Local artist Rachel Bess has a passion for pinball, spooky things, and tiki bar culture, and at Electric Bat, her arcade next to Tempe's Yucca Tap Room, all three interests intertwine to create a place that oozes more cool than other joystick joints. Inside, the lighting is kept low and the rotating selection of 29 pinball machines (including old favorites and new releases) are kept in top shape by Bess and her husband, Cale Hernandez. Classics like Magic Sword and a few Japanese import games are also available for play, while one corner hosts the tiki-themed "Electric Bar" with cocktails inspired by horror films. Pinball wizards who win the monthly high score contest can get their names etched on a tally board, and players who accumulate the most points each year are awarded a championship belt. Those who aren't Tommy-esque silver ball savants can still score, as the token machine occasionally dispenses "free beer" coins. It's one of the many reasons we'll keep coming back to roost at Electric Bat.
After La Gattara left its Tempe location last year, the popular cat lounge landed on its feet at a new space in downtown Phoenix this past spring with three times as much room for kitties and the humans who love them. Also new: a coffee bar stocked by Scottsdale's Passport Coffee and Tea, a boutique room, and an outdoor patio and parking lot. The real reason to visit La Gattara, though, is for its playroom and crew of resident felines. Colorfully decorated by Hauspanther artist Kate Benjamin and furnished with bean bag chairs and other comfortable seating, it's where some 40 adoptable rescue cats frolic and interact with patrons in search of pets, warm laps, and maybe even a new owner. Right now, La Gattara is only open for First Fridays and special pop-up events while it resolves permit issues with the city of Phoenix over having cats living there full time. Co-owners Missy Pruitt and Carrie Seay expect to resume normal hours later this fall, so it won't be long until you can spend quality time making some new feline friends.
This waterworld is a kid's dream come true and as a bonus, no one will get seasick. (But beware, if you stay a couple of nights, it might cost just about as much as a low-end cruise.) We found the place super-clean, super-big, and super-fun for fans of water slides, and day passes to the main water attractions are included in the room rate. There are rides for all ages and levels of terror-seeking. We especially loved the adrenaline-spiking Wolf Tail, which drops guests into a vertical water slide via a trap door. (We decompressed afterward on the Crooked Creek lazy river. ) There's also a beautiful pool with shade, lounge chairs, and poolside cocktail service for the members of your party who prefer rosé to rides. The rooms are new and huge. There's a climbing wall, a bowling alley, and even a Dunkin' Donuts. You might feel like you're hemorrhaging money over a long weekend at Great Wolf Lodge, but can you really put a price on family memories?
Want to race go-karts indoors or outdoors? At Octane Raceway, you need not choose. The 1/3-mile track starts indoors, winds around into the sunshine outside, and then heads back indoors so drivers can cool off from the hot race. Octane's race track is the only one of its kind in the U.S., and drivers can take its curves quickly since the karts can go as fast as 45 miles per hour. The European go-karts alone put Octane miles ahead of the competition — its 32 electric Sodi RTX racing carts feature center-mounted motors for better balance, sleek and strong ENGEC engines, and even LED brake lights. And once you've satisfied your need for speed, there's still plenty of fun to be had; Octane's got a full food and drink menu, plus more than a dozen arcade games and an outdoor area with table tennis, cornhole, and more.
Bowling takes on cosmic significance at Let It Roll Bowl, not just because of its blacklight bowling nights, but because it's such a tried-and-true place for friends and family to gather. During a year when we all craved more community, the city's oldest independently owned bowling alley continued to deliver, taking steps to assure people felt safe amid COVID-19 concerns while still being comfortable going out for some good, clean fun. The casual, friendly environment filled with geometric art is unparalleled, and you don't have to pay big bucks to bowl here. The alley is also home to an amazing cocktail lounge, so you can lean into the casual glam of swirling your fancy drink between attempts to take out all those pins that stand between you and being a local legend.
You can't watch pro hockey all year long, but that's no reason ice skating can't be a permanent fixture in your otherwise heat-filled desert existence. Sometimes you'll catch a glimpse of the Arizona Coyotes practicing at the Ice Den, but other times it's plenty enjoyable just to join your friends and family for a bit of sliding and gliding along without a care in the world. This is the place to do it, because Ice Den has public skates on the weekend (as COVID-19 health regulations allow), special events, and affordable skating classes so all ages can get into the spirit of things no matter your skill level. There's even a cafe that serves snacks and concessions, and a bar and grill where the lineup includes lunch, dinner, happy hour, late-night, and carryout options. You can get a shopping fix too, with the pro shop and a store that carries women's fashion and accessories. When you're ready to feel the chill of the air and the rink under your skates, the Ice Den is there for you.
Great Skate in Glendale has been harking back to the 1970s since opening in 2001. Though the rink, lights, and sound system are state of the art, the decor recalls the days of polyester and disco, and it's not hard to imagine yourself in the Olivia Newton-John movie Xanadu as you glide across the rink. (There are even special '70s music nights.) The rink holds weekly events, including Adult Night on Thursdays from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. and Glow Skate sessions on Fridays and Saturdays. Best of all, it won't cost contemporary rates — public skate admissions are just $7 per person, and if you don't have your own skates, rentals are only $4.50.
When you feel like taking a chance on the slots or game tables, the casino at Talking Stick Resort & Casino is the perfect destination to either boost your bank account or empty your wallet. It's got a new-Vegas chic to it, feeling as much like a nightclub as a gambling palace. But if you want to do more than get into risk-based fun, that's no problem. There are a number of great places to grab a meal, from the acclaimed Orange Sky to the seafood-focused Ocean Trail to a pretty solid buffet. There's a spa where you can be properly pampered, along with a golf course and pools where a private cabana can be your oasis. And there are live entertainment choices aplenty: Its stages have featured comedians like JB Smoove and musical acts like Cheap Trick, The Psychedelic Furs, and the very casino-appropriate Air Supply.
Is it weird to have an aquarium in metro Phoenix? Yes and no. An attraction devoted to sea life may not make a lot of sense in the context of the desert, but it's awfully nice to be able to experience a corner of the animal kingdom we'd have no hope of encountering naturally. At 200,000 square feet of space, OdySea is the largest aquarium in Arizona. It's home to about 6,000 animals, including otters, seahorses, turtles, tropical birds, sharks, penguins, crabs, and plenty of species of fish. We love the features that allow us to get up close and personal with the denizens of OdySea, like the stingray touch tank, and the gift shop stocked full of ocean-themed merch. It's the closest to the sea you can get around these parts.
We like golf — in small doses. We don't often have the patience for a full 18-hole round, but dropping a few bucks on a bucket of balls at the driving range? That's much more our speed. Our range of choice is south Scottsdale's Coronado Golf Course, where we never feel out of place even though our swing leaves something to be desired. The grounds are nice without succumbing to a golf-snob vibe, and you can hit balls from sunrise to 9 p.m., which means we can almost always find a time that fits into our schedule (and isn't too hot). In our opinion, the best time to go is happy hour (4 to 8 p.m.), when the price of large or jumbo buckets drops a couple of dollars, and certain cans of beer can be had for $2 or less.