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.
Nestled close to the city, South Mountain Park is easy to access from multiple trailheads and a great place to watch the day begin. At about 5 a.m. during summer months (and maybe an hour later the rest of the year), the sun will come creeping over the skyline, exploding into reds and yellows that brighten the whole Valley. Stay long enough, and you'll see that beautiful daytime-colored blue we all know and love so much. Stick around for a hike while you're up there — though not, of course, if it's too hot to climb a mountain.
Papago Park isn't exactly a hidden gem, but we don't often hear it mentioned as a great place to watch the sun go down. And it is. The small enclave of Sonoran Desert landscape offers a respite from the urban sprawl that is metro Phoenix, and the red-rock buttes are the perfect vantage place to watch a Technicolor sunset over the Phoenix cityscape. You can head to Hole in the Rock, of course, but that's typically swamped with visitors. We recommend posting up on some of the rocky outcroppings just north or south of it. Go for a walk or do some mountain biking in the area just after a monsoon downpour as the sun is setting. It's stellar.
You can't say you love your vehicle if you haven't taken its picture at Tempe Town Lake. Also, if you've never been, you're missing out on a party. The lake's several parking areas often transform into Barrett-Jackson Jr. on weekends, with kids in their late teens and early 20s pulling in with their souped-up Hondas, Subarus, and SUVs. The parking lot near the Marquee Theatre and the narrow lots near the north-side marina are favorites. Drivers come here to see and be seen, and what could be better than a picturesque lakeside spot with lots of parking? Search Reddit or other social media for the sporadic dates and times of these meetups. But respect The Man when he comes to break it up, which happens frequently. There's no glory to be found at the Tempe PD impound yard.
Valley car culture often presents as 10-foot trucks or sports cars pushing 100 miles per hour. But there's a place where cars are celebrated in a more stationary way: the Martin Auto Museum. Located on the I-17 frontage road near Bell Road, this "car-seum" opened its doors in 2005. Owner Mel Martin has filled the space with all kinds of rides, from hot rods and imports to classic cars and even a few oddballs. It's more than a warehouse for shiny cars; the whole place feels like a down-home, Phoenix-centric celebration of what cars really mean. It's a physical embodiment of the West Coast's relationship to the car (as both an everyday tool and something nearing an object of worship). And it's a place for all ages, where cars are the focal point for everyone to explore culture and history and daily life in our wonderful desert. MAM's intention is to educate just as much as it is to present eye candy, and in that regard, it's just as vital as any art gallery, educational center, or history museum.