Best Of :: Fun & Games
On this ranch, they have some chickens, E-I-E-I-O. With a donkey here and a billy goat there, you name the domesticated farm animal, you can pet it and make it your friend. After communing with farm life, go on a hayride, have a cookout, or take in the wildlife (like Arizona's "first bird," the cactus wren). The ranch is located in the slightly cooler stretch of the Sonoran Desert, so it's one of the few places that you can be outdoors when the weather is hot. Or stay in the A/C and take a scenic driving tour. If you do some digging, you'll even learn about the little-known mystery of the Mormon Girl Mine. But what makes MacDonald's Ranch special isn't what it has, it's what it doesn't have. You won't find any mechanical farm equipment here, because the ranch still operates with true "horsepower." That's just cool.
BEST GOLF COURSE
tie: Troon North Golf Club
10320 East Dynamite, Scottsdale
Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale
17020 North Hayden, Scottsdale
BEST CITY HIKING TRAIL
BEST CITY PARK
Encanto Park and Recreation Area
2605 North 15th Avenue
BEST KIDS' FREE FUN SPOT
Tempe Town Lake
BEST KIDS' FUN-FOR-A-PRICE SPOT
9445 North Metro Parkway East
BEST PLACE TO SPEND THE DAY WITH YOUR DOG
Any dog park
If you're the sort of parent who blows your budget on your kids' parties, consider introducing your children and all their friends to T-Bo, the rhinoceros iguana. T-Bo is one of 500 creatures kept by Rich Ihle's Reptile Adventures. For $150, Ihle will cart a truck full of snakes and lizards to your home guaranteed to drop every jaw in the joint. This is a very hands-on experience that involves lots of touching and education with a cast that includes an Argentinean Red Tegu, a four-foot-long carnivorous lizard. Other big hits include water monitors that can hit seven feet in length, 19-foot-long pythons and hulking anacondas. A walking infomercial on all things reptile, Ihle is hoping to construct a public museum in the near future.
Yeah, yeah, there's more to do at GameWorks than simulate genocide. But inspired killing is the foundation of any inspiring arcade. And with several dozen of the world's most realistically hyperviolent video games, GameWorks is just about as inspiring as it gets, killing-wise.
If you tire of killing, if that's possible, GameWorks offers all sorts of other entertaining cyber realms. And yes, there are numerous nonviolent games for children if you're some sort of daisy-pickin' pacifist.
After a hard day of killing, you can retire to GameWorks' full bar and a menu of mostly excellent food. The upstairs restaurant and pub makes a nice place to hide from children asking for more money.
To stem the high cost of killing, GameWorks offers daily specials as well as reduced pricing for bulk-killing. Now, if they could only pipe in the smell of napalm in the morning.
Before he became a Valley Popsicle, Ted Williams said famously that hitting a baseball was the hardest thing to do in all of sports. Keep that in mind the next time your Little Leaguer whiffs. If you'd like to do something constructive to help your budding all-star, take the kid over to Big League Dugout, where former major league ballplayers offer individually tailored half-hour instruction for $40. Tutoring in both hitting and pitching is available. Hummmm, baby!
What legions of us still have childhood memories of time spent in the game room, sitting cross-legged (back then we called it "Indian style") in front of a loop of plastic track, jockeying tiny magnetic cars to race our siblings for superlative titles -- the winner was "the coolest person on the planet," say, and the loser was "actually adopted but Mom and Dad don't want you to know"?
You can practically hear the whiff of your plaid corduroy trousers just thinking about it.
But now you can relive those easy times at Terry's Performance Raceways, where slot-car racing is way more than a nostalgia trip. It's pretty much a lifestyle. Terry's features (for now) two modes for mini-scale enthusiasts, beginning with the so-called "H.O." racers, those Hot Wheels-style cars that are authentic enough to induce a flashback in almost anyone. And it only costs $6 an hour: $3 for track time, $2 for a car, and $1 for a controller.
Then there's the drag-racing track, where speed is the only thing that matters. Even with cars that are 1/24th scale, Terry himself claims, cars have been clocked on the 55-foot-long track going as fast as 50 miles per hour, real time. He's currently building a 1/32nd-scale road course, but for now the main event is on Friday and Saturday evenings, when diehard slot jockeys compete in earnest. For a $5 entry fee you can compete if you make the qualifiers; and winners can receive up to 30 percent of the pooled money in store credit, which the proprietor says can sometimes be enough to buy you your own new car -- Terry's, you see, also sells a full line of cars, tracks and slot-car accessories.
"Racing cars to win more cars," Terry says. "That's just gotta be the best thing on Earth."
The Music Man is a fine musical, but that Meredith Willson lyric "trouble starts with T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool" has cast a dark pall on the upstanding game of billiards. We beg to differ, because words like "tenacity," "temperance," "tolerance" and "tertiary" don't exactly start with the letter J.
Indeed, "pockets mark the difference between a gentleman and a bum," and a young man's idle hours are better spent learning a game of skill and coordination that's not a carpal-tunnel-syndrome-inducing video game.
Most billiard palaces won't even allow minors a peek inside, but we've found a pool table that's easily accessible to kids at the Original Hamburger Works, located on the outdoor patio away from secondhand smoke, beer and guys named Fats, Philly and Moe. There's also a Ping-Pong table and horseshoes for those times when you've got to wait for the pool table to free up. The official eatery of the Phoenix Outlaws is a safe bet your kids won't grow up to be juvenile delinquents learning how to line up a bank shot.
Sure, there are plenty of places that can boast "Fun" as their middle name. But Fiddlesticks in Scottsdale can claim it as its first and last name as well. The main draw of this seven-acre family fun park is the 4,000 square feet devoted to Atlantis Laser Odyssey, a state-of-the-art laser tag adventure game that becomes a matter of familial pride when another brood gets it in their heads to make you and your kids their quarry.
While the lure of bumper boats, batting cages and go-carts you need a license to drive makes this park a top draw for preteen parties, it's also ideal for toddlers. The park's Kiddie Land offers six flagship rides including Flying Dumbo Elephants, the Miner Mike Roller Coaster and rookie go-carts. Value Packages are $16 for guests 60 inches and taller, $12 for guests 36 to 59 inches tall, with an additional $3.50 for the laser tag. You could probably make a case for the Value Package 2 if you're a short dad, but then they might not waive the height requirement for the go-carts.
Nothing is free, especially where kids are concerned. "I gotta have," "I want it" and "You promised" are all familiar mantras heard by parents milliseconds after the car door shuts. So why not surprise your complaining juniors with a "scared straight" time-travel expedition to 1870 that's absolutely free?
It's worth the drive to Florence just to see the shock on your spawn's faces when they realize their Native American counterparts passed their time not by shopping but by actually making baskets, pottery, quilts, arrowheads and figurines of other hardworking Native Americans. Other sobering turn-of-the-20th-century artifacts include blacksmith equipment, antique medical supplies that were a marked improvement over bloodletting, musical instruments that don't plug in, tools, historic maps and jail objects like old nooses that have swung as recently as 1965! We can't guarantee your kids will be humble and hardworking once you get back to the future, but you've given them an interactive past money can't buy.
Open April-June, and September-November, noon-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; December-March, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon-4 p.m. Sundays. Closed July-August.
Arizona's best winter resorts have figured out they can make money in the summer offering local families a relatively cheap night and a day at a water park.
Of these resorts, Pointe Hilton's Squaw Peak resort is best-known because of its sprawling lazy river. It's great fun, but our money goes with Squaw Peak's sister hotel at Tapatio Cliffs. That's because Tapatio Cliffs has The Falls Water Village. And more so than the lazy river, the Water Village, a three-and-a-half-acre expanse of swimming pools, waterfalls and water slides, offers enough different activities to keep the whole family entertained for the whole day.
Besides numerous water features, the Village offers lots of time-occupying programs and events for kids. That means parents can slip over for a drink at one of the several themed bar and grills!
Also, more so than most area resorts, the Tapatio Cliffs management really works to fill your plate with events and free stuff. As part of this summer's Summer Splash event, for example, guests for $109 a night also received coupons for events worth more than $50.
If you've got kids, and you're sick of the heat and sick of cleaning and fixing meals, Tapatio Cliffs is a great way to break things up with a quickie vacation.
A stunning stand of increasingly rare saguaro cactus welcomes visitors to Maricopa County's largest park, totaling 29,217 acres of rugged mountains with ragged ridges separated by deep canyons. Infrequent, heavy rains pouring down chutes and plunging over cliffs have scoured out a series of depressions in white granite -- creating a series of "tanks."
About 21 miles of trails are available for mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking with difficulty ranging from easy to strenuous. The Waterfall Trail offers .4 mile of barrier-free access to the Petroglyph Plaza.
The park has a unique 10-mile "competitive track" designed for cross-country runners and joggers, endurance bike riders and galloping equestrians. Family and group camping sites are available on first-come basis for $10 a night. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a $5-per-vehicle entry fee.
The White Tanks provide a priceless respite from the relentless expansion of the metropolitan area that is now lapping up against the park's eastern and northern boundaries.
To get there, exit on Cotton Lane from Interstate 10 and go north to Olive Road. Go west on Olive to the park entrance.
It's a quick jaunt, but it offers a little bit of everything that you're looking for when you're lighting out to the desert to spend an hour or two with nature. The Ahwatukee trailhead of South Mountain Preserve offers lots of options for the hiker -- from the flat Desert Classic (favored mainly by mountain bikers) to the arduous National (for the self-detesting) -- but the 1.5-mile Telegraph Pass is the clear winner when it comes to compromise.
Just to start you off easy, the first undulating half-mile is paved, rolling up and down in small sine curves until it empties out at the meeting point with the Desert Classic. Veer left and suddenly you're in flavor country -- a craggy but flat trail that creeps along the base of a long rock outcrop. At about the halfway point, things then take an interesting turn: upward. Now you're hoofing it into the sandstone, crabbing along an upslope and eventually hucking up ersatz staircases that have been hewed out of the hillside. And just as your pulse reaches cardio level, there you are: Telegraph Pass, right along a rise on South Mountain Drive. Sit on the bench and watch the lazy lunkers drive by. Then have a drink of water and begin stepping down into the flatlands, where your oven-hot car awaits. Now, aren't you glad you took that hour to commune with nature?