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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.
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. Coming in May 2001: a cool new pool at Arizona Avenue and Ocotillo Road featuring a "Water Vortex" that spins and sprays kids, and a "Current River" for lazy floating.
Readers' Choice for Best Free Kids' Fun: Encanto Park
But during autumn Fall Ball, kids can hunt and gather all the stitched orbs they want. The stands are rarely more than half full. Most of the crowd seems to be slow-moving retirees or the players' families and friends. Errant balls are sometimes so abundant that we've seen bigger kids sharing their many with smaller kids who have none.
And when the youngsters aren't hunting balls, they can watch the best in up-and-coming baseball talent from major league farm teams. Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra are just two of the players who've stopped here on their way to the majors, not to mention last year's best-named gamer Milton Bradley. The league has six teams, playing at five Cactus League stadiums. The season runs from October 3 through November 19.
Every bakery department in the Fred Meyer chain is now equipped with a computer program capable of reproducing your favorite photo in edible ink on completely digestible rice paper, which is then placed atop a decorated cake of your personal choosing. They can even blow up one of those wallet-size school mug shots of your child and transform it into cake covering.
And if Donner Pass-style dining on a photo of your kid's face doesn't excite you, there are always those Polaroids you've got hidden in your underwear drawer. Your crumby creation is limited only by the twistedness of your own imagination.
Readers' Choice: McDonald's
But give it a few minutes and the genius of the place catches up with its weirdness. This organ and its players are awesome, so awesome that the show is entertaining to everyone from the 3-year-old smearing pizza on his face to the 90-year-old smearing pizza on his face. Indeed, the Organ Stop and its 1927 Wurlitzer is one of the few places where the term "fun for all ages" actually applies.
That toddler will be jazzed by the funky lights, kid-friendly pizza and the enormous sound; meanwhile, your great-grandfather will just be jazzed by hearing genuine musicianship on one of the Valley's grandest instruments.
In today's fiercely pigeonholed society, it's heartening to see a pizza parlor that successfully caters to so many, ahem, slices of life.
And you won't find snowboarding or, ugh, inline skating paraphernalia. The shop has one focus, skateboarding (well, perhaps two: The motto on its tee shirts reads, "Tonight we drink, Tomorrow we ride").
Freshly reworked so it's not cluttered by racks, Sub Society has found a new aesthetic sensibility inside the front door. It's organized, with one wall of skate decks, one wall of clothing, and a corner dedicated strictly to shoes, plus the requisite couch and TV where skateboarding videos play all day.
The neatness and friendliness of the staff make it parent-friendly, as well. Most representative perhaps is the fact that there's a chess board set up next to the assembly area; these kids are thinking.
Once you get over everyone's original cliché reaction ("This place has got to be for loser geeks with nothing to do!"), you'll find an array of challenging activities of the real sort. The store welcomes children and encourages play on custom game tables -- particularly for Warhammer 40,000 and Magic: The Gathering. The rulebooks for these elaborate games are an inch thick and would confuse the heck out of most adults. But kids who can't find time for homework can nurture their reasoning skills while plotting attacks with their Warhammer 40K postapocalypse armies that they have spent hours painting in minute detail.
The Depot's extensive game selection and supplies have become legendary in the ever-evolving fantasy-game market -- sans computer.
At the greatly revamped Mesa Southwest Museum, though, all that dull old stuff is now brilliantly weaved into an epic kid-friendly tale of Arizona, a tale that spans some three billion years and includes everything from meteors and trilobites to territorial jails and the making of the movie Wyatt Earp.
The star of the museum is its new Prehistoric Wing, a 40,000-square-foot display that doubled the museum's space when it opened in May. With giant automatronic dinosaurs and a towering waterfall, the new wing keeps the kids excited and engaged as they digest lots of hard science and history.
The museum also has two galleries that host changing exhibits as well as numerous hands-on programs for kids.
The museum's hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children 3 to 12. Children under 3 are free.
Estrella Mountain Ranch
11800 South Golf Club Drive
Estrella Mountain Ranch
11800 South Golf Club Drive