BEST PLACE TO DITCH THE PARENTS 2004 | Teen Central | People & Places | Phoenix
The 5,000-square-foot refuge sectioned off on the fourth floor of the Phoenix Public Library's main branch is revered by the community as a safe haven for teens, and loved by teens because someone has actually been able to create a safe setting that's not too dorky to attract the kids. Staffed by an average of five librarians specially trained to deal with teen issues, and stacked with resources to help teens cope with everything from peer pressure and pregnancy to that looming book report on The Odyssey, Teen Central has earned its reputation as a sanctuary for teens.

In fact, about the only place around TC where young people have to deal with the weirdness of the adult world is at the entrance, where older relatives sometimes hang out like the reverse version of underage kids outside the liquor store, bribing 14-year-olds to pick up that latest Sigur Rs CD from the section's 5,000-plus collection of new and recent releases -- the most current selection in town. It's no wonder the oldsters lurk jealously outside the door: Teen Central is like the dream library denied to all previous generations, outfitted with a cozy crash space surrounded by magazines and vending machines, nearly two dozen Internet-wired PCs blaring music videos and games, a wide-screen TV hosting twice-daily movie matinees, and even a small dance floor.

Best of all: In Teen Central, no one ever tells you to "shush."

One too many Happy Meals making you grumpy? Take the tots to Sabuddy's Israeli Restaurant in Tempe. You won't find toys or crayons here, although you're welcome to bring your own, but you will find a genuinely friendly, locally owned restaurant with a varied, reasonably priced menu. Kid favorites include labne (a rich, cream-cheesy spread), hummus, and thick homemade lentil soup. More adventurous kids can try the crunchy, fragrant falafel; for the truly picky, won't-eat-anything child, there's always a nice stack of warm pita bread. Best of all, the clientele, like the owner, leans to the mellow, international side -- you'll see students, academics and young families, and you'll hear a lot of foreign accents. If your child decides not to use her inside voice or stay glued to her seat, this is the kind of place where you're more likely to get a knowing smile than a dirty look. All of which helps stressed-out, hungry parents recollect the "rest" in "restaurant."

Readers' Choice: Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza

There's nothing Mickey Mouse about this little amusement park, but be warned that it's only open on weekends (with a few exceptions). The place looks smaller than we remember it from our youth, but to our kids, it's huge. Either way, Kiddieland has all the prerequisites for a morning of fun: carousel, train, face painting, rides. Bring a picnic lunch to eat in the park, or buy from the traditional concession stand.

We love this carnival in the middle of the city -- and we bet you and your kids will, too.


Summer Movie Fun for Kids

Summer in Phoenix can be hard on kids -- and even harder on mom and dad. Here's a bargain you can't beat, that'll let you beat the heat, at least for a little while. Harkins Theatres sponsors a summer movie series of 10 "family films," one a week, for a total of $7 per person. We couldn't believe our luck when we stumbled on this, and one morning a week, all summer long, we kicked back in the dark while junior munched popcorn (Harkins sells a kid-friendly snack pack) and enjoyed the show -- particularly when it was Shrek. (Not Shrek 2; these are all older releases.) As you might guess, the passes go fast, so make sure you grab yours when summer rolls around again.
Timur Guseynov
There's a ridiculously catchy children's song that goes, "M-O-M-M-Y needs C-O-F-F-E-E, D-A-D-D-Y needs C-O-F-F-E-E," and once you've heard it, you will find yourself singing it -- especially on those mornings when you have stayed up too late the night before working (or drinking) and your kid decides to greet the day at dawn. On those mornings, or any other time you require refueling, you should take yourself -- and your offspring -- directly to Mama Java's Coffee House. Mama Java's is a coffee house in the traditional, down-to-earth mold: The baristas are welcoming but not in-your-face friendly, the couches are comfortable, and the walls are lined with shelves of books that aren't just there because somebody at corporate HQ decided books look "authentic." You can get a nice cup of coffee or a properly brewed mug of tea, and a little nosh to go with. Junior can sip on milk, chew a bagel and loll on the couch for a few peaceful moments. You might even get a chance to take one of those books off the shelves . . . And be sure to check out Mama's musical events, perfect for kids or, better yet, for a night you score a sitter.

Half wired coffee house and half gaming center, the eJoy Cafe, housed in what used to be a Bank of America branch just off Mill Avenue, is far from the most serious fragging spot in town. The twentysomething ASU students serving up espresso and scones in the front room are often clueless about fixing the poorly maintained PCs running the memory-intensive games in the back (recently, a bored hacker managed to install software at every station that allows anyone with the similar program at home to control the computers remotely). And heaven help the gamer who needs an extra copy of the Diablo II Expansion CD to load the game. But at only $10 a day -- five bucks for kids under what the staff guesses to be 18 -- it's the only place in town where you can play Warcraft, Counter-Strike, BattleField 1942 or The Sims Online 'til 2 a.m. on the weekends for less than a case of Red Bull. If you can take the heat in the Vault, an actual converted bank vault where headphones are optional (as long as you close the hefty steel door), up to eight of your closest enemies can wage their own private war. Fire in the hole!

Hook some new kids on the Bach. Through its series of concerts for children ages 6 to 12, the Phoenix Symphony reels in little listeners with familiar music, dynamic guest artists and interactive learning. An hour of free preconcert activities -- including the "instrument petting zoo" -- sets the stage for each show; with the ever-engaging associate conductor Bob Moody at the podium, the concerts explore themes like time travel, dancing and outer space. This season's series takes the stage October 9, beginning a four-Saturday series when "Magical Musical Mystery!" melds music from Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings with magic by local tricksters Matt Lemm & Emily. And high culture doesn't carry a high price: Ticket packages offer admission to all four concerts for as little as $30.

We'll do almost anything for a dollar -- or to save one. Like recently, our relentless pursuit for bargains galore brought us to this weekly commercialism commotion sprawled across the parking lot of the Phoenix Greyhound Park for -- among other things -- toiletries and socks offered at cut-rate prices. The little one has also joined us, and his attention is quickly riveted to blue tarps laden with bootleg toys.

There are knockoffs of all shapes and sizes: classic Transformers gestalts, unusually colored Power Ranger Megazords, Gundam Wing robots, and Robotech Valkyrie jets, ready to be drafted for a living-room war against GI Joe and the Rebel Alliance. Gentle hands are required, as some of the Chinese imports are made from such shoddy plastic that they'd shatter if you looked at them incorrectly. And someone should have considered running a spell-checker before exporting these goods, as multi-packs of "Spader-Man" and "Dragoon Ball Z" action figures (complete with bastardized graphics) look a little off.

We give the young'un $20 to buy the "Power Player Super Joystick," which promises thousands of classic NES games built into a Nintendo 64 control pad and wicked-looking Sig Sauer-esque light gun to boot. It's a sturdier substitute to toys that could potentially transform from robot to implement of impalement in the blink of an eye.

On the way to the parking lot, our now-joyful charge sings "Spader-Man, Spader-Man, no one fixes pets like a spader can."

Curious kids can go to town at the Arizona Museum for Youth, where ArtVille -- "Arizona's newest planned community" -- was founded this spring. Built on a "town philosophy of artistic exploration," the permanent exhibition is among the few spaces in the U.S. aiming to introduce babies and toddlers to fine art. "Art" serves as mayor of the 2,500-square-foot "hotspot for tots," where the median age is 2.5 years -- and where points of civic pride include a kiddy cafe, changing art displays, weekly activities and seasonal celebrations. Kids 5 and younger can take classes at the art studio, catch puppet shows at the performing arts center, explore the cushy Tot Town Square crawl space, and get back to nature at the tempera lake and fishing pier in Art's Park.

Grown-ups, however, have to watch their steps: Adults are required, by law, to be accompanied by a child while inside the town limits.

This little shop -- which also features a design center -- is a treasure trove for the new mom, particularly if someone else is buying. We fell in love with a feather boa-ed pig and a perfect pink ballet costume, and the selection for boys is just as precious. In case anyone is wondering, our personal favorite is the tiny red-and-pink bowling shirt, with Princess embroidered on the chest.

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