Have a weekend bicycle route that can’t be beat? Know of a trail that always gets your heart pumping and spirits soaring? See your picks below.
You won't find much solitude on this hike in the Superstition Mountains (it's one of the most-trekked trails in all of Arizona), but it's well worth the foot traffic you'll dodge on the 2-mile ascent to Fremont Saddle, the trail's turnaround point. Here you'll find plenty of rocky spots to take a break and savor Peralta's payoff: a wide-open, up-close view of the landmark spire known as Weaver's Needle.
www.fs.usda.gov (Navigate to Tonto National Forest, then click on Recreation, Hiking and Day Hiking, then scroll down to Mesa Ranger District.)
"So beautiful, and a great workout."
"Beautiful hike, friendly people on the trails and just when you think you can't go any further you'll be at the top (and out of breath)."
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Yeah, it's hardly an outside-the-box choice. And does nostalgia come into play for 30- and 40-something Tribune staffers who recall many a carefree afternoon in their youth at the closest thing to an ocean without a six-hour drive? You bet.
But the biggest factor in Big Surf's selection is the fact that it broke ground -- opening in 1969 as America's first wave pool -- and remains a unique way to spend a summer day. Surfing is no longer permitted, but the water is always packed with swimmers and rafters. Perhaps the park's biggest attractions are the eight slides, ranging from the Otter kiddie runs to the steep drops of the Hurricane.
Big Surf, which survived a closure scare in 2009, opens on Saturdays and Sundays beginning May 14. It is open daily from May 27 to Aug. 6.
Location: 1500 N. McClintock Drive, Tempe
Contact: (480) 994-2297
This 3,648-acre park set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains (the ones with the yellow band slicing horizontally across their western face) offers nearly 30 miles of trails for mountain biking. Trails range in length from 0.2 miles to more than seven, and some offer enough elevation to gain far-as-you-can-see views of the surrounding terrain. Just be alert: Hikers and horseback riders share the same trails.
3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa
"Lots of trails for many skill levels."
If you've ever spent a day at the Lower Salt River Recreation Area, you've probably dodged a fair number of Spandex-wearing cyclists speed-pedaling around curves and down hills. The route, which can be approached by traveling north on Power Road or Ellsworth Road and made into a loop by cutting east-west on McDowell or McKellips roads, offers spectacular desert and occasional river views - along with the potential for sightings of coyotes, javelina, skunks and even free-roaming horses.
Bush Highway north of Mesa
"Great scenery, and a great workout."
"Beautiful scenery and up-and-down roads."
"Lots of road with good hills and not as much traffic on weekdays."
With seven urban fishing holes throughout the East Valley, Red Mountain Park stands out with more benefits than just casting your line in the water and hoping for the best.
The daily bag and possession limits are pretty much the same for all urban fishing spots -- four catfish, four trout, two bass, 10 sunfish, one white amur (30-inch minimum). But Red Mountain Park offers other benefits: Its breath-taking views, walking trail, sports fields and a multi-generational center. How can you go wrong with a park that has a center where people of all ages can meet and congregate?
Park hours: Sunrise to 10 p.m. For more information, check out the Arizona Game and Fish Department's 2011 Urban Fishing Program Guidebook.
Location: 7745 E. Brown Road, Mesa
Contact: Mesa Parks and Recreation Department at (480) 644-5300
You'll find joggers, dog-walkers, in-line skaters and stroller-pushers on either side of Tempe's 2.5-mile lake, drawn no doubt by the inviting, lively setting and this practical feature: 12-foot-wide paths on each side of the lake. The paths are open 5 a.m. to midnight daily. Create a complete circuit by crossing the Mill Avenue bridges and the Rural Road bridge; they connect the north and south shores of the lake.
80 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe
Voters lauded this "dog Disneyland" for its beach and diving pier, pet drinking fountains and wash stations, and separate areas for timid and active dogs. They must be on to something; Cosmo ranked fourth on a list of the Top 10 dog parks in the nation in the June 2010 edition of Dog Fancy magazine.
2502 E. Ray Road, Gilbert
"It has a lake! How cool is that?"
"Great location, great dog amenities."
"My dog loves this park! The lake makes it a special place to take her."
"No brainer. No brainer for the dog, too. Lots of tail wagging goes on here."
The path to the stars is just a few miles away for those who live in the East Valley. In August 2008, Mesa Community College opened its own planetarium, which gives students and local residents the chance to see the sun, moon, planets, stars, Milky Way and other celestial sights.
The planetarium has 53 seats and is designed not only for students, but for anyone in the area interested in astronomy.
Astronomy Nights shows are open to the general public and normally scheduled for the first Friday of each month.
Tickets are free and given out on a first-come, first-served basis. The shows generally begin at 6 p.m. and are viewed every half-hour until 10 p.m. If it's a clear night, the show is followed by a free telescope viewing outside the planetarium.
Location: Southern Ave. and Dobson Road, Physical Science Building, Mesa.
Contact: (480) 461-7027
This 65-acre oasis offers plenty of space for typical park pursuits like jogging, picnicking, playing catch or hanging off the monkey bars. But it rated highest with voters for all the ways it goes above and beyond the average park, with lakes, fishing, volleyball and basketball courts, batting cages, a skate park, a driving range, a miniature train and Ferris wheel, an antique carousel and a waterless Wave Runner jetski cycle for children. Local bands give free concerts at the outdoor amphitheater the second Thursday of each month March through June and October through November.
1045 E. Juniper Road, Gilbert
"It's clean, safe, beautiful and has LOTS and LOTS of fun things for families, kids and adults to do!"
"Lakes, grass, soccer and football fields ... AWESOME!"
"So beautiful and they have so many things there. Great for people watching while walking my dog!"
The Valley skate park scene is considered one of the best in the country. Superstition Shadows Skate Park in Apache Junction is not the biggest, but voters said it has a "nice flow" and a "killer layout."
300 East Superstition Blvd., Apache Junction
"It is clean, a skater's dream, and it is down the street to UBF Skateshop."
"Great park and awesome 'hometown' feel!"
When you're aiming to get up and at 'em in time to see the sun peek over the horizon, it's hard to beat Hayden Butte Preserve, the nubbin of andesite poking up from the heart of downtown Tempe.
Also known as "A" Mountain, it's got a lot going for it when it comes to early-morning outings.
Its central location means you're not going to have to get up too far before the crack o' dawn to catch those first rays, and the butte's glute-torching walk to the top is mercifully short (so you can still make it to work or wherever else you have to be by the end of rush hour).
The payoff is near 360-degree views. Nearby coffee shops, such as Starbucks, Cupz Coffee and Cartel Coffee Lab, open as early as 5 a.m., making your apres-sunrise experience something to savor, too.
Location: Fifth Street and Mill Avenue, Tempe
Contact: (480) 350-5200
Want to exercise, but don't want the triple-digit heat? Head indoors to the cooler climes of your local rec center. The Apache Junction Mutli-Generational Center is a state-of-the-art facility that is said to have an "amazing staff and great prices."
1035 N. Idaho Road, Apache Junction
"Lots to do there, friendly staff, very clean."
"You can work out, run on a track, play basketball, climb the rock wall, or play in the game room!"
Brunswick Zone XL lives up to its name. With 44 lanes for bowling, a massive video game area and a bar with six pool tables, it's an extra large helping of fun. The bowling lanes have couches, and a server will take care of all your eating and drinking needs.
1160 South Gilbert Road, Gilbert
(480) 813-BOWL (2695)
"Nicest bowling alley I've ever seen. Music, couches, food servers... GREAT!"
"Large facility, friendly staff, lanes in great condition, great arcade."
As for sunsets, we'll take ours along Wind Cave Drive inside Mesa's Usery Mountain Regional Park. That's right, Wind Cave Drive -- not Wind Cave itself; you'd break your neck on the way down from the popular hike after dark.
No, come sunset, our feet are planted at the picnic ramadas along Wind Cave Drive.
On temperate evenings, there are just as many people sharing a casual outdoor supper or snuggling with a sweetie there as there are hitting the trail, and it's easy to see why. The park is situated on a vast slope that unfurls like a giant apron from the mountains to the Valley below.
Perched up there, you've got a prime view of the metro area and mountain ranges to the west -- exactly where you want to be pointed when the sky starts turning pink, orange and purple behind the downtown Phoenix skyline.
Location: Wind Cave Drive inside Usery Mountain Regional Park, 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa
Contact: (480) 984-0032
Add this to the list of awards that Ocotillo Golf Course has won. With lush fairways, cascading waterfalls and colorful flowers, Ocotillo offers 27 holes of golf that Golf Digest gave 4 1/2 stars.
3751 S. Clubhouse Drive, Chandler
Phone: (480) 917-6660
"The greatest staff and pristine holes from start to finish."
"27 Holes of beautiful greenery and mature landscaping."
Tired of staring at buildings and parking lots while running 26.2 miles? Consistently rated as one of the best marathons in the nation, runners of the Lost Dutchman Marathon are treated to awesome scenery and great post-race food.
"Love this race! Very well organized and love the food afterwards!"
"Small, community feel yet very well done. Beautiful scenery, friendly volunteers and great prizes."
Are your kids tired of the same ol' boring slides and monkey bars? Get your lil' doggies over to Superstition Farms where they can take a tour of an actual working dairy farm and sample some goodies at Mooster's Mootique.
3440 S. Hawes Road
"Great tour and petting zoo. Awesome family farm!"
"Great place for the kids to run and play."
The Queen Creek Olive Mill is a destination that cannot be placed in a single category. Where else in the East Valley can you get a lesson on the importance of buying from local producers, pick up a gift box that even a mother-in-law will love and enjoy a delicious sandwich paired with a glass of Arizona-produced wine?
Owner Perry Rea has created quite a niche for himself and his Arizona-grown olives. What began as a hobby in 1997 when Rea planted an olive grove has bloomed. That growth can be credited to the perfect climate for growing olives without the need for pesticides and to Rea's creativity.
The retail choices at the Queen Creek Olive Mill range from "Extra Virgin" T-shirts to wines hand-picked by Rea from small vineyards in Italy and Spain. There's also a line of bath and body products and an overwhelming variety of olive oils, tapenades and flavored olives.
Just as creative are the menu choices at del Piero, the Tuscan-inspired eatery at the Olive Mill. The best-known item on the menu is the Kalamata sandwich, which was featured on the Food Network show "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." The meats for the sandwiches come from the neighboring Pork Shop in San Tan Valley, keeping in line with Rea's "buy local" mantra.
After stopping in the retail shop and eating their meal, guests can also go on guided tours to follow the olives from the tree to the table or the bottle.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Location: 25062 S. Meridian Road, Queen Creek
Contact: (480) 888-9290