Phoenix Rock Gym
If you want to develop fingertips that work like steel hooks, there's no better place to do it than at the Phoenix Rock Gym in Tempe. We're ashamed to say that we've occasionally let months go by without a visit, but we've belonged to PRG since it opened in 1992 and we always find our way back. We love the people who work there, as well as the regulars and the newbies who try to claw their way to the top of the 30-foot walls. When our climbing partners can't go, we make the veins in our hands and forearms pop out on the two world-class bouldering walls, which don't require the use of ropes. Well before the place starts to look too familiar or grows boring, new paint goes up on the walls and holds get switched around in a most satisfying way. How these guys figure out how to make the perfect 5.10 for us, we don't know — but they do and, in the process, facilitate a climbing experience that makes us forget, for a moment, that we actually prefer to be outside. When we do hit real-world rock — a rarer occasion now that we've got kids — the practice we have at the rock gym makes for a much more confident, Spider-Man-like adventure. Oh, and those kids? Thanks to PRG, they went straight from diapers to diaper harnesses.

Best Place to Learn About Backyard Pump Tracks

Rage Cycles

Rage Cycles
Remember when we used to dream about draining the pool so we could drop in on our BMX bike and ride the walls? Now, it's all about carving up the back lawn and creating a miniature single-track trail that winds through the yard complete with banks, berms, and jumps. The trick is riding through the course without making a single pedal stroke. That's right, all the forward power is generated by pumping the bike through the turns and over the humps. The problem is, where are these private tracks? All over the Valley, it turns out, but good luck finding them. To get a taste — and tips on how to DIY — head over to Rage Cycles in Scottsdale and try a run on the course tucked behind the shop.
Most cyclists are willing to punish themselves up a climb for the reward of the thrilling descent. The road to Bartlett Lake is just the opposite. Just before Cave Creek Road ends, Bartlett Dam Road cuts through the desert to the east, winding its way 14 miles down to a remote lake fed by the Verde River. The descent is broken into two sections, with a small climb in the middle, and the final stretch is down a straight-as-an-arrow screamer (watch those brakes). After cooling off at the marina store, settle in for a hard grind back out. And beware riding this in the heat, as it is panhandle-hot down there.
In a place filled with oversize pickups and SUVs operated by phone- and makeup-distracted motorists, riding on the Valley's streets can be intimidating. Fortunately for local pedal pushers, the Arizona Canal path between Granada Park (at 20th Street and Lincoln Drive) and 67th Avenue lays out gloriously unthreatened and uninterrupted for nearly 10 miles each way. The path rolls under every street it intersects with (save two, currently) and does continue west to 75th Avenue and east to the Wrigley Mansion, but the main section of the Arizona Canal truly is as car-free as it gets in Phoenix.
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 Of Phoenix®

Best Of