You bought that mountain bike with dreams of tackling South Mountain or the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, but then you discovered something mountain biking can be a lot harder than pushing the old steed down a sidewalk. Perhaps you'll be in shape someday to grind up gravel-ridden slopes and rocket down luge-run trails like the big boys and girls. In the meantime, there's Papago Park. Go ahead, pump up the tires and clean the cobwebs out of the spokes. Papago Park is centrally located and won't cost you a cent to enjoy. Most of the trails are gentle up-and-downs that will only trouble the klutziest of children or adults. If you can ride a bike, you can probably mountain bike at Papago. Yet for all its friendliness to novices, it offers many of the same pleasures as any other mountain bike ride gorgeous views of rising crags, quietude, and the occasional glimpse of wildlife, mostly coyotes, lizards or rabbits. The best place to access Papago for bike riding is off Galvin Parkway. Instead of going east to the Phoenix Zoo, take the entrance road just opposite into a parking area. Trails from there run all over the park, and it's not easy to get lost. Better hurry out there, though civic leaders have grand designs to develop the park in the future, and the long series of interconnected trails that are great for biking someday could be blocked by a hotel or retail shops. For now, your path to biking fun awaits.
The Valley has more kick-ass mountain bike trails than you can throw a broken chain at, but nothing beats Pemberton for continuous one-way rough-riding pleasure. In fact, since the few equestrians at McDowell Mountain Park are well spread out, and hikers rare, this trail transforms a land area the size of Fountain Hills into your own personal mountain bike heaven. On many days, especially if it's the slightest bit warm out, we've had the entire loop, and seemingly every hill, rock, cholla cactus and collared lizard within it, to our smug little selves. The park also has two wonderful, mountain-bike-only competitive tracks. But even without as much of the coveted single-track trail per mile, Pemberton is every bit as fun as the comp tracks and there's 15 miles of it. Bike clockwise for a breezy, long descent on the back part of the loop; counterclockwise if you want a shorter, rockier downhill ride. Either way, it's a blast for beginners to experts, and the ever-changing scenery just rolls on and on. Pemberton will probably take you a couple of hours even if you're pretty fast. So be sure to take water with you, even in cooler temps. It's a big 'un.
Every Wednesday over at the quaint and centrally located Desert Storm Park polo grounds, bicycle maniacs test their mettle during lightning-paced warfare on two wheels. Similar to the traditional yuppified fare, sans the prohibitive price tag, bicycle polo is actually an old sport that's been revitalized in recent years. Its birthplace is believed to be India about a hundred years ago when British troops used bicycles to hone their equestrian polo skills. The urbanized non-equine variety features two teams of coed-friendly riders slugging it out on a 100-by-60-yard grass field with the simple objective of outscoring the opponent. Admission is free, and mallets are provided. All you need is a bike and a healthy pair of lungs. A helmet is a good idea, too.
With its otherworldly sandstone buttes, Papago Park has anchored the city of Phoenix park system since 1959. Papago's trails are generally easy treks with little elevation gain, making it a great place for a family hike or to hone your mountain-biking skills. The park covers 1,200 acres and has numerous picnic sites with ramadas, tables, grills, water and electricity. The park also contains fishing lagoons and bike paths as well as the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Desert Botanical Garden, a fire museum, and the challenging Papago Golf Course. Two of east Phoenix's best-known landmarks are in the park: Hole-in-the-Rock, a natural geologic formation; and Hunt's Tomb, a white pyramid burial place of Arizona's first governor. The park shares a border with Tempe's Town Lake, where you can ply your sailing skills on the river or bike and hike around the lake's perimeter. The Town Lake hosts events ranging from rock shows to national beach volleyball competitions as well as amazing fireworks shows on the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve. Central Park, move over!
The fine art of hanging out at the park seems lost on a lot of Valley residents, and we guess we understand why it's hot (duh), and many parks in these parts are just small patches of dying grass with some busted old swings and a concrete table thrown in for good measure. Luckily, we've got Kiwanis Park, 125 acres of green grass, hills, shade there's even a lake with paddle boats if you're feeling masochistic (admit it, those things are never fun). But amenities aside, the place is always packed on the weekend with pickup games of soccer that go late into the evening. Even with the large crowds Kiwanis draws, it never gets too loud or rowdy and is the perfect place to barbecue with young kids or a big family. Or come alone you might just make some friends.


Benedict Park

When the operators of Tempe Diablo Stadium decided to limit all of their auxiliary fields to baseball only, they left the future of the local ultimate scene up in the air like a flicking forehand flying disc toss. Thank goodness for the Frisbee backers at Valley of the Sun Ultimate, who rallied to find a new home at Tempe's Benedict Park. Not a bad pick. The park boasts 20 acres of open fields for perfect huckin' action. The fast-paced and exciting non-contact team sport fuses together the speed of football, the strategy of soccer, and the quick transitional aspects of basketball into a fascinating game on grass. Free and open public play takes place before league matches on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. The games are coed-friendly, and all skill levels are welcome, so catch, clog, and cut your way on down.
For the second time in five years, an Arizona team has advanced from the Western Regionals to the Little League World Series by rolling over the once invincible California squads. Last time, it was Chandler National. This time, Ahwatukee, which comes out of the same district as Chandler National. For anyone who has taken a small Arizona team over to play a giant California team, in any sport, the sight of the relatively tiny Ahwatukee boys taking it to the bigger and cockier Southern California and Northern California teams in the Western Regionals was a delight. The main force behind the win: Shaun Chase. Besides keeping batters at bay with his pitching, Chase did what only one other Arizona kid has ever done in regional or World Series play hit three home runs in one game. It's that kind of clutch play that has Arizona baseball rising as a force in national tournaments. (At the same time, Arizona's Connie Mack team, the Firebirds, was off winning the Connie Mack World Series.) Chase's finest moment, though, actually was a blunder. As he came around third base after his first home run, Chase tripped on the base and fell awkwardly to the ground. On national TV. But the kid got back up, smiled an embarrassed smile, took the jabs of his teammates in stride and then came back to win the game pitching and hit two more home runs. For a moment, he just looked like an awkward little kid. Which we can too easily forget, with all the hoopla around Little League these days, is exactly what every one of these players is.
Here at Best of Phoenix, there are some things we don't want to recommend. We're not going to tell you where to get a boob job, or what dentist to go to (although we really do love our dentist), or even what vet to send your pet to. We're just a little nervous. We don't want to have to feel guilty because you wound up with your lumpy boobs. So we also won't tell you where to take your little tyke for swimming lessons. Far be it from us to dispense such precious advice, given the whole kid-drowning thing. But one thing we do feel comfortable telling you: If you want to see the best reenactment of the Olympic medal ceremony, head straight for the Arizona outpost of SWIMkids USA. We saw it dozens of times this summer, but we never failed to chuckle (except when it was our own tyke, at which point we must admit we shed a tear or two) when the swimmer of the moment having completed the requirements for a particular level climbed the plywood stairs of the red, white and blue platform to take his or her place in front of the Plexiglassed-over shiny blue streamers. "May I have everyone's attention, please!" the manager yells. "Annabelle has just completed intermediate swimming! Let's give her a round of applause!" Everyone claps, and the manager hits the button on a boom box, which begins to play the Olympic theme. Annabelle stands, proud, while the manager hangs a medal around her neck and takes a picture. On weeks the kid doesn't advance (and it doesn't happen every week), no one minds if she climbs the steps and pretends, stealing a little more glory. We've never felt more patriotic.
With the NASCAR craze in full flower, what better way to make big-time points with your young man than hiring out a racing-themed limousine for the evening? This typical stretch limo becomes an extra-long racing stock car, numbered, painted in multi-colors and raring to ride. The spacious interior is complete with a PlayStation, DVD player, flat-screen monitor, comfy seats and a fridge. The cost? $70 an hour, with a three-hour minimum, plus an obligatory tip. And if you don't want to spend that much on the little one and his pals (the car fits eight adults comfortably), then think of it as a cool opportunity to avoid a detour to the county jail on a drunken-driving charge after that special party, graduation, or sporting event.
Sometimes, you just gotta let a little girl be a little girl. Or a little girl pretending to be a big girl. That's why we're so glad we found Tea Cups & Tiaras. After months of hearing horror stories about over-the-top tea parties with gift registries and spa pedicures, we landed on an appropriate, classic birthday party for our little lady: a bona fide tea party, complete with pink lemonade in a tea pot, crustless PB&J sandwiches, and sliced fruit arranged as daintily as you'd find at a high tea at a fine resort but for far less money. With a standard tea, the girls were also given hats and boas to wear for the duration, but the real draw is just beyond the tea room at this homey spot (where we spotted some grown-up girls enjoying tea on their own), in the party room. There, a vanity table is packed with costumes full dresses, hats, gloves, shoes. Our birthday girl just turned 5, but she's already planning her 6th birthday party at Tea Cups & Tiaras and we'll be happy to grant her wish.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of