Yeah, we don't really like to hike, either. In fact, we're not much for any form of exercise that involves standing up. But we're easily distracted, so we can force ourselves onto the treadmill as long it involves an iPod, television, and plenty of Propel. Oh, and snacks.

But it's hard to take the TV on a hike, and our snack bag gets heavy, which is why were delighted to learn about Maricopa County's hike series, put on at parks including Estrella, Usery Park, and McDowell Mountain.

But this isn't your typical Sierra Club-style hike. There was the Elvis Memorial Hike (prizes to people — and dogs — dressed like the King), the Snake Feeding hike, and even a hike devoted to scat, where a ranger taught participants to identify different kinds of animal feces. (No shit.) That one's definite motivation to leave the iPod at home — you wouldn't want to miss a word of that tour and step in the wrong place!

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Unless you're one of those "green" parents who strap a backpack on their kid when he's 2, hiking is probably an afterthought for you and your busy clan. After all, there are scads of things to do that don't require clambering on rocks and fending off snakes — and most of those other places have bathrooms.

We have the perfect solution for 'tweeners: a day hike at Papago Park. For most Phoenicians, the park is easily reached because of its central location, and it's accessible in other ways, too. Unlike places where existing pathways govern your route, Papago has no formal marked trails, so you can wander where you please for as long (or as short) as you please. There are two regions that are especially amenable for those with younger kids: the area surrounding the landmark named Hole-in-the-Rock (use the turn-in for Phoenix Zoo) and the one located near the picnic ramada on West Park Drive (see the map at the Web site noted above).

The first, in addition to some easy trekking over mild hills, offers access to the Papago lake and all of the many child-captivating creatures who live there. The second is a flat-as-a-pancake washboard plain that provides ooh-aah views of the surrounding buttes and a bounty of wild cottontail bunnies darting in and out of the brush.

Hiking boots are not required, and — oh, did we mention that there are bathrooms?

Makutu's Island
It's a jungle in there. Multistory slides. Mazes of ocean-themed connecting tubes for scampering in. A friendly treehouse. Places to climb and jump and run. Makutu's Island is like an energy-transfer facility for loud, hyper kids. It's an especially good spot to cure the cabin fever that takes hold in the dead of summer, with 20,000 square feet of air-conditioned, indoor play opportunities.

We enjoyed squeezing through the tight bends and narrow chutes of the Pirates Den with our oldest explorer — a far better experience than the sterile plastic crawl-tubes of other kid entertainment destinations. One note of caution: Although adults are allowed just about everywhere the kids can go, we dropped down one of the big slides so fast that we were afraid of crushing whatever — or whomever — was at the bottom.

We try to make it here every third month or so. The $7 per kid and $3 per adult is on par with taking the family out to a movie, except the kids might need a nap when they get home. We know we certainly need one.

In our endless quest to find something for the kids to do that doesn't involve food or a video screen, we stumbled upon Gilbert's lovely little bird park near Greenfield and Guadalupe roads. It's a bit artificial, like all other attempts to make the desert into something it isn't, but the Riparian Preserve elicits more of a feeling of wonder in children than typical lake-based Valley parks. Instead of acres of grass surrounding the lakes, like you'll see elsewhere, we found hiking paths to explore amid dense vegetation. The bushes are only about three feet high, naturally, but the place is a jungle to kids.

The trail-weary tykes spent most of their time in a shaded sandpit, digging for dinosaur bones. (Success guaranteed; there's a permanent stockpile.) The lumpy vertebrae and other skeletal features emerge from the sand with a bit of effort, though they won't come out entirely. We sat on one of the benches surrounding the pit, watching our future paleontologists squeal with delight as they uncovered more bones. A timeless experience.

Mother Nature's Farm
This sweet little patch is all you need to satisfy fall's pumpkin-y urges. From mid-September to mid-November every year, kids of all ages stop by to peruse the Halloween crafts in the gift shop, walk the maze, ride the hay, and even — on some days — pet an alligator. Oh, yeah, and pick out that pumpkin, for the all-important annual ritual. You can take it home and carve it, or paint it right there at Brooke's pumpkin patch.
The Phoenician, Scottsdale
We've made an unspoken deal with The Phoenician. We won't ask why you call yourself The Phoenician, but have a Scottsdale address. And you won't ask what a bunch of Jews were doing at your Easter egg hunt last year.

Actually, if you must know, we were enjoying ourselves immensely! There's no better lawn in town for an egg hunt than the beautiful expanses at this well-manicured resort. Our toddlers were delighted with the enormous Elmo and Cookie Monster that roamed the grounds, the face painting, and the beautiful day in general. Best of all, we didn't have to spend hours rooting around in our own backyard for rotten eggs!

In the ever-changing, nothing-is-sacred urban landscape that is the Valley, any spot that's been around as long as Big Surf deserves a special place in our hearts. Soon after it opened in 1969 as America's first artificial wave pool, it was pictured in National Geographic for an article on Phoenix. We'll never forget the early days of burning our feet on the sand that would heat up on the hottest summer days to temperatures found only on the surface of the sun. Well, the sand's been replaced by water-filled, shallow canals that make for easy walking, and the 2-million-gallon wave pool is still there, as good as ever.

It's an impressive and relatively safe operation thanks to its purchase by Golfland Entertainment Centers Inc. a few years ago. Apart from the main attraction, there are 15 water slides and two low-key play pools for infants and toddlers, (where you can find out if those silly "swim diapers" really work as advertised). Workers do a good job managing the hordes of visitors, many of whom are unruly brats, and somehow prevent mass drownings in the wave pool, which is large and dangerous enough to deserve respect.

Big Surf can still be something of an adventure. If you don't get there early, you might not secure that crucial shady spot on the "beach." Although it claims to open at 10 a.m., the workers made us wait twice last summer in the heat for another 30 to 45 minutes before we could get in the water — not a fun thing to do with little kids. And the crack teenage staff at the door searched our bag thoroughly for food and drinks. That way, park visitors can't avoid the overpriced food counters. We had to smuggle some juice boxes in our pants pocket. Cowabunga!

Lobby Bar at Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa
There are 10 pools at the Gainey Ranch Hyatt, including a three-story water slide, whirlpools and a cold plunge, but you'll always find us on the beach. That's right, the beach. We don't know how they did it, but we're awfully glad the folks at the Hyatt found a way to import all the best parts of the beach (soft sand, clear water, plenty of deck chairs) and none of the worst ("Hey, Mom, it doesn't smell bad here like the real beach!"). Some genius designed the beach so that much of it is very shallow, perfect for lounging adults and digging toddlers, and the whole thing merges nicely into the main pool, for older diving kids. A filter keeps the sand out of the rest of the pool, and while you'll have to do a little dance on the hot sand on an August day in Scottsdale, this is one beachfront property that won't slide off a mountain into the ocean.
McDonald's
Uh, yeah, can I get a Big Mac, fries, and a master cylinder to go? Such is the scene on Saturday nights at the McCoolest fast-food joint on the planet, which, thanks to its affiliation with the Rock-and-Roll McDonald's Classic Car Show, is transformed weekly from a run-of-the-mill McD's into a swarming pit stop for buff dudes and their chicklets. The cars are supercool, but it's the people-watching that sets this show apart, as hundreds of auto geeks and party hounds wander among the rods, exotics, and lowriders, clogging traffic arteries — and their own — in their quest for a heart attack on a bun.
A Child's Joy
Little Caitlin's birthday is coming up, and she's remembering the gigantic Wild West bash you threw for her older brother a couple of months ago. She wants a fairy princess party, with pink napkins and a bouncy castle and a pony ride and a face painter dressed like Jasmine from Aladdin. Where the heck are you going to get everything together on your schedule, and within your budget?

Try A Child's Joy, which you'll think could be more aptly named A Parent's Joy after you've done business with them. This one-stop party planner has everything you might want to rent for your little darling's birthday or bar mitzvah. Inflatable slides, bouncy rooms, mechanical rides? No problem. Clowns, jugglers, face painters? Those start at a measly $120 an hour. A Child's Joy is home to enough livestock to populate several petting zoos, and their friendly party planners are ready to help you organize the best bash your kids have ever attended.

Other parents will hate you for pulling off such a cool party, so long as you don't tell them how easy it was, thanks to your new pals at A Child's Joy.

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