Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2011

Neighborhoods

  • + Ahwatukee
  • + Anthem
  • + Apache Junction
  • + Avondale
  • + Buckeye
  • + California
  • + Carefree
  • + Cave Creek
  • + Central Phoenix
  • + Central Scottsdale
  • + Chandler
  • + East Phoenix
  • + El Mirage
  • + Fountain Hills
  • + Gilbert
  • + Glendale
  • + Goodyear
  • + Higley
  • + Laveen
  • + Litchfield Park
  • + Mesa
  • + Nevada
  • + New River
  • + North Phoenix
  • + North Scottsdale
  • + Out of Town
  • + Outside the Valley
  • + Palo Verde
  • + Paradise Valley
  • + Peoria
  • + Queen Creek
  • + South Phoenix
  • + South Scottsdale
  • + Sun City
  • + Surprise
  • + Tempe
  • + Tolleson
  • + Unknown
  • + Waddell
  • + West Phoenix
  • + Youngtown
Map It

Arts & Entertainment

Food & Drink

La Vida

People & Places

Shopping & Services

Sports & Recreation

Readers' Choice

MORE

Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best Rock Climbing Gym
Phoenix Rock Gym

If you want to develop fingertips that work like steel hooks, there's no better place to do it than at the Phoenix Rock Gym in Tempe. We're ashamed to say that we've occasionally let months go by without a visit, but we've belonged to PRG since it opened in 1992 and we always find our way back. We love the people who work there, as well as the regulars and the newbies who try to claw their way to the top of the 30-foot walls. When our climbing partners can't go, we make the veins in our hands and forearms pop out on the two world-class bouldering walls, which don't require the use of ropes. Well before the place starts to look too familiar or grows boring, new paint goes up on the walls and holds get switched around in a most satisfying way. How these guys figure out how to make the perfect 5.10 for us, we don't know — but they do and, in the process, facilitate a climbing experience that makes us forget, for a moment, that we actually prefer to be outside. When we do hit real-world rock — a rarer occasion now that we've got kids — the practice we have at the rock gym makes for a much more confident, Spider-Man-like adventure. Oh, and those kids? Thanks to PRG, they went straight from diapers to diaper harnesses.

1353 E. University Dr., Tempe, 85281
MAP
480-921-8322
Best Secret Garden

Residents of the 40-plus houses in the square formed at Weldon Avenue and Fairmount between 11th and 12th streets in Phoenix are hiding a secret. The subdivision, which opened in 1928, includes a three-acre private park in the square of land concealed by properties. The park originally housed a golf course, artisan well, tennis court, fireplaces, and a swimming pool made from native stone. The pool may be all that's left of the original plan, but the fact that most of Phoenix remains unaware of this hidden gem proves that the garden is still a safe, quiet, and secret place to play.

Best Hidden Spot to Touch History
South Mountain Park

Sitting in a Valley watering hole sipping a few cold ones, it's hard to imagine that human beings not so different from us were here, doing things, hoping for things, dreaming of things long before we were ever around. Occasionally, we must stare history in the face to recognize how far we've come and, perhaps, realize how far we have to go. There's no better place to do this than the Holbert Trail at South Mountain Park. Here, petroglyphs inscribed in the living rock by Hohokam People centuries ago. See abstract depictions of animals and hunters. Many have attested to the petroglyphs' spiritual significance. We don't like to bring religion into things, but it's hard not to feel something (spiritual or otherwise) when one bears witness to evidence of those who came before us.

10919 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85042
MAP
602-262-7393
Best Not-So-Secret Garden

Long before urban scavenger hunts and geo-caching became popular, ASU had a built-in mystery search that was a rite of passage for coeds. In its early years, the location of the college's secret garden often remained a mystery until a student accidentally stumbled upon it while looking for a quiet place to study. But with the rumor-mill- slash-verbal-diarrhea-inducer that is the Internet, the secret garden started getting outed and, eventually, arrows indicating its location were spray-painted on sidewalks around the quad at Dixie Gammage Hall and West Hall. (Sorry, secret garden activists, but the jig is already up.) The mystery may be solved, but the grassy area, with its banana trees and passion fruit vines, is still beautiful, despite the now heavily trod lawn. And there still are secrets to be discovered within the garden's confines — for example, the white sapote trees have leaves that smell like fresh popcorn when scratched.

Best Little Mountain

Whether you call it Hayden Butte, Tempe Butte, or "A" Mountain — all valid names, as far as we could tell from our research — this rock pile is sweet for the feet. If you live in Tempe or south Scottsdale, this is the closest you can to an experience that's in the same ballpark as Camelback Mountain or Piestewa Peak, the two most popular Valley mountains for hiking. But beyond the great workout and momentary escape to something akin to nature, hike this one for the scenic view — especially at night. Looking northeast, the bathtub-like Town Lake and vehicle lights on Loop 202 resemble a moving diorama of some futuristic dome-town, like a scene from the 1970s sci-fi movie Logan's Run. Later this year, the antenna and communications equipment at the top will be moved to the soon-to-be-finished West Sixth towers, formerly known as the Centerpoint Towers, which will give the peak a more natural feel. The big "A" will still be there — and still will change color every now and then. This year, not only did University of Arizona students paint the "A" red and blue again, but some folks excited about the death of Osama bin Laden turned the letter a patriotic red, white, and blue.

Best Place to Dig Dinosaurs
Arizona Museum of Natural History

This place is not the American Museum of Natural History — let's get that out of the way up front. Night at the Museum Part Whatever ain't gonna be filmed anywhere in Mesa. But for locals craving a quick trip to the Cretaceous and other dino-filled periods, the Arizona MNH simply roars. In "Dinosaur Hall," the skulls of triceratops' relatives and various skeletons do wonders for our sense of wonder — it's easy to forget these magnificent, strange creatures once lived on this planet. Each time we're there, we take at least half an hour to wander past "Dinosaur Mountain," the three-story dino-rama with a cool waterfall and large, animatronic T.rex, stegosaurus, and other lizard-like creatures, large and small. The kids think this exhibit is even better now that they're older and not scared of it. They still aren't too old for the Paleo Dig Pit, though, a nifty spot in which tykes sift through rocks to "discover" dino eggs and bones. If you want a close encounter with dinosaurs, the Mesa museum delivers everything but the bite marks.

53 N. Macdonald St., Mesa, 85201
MAP
480-644-2230
X

Best Rock Climbing Gym: Phoenix Rock Gym

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >