Royal Palms Resort and Spa
The lush setting of this boutique resort can make you forget, even if only for a moment, that you are still in Phoenix. The 119-room resort sits against beautiful Camelback Mountain in the shadow of the overly extravagant Phoenician. The laid-back resort and spa is all about luxury and customer service — the staff is noted for being extremely friendly and helpful without being pretentious or overbearing. Once you settle into your private retreat off the vintage 1929 building, it's going to be difficult to leave. Each room is dripping with class and boasts some of the most comfortable beds in the metro Phoenix area. Muster up the strength to leave your room for a stroll around the meticulously maintained grounds or a glass of wine in the courtyard.
The Clarendon Hotel
If you're just looking to swim in some treated water, any hotel pool in the Valley will do. But if you're looking for a bona fide swimming experience — complete with multi-sensory special effects — then the Clarendon's pool is the only place to go. This boutique hotel's got the most impressive pool area in town, "The Oasis." In addition to being a work of art, complete with a 20-foot-tall glass water wall and a Sicis Italian mural with platinum and gold accents, the pool is state of the art. It features underwater speakers, water jet massagers, a jacuzzi that accommodates more than 50 people, and bubbling fountains. At night, the pool looks particularly majestic, as nearly a thousand stars become illuminated on the pool bottom. If that doesn't sound hedonistic enough for you, there's also a bar inside that serves fine wine and offers free Wi-Fi, so you can surf the Net for naughty pictures. But we have a feeling that the pool will get your undivided attention.
Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa
Ron and Nancy Reagan honeymooned there. Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas" by the pool. John McCain and Sarah Palin chose the Arizona Biltmore as the spot to concede the 2010 presidential race. Now you can stay there, too. No, really. We know what you're thinking: The Biltmore's way too pricey. But come summertime, the place empties out like nobody's business — and that's when the Biltmore wants yours. So make a reservation, pack a bag, and point the family station wagon straight to paradise. The rooms are big, the halls are wide, and the place is empty, so no one cares if your kids gallumph all over the place. A complex of several pools — with, most important, poolside cocktail service and even a swim-up bar for the grownups — features a stomach-churning slide and plenty of space to float. Best of all, the stars come out and a screen goes up at night, and the kids can float in the hotel's giant inner tubes and watch movies while you veg out on chaise lounges. In the morning, the kids can romp on the super-green grass while you grab coffee and pastries or something fancier. Go ahead — you deserve it.
Gila River Casino - Wild Horse Pass
You could go to any casino to gamble, really — a slot machine's a slot machine, right? That may be true, but Wild Horse Pass offers a lot more than just roulette wheels and card tables. In addition to keeping its slots up to date with the latest models from companies like IGT and Aristocrat, Wild Horse has 25 poker tables, 46 blackjack tables in five pits, and more than 30 big-screen TVs (for those who like to be distracted with televised sports and such). And if gambling's not your bag, the live entertainment offered at the casino's Ovations LIVE! Showroom is pretty impressive, too: Just this year, it's hosted shows by America; Blood, Sweat, and Tears; The Turtles; and Kenny Loggins. Throw in promotions like Ladies' Night (Thursdays), prizes for liking the casino on Facebook, and redeeming Player's Club points for gas cards, and you've got a real winner.
Arizona has many special places, but we hold a special spot for this onetime copper-mining town turned tourist attraction that sits northeast of Prescott up the big hill from the Valley of the Sun. Our favorites in the quaint little town include the Asylum Restaurant, which is perched above the main drag and offers one of the best wine lists in the state, if that's your thing. Artisans peddle their wares on the street, eager to make a deal. Dozens of top-drawer artists show their stuff in more established venues (known as galleries). World-class glassblower Tracy Wiesel demonstrates his mastery in his studio directly behind the gorgeous Raku Gallery, which he and his wife, Nancy, own and operate. Wiesel is as quirky as the town itself — he's a former traveling salesman who still knows how to pitch with the best of 'em. We watched him create a colorful wine glass one day and returned the next morning to purchase it. Fun! Oh, and Jerome's average high temperature in July is about 90 degrees. Need we say more?
Drive along the Apache Trail to view one of the most scenic drives in the Phoenix area. For your out-of-town guests, this is a snapshot of desert living — without having to get out of the car. This trail offers visitors a view of canyons, geologic formations, desert plants, trees, flowers, the occasional critter, desert, and lake views. If your guests care to step out of the car, there are many enticing stops along the way, including museums, restaurants, ghost towns, lakes, and Roosevelt Dam. Don't forget to share the legend of Jacob Waltz (the Lost Dutchman) with your guests — maybe they'll want to pan for nuggets of gold during this day trip. Start your trip at Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce and pick up a brochure or two to keep the guests entertained once the drive is over.
Woods Canyon
There are many campgrounds to choose from in Arizona, and there are many lakes, surprisingly. The area of Rim Lakes at Apache Sitgreaves National Forest — Woods Canyon Group Campground specifically — is ideal because it is rustic and wooded. And just through the woods, along a path, is a stocked lake where boats can be rented and campers can become fishermen. The small store at the lake sells fishing equipment, and you can purchase a fishing license on-site.
Bummed you can't hit Slide Rock State Park because the fecal bacteria counts are too high? Not us. In fact, we won't dip a toe in Sedona's cesspool, even when the rangers say it's okay. Neither should you. Not as long as Arizona still has places like Fossil Springs to enjoy. The swimming hole on Fossil Creek north of Payson is fairly far from a trailhead or road, which is probably what helps keep this spot so pure — or at least free of used diapers. You might catch some teenagers sipping tallboys under the cottonwood trees that shade the rocks surrounding this cool, deep pool, but it's a little too far for most families hauling giant coolers — which is what keeps it nice and fairly clean. There's a back way, but we recommend the pleasant four-mile trail from the ridge down through the canyon. It's just outside Strawberry, so the drive is pretty short and the swim-in cave, which reminds us a little of the famed Playboy Mansion grotto, will impress even a true swimming-hole snob (read: the kind of person who wouldn't dare submerse themselves in the filthy waters of Sedona).
Metro Phoenix is an urban kayaker's dream — if you don't mind ignoring a few posted signs and are willing to drag your 'yak a couple of yards down to the shore, that is. Case in point, the lakes of Mesa's Dobson Ranch neighborhood. These pretty little canals loop around for several miles, giving pleasant views of nice homes and cute little parks. Technically, you're doing just a teensy-weensy bit of trespassing if you paddle without permission. And since you probably don't pay HOA dues, you don't, in the strictest sense, have permission. Don't be a sissy — so long as you don't appear to be casing the houses, no one is gonna notice you're poaching their water. Hey, it's not like this is the similarly devised 'hoods of The Lakes in Tempe or The Islands of Gilbert, where strangers can actually raise a few eyebrows. Folks are chill in the DOB, man. Drop in from one of the grassy parks tucked into corner lots along the snake-shaped lakes. If someone on a pontoon boat asks what you're doing, keep paddling. If they ask again, say you're visiting your friend Tom over on Javelina Street. What do you mean you don't know Tom? He used to be the president of the HOA. He draws a lot of water in these parts, buddy!
McDowell Mountain Ranch Aquatic Center
The way we figure it, the water in the small lap pool at our local gym must comprise at least 10 percent sweat. It looks relatively clean and gets the job done — our arms feel like strands of linguine after 70 laps. But who knows what's in that water? And don't get us started on Tempe Town Lake. In our quest to someday complete a triathlon, we love to work out at the eight-lane outdoor pool at the McDowell Mountain Ranch Park Aquatic Center. Every time we've been there, the pool clearly (get it?) has been sparkling clean and has an upscale sheen our crappy gym lacks. The view of the McDowell Mountains is stellar, and it's located near one of our favorite long bike rides, up the Beeline Highway to Bush Highway, making it a convenient place to cross-train. If we could just manage to add a run on top of one of those marathon workouts, we'd be ready for the big league.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of