Tumbleweed Recreation Center

Looking for a unique play experience for your kids? Then head to Playtopia, the newest addition to Tumbleweed Park in Chandler. Based on the region's history, Playtopia is a collection of three themed playgrounds. Your junior 4-Hers will enjoy Farmland, a huge agri-inspired play structure housed under a giant barn roof. Cityland has an urban theme and includes tot-sized streets, buses, fire trucks and playhouses. In Critterland, your kids can romp on a giant Gila monster or dig for dinosaur bones. If you're a traditionalist, don't worry: Playtopia's still got the basics, like swings, slides, picnic ramadas, and BBQs. So it's not the real thing, but it's the closest you'll get without the cow poop, road rash, or venomous biting creatures.

Chaparral Park

Valley dog parks are a grab bag, but Chaparral Park's four-acre off-leash area is a winner every time. Dogs are separated into two enormous play sections — one for "passive" pups and another for "active" ones. What this really means is that the large pit bulls and Dobermans are on one side of a fence, while teeny dachshunds and Chihuahuas are on the other. Extra details — water fountains, a double-gated entry, and shade structures — make the place canine-classy. And amazingly, even in the desert, the grass is always green. The park opens at 5:30 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. If you and your dog need a social hour, this park is one of the best.

Washington Dog Park

It may not be the most chichi dog park in town, but we're still stunned at how far people will drive just to get their pooches to this pretty northwest Phoenix park. Regulars tell us they like how well PetSmart keeps the place up, how many dogs are usually on the scene, and how the nice little amenities (drinking fountains, a separate park for little dogs, an endless supply of tennis balls) kick things up a notch. Best of all, the dog owners are a gracious little community. Even though they all seem to know each other, they are happy to welcome newcomers. While we're not about to call the place a singles hang-out, we will admit to knowing at least one woman who met her husband while watching a friend's pooch. It can happen.

Express Mie Studio

Ever hear yourself say, "I can dance and sweat all night but can't jog for 15 seconds. What's up with that?" This new dance fitness studio for women, tucked behind Trader Joe's in the Tempe Square shopping center, makes that question moot. Now you can have your dance party and burn fat, too. The folks who created this playground for ladies hit all the right notes with class names like "Yoga Booty Ballet," "I-Danced-All-Night Club Moves," "Burlesque Beauty," and "Tutu For You." From a beautiful lounge to the custom fortune cookie each participant receives after class, the entire space feels like a spa. These smart folks clearly want participants to form bonds, have fun, and feel pampered, so the workout seems almost secondary.

Express Mie also rocks the pole-dancing scene with a multiple-pole studio designed just for that "ladies sport" and a smaller intimate studio to host private parties, complete with poles, dress-up clothes, boas and a house-labeled wine. We can't wait to gather up some gal pals, step into some six-inch platforms, enjoy some liquid courage, and wrap ourselves around a pole — giggling like a schoolgirl and burning some calories in the process.

There's an art to caving in a human face or blasting someone in the package like those mixed martial arts fighters do. And thanks to the Lion's Den in Scottsdale, anyone can learn no-holds-barred sparring. UFC Hall of Fame inductee and "the world's most dangerous man" Ken Shamrock heads the dojo, where controlled muay thai sparring techniques are taught to men and women of all skill levels. World-class instructors also teach wrestling, boxing, and basically any other kickass skill out there.

For Valley members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, there's no better way to beat the midweek blues than to beat the crap out of each other with wooden swords. Every Wednesday, would-be warriors hone their battle skills on the northern and eastern ends of the baseball field at La Padera Park, charging with rattan sticks and clubbing each other. SCA members generally dress in period-approximate armor for the simulated battles, but the organization leaves their battles open to the public view — and if you can walk in heavy armor and carry a big stick, you're welcome to join the fray, too.

If your idea of polo involves a well-heeled crowd engaging in refined combat atop magnificent thoroughbreds, then you've apparently never hung out at the Dorsey Center in Tempe on a Monday night. Every week, the members of Arizona Hardcourt Bike Polo gather for an intense, two-wheeled version of the world's oldest team sport. More crusty punk than upper crust, it's the realm of tattooed and pierced participants riding battered steel steeds and using mostly DIY-style equipment (including mallets made from PVC pipe or cannibalized golf clubs) during contests at an outdoor tennis court.

The object of the game, however, is the same: Teams of three players attempt to whack a rubber ball through their opponent's goal. It's a gonzo spin-off of the traditional cycling polo (which was conjured during the 1890s in Ireland) that's been popularized by boho urban bikers during the past decade, including the local fixed-gear cyclists who founded AZHC last year. (A similar group, Phoenix Bike Polo, plays on grass at Desert Storm Park in the Arcadia neighborhood every Wednesday.)

Anyone can participate. If you want to, be sure to bring some chutzpah in addition to your Bianchi Pista, since the hard-court action gets a little hardcore, with plenty of smack-talking and the occasional collision.

There are a lot of killer bicycle rides in the Valley, but the one along Usery Pass Road is our absolute favorite, thanks to the backdrop of desert plant life unharmed by the gated communities that swallow up the land to the east and south. Plus, there are super-spacious bike lanes on each side of the windy route, so you won't feel like you're about to get steamrolled by a boat-towing pickup truck. A good and challenging way to tackle the blacktop is to head west from Red Mountain Park, 7745 East Brown Road in Mesa, then north up Power Road along the Salt River until it turns into Bush Highway before finally looping back south on Usery Pass/Ellsworth roads. If you take this 21-mile route, which gains/loses more than 1,000 feet in elevation along the way, the stretch between the 12- and 16-mile markers is the biggest leg-burner. However, once you get through that, it's a smooth coast.

South Mountain Park and Preserve

What goes up must come down — at least, that's what mountain bikers count on. The South Mountain Desert Classic Trail is not the most grueling trail in our neck of the desert, but it's close, it's scenic — and full of ups and downs. Phoenix South Mountain Park is over 16,000 acres of desert landscape overlooking downtown Phoenix to the north and urban sprawl to the south. The trail is about 18 miles long and runs along the southern face of the mountain. If you don't have a mountain bike, get one.

Don't just take our word for it — recent research suggests that spending time in nature will improve cognitive function. Scientists say the human brain has two types of attention: directed attention (which we use when we work, drive, Facebook) and involuntary attention (like that triggered by the call of a bird or the shape of rock formation). The problem is most of us are using our directed attentions past the point of fatigue. One way to restore the circuits is by taking a walk. That's why we're damn lucky to live in a city with thousands of acres of nature trails.

The best place to get away and give your brain a reboot is the 304 Loop Trail at Piestewa Peak. Just drive right on past those over-achievers at the summit trail and head all the way back to the final parking area. The walk is an easy-to-moderate loop, takes about 45 minutes, and is located right in the middle of the city. Go ahead and contemplate the cuddly appeal of Teddy Bear chollas, the migratory patterns of birds, and the new limbs growing on an octogenarian saguaro.

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