Do we come here for the fresh-baked muffins -- the carrot-ginger, corn-Cheddar and banana? No. Though the bakers pull the trays of treats from the oven and let them cool in a heady fog of aroma that makes us drool, we're not their customers. The real guests are dogs, here to snack on those muffins and to grocery shop for Nature's Variety foods, an all-natural line of raw foods (raw frozen bones, freeze-dried meats, dry kibble and dry roasted treats formulated to USDA standards). Yet we're not suffering -- this "Coffee Bar, Juice Bar and Dog Bar" also serves people-style raw juices, smoothies, caffeinated drinks, bagels and desserts. While Spot visits with his quadruped friends around a patio fountain centered by a bright red fire hydrant, we sip on Hair of the Dog, a stress-relieving combo of apple, carrot and ginger. It's quite the place on weekends, when pets and their owners come in from the local dog park, visiting like moms and their babies. We love In the Raw. Our dogs love In the Rawwwwr.
If you're stuck with relatives or friends in town, especially in the warmer months, it's tough to find inexpensive and "unique to Phoenix" things to do that don't include shopping. But this gem of a museum, dedicated (yes, we're serious) to the American buffalo, is nestled in the strip mall at the southeast corner of Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard. Hardly a stuffy museum, the Buffalo Museum of America is more than just paintings and drawings of buffalo (though there are many of those). We're actually not sure what the exact mission of the place is, we just really like it. There are taxidermied buffalo and wax figures of Wild West legends like Jesse James (you can take photos with them to send to family and friends who don't believe you). Glass cases house Gemmie E. Baker's amazing personal collection of Wild West memorabilia. The Buffalo Bill Room has some of Bill's personal possessions, including one of his original hunting rifles. The best part by far is the animatronic buffalo families, and the prop buffalo that co-starred with Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves. There is, of course, a gift shop, with all the usual suspects, but this is a place you won't get tired of going to, if nothing else just to watch your friends experience it for the first time.

Readers' Choice for Best Tourist Trap: Rawhide Western Town

Hooters
Breast-feeding jokes aside, Hooters is a great place to bring the kids.

On Saturdays, children under 12 eat free all day, from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. (on a kid-per-adult ratio). And every day of the week, youngsters are greeted with balloons, crayons and gifts -- like a Hooters cup, beads or a Frisbee. The offer's good at all Valley locations, but we prefer the Ahwatukee Hooters, where the management refuses to show kid-unfriendly pay-per-view boxing and other rough-and-tumble television.

No worries. There's good scenery elsewhere at this establishment. Just keep the kiddies away from the hot wings.

Readers' Choice: McDonald's

Attention, parents. If you're looking to blow that $400 tax credit from George W., head over to This Little Piggy Wears Cotton.

For infants, we're partial to the Fattamano layettes. There's a full line of Baby Lulu dresses and onesies -- with wonderful hats to accessorize -- for the girls, and Lucky jeans for the boys. We also love the Piggy Brand line of comfy cotton dresses, pants, tees and pajamas -- bright, simple colors and fun patterns, just right for playing and snoozing.

If you've got a few pennies left over, the store also features fun, hard-to-find toys, and our very favorite baby-product-for-Mom, a full line of diaper bags by Petunia Pickle Bottom.

Great Arizona Puppet Theater
Established in 1983, this theater is housed in a beautiful, renovated downtown church. With a repertoire of more than 50 different fairy tales and original puppet plays, the Great Arizona Puppet Theater tours throughout the state, performing shows and teaching workshops for kids and teachers. The troupe serves more than 400 schools and preschools in the state, and offers private parties for groups and birthdays.

We love the theater because of the amazing skills of the puppeteers. Each puppet is meticulously created and manipulated to be incredibly animated and lifelike, often to the point of making us forget that they aren't moving on their own. Our favorite is the Peter Pan series -- the Peter puppet is just about the coolest thing we've ever seen on strings. Yeah, the kids love it, but you'll enjoy it as much as they do.

The theater's on-site gift shop offers a selection of puppets from complicated to simple, as well as how-to videos and books -- in case you get the puppet bug yourself.

The Phoenician, Scottsdale
So you need to get away from it all, but you're not quite ready to leave the newborn home with a sitter? Escape to the Phoenician.

Bring the baby along, but don't bother to take the diaper bag. In your room, you'll find a mini-bar stocked with milk, juice and zwieback crackers, and a crib with a diaper pail filled with essentials like wet wipes and non-essentials like stuffed plush rattlesnakes, coyotes and other animals reminiscent of the Sonoran Desert. The staff will attach an infant bathtub to the room's marble tub, and they'll spell out your baby's name in colorful sponge letters.

Need a jogging stroller? No problem. A portable playpen? You got it. Leave your room and baby can frolic on the playground, which includes a sandbox, jungle gym and picnic tables. Or feed the ducks and koi in the 11 million gallon Necklace Lake.

Leave the jars of Gerber spinach at home, too. The Phoenician's chefs will create a low-fat, high-vitamin menu based on your child's age and personal tastes.

You and baby will never want to leave.

What better place to buy a baby gift -- heck, any gift -- than from the comfort of your own computer chair? We tracked down the ladies at 2littlemonkeys.com after a friend sent us a box of velvet-trimmed burp clothes to celebrate a new arrival. Turns out they're right here in the Valley, running one of the best baby Web sites we've seen. We drooled over the selection of blankies -- including the pastel velvet patchwork number -- and fell in love with brands like Little Giraffe, Icky Products (great splat mats!) and Pashmina Baby. Your loved ones and their bundles of joy will adore the Blue Moon and Babycakes Moses baskets and the personalized birth announcement rugs.

If you're not a Web surfer, call the folks at2littlemonkeys.com and they'll set you up with a private viewing in their Scottsdale showroom. Now that's what we call service!

Since opening 10 years ago, this toy box has gone from run-of-the-mill geek (Star Wars figurines) to frighteningly specific freak (a 12-inch plastic YS German Anti-Tank Rifle Panzerbchse 39). Combat keepsakes range from historical (Civil War Brotherhood of Arms infantry outfits come in Wisconsin, Georgia, Carolina and Pennsylvania versions) to hysterical (the 21st Century "Armed Terrorist" action figure is deemed appropriate for ages 5 and up). Immortalizing TV heroes from Colonel Klink to Disco Stu, the store boasts a strong retro element (The Lone Ranger, Planet of the Apes, The Twilight Zone), plus plenty of campy charm (autographed Alice Cooper dolls and Monty Python toys). And its collection of matinee idols is truly terrifying: Boris Karloff as The Mummy, a Psycho Anthony Perkins, Charlie Sheen in Platoon, Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands. Valley of the dolls, indeed.

Kids who kick academic butt can learn to kick literal butt -- on the house -- thanks to this martial arts school's Self-Defense for Grades program. Any honor roll student from any Valley school can cash in that stellar report card for a free month of martial arts lessons -- just call and schedule the first session. This program could cause a significant shift in the ages-old schoolyard dynamic -- who'll be taking whose lunch money? Of course, as the dojo's Jerry Laurita points out, martial arts training isn't merely physical. "The martial arts aren't just about self-defense. The ultimate self-defense is to have a positive mental attitude and self-discipline. Keeping up good grades is a huge first step."

CrackerJax
Just because you're not a parent doesn't mean you don't ever have to entertain little ones. And if you're not used to it, you can go from normal, well-adjusted adult to crazy person with PTSD in about 30 minutes. In that case, a place like CrackerJax is Mecca.

Even if you are used to the supercharged energy of your average under-five-footer, it's nice to get a break every now and again. There are so many things to do in this place, even super-hyperactive kids (or parents or friends of parents) aren't going to get bored for at least an hour or two. The amusement park is 27 acres of bumper boats, pretty serious mini-golf, driving ranges, go-carts, kiddy go-carts, video games (where if you win a thousand little tickets you can buy a plastic parachuting soldier or a Chinese finger trap), batting cages (our personal favorite), volleyball and, of course, food. The staff even plans birthday parties. It's child caretaker heaven -- you never have to leave, except when it closes.

Readers' Choice for Best Kids' Fun at a Price Spot: Castles-n-Coasters

Readers' Choice for Best Kids' Free Fun Spot: Tempe Town Lake

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of