Are you sick of watching your kids blasting away at video games for hours on that $5,000 computer that was supposed to be an educational device -- but is actually nothing more than an expensive joy stick? Then unplug the PC and take 'em on down to Game Depot, where an assortment of challenging games and precision models will jar your youngster out of cyberland and into tangible fantasyland.

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.

Most city history museums are a hodgepodge of stuff somebody gave them when the city's first rich white people died. No context, no narrative, no fun. Just lots of Victorian finery. The kids last maybe 30 minutes.

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.

An outdoor picnic in the dead of summer?

Hot damn!

First, pack a picnic lunch with lots of cold beverages. Then suit up the kids in their swimming gear, grab the sunscreen and head for Desert Breeze Park.

Ignore the lovely lake surrounded by trees and picnic tables. Instead, head to the children's playground area. Beneath an earthen berm/overpass/observation deck are an assortment of shaded tables. This covered passageway connects a traditional playground with a "spray pad" where three dolphins and an elephant (climbing structures the rest of the year) squirt water on a cyclical timing system from May to October. Eat, chill, eat, chill -- well, you get the idea.

Repeat process as needed through mid-October.

Got a stage-struck young'n? Can't afford the tickets to see every show in town? How does seeing them all for free sound? Downtown's busiest theater has the best volunteer program around. They are always looking for new folks willing to tear tickets and lead patrons to their seats. Volunteers as young as 12 are accepted when accompanied by an adult, which makes this a perfect family activity. After calling the volunteer hot line number above, you will go to an orientation meeting, which includes a tour of one of the biggest performance spaces in town. After that, it's a matter of signing up to work the various plays that are always happening on the two stages at the center. Give your teen a chance to see everything from Shakespeare to Wallace & Ladmo while helping Phoenix's best local theater center keep up the good work.
These sprawling, two-level facilities go into the category of "Only in America!"

You plunk down $6.50 for 20 minutes, then hang a brightly colored pad that resembles a flotation device around your chest and shoulders. Laser gun in hand, you step into a maze, try to get your bearings, and start firing at other players -- up to 30 at a time per session -- who also have you in their sights. Loud music (oddly enough, we heard classical piano blaring over the speakers one day instead of the usual thrashy stuff) helps the disorienting effect.

There are numerous nooks and crannies in which to hide -- or, if you're the aggressive type, from which to spring. It all ends in a flash, and a computer printout tells you how many humans you've shot, and how many have shot you. What a blast.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of