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 Well, the sand's been replaced by water-filled, shallow canals that make for easy walking, and the 2-million-gallon wave pool is still there, as good as ever.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.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
In the 2006 movie Keeping Up With the Steins, parents compete to see who can throw their kid the most obscenely lavish party. One bash is on an ocean liner; another is at Dodger Stadium — the whole stadium. We don't know about you, but we miss the good ol' days when a birthday party consisted of a store-bought cake, a few presents, and an on-your-merry-way.

If you're looking for something between a ride in the space shuttle and a shrug of acknowledgment, call up the good folks at McCormick-Stillman. In addition to having the best play area in the Valley, the Railroad Park offers a square deal on parties that both your kid and your wallet will appreciate. The nice price — $57 plus $3 per child guest — includes the use of a covered ramada, various games facilitated by two "recreation leaders," free rides on the Paradise & Pacific Railroad and the Charros Carousel, a Railroad Park T-shirt and paper engineer hat, ice cream, and punch. All you bring is the cake and the kid. See? That was easy.

BEST PLACE TO THROW A BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR YOUR DOG

In the Raw

In The Raw
It's believed that one year for humans equals about seven in dog years. So it stands to reason that every time your pooch celebrates a birthday, you'll wanna pack septuple the amount of fun and frolicking into their party. The folks at In the Raw can help with that, as both locations of this holistically inclined juice bar/coffee bar/dog bar provide some pretty posh party options for feting Fido's anniversary of existence. The basic package starts at $6 per pup (with a minimum of five dogs in attendance) and offers a specialty menu of gourmet canine treats — featuring hors d'oeuvres of smoked lamb roll on potato and duck crackers, as well as tasty "pup-cakes" baked goods — with the higher-end alternatives (which costs $8.50 or $10 per pooch) also including such options as treat bags for guests, a gift for the birthday bowser, balloons, and party favors. Your four-legged friend might need a little help blowing out his candles, however.
Rose Mofford Sports Complex
Legendary theologian and orator Henry Ward Beecher once described the canine as "the god of frolic," and, doggone it, we can definitely agree with the 19th century holy man, particularly whenever our pups are romping around the 2 1/2 acre dog park located in the southernmost section of the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in North Phoenix. Once they get free of the leash, our hounds start acting like its Growls Gone Wild, cavorting around and getting some splendor in the grass in one of the two fenced-off areas (for either small or large dogs), showing off their high-pro glow, playing with some of the tennis balls and other doggy toys lying about, or lapping up water at the doggy drinking fountain. Meanwhile, we're kicking it on a bench or underneath one of the numerous shade trees, hanging with folks like 72-year-old Fred Corzilius, who visits the park six days a week with his energetic golden retriever/terrier mix Ginger.

"I live in an apartment and it's great to have a place she can run around at," says Corzilius. "The park is a god-send." We're sure Rev. Beecher would agree, Fred.

Goodyear Dog Park
The gorgeous high-desert terrain of the Estrella Mountains provides a breathtaking backdrop to the kidney-shaped Goodyear Dog Park, giving owners something else to stare at besides endless butt-sniffing and piles of poop. In between spells of spying the scenery, you can let Scruffy socialize and exercise in either of the two separate areas for passive and active dogs, or get him some liquid refreshment at any of the drinking fountains scattered throughout the West Valley Fido fortress.

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