Once you've gotten lucky enough to find a parking spot at Pima Canyon and taken the asphalt road to the end, this trail sends you soaring without delay. Let the multitudes take their strollers and leashed dogs along the dirt road that leads to the start of National Trail — we prefer to get our legs and heart moving right away, and Marcos de Niza Trail is the one to do it. From the main parking area, walk to the south end to start the trail, and wind around the hill on a single-track path. If you haven't seen the inscription scratched into a rock along the trail, now's a good time to check it out. It's set behind iron bars. Don't be fooled, though — it's a forgery from the 1920s, and was not etched in the 1500s by the famous friar, as it claims. Continue up the hill — that's the main idea for a while, and you gain the ridge proper. From here, the trail is a glorious, slow roller-coaster on the ridge for a mile or so. Be prepared to go up if you're going down, and vice-versa. Finally, the trail lets you down entirely (not psychologically) and joins up with other trails. Turn around here, or keep going and make a day of it. And we don't mean to nag, but take lots of water.

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to take a spacewalk? A good face climb is like that, and Quaker Oats is the best introduction in metro Phoenix you can get to the concept. The route's located on a minor rock hill in the McDowell Mountains called Sven Slab — signs will point to the Slab at the Tom's Thumb trailhead. You may or may not find the route without the help of a guidebook (and you might not survive if you're not well-versed in rock-climbing basics). Assuming you've got your requisite gear, belay partner, and have made it to the base of this 100-foot-high route, then it's time to leave the capsule, if you dare. Start making your way up the nearly sheer wall on its often-painful, tiny granite holds. As you rise higher, with vast spaces of vertical rock wall in all directions, all you'll think about is how you don't want to fall. But somewhere along the route, your inner face climber will be born. Fear turns into positive energy that helps keep you from falling. There's no spaceship, no ground, no rush of air like flying an airplane — just the sun, moon, granite face, and you clinging by your fingertips and a smear of rubber from your climbing shoes, mind focused entirely on the next series of holds. When you top out, you've earned your astronaut wings.

Though the city of Phoenix calls this a "smaller cousin" to nearby North Mountain, Lookout is a fine hill in its own right and deserves your time as a climber. Besides the main climbing wall, Lookout has half a lifetime's worth of boulder problems up to about 15 feet high to try, and though the basalt rock can be crumbly at times, many of the holds are sweet. Don't mind the broken glass and graffiti: Lookout's been the site of impromptu partying for decades, but it doesn't affect the rock climbing. Once on the mountain, you'll find mazes of boulders that make you forget your worldly troubles. It's fun to hike, but even better to hike with your rock-climbing shoes and chalk bag, so you can work out your hands and arms on the many short boulder problems. If you need beta, try Lookout Mountain Boulder & Climbing Guide by local climbing guru Marty Karabin. And don't forget the crash pad. Falling here is like trying to land a plane without fuel in Dunkirk — more exciting than you want.

Phoenix Rock Gym

Things look different from 30 feet up. Think about being on a stepladder in your home, getting at something near the ceiling — Phoenix Rock Gym's walls are more than three times as high. This is high-caliber indoor rock climbing. What do you need? Some inversion and upside-down time? Check. Couches and magazines for waiting out the forearm-muscle twitches, and tables for pizza parties? Two killer bouldering rooms, and an exciting lead-climbing area? Check and check. The place has been around for more than 20 years, and the staff know what they're doing in terms of route-setting. Whether you go for a day or buy a quarterly pass, this laid-back gym is perfect for first-timers or children, while also providing a home for people training for their next trip to El Capitan.

Wet 'n' Wild Phoenix Water Park

"Fun for the whole family" is kind of a cliché, but in the case of west Valley water park Wet 'n' Wild, it just happens to be the truth. Show up at the park some sweltering summer day, and you'll find an avalanche of activities to choose from. Thrill-seekers will gravitate to the corkscrew-like Constrictor ride and the river-rafting experience Mammoth Falls; those up for some hardcore relaxing can head for the Monsoon Bay wave pool or the Crazy Cactus Roaring River. There are places to shop and eat, and private cabanas to rent for a top-of-the-line experience. In short, a day at Wet 'n' Wild is so refreshing, we almost forget we're in the desert.

When it's hot in Phoenix (so, like, pretty often), there's nothing more inviting than a big, cool, clear swimming pool. And there's no invitation we're happier to accept than the one extended by the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch. The Hyatt has got it all when it comes to water features: a 2.5-acre water playground that includes pools for families, pools for adults, 20 fountains, dozens of waterfalls, and to top it all off, a three-story waterslide. When we're hungry or thirsty, we've got the casual H2Oasis eatery to provide us with light fare and refreshing drinks (alcoholic and otherwise). In short, the Hyatt is a great choice for a family staycation or a weekend anniversary getaway, or even a one-day escape from real life — family and adult cabanas are available for rental, and include amenities like flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi access, and ceiling fans.

Maya Dayclub

Temperatures aren't the only thing that heat up in the spring and summertime in the Valley. Poolside parties take place regularly during the warmer months at local hotels, resorts, or any other spot equipped with a pool of some sort. And one of the biggest hotspots for swim soirees is Maya in Scottsdale. Every weekend from March until September, the spot's outdoor dayclub and its huge pool host various affairs offering DJs, drinks, and plenty of fun in the sun. Maya's annual Soundwave Pool Party series, which takes place Sunday afternoons, is its biggest attraction and features sets by high-profile electronic dance music superstars like Skrillex, Knife Party, and Bingo Players. Big crowds typically turn out for the affairs and kick it in VIP cabanas, frolic in the water, or get rowdy in front of the DJ booth as beats blast from the sound system.

One of the best attractions at OdySea, a mammoth aquarium in Scottsdale, is a theater experience that mimics a deep-sea diving expedition. As visitors sit in a large auditorium, the ground rumbles and the entire room rotates past several gigantic glass aquariums. You can gawk at the sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish, and stingrays without leaving your chair. Five hundred animal species can be found at OdySea, which bills itself as "America's newest aquarium" and the largest aquarium in the Southwest, boasting 200,000 square feet of space. It's best not to think about the 2 million gallons of water required to operate this aquarium in the middle of the desert. But the exhibits featuring freshwater and saltwater creatures are well worth the price of admission.

Sometimes, you don't need a casino with Las Vegas-style glitz. Sometimes, you want to sit among smoking west Valley residents wearing Minions shirts and baseball caps. You want to drown out the outside world amid the whir of the slot machines and the godlike voice over the intercom that periodically announces a new $5,000 jackpot winner. Sure, the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino in Glendale is a stopgap until the Tohono O'odham Nation constructs a much larger entertainment behemoth next door. The forthcoming 75,000-square-foot casino is a long sought-after goal for the tribe, which faced a legal challenge to the project. The new facility is scheduled to open by December 2019. In the meantime, the Desert Diamond's interim casino floor feels brand-new, with tons of slot machines and friendly staff. There are cheap drink specials at the bar, where a TV broadcasts concept art of the future casino on a loop. The ambiance is fitting. Casinos are designed to make you think that with the next pull of the lever, your luck will change. They telegraph to the gambler that something big is right around the corner. In the case of Desert Diamond, it's actually true.

You won't find any disposable cash cards being swiped at StarFighters Arcade. Nor will you encounter piles of prize tickets being exchanged for cheap crap, high-tech games the size of your car, or overpriced adult beverages — just row after blessed row of coin-op classics, and an enormous collection of pinball machines. StarFighters isn't so much an arcade as it is a monument to the era when Pac-Man fever swept the nation, and joystick junkies could get their fix one quarter at a time. Warp over to its location in a nondescript Mesa office park on a Friday or Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, and you'll be transported like Tron's Kevin Flynn into a thrill-soaked pixel paradise. Filling the 4,000-square-foot space are 130 throwback arcade titles and 35 pinball games from the '70s, '80s, and '90s, many of which come from the personal stashes of co-owners Mike Lovato and Steve Thomas. After paying the $10 admission fee, you can conquer Crazy Climber, make like 007 on Spy Hunter, score big playing Stun Runner, or finally prove you're the uncrowned king of Kong. So if you're ready, player one, StarFighters awaits you.

Best Of Phoenix®

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