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.
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.