BEST PLACE TO RUB YOUR PARTNER THE RIGHT WAY 2006 | Dolce Salon & Spa | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Looking for an alternative to the standard movie-and-dinner date night? Dolce Salon & Spa in Chandler offers a couples' massage class one Wednesday night a month. It is a gift that can keep on giving. After registering at the front desk, couples are escorted into a mirrored room filled with mattress pads and pillows. Keeping shorts and loose shirts on, the couples are instructed in five basic massage strokes. First the women work over the men starting with a gentle massage of the temples, down the side of the neck and to the shoulders. Arms, legs and feet are next. The men turn over while the women knead their backs and back of the legs. It isn't as easy as it looks, and we quickly worked up a sweat trying to loosen our partner's muscle knots. After a break and refreshments, the men massage the ladies. We nearly fell asleep as our partner pushed on the pressure points of our feet. The class runs nearly three hours and costs $50 per couple. Each couple leaves with a gift bag filled with a votive candle and holder, chocolates, custom-blended massage oil, and a $25 gift certificate to use for future spa services or products.
Landscaped rocks and cascading waterfalls are the hallmarks of any good resort pool, but The Buttes sets itself apart with the best poolside bar in the area. The aptly named Thirsty Cactus dishes quick bites, burgers, and ice-cold cocktails, so you won't have to leave the comfort of the warm water to grab another margarita. The pool itself is a snaking river with craggy rock formations and native plants lining the shore. The small pocket of air behind the crystal-clear waterfall is a perfect spot to steal a kiss, while the slide is popular with kids on summer break. There are also four secluded hot tubs hidden on the mountainside. You could almost picture yourself in the midst of a tropical island getaway, if it weren't for the bright streetlights and sounds of the nearby I-10 freeway and Tempe Diablo Stadium. Our suggestion? Down a couple of those frosty poolside margs, and the twinkling city lights will look like stars in no time.
City anglers can get their daily fix of aquatic sport during year-round urban fishing at Red Mountain Park. The eight-acre oasis features two fishing docks and waters stocked every two weeks from September through July with hybrid sunfish, largemouth bass, carp, white amur, and tilapia. The 17-foot-deep lake is also stockpiled with rainbow trout during the winter months and channel catfish in the spring and fall. If the fish aren't biting, explore the 1,146-acre park featuring four basketball courts, walking trails, volleyball courts, soccer fields, shade-providing ramadas, or the adjacent Red Mountain Multigenerational Center. A class U Urban Fishing License costs $16, or a one-day pass costs $12.50, and the park is open from dusk to dawn. Go fish.
The best thing about the view from the top of South Mountain is that you don't have to be a super jock to get there: There's a road that will get you all the way to the summit without one ounce of exertion. (Well, your car will be working it; you won't.) And once there, what a sight: After getting this bird's-eye view, "the Valley" label suddenly makes sense as does some plan for slowing, if not stopping, development. You've never seen sprawl until you've seen it from 2,200 feet. Wait 'til sunset. Bright lights, big city.
If you really want to impress your date, give her the world. Sail over the beautiful mountains, enjoying breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views of untouched desert wilderness. Hot Air Expeditions offers the tour du jour of balloon rides. You and your date snuggle in the basket as a trained pilot hovers at 400 feet, pointing out clusters of desert flowers or a jackrabbit bounding along below. The balloon rises and falls to offer different views, but you barely feel any motion, since you're literally riding on the wind. The red carpet is rolled out for your arrival, leading to champagne and a catered luncheon prepared by legendary chef Vincent Guerithault of Vincent's on Camelback. Now, we're told that ballooning is the safest form of air travel, and ground crews follow the balloon's path from takeoff to landing. But we're not going to tell you that this date won't be without its safety risks. As for the actual date itself, nothing's guaranteed, but all we can say is if a nice dinner counts as foreplay, heaven only knows what awaits you in the bedroom.
Usually, asking your companion to "go bareback" on a date would warrant a slap in the face, but not this time. Ponderosa Stables offers a unique trail ride that includes a hearty meal at the T-Bone Steakhouse. Riders depart from the stables with a guide and take an hourlong ride down the mountain at sunset. It's a quiet journey no cars or city sounds, just the chirping of crickets and coyotes howling under a hazy purple sky brushed with hints of crimson and ginger. Even when there are other riders, it's easy to slow down a moment and steal a kiss under the stars. After the downhill trek, hitch your pony to the post and enjoy a moist top sirloin, or, if the ride's made you exceptionally hungry, the massive 32-ounce porterhouse. Be forewarned: Inexperienced riders may end up with a raw hide by the end of the date. Then again, if you're lucky, maybe your date will let you kiss it and make it better.
A traditional Japanese garden that can survive the Land of the Blazing Sun? Believe it. Heck, they even managed to get moss to grow here, in a shady patch near the authentic tea house. Phoenix might have parched riverbeds, but inside this tranquil downtown oasis, there's a waterfall, a flowing stream, and a huge, koi-filled pond dotted with bright green lily pads. Granted, the water features are all manmade, yet they're also an utterly Japanese take on natural beauty, kind of like the precisely placed rocks (1,500 tons of 'em, all hand-picked by visiting experts from our sister city of Himeji, Japan) and sculptural, exquisitely pruned trees found throughout the garden. And it all suits Mother Nature just fine, from the looks of the ducks contentedly paddling across the water, and the dragonflies busily zipping past thickets of leafy bamboo. Seeing how Ro Ho En is right in the heart of the city (on the southern end of Margaret T. Hance Park), we're still shocked that this secret is so well-kept but not for long, we suspect.
Over the years, we've honored Desert Botanical Garden as the Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner, but really, we think you should stop by, too. Check out the Web site, and visit the Marshall Pavilion, where butterflies roam twice a year; take a gardening class; or come for a festival (there's a great Day of the Dead one, at the end of October each year). Or simply come on a random weekday, when foot traffic is light and the garden is at its best in full sunlight, showing off colors you never knew existed in nature; not around here, at least.

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