Best Aquarium 2022 | OdySea Aquarium | Fun & Games | Phoenix

What do you call a fertile spot in a desert where water is found? Most people call it an oasis. Here in metro Phoenix, we call it OdySea Aquarium. Arizona might be a landlocked state, but this Scottsdale attraction is devoted to water-dwelling critters — sharks, turtles, otters, seahorses, and of course, plenty of fish. It's even home to the world's only Russian sturgeon touch exhibit. OdySea is the largest aquarium in the Southwest, where more than 2 million gallons of water slosh inside the 200,000-square-foot attraction. On the hottest days, the dim interior of the aquarium is cool and refreshing. We love petting the stingrays and hanging out in the rotating submarine viewing theater, and we really love Fish & Sips, the aquarium's monthly adults-only evening event where we get to commune with sea life with a cocktail in hand. And now that the aquarium's animal encounters are happening again, we recommend ponying up the extra dough to get up close and personal with animal friends like penguins and sloths.

We love to watch nature shows at home, but sometimes, we just want to see the animals in person. A trip to Phoenix Zoo satisfies that desire to commune with other members of animal kingdom. Go, and you'll see kids and adults alike delighting in the sight of tigers, orangutans, lemurs, rhinos, eagles, and countless other creatures. (If you're really lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of Luna, the young giraffe born at the zoo in February). The trails are wide and easy to walk, and there are plenty of places around the property to grab a cold beverage or a snack. Events such as the adults-only Roars & Pours nights and the annual ZooLights festival keep us coming back again and again.

It's hard to believe, but the hot new amateur sporting trend is pickleball. It appeals to all ages, and at any given tennis court, you'll likely see players pinging the ball across the net. Pickleball Kingdom recognized the demand for everything pickleball and built a facility dedicated to the friendly sport. With 16 courts, it's the largest pickleball facility in the nation, and the good news is you can play year-round — the facilities are indoor, so heat or wind aren't a worry. In between games, you can unwind with beer, wine, and snacks. The facility is built like a gym, so memberships are available, and there's an online app to reserve your court. Lessons are available (there's even a free Pickleball 101 session), you can rent equipment, and if you don't want to become a member, you can just pay a minimal drop-in fee to play. The venue is open for corporate events and birthday parties too. Pickleball Kingdom makes it easy to jump on the bandwagon of this growing sports phenomenon.

They say that practice makes perfect. Odds are low that we'll ever have a top-level golf swing, but we do enjoy improving by hitting the driving range at Coronado Golf Course in south Scottsdale. The unpretentious facility is open from sunrise all the way till 9 p.m., and there's plenty of space to spread out and practice your swing. We recommend showing up between 4 and 8 p.m. during happy hour, when buckets and beer are both on special (cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon are only $1.50). Just remember to bring some folding money — the course is cash-only.

Metro Phoenix has what could be considered a glut of golf courses (nearly 200 by one count). And they've all got their benefits. But our pick is Las Sendas, a Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course in far east Mesa, for several reasons. The views of the desert and mountains, including the iconic Red Mountain, are spectacular. The course is challenging without being frustrating for golfers (like us) who land way down on the amateur end of the skills spectrum. Speaking of skills, if you want to get better at golf, Las Sendas offers private and group lessons for kids and adults. And since our favorite part of playing golf is the refreshments afterward, we're glad the food and drinks at The Grille at Las Sendas are several notches above standard clubhouse fare.

Golf is a dominating feature of Arizona's recreational landscape, and it's a fun way to get hammered and still claim the title of "athlete." But the elitist sport takes skills, patience, and plenty of cash. Luckily, we were introduced to the world of disc golf — a more laid-back way to drink, smoke, and then chill the rest of the day knowing you got some kind of physical activity in, because hey, throwing a Frisbee qualifies as sports these days, and people take it seriously. The disc golf course at Fountain Park in the quaint Phoenix suburb of Fountain Hills is quite well-maintained and features incredible, top-of-the-line baskets. The park and course wrap all the way around the lake and utilize it on most holes. Big circle tee boxes allow for alternate routes to baskets on this picturesque course, which is featured on the Disc Golf Pro Tour and the Professional Disc Golf Association tour. And maybe best of all, every hole features breathtaking views of the world-famous fountain in the center of Fountain Hills, a water feature that measures 560 feet tall at its full height.

On the second evening of Innings Festival in February, a lot of attendees found themselves suddenly interested in something besides the music. As the sun began to set, a particularly beautiful group of colors began to emerge: lemon yellow near where the water meets the sky, then a bold orange-pink, giving way to a blue-gray-purple. The paths near the side of the lake filled with people taking selfies and sunset shots. It was an unexpectedly lovely ending to a great weekend of music, but Tempe Town Lake is an excellent vantage point for sunsets even when there's not a festival going on. The surface of the lake, plus all the shiny buildings that line the water, means that one gorgeous sky gets reflected in countless surfaces, giving the viewer an impossibly beautiful eyeful of color every time.

Luigi Richie

The two Baytek Beer Ball games at The Little Woody aren't as flashy or high-tech as the Skee-Ball machines found at garish family fun centers in the Valley, but that's sort of the point. The lo-fi game room at the Arcadia bar is a hipper spot for local Skee musketeers to roll for glory. Its old-school vibe fits the retro roots of Skee-Ball (which dates back to the early 1900s), the beer and libations menu is unrivaled, and there aren't any rugrats around to distract you. Plus, games are free every Monday night and local social sports group PHX Fray organizes Skee-Ball leagues throughout the year. And when you tire of ruling the ramp, there are darts, shuffleboard, a pool table, and board games to choose from. So if your aim is true, start limbering up your wrist and roll down to The Little Woody.

Carousels can be found spinning up quaint, innocent fun for the young, and the young at heart, at amusement parks and family-friendly attractions across the Valley. If you're looking for the best merry-go-round around, though, head for Mesa's Superstition Springs Center, where the double-decker Fun Zone Carousel is located next to the food court. Unlike other local carousels, it offers two levels of saddled beasts to ride, as well as twice the fun. Its menagerie of mounts includes such exotic and fantastical choices as a gorilla, dinosaurs, and dragons. There's also a proud bald eagle with its wings outstretched, talons extended, and perfectly posed if you want to pretend you're Gandalf rescuing Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom or stage some sort of humorously over-the-top patriotic selfie for social media. It's $4 per ride or four rides for $15, so pay up, hop up, and get ready to ride. Adventure and fun await.

It isn't difficult to pick out the La Grande Wheel XL amid the glowing, rainbow-colored spectacle of the Arizona State Fair's midway when the event occurs every fall. Living up to its moniker, the 164-foot-tall attraction is visible from miles away, towering over every other ride, the nearby Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and everything else in the immediate vicinity of the fairgrounds. As such, riders in each of its 36 air-conditioned gondolas get panoramic views of downtown Phoenix, the surrounding sprawl, and the various mountains dotting the horizon. La Grande Wheel XL is touted by its owners, local carnival ride operator Ray Cammack Shows, as the largest traveling observation wheel in the Western Hemisphere, while fair organizers tell Phoenix New Times it's one of the most popular rides at the event. It's also one the priciest, typically costing 20 tickets or more per person, but it's worth the expense for the chance to ride the biggest and best Ferris wheel in town.

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