Wet 'n' Wild Phoenix Water Park

This place is better than SeaWorld, if you prefer looking at human creatures and tattoos wild enough to shame a school of clownfish. Yet beyond the people-watching experience is a water park that would should make any desert city proud. The many waterslides are first-rate, with at least three — Raging River, Tornado, and especially Mammoth Falls — providing more than our daily recommended intake of adrenaline. We won't soon forget Mammoth Falls, which propels a four-seater raft off a cliff so steep that we weren't sure it would stay upright. Then, after the raft shot up the wall on the other side, we got to experience that lovely "I'm gonna die!" feeling for the second time in less than 30 seconds. Screams of delight (with a dash of terror) all around. Our younger kid, who felt comfortable only on the tamest slides, had a great time in the wave pool and Wet 'n' Wild Jr., a multi-level children's section with ramps and bridges, spraying jets and bucket-loads of water that periodically fall on the heads of the unsuspecting. Just don't expect all this for cheap. Price: $38.99 for adults, $29.99 for kids. (Better deals exist for frequent visitors.) Still, it's the best water bill you'll ever pay.

Tempe Town Lake

The cheaper the pleasure, the happier we are — which is why we always leave Tempe Town Lake smiling after a good paddle. For just $25 a year for residents, $50 for non-residents, you can launch a kayak into the water anytime during lake hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and paddle till your arms feel like anchors. We launch from the beach near the Mill Avenue bridge and try to hit both east and west boundaries to make a nearly four-mile run, which is a great workout. If you don't own a boat, try renting a single or double kayak at the kiosk on the lake's south side. Going during twilight or at night is a treat, especially as a way to cheat the summer sun. You may even see wildlife: We've gotten closeup shots of pelicans this year and saw a beaver swimming next to the boat. The water's not too icky — we promise. (True, a general ban on swimming is in effect because of high alkalinity and other potential pollution, but boating is considered safe.) Whether from fear of the water or other reasons, though, few people kayak on the Town Lake — and the solitude you'll find is just one more great reason to go.

McDowell Mountain Ranch Aquatic Center

You know what it feels like to do a face-flop? We do, thanks to one of the two three-meter high-dives at the McDowell Mountain Ranch Aquatic Center. This flop literally put blisters on our forehead and gave us a mild headache. But . . . hurts so good! The calamity occurred after about 10 joyous jumps, dives, and somersaults from the high dives and before another 10. Yeah, we were having fun, and maybe showing off for the kiddos. Speaking of the munchkins — the three-meter boards are awesome fear-facing educational devices. When we were done with the thrills, it was time for a spin on the relaxing, 600-foot-long lazy river, shooting down the slide, and bouncing a beach ball in the kids' playpool. The center also has a large main pool for lap-swimmers if you want to get serious. Though a bit of a drive from central Valley locations, the fancy layout and architecture, plus the rising ridgelines of the nearby McDowell Mountains, make for a visual treat. It's mellower than a full-blown water park and much less expensive: $9 for adults and $6 for kids — cheaper if you're a Scottsdale resident. When the parents of your kids' friends get tired of you hanging out at their place all summer, the Aquatic Center is a great heat-beating alternative.

Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa

This landmark resort is home to a quite a few memorable pools. Among the Arizona Biltmore's smaller pools, there's the private Ocatilla pool which remains exclusive to the guests of the hotel's luxury Ocatilla suites. Then, of course, there's the Catalina pool, which, according to the hotel, was a favorite of Marilyn Monroe's. But our first choice? The Paradise Pool. This large oasis, originally built in 1930, is the centerpiece of the hotel's outdoor accommodations — and for good reason. The Paradise Pool offers a 92-foot waterslide, poolside bar, private cabanas, and stunning Frank Lloyd Wright-style architecture by Albert Chase McArthur. Whether you're looking to soak up some sun, watch an evening flick from the comfort of your inner tube, or simply take in a bit of Phoenix history, the Paradise Pool at the Arizona Biltmore is a preferred poolside retreat of Arizona natives.

Talking Stick Resort

Las Vegas is so close that it's almost pointless to gamble in the Valley, but, hey, sometimes you get an itch that you just have to scratch. Normally, we don't love nearby casinos, where the smoky haze is so thick you could cut it with a knife and we always feel as though we're getting taken by the dealers, but at least on the Talking Stick casino floor, things feel bright and new. You're less likely to get creepy looks from the strange, companion-less dudes in the crowd, and the dealers will usually crack a joke, or at least a smile, while they take your money. The slot machines are updated and though you won't find many low-limit machines, we've won enough times that we're usually willing to risk a small chunk of change. The 15-story, 497-room hotel also has a pretty good selection of restaurants and several comfortable bars to hide out in once your cash is all gone.

Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel

Man, would we love to get our hands on an Ice Cold Beer again. And we ain't talking 'bout a frosty pint containing an amber alcoholic concoction. Rather, we're eager to get our fill of the addicting mechanical game from 1983 that vexed us plenty (and claimed an hour or two of our lifespan) over an April weekend at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel during ZapCon. This intoxicating (and decidedly rare) arcade stand-up, which involves maneuvering silver balls vertically into various scoring holes while avoiding pitfalls, is like upright skeeball, a blast to play, and one of dozens of vintage coin-operated gems at the retro arcade and pinball convention. Local old-school gamers at ZapCon got to test their hand-eye coordination on the 100-plus flipper-powered contraptions like Centaur and hard-to-find quarter-eaters Bosconian and Forgotten Worlds. And they have two of their own, Zack Johnson and Wes Cleveland, to thank for the trip through the warp zone. The pair culled together the antiquated pixilated distractions from the private stashes of Arizona game collectors, set every single one to "free play" mode, and let in the public for a bleepin' good time. They even organized some specialized programming, including a performance by Nintendo cover band Minibosses, pinball tournaments, and screenings of such joystick-oriented documentaries as High Score and Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball. We're waiting with bated breath and nimble fingers for Johnson and Cleveland to announce when ZapCon will return for next April, when ZapCon will return for a second round, especially if it nabs us another taste of Ice Cold Beer.

Gamers, for the most part, are known for being creatures of the night. That's why you'll find them hanging out on Steam into the wee hours, participating in frag-fests at marathon LAN events, or staying up late at the Microsoft Store at Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall for its midnight release parties. Hundreds of gamers from around the Valley wait in line for upwards of four hours or more to get into the affairs, which start at 10 p.m., to get their hands on whatever hot Xbox title — including the newest entry into Madden, Halo, or Call of Duty franchises — is about to drop. Attendees can preview and play the game on the store's networked Xboxes for a few hours before getting their copy when the clock strikes 12. Each party offers unabashedly nerdy fun, with some coming in costume celebrating the respective game (like the Stormtroopers who showed up for the Star Wars: Kinnect event) and local nerdcore rapper Mega Ran performing his Nintendo-inspired rhymes. The store also goes all out with the gamer fuel (read: pizza and soda), organizes tournaments, and gives away some primo swag. It's like a see-and-be-seen affair for geeks.

Castles -n- Coasters

Pinball mythology dictates that the best pinball machines — and nearly all confirmed pinball wizards — are lurking in darkened corners of forgotten bars, covered in a portentous film of cigarette smoke. That's still the dream — unfortunately, the reality is that most bars have realized they can do better business in that spot with Golden Tee. Phoenix's remaining pinball apprentices, then, have Castles -n- Coasters' arcade to thank for an increasingly rare phenomenon: more than one pinball machine in the same place. Despite culling some of their tables a few years back, Castles -n- Coasters maintains a solid mix of older machines and newer movie tie-in models. So put some credits into The Addams Family (or the less-disappointing-than-the-movie Phantom Menace "Pinball 2000" machine) and, if it helps, try to pretend that the buttons are staining your fingers yellow.

K1 Speed

After an adrenaline-fueled morning at K1 Speed, we're no longer cynical about the future of electric cars. The 20-horsepower karts at K1 are wicked-fast, zooming up to 45 miles per hour — easily as good as the gas-powered vehicles we've driven at other kart tracks and with no annoying fumes. Fourteen laps for $26 (six bucks for a membership and $20 for a race, with discounts available for buying more races) is well worth the experience of doing things in a car that you normally can't do without risking a trip to the hoosegow. Like, for instance, wrestling with the steering wheel to maintain control in a high-speed, rubber-screeching turn. All the while, the electric motor smoothly boosts the g-forces at every chance, even reaching a satisfying growl at max speed. Maybe it's time to trade in the pickup for a Tesla Roadster.

Home Run Stadium

Important batting-cage questions to ask: Is the price right? Is it open late? Are the cages tall and long enough that admiring your shot is an option? Is the machine's command of the strike zone Diamondbacks Randy Johnson or Expos Randy Johnson? Home Run Stadium, Mesa's most optimistically named batting cage, ticks off three yeses and one Diamondbacks. It meets all the secondary batting cage requirements, too. There's an arcade and a concession stand, not to mention shade and air conditioning for when you have to pretend you're not tired after your first token. If you're much more serious about this than the average slow-pitch softball slugger, private hitting lessons and team rentals are an option. It's a little difficult to endorse a batting cage that isn't connected to a giant waterpark or a pirate-themed miniature golf course, but remember that you won't have to compete with the lazy river for the maintenance guy.

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