The Fantasy Island North Singletrack, a.k.a. F.I.N.S., is one of the best E-ticket roller-coaster trails in town, and it is perfect for riders of any skill level. It's actually a trail network that sits on private land and is maintained by locals who have it signed and rated to perfection. The trails essentially circle and ride over two buttes, with each trail leading back to the other. Every section of trail is rated on difficulty, from cake to wicked, and named so riders can easily track where they are. Any F.I.N.S. ride must finish off with a pass down Superman Swoop, through Joey's Jaunt, for a sweet section of rollers and dips that will have everyone yelling, "Let's do that again!"
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No matter how hot it gets, it doesn't feel like summer when we're riding our mountain bike at night around Papago Park. Within minutes of pumping the pedals over the trails, we're covered in sweat from head to toe. And that means wind-chill. Instead of 111, it feels like a gorgeous 85 or so. Papago's trails are conducive to the effect because of the constant up-and-down, rollercoaster-like single track. One of the great things about summertime night rides at Papago is the ability to make the ride as long or short as you want. The criss-crossing trails, when you connect them, make for miles of different track. But if you've cranked too hard and feel on the verge of heatstroke, you can always shoot out on the long, winding downhill of Galvin Parkway for a blast of evaporative cooling. Although you may never feel like you're in the wilderness in Papago, the dark hills feel secluded at night, even if you can see cars going by on McDowell Road at the park's northern border. Best of all, you're right in the middle of town, making it easy to go out for a well-deserved beer in Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Tempe to wash the grit from your mouth.

Best Place to Ride Your Bike Among Lions, Tigers, and Bears

Phoenix Zoo

Phoenix Zoo
Our Phoenix Zoo membership has served us well for years, but our visits were becoming less frequent in the past couple of years as the kids grew older. From the exhibits to the splash playground to the carousel, we've been there and done that — a lot. But this year, we decided to take the Phoenix Zoo up on its standing offer to bring our bicycles. (Rollerblades, skateboards and Razor scooters still aren't allowed.) Just like that, the zoo became a fresh experience. Our littlest still can't manage a two-wheeler — she rides along in the bike trailer as the big one zips around on her BMX bike. We fly down the hills and through the covered bridge on the way to the petting zoo, careful not to run over pedestrians, of course. We see more animals in a half-hour than we could have in two hours on foot. And the kids like the cool factor: While almost no one else is riding their own bikes, we often hear the people we pass say something like, "Hey, look at that. Let's bring our bikes next time." Our advice, based on the smiles we've seen: Do it.
We didn't give much credence to the scare factor of a haunted house that's attached to one of those costume stores that pop up right around Halloween — in a vacant strip mall, natch. But after a half-hour at the Haunting, we exited the building feeling as though we'd been through a new and improved Disneyland ride. The sets here are over the top: There's a full-scale haunted graveyard and mansion, featuring creep-tastic live dancers doing "the thriller," a pirate ship complete with drunken Johnny Depp look-alike, and a madhouse where screams, wheelchair creaks, and flashing strobe lights will threaten your sanity. Be forewarned; the hell-raising staff isn't afraid to split your party up, leaving you to face chainsaw- and butcher knife-wielding fiends alone in the dark. This year, the 60,000-square-foot attraction is called "13th Floor," and it's been open since September 23, along with its San Antonio counterpart.
Superstition Springs Center
As far as we're concerned, you can do entirely too many (formerly private) things at the mall these days. Recently, we noticed you can get your eyebrows shaped, your feet massaged, and your ears (or something else) pierced — all at a mall kiosk, while droves of people watch! That's just wrong. But there's one relatively new addition to the mall scene that we embrace wholeheartedly: the carousel. At a handful of Valley malls, usually near the food court, you can take yourself (or your kids) for a good, old-fashioned ride in the kind of air-conditioned splendor you're not going to get at the state fair, which usually lands here long before summer's really ended. The best carousel in town, as far as we're concerned, is the one at Superstition Springs Center. It's the only double-decker around, we're told, meaning Junior's view from atop that zebra is going to reach all the way to Dillard's. The hand-painted animals are beautiful, the ladies running the ride are sweet (even when we paid a half-dozen times in a row), and just sitting here thinking about it makes us want to head down the U.S. 60 for a spin. Make sure you hit the food court after you're done, to avoid seeing that Dairy Queen Blizzard for a second time.
Scottsdale Civic Center Mall
Throwing a party on a budget but want a cool location? How about right behind the Scottsdale Civic Center library, a stone's throw from the Scottsdale Center for the Arts and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art? Grab a spot right by Louise Nevelson's Windows to the West sculpture.This is a no-reservation, first-come, first-squat location. There are some picnic tables, but you can also haul in your own tables and chairs for the day. The entire area is surrounded by grass, so kids can play games on the lawn and burn off all the birthday cake they've consumed. Crafty!

Best (Almost) Free Place for a Kids' Indoor Birthday Party

Michaels Arts and Crafts

Michael's in Mesa
Got a kid on your hands who loves arts and crafts and wants you to play art teacher for their birthday? If you're not up to all that glue and glitter in your house, book a party at your local Michaels Arts and Crafts store. The classroom is totally free for birthdays; you need only buy the craft materials on site. They'll even assign you a staff person to help during the crafting party, and you can bring in cake and juice. Crafty!

Best Place to Rent a Hula Dancer for Your Kid's Birthday Party

La Fiamma Entertainment

Are you the kind of person who likes hula girls? How about hula girls at a kids' birthday party? Well, we are — on both counts. Something for Daddy, something for a backyard filled with 20 little girls. And these aren't a bunch of middle-aged white ladies trying to work off unwanted pounds. They are the real thing. The young lady who came to our house in the spring, decked out in full hula-girl regalia, was a Valley transplant from Hawaii who brought her own music for us to play on our outdoor stereo system. And she delighted the little girls, whom we had supplied with inexpensive grass skirts from a party store, for an hour, teaching them the fun points of the Polynesian art form. Some mastered the dancing better than others, but they all had a giggles-galore good time before birthday cake was served. And hula isn't the only dance style available from Phoenix's La Fiamma Entertainment. The company also employs carnival, samba, Bollywood, modern, and fire dancers for all types of parties. Price for our dancer was $200 for the first hour, and $50 for each additional half-hour (we found that an hour and a half was plenty of time for a yard full of 5- and 6-year-olds). Included in that price for our party was the cost of materials for lei-making. You've got to supply your own roasted pig.
Inspirador
Who knew there was a 12,000-square-foot wedding facility in historic downtown Chandler? Located in the town's walking district, this massive — yet, somehow, quaint — facility offers brides a blank canvas to create their dream wedding in an air-conditioned facility that isn't a boring hotel or resort. If you have a theme in mind, this place is perfect, because there is nothing to get in your way — in terms of décor — and interrupt the flow of your tattoo- or elegant lace-themed wedding. This site is beautiful without forcing you to take on their decorating.
Hotel Valley Ho
Entirely too often, "boutique hotel" translates to "grungy old hotel with a flimsy new façade and icky rooms." Not at Hotel Valley Ho, built circa 1956, which underwent an extensive top-to-bottom renovation several years ago and emerged smelling like an Icelandic moonflower (really — it's the hotel's "signature scent"). From the lobby entryway to the booths tucked in the back of Café ZuZu, the hotel restaurant, the attention to detail is stunning and the scene Midcentury Modern years before the trend truly caught on. If you can tear yourself away from the 32-inch flatscreen TV in your funky room (bright red couches, striped green chaises), schedule an architectural tour of the property — or just relax by the lovely pool, no brainpower required.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of