Best Scenic Drive 2023 | State Route 88 to Tortilla Flat | Fun & Games | Phoenix

When the city streets get to be too much, or you just have a Saturday afternoon to enjoy, hop in your car and head toward Tortilla Flat. As you drive out of the city, the hills start to hug the road as it winds through fields of saguaros and past Arizona landmarks, including the Superstition Mountains, Goldfield Ghost Town and the Elvis Chapel. Continue on and the mountains get steeper until you reach a high point with overlooks that offer your first glimpse of deep blue waters below. As you wind down the hill toward Canyon Lake, kayakers and the Dolly Steamboat come into view sailing around the steep cliffs that descend sharply into the water. As you near the shore, there are a number of bridges only wide enough for one car. While you wait your turn to cross, take a peek at the canyons and creeks that bring streams of water to the lake. Stop at the marina, campgrounds and beach pull-ins for a better view of the lake before continuing to Tortilla Flat. This tiny town is often filled with motorcyclists who are in the know about the gorgeous drive. If you can find parking, stop for an ice cream at the general store. But if parking is full, pick your adventure: Continue driving the winding mountain road, or turn around and do it all in reverse as you head back toward the city.

You don't have to go very far from town for some wonderful kayaking. A morning on the Salt River is a great easy paddle with beautiful views and plenty of wildlife. Want to try it out? Meet a buddy and drop one vehicle at the Phon D Sutton Day Use Area and head up to the Water Users Recreation Site parking lot a few miles away. (Note: All cars that park at either of those lots need to display a Tonto Pass.) From there, set out on your journey. Depending on the current level of water flow, you may encounter a few short periods of Class I rapids around the part they call the Pinball, but most of your trip will be smooth sailing — er, kayaking. Keep your eyes peeled for water birds, otters, raccoons and bighorn sheep, but most of all the famous Salt River horses, which tend to congregate on the riverbank or in the shallow water close to the shore. It's easy to forget how near you are to the city when you feel this close to nature.

Kayaking isn't the only way to enjoy a trip down the Salt River. Paddleboarding is another popular pastime. If purchasing one of your own isn't something you're ready to commit to, you can rent one for the day at WildHorse Paddleboards. This Mesa-based female-owned company is making waves in the Valley due to the sheer love and passion owner Jonique Beach has for Arizona's nature and sharing it with customers. WildHorse currently charges $25 for a half-day rental (up to six hours) and $40 for a full day, and Beach is only too happy to impart her experience-based wisdom on how to get the most out of your paddleboard experience.

We don't get many opportunities to be on the water in the Valley of the Sun, so when we do, we treasure it. If you're looking for an activity to delight an out-of-town visitor or you just want to take a little ride, we suggest an excursion with Desert Belle Cruises. With Desert Belle, you get to explore Saguaro Lake on a sightseeing tour. During the high season, there's at least one cruise per day and often several on the weekends. You can opt for the basic narration cruise, in which a knowledgeable host tells you interesting facts about the lake, or you can check the schedule for one of Desert Belle's live music, craft beer and music, or wine and music cruises. Whichever you choose, you're setting sail for a good time.

Best Communing With Creatures of the Night

Phoenix Bat Cave

Here's a fun fact: Arizona is home to 28 species of bats, second in the nation to Texas. They're spread all over the state, but one colony of Mexican free-tailed bats has claimed as its summer home a flood-control tunnel near Camelback and 40th Street. The colony reportedly numbers 10,000-20,000 bats, which leave the tunnel nightly in search of some tasty insects. To witness this exodus, park near the intersection before sunset and start following the canal at the northwest corner of the intersection. Walk on the right side of the canal, and when you see a path heading off to your right, follow it until you arrive at the tunnel. You'll need to be quiet while you wait, as the bats don't like a lot of commotion. But eventually, you'll be rewarded with the sight of thousands of bats heading out for dinner. Don't worry, the bats aren't interested in humans and we've never seen a bat run into a spectator. As you head back to your car, keep your eyes peeled for bats picking off bugs from the surface of the canal.

We've been known to take a yoga class or two. But let's be real. When we go to yoga at Arizona Goat Yoga, we're there for the chance to watch and possibly cuddle a baby goat. And the classes don't disappoint. When you go, you get plenty of opportunities to interact with baby and adult goats with a low-impact yoga class chaser. Many of the classes are themed, so you and the animals can dress up to match themes like '80s, Hawaiian or Halloween. Depending on the day, some alpacas may crash the party, and still other classes offer cow cuddling as well. The staff are adept at making sure that the animals stay safe and happy while the guests enjoy their experience.

Birding has taken off in popularity recently among a wider range of demographics, and this 110-acre preserve in Gilbert is the premier place in the Valley to try it out. It's impossible not to see birds here, and when out-of-town birders ask for suggestions of where to see some feathered friends, this is usually the most popular answer. The birding surge started during the pandemic when people were looking for things to do outdoors and away from other humans, but the craze has continued. Because the preserve is in the desert, you'll probably see doves, quail and hummingbirds, but also, because it boasts seven lakes of reclaimed water, you'll spy specimens that aren't likely to show up in your backyard such as egrets, grebes, stilts, avocets and herons. The water is also a beacon for migrating birds that aren't usually in town such as peregrine falcons. And if you need guidance, the park is always brimming with veteran birders (you'll know them by their telescopic camera lenses) who are happy to answer questions and point you to less commonly seen species.

We just don't understand people who don't like cats. They're soft. They're cute. Most are friendly if you just take the time to get to know and understand them. If you love cats, you need to make a visit ASAP to La Gattara Cat Lounge in downtown Phoenix. At La Gattara, a rotating cast of kitties spend their days snoozing, eating and playing in the bright, comfortable space. For a small fee, well-behaved humans are welcome to come and frolic with the felines. And spending time with the cats isn't the only cool thing La Gattara offers. Other programming includes drag queen bingo, cat-themed paint nights and cat yoga. La Gattara is a nonprofit organization whose ultimate mission is to find homes for cats, and in this it's succeeding. More than 1,000 cats have been rescued because of La Gattara's good work in the community.

Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, but a vast number of transplants don't do their research before packing their van and heading into the wonderland of the Sonoran Desert, the most biodiverse desert on the planet. They arrive oblivious to the array of birds, mammals and reptiles that share a wide swath of our state, often to the detriment of the animals. It should be a requirement when people change their license plates to visit Liberty Wildlife. Not only is it a rescue center for injured wildlife, but it provides education and a world of fun. Go during open hours or book a private tour to see the "animal ambassadors" — rescued birds, lizards, snakes and others that, for various reasons, can't be rereleased. You might meet Sheryl the crow, Einstein the great horned owl or Marble and Millie, the California condors. Better yet, attend a special event. Volunteers roam the grounds so guests can get closer to the critters and learn more about them, and some events feature open-air bars, food trucks and entertainment. Also, don't miss the non-eagle feather repository, which provides feathers for religious and ceremonial purposes to Native Americans with federally recognized tribes.

Best Place to Watch a Spring Training Game

Sloan Park

When spring training rolls into town, baseball fans are presented with a multitude of options. Metro Phoenix is home to 10 different stadiums that host 15 different teams. But one location rises above the rest. Sloan Park in Mesa is the official spring training facility for the Chicago Cubs. Like all spring training stadiums, the outfield features a large lawn for picnicking and catching the game from the grass. But Sloan Park also offers a rooftop bar and party deck, an area called the Citrus Grove where a rotation of food trucks set up shop and concession stands selling Chicago dogs and Cubs memorabilia. Design nods including green steelwork and red bricks give the impression that a version of Wrigley Field found its way to the desert along with the team's sun-seeking fans. For locals, Sloan Park provides a taste of the Windy City without leaving the Valley, making it a destination for all.

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