells like piney heaven, and there's lots to do, but watch out: You won't be able to avoid learning stuff.
The Musical Instrument Museum (4725 E. Mayo Blvd., 480-478-6000, www.themim.org) cannily employs 21st-century technology along with psychology and alluring design to suck in visitors of all ages, backgrounds, and experiences, even people who don't like music (whoever those people are). And people with hearing impairments will find wildly diverse feasts for the other senses here — the omnipresent (and blissfully brief) videos are gripping mini-documentaries of ritual, festival, work, and virtuosity (from field recordings to Hollywood clips); many of the 300-plus displays include genuine costumes and other artifacts; and the more than 15,000 instruments are astonishing visual art and craft, made of everything from human thigh bones to recycled bottle caps to painstakingly fitted and decorated rare woods, metals, stones, and fibers.
The MIM's first floor features an Experience Gallery where you can touch things and make noise (gongs, drums, harps, marimbas, a theremin); a jaw-dropping collection of early mechanical self-playing instruments and orchestras such as appolonicons, nickelodeons, and music boxes; breathtaking memorabilia from artists ranging from Leonard Bernstein to John Lennon to Rihanna; and, through October 1, an in-depth exhibit of sanza, the African thumb piano. (Also a terrific café, which you will appreciate after a couple of hours of extreme stimulation.) Seven days a week and on special evenings, demonstrations, workshops, encounters with lecturers and performers, and concerts keep things jumping as well.
Upstairs, seemingly endless galleries show what music has meant through centuries of cultural and political cross-pollination among hundreds of nations. You may walk out with a new appreciation of the ubiquity of the bagpipe or bowed lute, or how many regions there are in China or India. You may learn where Suriname actually is. Or you may have to come back, because we couldn't do it all in a day. But we sure had fun.
If you're traveling virtually, why limit yourself to this planet? One or two weekends a month, Peoria's Challenger Space Center Arizona (21170 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria, 623-322-2001, www.azchallenger.org) hosts a Family STAR Night with telescope viewing (weather permitting), wonderfully geeky space talks, slide shows, and demos, photo ops, folklore, Scout-badge-earning experiences, and other activities for kids and adults, sometimes centered on special seasonal sky events. Hours and admission prices for these evenings vary; there's also plenty to enjoy at the Center in the daytime, like planetarium shows, games, simulated missions, morning summer Space Camp, and exhibits of stuff that's been to space and back.
The premise of a dive-in movie (no, we didn't leave out the "r") is that if one kind of immersion (say, in the magic of cinema) is good, adding a second kind, like bobbing around in the pool while watching the film, is even better. Some local resorts offer this brilliant concept to registered guests only, while other Valley locations feature publicly soggy, family-friendly (or sometimes more grown-up) movie nights weekly (or more sporadically) over the summer. Your own apartment complex may be getting in on the action, and some folks have been known to plan their own successful dive-ins on www.meetup.com.
City of Mesa Dive-In Movies: 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 2, at Fremont Aquatic Complex, 1101 N. Power Road, 480-644-2369; 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 23, at Brimhall Pool, 4949 E. Southern Ave., 480-644-5087; www.mesaaz.gov/parksrec/aquatics
Wet N' Wild Phoenix Water Park: 4243 W. Pinnacle Peak Road, 623-201-2000, www.wetnwildphoenix.com; films shown at 8 p.m. Fridays.
Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North: 10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr., Scottsdale, 480-515-5700, www.fourseasons.com/Scottsdale; films shown Saturday evenings
Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak: 7677 N. 16th St., 800-947-9784, www.squawpeakhilton.com/event-calendar; films shown Fridays around 8 p.m.
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