Newcomers’ Guide to Parks & Recreation in the Valley in 2023

Editorial StaffNovember 2, 2022
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Enjoy animal encounters, souped-up racetracks and more at these Valley amusement venues.

OdySea Aquarium
The aquatic world comes to life at this interactive state-of-the-art facility, which features 65 exhibits, 370 species, touch pools, a penguin encounter, SeaTREK helmet diving and a revolving “theater” that rotates past four viewing windows featuring sharks, sea turtles, groupers, stingrays and sea lions. Be sure to look up as you enter to spot the massive aquatic orbs hanging from the lobby ceiling. Even the restroom surprises with up-close views into the shark habitat. 7455 N. Pima Rd., Salt River Indian Community, 480-291-8000,

Arizona Sea Life Aquarium
Visitors enjoy close encounters with a variety of ocean creatures, including seahorses, sharks, rays, tropical fish and sea turtles. An interactive quiz trail, hands-on touch pools and a 360-degree ocean tunnel are highlights. 5000 S. Arizona Mills Circle, Tempe,

Crayola Experience
A day trip for doodlers, this family destination helps children and adults alike explore art and technology, express their creativity and experience color in a whole new way. Interactive activities allow guests to name and wrap their own crayon, star in their own coloring page, paint with melted wax, learn how crayons are made and bring their coloring page to life in 4D. 3111 W. Chandler Blvd., Chandler, 602-581-5370,

Gecko Climbing Gym
Instead of bouncing off the walls, kids of all ages can scale them to their hearts’ content at this new indoor rock climbing and fitness facility. Designed for avid athletes as well as those new to the sport, the gym gives new meaning to social climbing with 30-foot climbing walls, 15-foot bouldering walls, a 12-by-12-foot kilter board with light-up climbing holds and a kids’ wall with a 6-foot spiral slide. When you’re finished chalking up, a yoga and aerial yoga studio is worth hanging around for. 24400 N 19th Ave., Suite 115, Phoenix, 623-248-0890,

Horseback Riding: Cave Creek
Hop into the saddle and take the reins for a trail ride through a valley of towering saguaros and dazzling peaks in the Tonto National Forest. Spur Cross Stables’ breathtaking sunset rides offer a spectrum of colors and wildlife cameos in one of the Valley’s most pristine areas. 44029 N. Spur Cross Rd., Cave Creek, 480-488-9117,

Hot Air Balloon Rides
Take your day up, up and away in a hot air balloon over the desert. This aerial experience is great for birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, corporate events, family outings or just for fun. Hot Air Expeditions, 702 W. Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix, 480-502-6999,; Rainbow Ryders, 715 E. Covey Ln., Phoenix, 800-725-2477,

iFLY Phoenix
Experience the thrill of a freefall without jumping from an airplane at this indoor skydiving facility. Certified flight instructors help guests control their bodies in the air and experience true human flight in a vertical wind tunnel. 9206 E. Talking Stick Way, Scottsdale, 480-712-4359.

Legoland Discovery Center
Creative play takes center stage at this interactive attraction, which boasts two Lego rides and a 4D cinema, along with large-scale models, Lego building areas and workshops with a master builder. 5000 S. Arizona Mills Circle, Tempe, 855-450-0558,

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
Climb aboard a miniature replica of a narrow-gauge railroad to explore this 30-acre park, which is a great place to take the kids, grandkids and adults who are kids. A 1950s vintage carousel and several railroad exhibits are featured, as well as special events, including concerts, model-train exhibits and holiday lights. 7301 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale, 480-312-2312,

Medieval Times
Cross the drawbridge, grab an ale and prepare for a night of “hands-on” feasting and revelry at this 80,000-square-foot castle. Dinner theater-style shows are offered nightly featuring jousting knights, equestrian performances, falconry and rowdy crowds. Stop by the medieval torture museum and “Hall of Arms” to discover fascinating medieval artifacts after the show. 9051 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale, 888-935-6878,

Octane Raceway
Octane invites speed enthusiasts to gun their go-karts on the facility’s one-third-mile track, which begins indoors then winds through an outdoor section before returning inside. Stop by Thursdays to race it backward. The European-built electric karts run on engines capable of reaching up to 45 miles per hour. Also includes mini bowling, an arcade, and a trackside bar and grill. 9119 E. Talking Stick Way, Scottsdale, 602-302-7223,

Pangaea: Land of the Dinosaurs
Guests step back in time with dozens of animatronic dinosaurs set in lifelike prehistoric habitats. Fossil excavations, etching, sifting and other interactive activities are included, plus an on-site restaurant with dino-themed favorites. 7455 N. Pima Rd., Salt River Indian Community, 480-362-3466,

Phoenix Zoo
Home to more than 3,000 animals and many endangered and threatened species, this nonprofit park is dedicated to providing experiences that inspire people and motivate them to care for the natural world. A variety of workshops, field trips, overnight camps, holiday lights and special events are offered for all ages. 455 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, 602-286-3800,

Radford Racing School
Who says driving school has to be boring? Here, drivers navigate the tight curves of a race course in high-performance vehicles and formula cars. Maximize the experience with a one- to three-day class that puts students behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and an opportunity to go as fast as their new abilities will take them. 20000 S. Maricopa Rd., Chandler, 480-403-7600,

Tempe Town Lake Boat Rentals
Just north of the Mill Avenue District in downtown Tempe, Tempe Town Lake is your go-to location for water sports. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing excursion on an electric cruiser, or want to amp up your cardio with a pedal boat, stand-up paddleboard or kayak, a wide spectrum of aquatic diversions is available for rental. 72 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, 855-690-0794,

Billed as a combination of golf and bowling, this driving range/entertainment center offers competitive golfing games for all ages and skill levels, with brightly colored “target zones” and advanced technology to track players’ shots. The centers are family-friendly, although the music (and usually the bar tabs) get cranked up at night. Three Valley locations,

Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza
Located in the shadow of the state Capitol, this urban park covers two square blocks and is the site of 23 memorials honoring the achievements of the late governor and other prominent Arizonans. Highlights include the Arizona 9/11 Memorial; the anchor of the USS Arizona, sunk during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941, as a memorial to the men who died aboard the battleship; plus tributes ranging from World War I to Desert Storm, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Navajo Codetalkers. 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix,

Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium
Boasting more than 6,000 critters representing more than 600 species, the zoo is home to baboons, cheetahs, ostriches, monkeys, wart hogs, kangaroos and a white rhinoceros, as well as sea lions, otters, eels, stingrays and crocodiles. Educational animal shows, a petting zoo, feeding stations and a flume ride add to the fun. 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, 623-289-1132,

This article first appeared in the 2023 City Guide, published by PHOENIX magazine in November 2022.


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