Struck down but not out by repeated closures due to the pandemic, Black Rock remains a local climber's best resource when real rock is unavailable. Laid out in two cavernous rooms with slightly different offerings, the 15-foot walls provide challenges to everyone, whether it's your first time in rock shoes or you're the next Alex Honnold. There are no ropes and no use for a harness here. When you fall, you hit the (padded) ground. Sooner or later, you'll lose your grip on a crimper hold atop one of the color-coordinated boulder problems and down you'll splat. (You have to practice falling to get it right.) We find the ratings here a touch softer than at other gyms — to be specific, we have climbed V4s here, and only here, but those were unforgettable moments, endearing us to the place forever. The vibe is perfect, with a good mix of young monkeys, scruffy veterans, and tattooed daredevils of both sexes with rippling muscles. Social distancing rules apply, and hand-washing is mandatory.

The three blue-turf basketball courts at Encanto Sports Complex aren't fancy, but they are well-maintained and popular, making the park a great place for hoops with friends or to get in on a pickup game already underway. (You can play late, too — till 10 p.m., seven days a week.) Be warned, though: Some fierce ballers lurk on these courts, which have long been lauded as the best place in the Valley to find streetball rivaling that found on the hardened streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Don't expect a leisurely game of H-O-R-S-E.

Whatever floats your boat is cool at Tempe Town Lake. Every manner of water-borne recreation happens here: kayaking, pedal-boating, stand-up paddle boarding, rowing, and electric cruise boating. (Swimming is just about the only water sport you can't indulge in at this 2-mile-long lake.) Tempe Town Lake Marina has a boat ramp and a floating dock available for public use, and several boat rental companies on site offer a variety of watercraft, from dragon boats and hydrobikes to canoes and swan-shaped pedal boats (large, powered boats may be reserved in advance). Anglers may fish from 5 a.m. until midnight, and catches may include stocked bass, sunfish, catfish, trout, and Israeli carp. For amphibious athletes, try the lakeside events, like sunrise yoga on the dock.

Kiwanis Park

Bigger is better at Kiwanis Park in Tempe — all 125 acres of it. What do you want to do today? Horseshoes? Picnic in the shade of 15 ramadas? Rent a surrey bike? Rent a paddle boat and hit the 13-acre lake stocked with catfish, trout, bass, sunfish, and white amur? Maybe you're more of a sports person, in which case you'll want to avail yourself of the baseball diamonds, lighted batting cages, indoor basketball courts, wave pool, soccer field, volleyball courts, or the 15 lighted tennis courts, manned by USTA-certified staff. Stuck with the kids? Take them to The Cloud, a 5,000-square-foot splash playground complete with loops, pillars, jelly sticks, and misting sprays. Kiwanis is a recreational wonderland. Dive in.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

In the age of blockbuster amusement parks, the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park stands as a reminder that community parks have their own charms. The spacious 20-acre park has plenty of open green space where families can picnic, children can run off their energy, and couples can enjoy some outdoor time together. Tickets to the railroad rides and carousel are cheap, and the park has several other amenities, including playgrounds and actual railcars that bring train history to life. For a generation used to electric scooters and car sharing, the Scottsdale Railroad Museum presents a fascinating look at how people moved from place to place in generations past. There's even a building filled with train models, which brings out the childlike wonder in visitors of all ages, fueling romantic dreams of riding the rails free of everyday responsibilities.

Big Surf Waterpark

Since 1969, Big Surf has been the closest thing Valley residents have to a real beach, featuring everything from a wave machine to children crying about hot sand between their toes. The 2.5-million-gallon Waikiki Beach Wave Pool tends to be packed with older kids and adults astride rafts, boogie boards, and surf boards (all available for rental). Other park attractions make a splash with younger tykes, like Captain Cook's Landing (for toddlers), Bora Bora Bay, and smaller Otter Slides for kids under 4 feet tall. Adults can whet their appetite for water slides with seven different attractions, including The Black Hole enclosed slide and winding Tornado Twisters body slides — perfect for racing friends into the plunge pool below. You can even learn to surf here; lessons are available on designated weekends.

Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

When in Phoenix, do like the Phoenicians do — find a good deal on a nice hotel in the summer and plan a family staycation. You can't do better than this resort (despite its politically incorrect name). For $80 to $100 per night, your family will be treated to a nice room that comes with access to the resort's phenomenal pool complex. Put on your sunscreen for a few slow spins around the lazy river, catch the kids as they come down the slides, or just enjoy the cool splatter of a waterfall on your head. We're always sad to leave here, but it's nice to have someone else clean the pool for a change.

Talking Stick Resort & Casino is our favorite place to hold 'em and fold 'em in the Valley. It has all the slot machines you could ever need (even penny slots!), plus blackjack, keno, and Arizona's largest poker room. And once we're out of money — because we're not very lucky — there's still plenty to do. The Wandering Horse Buffet is quite good (try the blood orange gelato); the view of the sunset from the Orange Sky restaurant is spectacular; and we've had many a memorable evening dancing the night away at the Degree 270 lounge. While the casino is back up and running, some of the amenities are not, so keep checking the website to find out when you can get the full Talking Stick experience.

Saguaro cactus, dust storms, triple-digit temperatures — with sharks and penguins? OdySea is the largest aquarium in the southwest U.S., boasts 370 species among over 6,000 animals, and is well worth an afternoon. Located in a food-and-entertainment complex now called Arizona Boardwalk, OdySea has some pretty cool shark exhibits, and it's good to see jellyfish every now and then to remind you what a bizarre planet this is. Our kiddo spent an inordinate amount of time at the Stingray Bay touch pool, then followed it up with some relaxation at the cafeteria, which has a lighthouse to explore. And if you're willing to drop a little extra change, OdySea offers some delightful animal encounters, like petting penguins or swimming with the fish. It's a refreshing taste of ocean life in the middle of the desert.

Like its namesake book-turned-movie, Ready Player 1 Arcade taps into hardcore nostalgia. Located inside Jesse James Comics in Glendale, the place is packed with retro games galore, including 35 pinball machines (both classic and modern) and a few dozen old-school arcade titles. The throwback thrills come cheap, too: Arcade games are only a quarter and pinballs cost 50 cents a pop. Everything comes from the personal collection of owner Danny Moreno, who keeps each unit operating in peak condition. So, if you get wasted by the enemies of Double Dragon, The Simpsons, or NARC, don't blame the joystick. Your skills might be lacking, just like they were back in the day.

Best Of Phoenix®

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