Best Museum for Gearheads 2014 | Penske Racing Museum | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix

This museum is a hidden gem located among all the Penske-owned car dealerships along Scottsdale Road. The museum showcases race cars used throughout the years by racing legend Roger Penske and the drivers who've raced under the Penske Racing name. You can get right up next to some of the most memorable cars in IndyCar and NASCAR history. Any auto museum can host a collection of mass-produced consumer vehicles, but not every city has a museum like this, with winning race cars driven by the likes of Penske, Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr. and Jr., and Helio Castroneves. If only they'd let you drive these things . . .

It's not a talking point on the hotel's website, and it doesn't seem to get a lot of use, but there's something magical about the Western village at Camelback Inn — which is complete with a tepee, wooden stage, and storefronts such as Mummy Mountain Mercantile — at the base of Mummy Mountain. We'd love to see a giant concert held there — featuring appropriately Western acts from all around Arizona. With the rustic digs and open desert terrain surrounding it, the Mummy Mountain faux Western town could be the site of a real hootenanny.

Surrounded by the concrete oasis of metro Phoenix, it's easy to forget we live in a desert. When tourists arrive in the Valley, the first thing they'll probably look for while mumbling something about the dry heat is a tumbleweed or saguaro. But if they really want to see the natural beauty of Arizona, Desert Botanical Garden provides a truly amazing introduction to the plants and wildlife native to the Sonoran Desert. Admission costs $22 for adults, $12 for students, and $10 for ages 3 through 12. The busiest months for Desert Botanical Garden are March and April, so you'll want to reserve your tickets ahead of time in the spring, when snowbirds and spring training fans flood the Valley.

Okay, so a "friendship garden" might seem like a bad move for a romantic venture, but you definitely won't get friend-zoned if you bring your date to this serene spot in Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix. Admission costs $5, so this date option won't break the bank and you can spend all day strolling through the lakeside oasis, admiring the unique flora and koi fish. For refreshment, tea ceremonies are a cultured way to get rejuvenated. And who knows? Maybe this daytime date will go so well that it transitions to a nighttime affair. After all, you'll have plenty of after-garden options since your staycation happened right in the middle of downtown Phoenix.

Downtown Phoenix might not be the most serene location to put down your mat and start working on your asanas, but three floors above Jefferson Street, the bustle of the city quiets down on Lustre's rooftop patio. That's where more than 100 yoga lovers center their minds for just $10 with a $5 drink voucher included with the price of admission.

Don't worry that the Tuesday night Sweat Your Asana Off series ended September 2, because the event's popularity ensures that it comes back year after year from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Also, don't worry about getting so close and so sweaty to the person next to you because you can always cool off with a cocktail and a dip in the pool after class.

It's time to get down and dirty Sunday nights at Steele Indian School Park because Dirty Yoga is the best way to stretch and mellow out all at once without breaking the bank. Because Dirty Yoga happens outdoors you're not paying the overhead for a brick-and-mortar location. For just $3 on Sunday starting at 7:15 p.m., you get the unique experience to do your practice in nature. If you're not sold on getting dusty for yoga's sake, just remember that you'll be practicing on your mat, not the ground itself. Plus, a little dirt never hurt anyone.

When temperatures start rising and tourists start fleeing, summer pool parties aren't just a way to beat the heat in metro Phoenix, they're a way of life. Cue the Release Pool Party at Talking Stick Resort. This seasonal Saturday ritual is the spot to see and be suntanned with bikini-clad cuties and their shot-slinging male equivalents. Release reels in the big crowds with ample pool space, private cabanas, touring DJ acts on the main stage, and cheaper drinks than you'll find at most outdoor shindigs in Scottsdale. With no admission fees, no waiting in line, and no searching the streets for parking, Talking Stick serves up the summer event that everyone's talking about.

Katie Johnson

Leave it to savvy snowbirds and summer staycationers to decide which pools are worth diving into. Their favorite place to test the water and their tanning oil, judging by the crowds? The Hyatt Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale. Ours, too. This secluded resort has something for everyone, with more pools than almost anyplace in town. The recently remodeled quasi-water park offers a three-story, high-speed water slide that takes kids and adults alike on turns at up to 25 miles per hour, a sand beach, volleyball courts, a Grecian-style water temple, and poolside dinning from the hotel's H2Oasis restaurant. Add to that the 20 fountains, 45 waterfalls, and 10 pools, and it's easy to see why people get carried away while getting away at Gainey.

Yes, it can be an expensive day. Prices are $39.99 for adults and $29.99 for kids and seniors if you don't get a season pass. (Kids 2 and under get in free). Worth it. And much cheaper than a trip to the pool store. The first time we drove out to the West Valley park, we had no doubt the kids would have fun. What we didn't know is that the place is a joyride even for older, ex-skydiving adrenaline junkies like us. Of the several big-time slides, Mammoth Falls gives us a rush every time. You sit in a four-person raft that, once leaving the station, lurches down a steep flume, rushing toward a 50-foot wall. It has two "oh, bleep" moments — the initial drop, then the out-of-control feeling on the weightless apogee after inertia carries the raft up that wall. But — ha! — we and our kin somehow don't fall out of the raft. The sensation is all part of the design. Our oldest child now enjoys this feeling almost as much as we do, but we're both still young enough to have fun in the wave pool, which has a sort of undulation mode that creates an unending succession of body-tossing waves. Our younger kid doesn't like the big slides but has spent hours in the wave pool, kids' splash area, and wading pools, which makes us feel great, too.

The dog days of summer don't do much for your canine companion, but come winter, spring, and fall, fair-weather furballs flock to the fine-cut grass and fenced-in comforts of Margaret T. Hance Park. The premier dog park in downtown Phoenix pulls in pooches and their pampering pet owners with newly constructed amenities like decorative wrought-iron gates, water fountains for humans and ground-level drinking bowls for dogs, picnic tables, benches, and shaded trees. With nearly an acre of space for frisbee-catching, ball-retrieving, and butt-sniffing socialization, a trip to Margaret T. Hance Park guarantees tails wagging and grass-littered mouths panting.

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