The last gasps of summer vacation are here, and there are plenty of excuses to take your last few days off and head to the pool.
Like any true desert, Phoenix has a few hot spots where the herd gathers to cool off, catch some sun, and of course, do some serious people watching. From resorts, to water parks, to public pools, here are a few of our favorite places to hydrate.
10. Golfland Sunsplash Years ago, having a large pool with a wave-maker and a slide or two was good enough to call yourself a "water park." But thanks to establishments like Golfland Sunsplash, modern water parks more resemble amusement parks, with a variety of rides and water slides seemingly engineered by thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies. Sunsplash boasts attractions like the Master Blaster Water Coaster, Thunder Falls (a raft ride that starts nearly seven stories high and features three huge drops), the Stormrider (a massive drop into the water from about 70 feet), and the Sidewinder (a half-pipe slide that allows riders to zip from one end of the bowl to another). Of course, there's the standard wave pool (all 450,000 gallons of it), but Sunsplash also offers a separate "activity pool" for water sports, a toddler pool for the wee ones, and even the Endless River (which ends after about 800 feet) for emulating tubing at the Salt River -- minus the salt water, beer coolers, and rock-ravaged rear ends.
9.Sanctuary Resort & Spa
It's not the biggest pool in town, and it's not even the flashiest (you won't find any fountains or water slides at this serene spot), but there are still three good reasons why the pool at Sanctuary on Camelback is our favorite place for a swim: palm trees, clear water, and Camelback Mountain (Sanctuary also claims its pool has the biggest infinity edge in the state). People come from all over the country to stay at this stylish Paradise Valley enclave, but we're thrilled that we can go there anytime we want -- when we can scrounge up the cash, that is.
8. Big Surf We don't admit to much these days (other than occasionally fudging on our taxes or taking an extra helping of chocolate cheesecake), but we'll gladly cop to the fact that we're totally reliving our childhood whenever we go to Big Surf. Many a hot afternoon was spent during our pre-pubescent days riding the waterslides or getting sunburned while swimming in the Tempe institution's gigantic artificial wave pool (the nation's first, by the way). A lot of things have changed since the park first opened in 1969 -- slides have gotten bigger, teenage ride attendants have gotten snottier -- but we still love the thrill of barreling down a watery tube at full bore. Our current favorites are the "Tornado Twisters," a pair of side-by-side slides where we can race some young punk down to the pool below, and "The Abyss," an enclosed slide that sends riders on a terrifying trip through the dark. If you've got young ones, get your significant other to take 'em to the park's kiddy-themed attractions like the "Otter Slides" and "Captain Cook's Landing" while you get in touch with your inner child.
7. Firesky Resort
The luxurious lounge-like lobby of the FireSky in Scottsdale makes for one of Old Town's best people-watching spots -- especially people in bikinis and board shorts. The elegant outdoor lounge offers the chance to drink a precision cocktail or two underneath the stars -- or even with them, as celebs have been known to frequent the bar while staying at the resort.
6. Chandler City Pools Fancy water parks are fun, but can be pricey. We'd rather head to Chandler's aquatic facilities, which offer similar features at a pittance. You'll find thrilling slides, high dives and lap pools for all ages, spraying toys and smaller slides for younger swimmers, beach chairs, shade and grass and even affordable snacks for everyone. The admission prices are 50 cents for kids and $1.50 for those 18 and older; during certain times, admission costs drop further: $1 for a whole family, 25 cents for seniors and zip during free swim times. Call before you drag out the swim fins. All pools don't operate on the same "season" and are only open certain weekends throughout September and May.
5. Wet 'n' Wild Water Park The liquid amusement park opened its gates in 2009 to 35 acres of more than 30 rides including the Constrictor, Maximum Velocity, Monsoon Bay, Cactus Cooler, and Boogie Board Beach (to name a few). The water park's creators, Village Roadshow Limited, poured more than $30 million into the park in North Phoenix, which is now home to plenty of pool parties and summertime hangouts.
4. Phoenix Scuba Considering the Valley's largest body of water is the man-made Lake Pleasant, scuba diving in Phoenix sounds sorta stupid. But just because there's nowhere in our great desert metropolis that even vaguely resembles Galapagos, that doesn't mean Phoenicians can't band together, learn how to dive, and then get their scuba on anywhere in the world. And Phoenix Scuba makes it happen. In addition to retail shops that carry all kinds of scuba gear, Phoenix Scuba offers classes with experienced diving instructors (most often conducted in a swimming pool), and certifications in scuba diving after an excursion into the deep waters of the aforementioned Lake Pleasant. And once you've got your gear and bearings, Phoenix Scuba offers package-deal diving trips to places like Fiji, Mexico, and Honduras. Sounds pretty smart to us.
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3. Spanish Fly There are plenty of pools in Scottsdale, but smack dab in the middle of Old Town sits Spanish Fly, which features an oasis-like swimming pool encompassing most of the outdoor patio. Where other Scottsdale beach bars boast paltry wading pools, Spanish Fly -- formerly the home of upscale Polynesia place Drift -- trumps 'em all. The proprietors exchanged tiki shtick for chic couches, posh cabanas, and a glimmering waterfall. As its name portends, the joint also serves Mexican-style nosh, but be sure to wait an hour after eating before taking a dip.
2. Dobson Ranch Metro Phoenix is an urban kayaker's dream -- if you don't mind ignoring a few posted signs and are willing to drag your 'yak a couple of yards down to the shore, that is. Case in point, the lakes of Mesa's Dobson Ranch neighborhood. These pretty little canals loop around for several miles, giving pleasant views of nice homes and cute little parks. Technically, you're doing just a teensy-weensy bit of trespassing if you paddle without permission. And since you probably don't pay HOA dues, you don't, in the strictest sense, have permission. Drop in from one of the grassy parks tucked into corner lots along the snake-shaped lakes. If someone on a pontoon boat asks what you're doing, keep paddling.
Arizona Grand Resort
The Pointe at South Mountain wasn't too shabby, but $52 mil can buy some killer upgrades and an awful lot of water. That's why the remodeled luxury hotel, now called the Arizona Grand Resort, was a shoe-in for one of our favorite pools in town. There's an eight-story tower with three water slides, a huge wave pool with waterfalls, and a faux river perfect for inner tubing. Order a frozen margarita at the swim-up bar or relax in the 25-person hot tub while the little ones play beach volleyball in the kid-friendly Wild Cat Springs. The only downside is that Oasis Park is for resort guests only, so you'll have to sneak in, splurge for a romantic local getaway, or schmooze your way into a company freebie.