Best Of :: People & Places
Going to the dog track needn't cost you a bundle. Just grab your dead presidents and head to Phoenix Greyhound Park for one of the pup palace's legendary weekend swap meets.
Each weekend, hundreds of vendors gather to sell all the crap they couldn't unload at their garage sales -- old tools, rusty golf clubs, eight-track hi-fi's, and ancient, tube-powered Zeniths. Hundreds more vendors sell newer things like packaged socks, luggage, clothes, art and furniture -- the list is endless.
And if you don't happen to be in the market for someone else's castoffs or a 99-cent liquidation sale? Well, haggling over the price of old eight-tracks is just part of the fun.
For pure people-watching, the dog track is the flea market equivalent of Rodeo Drive. A seat near the snack bar provides a primo view of the crowd, and a live band sometimes plays background music for an hour or two. A pan flute and guitar duo recently hypnotized passers-by with soft, mellow rhythms as worn-out shoppers guzzled beer and scarfed nachos.
As the time passes, so does a passing parade of diverse humanity, the likes of which you're unlikely to assemble en masse anywhere else in town -- or at least until the state fair rolls around again. And where else in town can you gawk at the myriad forms of your fellow man while getting your ears pierced on a lawn chair?
Arizona State University's campus is the most righteous place to blade, but the cops chase hard-core bladers away because they chip a little cement off benches and tables on daredevil slides and jumps. If you're tired of the hassle, the place to go for unlimited blade action is the Wedge.
With quarterpipes, lots of grinding rails, some bowls and a whole mother lode of other sweet stuff designed especially for bladers, the Wedge offers plenty of opportunity to bust out with some kick-ass blading moves. The vibe is less intense than the Valley's two other more skateboard-oriented parks in Phoenix and Chandler, and less intimidating for the preteen set just honing their plates. A few pro skaters practice at the Wedge, adding a layer of luster and inspiration. The park is open every day from dawn to 10 p.m., and it's free.
How would this go over at your household? "Mommy and Daddy are going to go out for a drink. You kids fend for yourselves." Now try this. "Let's go to Gameworks."
With all the latest and greatest in electronic gaming as well as a full bar and restaurant upstairs, Gameworks has everything you need to satisfy the "inner" and "outer" child. Look for the daily specials -- $20 for one hour of unlimited play, or $20 purchases $27.50 worth of eyeball-sucking fun. Feed the beast, unhook the leashes and the kids are off. The upper sanctum is sufficiently insulated from the mayhem a floor below to allow for a relaxing brew and, gasp, conversation! And don't worry about finding the kids. When their card runs out, they'll find you.
Readers' Choice for Best Kids' Fun at a Price: Castles-n-Coasters
Happy Meals do not grow on trees.
Still, that horticultural fact of life comes as news to many of the young city slickers who visit this West Valley agro-attraction.
"Many of these kids don't have a clue," reports Kathleen Duncan, who, with her husband, Arnott, operates the working farm that includes an organically certified pick-it-yourself veggie patch and petting zoo. Prior to visiting her farm, says Duncan, some young'uns don't know the difference between a cow and a pig, assume that produce grows in the grocery store and have yet to make the connection between barnyard fowl running around the property and the fried poultry nuggets they gobble down at McDonald's.
Fun and educational, the farm also features tractor rides, a seasonal cornfield maze, a farm machinery museum and picnic facilities for birthday parties and other group events. Head west on I-10 toward Goodyear and look to your right for the billboard of a giant baby terrorizing some miniature farm folk, one of several fanciful pop-art pieces that dot the Duncans' acreage.
If you like the idea of art, but aren't exactly sure which end to tell your kid is up in a museum or gallery, this program is the one for you. Its six weekly courses in art history -- held this year from September 20 to October 25 -- deliver the fundamentals of major art movements and works. The teachers are the museum's curators, so they're fluent in the subject. They deliver the lessons without peering down their noses. And the aim is pure: to train volunteers to take art into school classrooms. The program excels at teaching people how to look, and how to encourage children to do the same. We know of some schools where Art Masterpiece volunteers provide the only real art education of the school year.
Who knows why windmills and garishly painted plywood castles became the standard props for miniature-golf courses? But this is one Lilliputian links that bucks that trend with an Old West theme that has your balls rolling toward holes named Devil's Arch, Fool's Gold and Gravedigger's Gulch.
Here the greens are billiard-smooth and truly green -- none of that rumpled multicolored indoor/outdoor carpeting you find elsewhere. Instead of being made of cheap plastic, the putters are genuine metal. And the contours and unsloped lips around the holes make the two 18-hole courses challenging enough to make you want to keep score.
Even better, the approach to the courses doesn't lead through a dungeon of pulsating video games. Instead, it takes you past a driving range, where your children can see firsthand the horror that shanked and sliced balls bring to the faces of local duffers.