It's time to get out of that rock gym and take your calloused fingertips to the Valley's best granite playground — the McDowell Mountains. C'mon, it's not too hot! Hundreds of rock-climbing routes populate thousands of acres of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, some accessible by specially marked trails for climbers. The Arizona Mountaineering Club identifies 18 distinct locations, each with multiple climbing routes. None of the routes is taller than 150 feet, but don't let that discourage you. It would take years to bag every route in the McDowells, and the variety and easy access is well worth the trip. Sven Slab, for instance, sports at least 25 climbs ranging from 5.4 to 5.10c, meaning there's something there for everyone. Our favorites include Sven Slab, Morrell's Wall, Gardner's Wall, and Tom's Thumb. But other spots like Granite Ballroom, Hog Heaven, Goat Hill, and Thrasher offer terrific short climbs and bouldering options. Most of the climbing areas are within a couple of miles of the Tom's Thumb trailhead parking lot. But don't expect the climbing trails to be as casual as the trails used by hikers. Be extra-cautious here to avoid trouble. Scrambling and minor boulder moves are required to get to some spots. Plus, some areas are relatively remote, even when you can see houses far below. While on your belay ledge, keep an eye — and camera — out for sightings of wild horses, javelinas, and other desert wildlife.

Phoenix Rock Gym

People drive from all over metro Phoenix to visit the Phoenix Rock Gym, which is actually in Tempe. Sure, there are other rock gyms in the area, and some of them are pretty good. But none match the state's first rock gym for style and camaraderie. PRG opened in 1992 as a labor of love by local climbers. How has it survived all of these years, through multiple recessions, when so many Valley businesses have closed? Again, love. Yes, the gym has two kickass bouldering areas, an exclusive lead-climbing room, and enough 30-foot-high routes for any grade of climber. As a place to work out and improve skills, it's a phenomenal facility. But it's not just the exercise that brings customers back. Going to the PRG is like going home. It's a comforting place that feels safe, and not just because of the padded floors. You get the pump and excitement you need there, but also — if you're open to it — genuine, non-electronic socializing. Egos are on display only minimally, and it's rare for unfriendliness to mar the experience. That ultra-ripped 5.13 climber cheering you on actually wants to see you nail that 5.9, because you tried. Besides the easygoing clientele, PRG boasts a terrific staff — friendly folks who take time to get to know the regulars, and who are as patient as kindergarten teachers in instructing newcomers with no climbing experience. May PRG's doors always stay open and its swamp coolers never fail.

Big Surf is a Valley tradition, and with good reason. The nation's first wave pool offers respite from the summer heat and (lesser-known fact) a damn good place for serious surfers to practice when California is a little too far. Add classic pools, slides, and thatched roofs, and you've got your weekend plans right there.

The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa

When it comes to hotel pools in metro Phoenix, we've got an embarrassment of riches. There are more beautiful resorts than you can shake a pool noodle at, and most of them have water features we'd be happy to visit. But of all the swimming holes in town, there's nowhere we'd rather be than the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in north Scottsdale. The Adventure Water Park welcomes all ages and includes the Adventure Pool, a 110-foot-long water slide, a FlowRider attraction for when you're feeling active, and a lazy river you can tube down when you're not. There are plenty of deck chairs for lounging poolside, and stylish cabanas available for rent. And when we're done with the high-energy fun and just want to relax, we head over to the adults-only Aguamiel Pool for a more serene swimming experience. Best of all, you can buy a resort pass for the day, so you don't have to fork over the cash for a room to experience the best hotel pool in town.

The people at Talking Stick Resort and Casino start their pool party season in early April, and no one is complaining. The 21-and-over crowd is welcome at the Release Pool Party held on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The 2017 Release season started off with that wild child Dillon Francis, and continued bringing in popular DJs and the party crowds every weekend through at least Labor Day. Bikini-clad babes and dudes in trunks can hit the pool, the bar, or the heavy mob of music fans gathered by the stage where headliners like Steve Aoki and Taryn Manning get the party started. There are also options to reserve a cabana or daybed for you and friends.

Talking Stick Resort

The Talking Stick Resort and Casino in Scottsdale has it all. Roulette, slots, and keno are all on the casino floor, as well as a couple of bars and eateries. Pros can make their way to The Arena poker room, the home of the Arizona State Poker Championship. If the chips aren't your thing, Talking Stick has slots games galore. There's every kind of machine game imaginable, with equally inventive titles. "King of Macedonia," "Wild Lion," and "Cash Eruption" are a few highlights, as is "Icarus: The Journey." Just don't fly too close to the sun in the course of your gambling night.

This summer, Phoenix artist Emily Costello said she felt like she won the lottery. Actually, the lottery won her — in the form of Costello's Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) artwork, which graced scratcher tickets for several weeks. The $2 scratcher tickets recognized the Mexican multiday celebration of those who have died, which begins each year on October 31. Costello is a self-taught painter, printer, and mixed-media artist whose work is inspired by her Mexican heritage as well as her own life events. She's a member of the Phoenix Fridas, an art collective inspired by renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and the first Arizona native to have her work on a state lottery ticket.

Cobra Arcade Bar
Lauren Cusimano

If you're of a certain age (say it with us: "old millennial"), you spent part of your youth hunkered down at an arcade machine, mashing buttons and jostling joysticks. Chances are less likely you did so with a frosty mug of Kiltlifter in hand. Well, young-ish person, you're in luck. Your adult and kid sensibilities now can peacefully coexist at Cobra Arcade Bar, which features incredible machines like NBA Jam, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the X-Men side-scroller, and more, along with an impressive roster of craft beers and cans. Even better are the video game-themed cocktails, including the cucumber-infused RyuKen, which is much more refreshing than a hadouken to the face. Drink up, play on — young you would be proud.

You've no doubt noticed Christown Lanes. With its jutting angles and midcentury style, the bowling alley has long been one of the coolest-looking buildings in Phoenix, a reminder of our Atomic Age past. But recently, the folks at AMF have given the place a striking makeover and new name: Bowlero. While everything you dug about the place remains intact — from league nights to a bustling bar and arcade — the new attention is certainly an upgrade. It's a thrill to see a kitschy Phoenix treasure actually treasured, and even if the whole black light trend doesn't entirely bowl us over, the excitement of an old-school meets new-school attraction in Christown certainly lands like a strike.

Octane Raceway

There's something about the sound of tires skidding over concrete that gets our blood moving. Even better is to feel them skidding underneath us, followed by the snappy sensation of the go-kart suddenly sticking to a straight line, zooming out of a curve. We love Octane for those visceral reasons and a whole lot more. First, Octane's a winner based solely on presentation. The facility is clean, modern-looking, and professionally run. The cafe sells beer, hamburgers, and other staples for an afternoon out. But it's the driving you come for, and Octane sure doesn't disappoint. Adult races go 14 laps; kids get 10 on somewhat slower cars. All the track's electric cars have punchy acceleration and relatively high top speeds. Yes, it's possible to get out of control if you're careless and don't follow the rules. That's what makes Octane special — it's real racing. But the last couple of times we've experienced the place, one feeling has risen above all the personal enjoyment — and that's the joy of watching a daughter scream around corners, slam into sidewalls, and raise her fist in excitement after a particularly well-driven lap. She may not have been proud of her overall finishing time — some of these kid drivers are really good! — but, unlike any video game, the sense of accomplishment that comes with learning how to race will ride with her for years.

Best Of Phoenix®

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