Best Zen Experience: The Japanese Friendship Garden
The next time you need a moment of Zen, you're welcome to join us at Ro Ho En, also known as the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix. Completed in 2000 as a symbol of the relationship between Phoenix and its sister city Himeji, Japan, this 3.5-acre "strolling garden" offers stress relief and inner calm in the form of paved paths, shade trees, stone sculptures, friendly wildlife, and a central lake.
Best Place to See a Spring Training Game: Salt River Fields
If baseball is America's pastime, then we think it's safe to say that spring training specifically is Arizona's. And while we're lucky enough to choose from a mittful of places to watch this American classic, we keep going back to Salt River Fields. Even if the complex wasn't incredibly easy to access right off the Loop 101, didn't have an abundance of parking available or a well-shaded grandstand, and didn't offer great tanning potential on the affordable lawn seating, we'd still have a soft spot for these fields.
Best Golf Course: SunRidge Canyon
In a region known for top-notch golf courses, it can be hard to choose. Don't get teed off; choose SunRidge Canyon, made famous by its challenging last six holes (the Wicked Six). Though the 71-par course is in a residential neighborhood, it doesn't feel that way, because everywhere you go on the course, you're surrounded by gorgeous panoramic views of the McDowell Mountains.
Best Water Park: Big Surf
The history behind Big Surf is nothing short of incredible. Once a pool hall featuring musical acts such as Pink Floyd and Elton John, for decades, Phoenicians have been catching waves formed from 2.5 million gallons of water. These days, Big Surf is a bona fide water park, with speeding water sides and its newest addition, the Mauna Kea Zip Line.
Best Hotel Pool: Hotel Palomar
If you want to feel hip, modern, and cool (literally), we recommend grabbing your most fashionable swimsuit and heading over to the Hotel Palomar in downtown Phoenix. Sure, other hotel pools might be larger or more tricked-out, but none are more stylish than the Palomar's rooftop escape. Between dips, you can lounge in one of the plush poolside cabanas with a delicious cocktail from Lustre Rooftop Bar, just actual steps from the edge of the pool.
Best Place to Watch the Sunset: The Top of South Mountain
If you truly want to take advantage of everything South Mountain has to offer, we suggest visiting at sunset. Whether you brave the hike or opt for the windy drive to the summit, there's no better place to let the vastness of both the park and the surrounding city overwhelm you than standing on the peak of the mountain while watching the glow of the evening golden hour wash over the Valley.
Best Place to Watch the Sunrise: Phoenix Mountains Preserve
Everybody knows that Phoenix has stunning, photo-worthy sunsets. Though fewer people rave about them, the Valley's sunrises are just as remarkable. Phoenix Mountains Preserve holds the best places to watch the sun slowly peek over the eastern horizon. And the best part is that the hikes to get to the vantage points aren't overly strenuous. Stick to the southern side of the preserve, try to get as much height as possible, and watch the Valley light up as the day begins.
Best Cactus Garden: Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights
Go ahead and call it the wedding cake. The three-tiered Tovrea Castle, visible from the Loop 202, is a Phoenix icon that beckons like a desert mirage with an outer defense of saguaro cactuses. The castle's gardens and grounds are equally exotic, filled with more than 100 species of unique desert flora, including over 5,000 cactuses.
Read on for the best desert drive, hiking trail, and group bike ride.