“Hi, Brett, how would you like to head to sunny Arizona with us for a few days?” “Where in Arizona?” our 13-year-old grandson replied. “Phoenix area,” we answered. “What’s to do there?” was his next question. “Not sure,” we replied, “but we bet we can find some fun things to discover, not the least of which might be some sunshine!”
The above phone conversation occurred on a gloomy day in Southeast Idaho where the weather had been gray and cold for weeks on end. As the grandparents on this venture, we just wanted to escape to some warmth and bright skies and experience some fun in the sun with our grandson.
Rather than contacting the Phoenix Visitors Bureau for some ideas of kid-oriented things to do, we decided to venture out to some of the big city’s satellite communities – namely Apache Junction, Chandler, Mesa, and Tempe which collectively bill their communities as SUNNY ARIZONA — and which we like to call “The Big Four.” We wanted to see what offerings might be available, and were we surprised at the plethora of possibilities from which to choose – and all just a short drive from Sky Harbor Airport and downtown Phoenix. There is So Much More to Phoenix than Phoenix!
Chandler, our first stop, is a beehive of history, innovation, high tech companies and much more. It’s Arizona’s fourth largest city and growing fast. Dinner first night there was at the Old Spaghetti Factory located in Chandler’s huge Fashion Center which we found to be a hit for kids and adults alike — and a great way for us to start off our adventure.
A morning at Apache Junction’s Goldfield Ghost Town was a great diversion filled with Arizona’s colorful mining history. The site
includes off-road Apache Trail Jeep Tours, horseback trail rides at the OK Corral Stables, and guided hikes in the rugged desert terrain of Lost Dutchman State Park — plus a great lunch at The Mining Camp, a family style “all you can eat” restaurant. Plates heaped with barbeque ribs, oven baked ham, chicken with stuffing and gravy – even some yummy cactus jelly along with the rolls. Kids love everything about this place. So do their parents and grandparents, including the live country band. goldfieldghosttown.com
Brett had the pleasure of meeting up with a young man his age from Georgia named Will who was traveling with a very young looking great-grandmother. The boys hit it off immediately and were able to enjoy several venues together. Both being bright kids (just ask the grandparents), they asked to extend their allotted time at Arizona’s Museum of Natural History in Mesa, where attractions include historical exhibits, a three-story Dinosaur Mountain, gold panning fun, as well as the newest installation – a Paleo Dig Pit, and also the sobering territorial jail cells with their three-to-a-cell, iron bunk beds. Prisoners were given no blankets or pillows and, of course, no heating or air conditioning. Hard to even imagine. azmnh.org
The boys also had a blast at jumpstreet, an indoor trampoline parking into – and then climbing out of — a huge foam pit filled with big, square, blocks of foam. For a break from the bounding and bouncing, there’s a popular mechanical bull ride to further test balancing skills. Watching Brett ride, we wondered if he might even want to pursue the sport as a living. Just kidding. This can be pretty rough stuff. All things considered, Chandler’s jumpstreet is a blast where participants are invited to literally “bounce off the walls.” gotjump.com
If fascinating farm happenings are your thing, include, as we did, the Superstition Farms Dairy Tour with its “farm to fork” experiences of daily family life in a huge “agri-tourist” environment. Set within Mesa’s city limits, this farm provides an informative half-hour talk followed by another half-hour or so narrated wagon tour that meanders among hundreds of contented cows. Terms and information common to farmers and ranchers provide an education to those of us less familiar. To top off the tour, there’s an excellent up close and personal petting zoo and some tasty “udder delights” homemade ice cream. superstitionfarmtours.com
The other more upscale “farm experience” is Mesa’s Agritopia, once a lovely 1960’s homestead, now featuring the popular Joe’s Farm Grill with its extensive menu utilizing quality ingredients, many of which are grown in the beautiful surrounding community and commercial gardens. The grill serves up everything from date shakes to a dazzling array of salads, burgers, pizza and colorful, prize-winning cupcake specialties. Come early; the lines can be long. joesfarmgrill.com
Mesa, by the way, is Arizona’s third largest city and is dubbed the nation’s largest suburb.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s Sea Life Aquarium, located in Tempe’s popular Arizona Mills mall, features 36 display tanks with more than 5,000 sea creatures. Kids love reaching underwater to hold star fish, as well as seeing the sea horse display and walking through an ocean tunnel that provides a 360-degree viewing experience of underwater life. This is a top-notch aquarium. sealifeus.com
Tempe, of course, is home to Arizona State University, one of the nation’s largest, and this lively, eclectic city is drawing more
tourists every year.
If you fly, a great way to top off your trip is a visit to the Phoenix Zoo (PhxZoo), named by Child magazine as one of the top five zoos in the nation for kids. Safari trains, a monkey village, cruising bikes, paddle boats on the lake, and the fun of feeding giraffes are just part of the many delights of this outstanding zoo. This is also a great place to end a trip because of its close proximity to the Sky Harbor Airport. phoenixzoo.org
By the way, some of the other exceptional food choices on our trip included: Monti’s La Casa Vieja in Tempe, serving pasta and steaks for nearly sixty years in an historic building built in 1871. We also enjoyed some excellent south-of-the-border fare at Serrano’s Mexican Food, as well as a great breakfast at BLD’s (a delightful place for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, what else?) in Chandler — and later in the day dessert at Paletas Betty, a popular frozen treat on a stick that originated in Michoacan, Mexico
We stayed at the conveniently located Hampton Inn & Suites at the Chandler Fashion Center, just 20 minutes from the airport. The property’s popular On-the-House hot breakfast buffet is a hallmark of the Hampton. Phoenixchandlerfashioncentersuites.hamptoninn.com
Brett’s assessment of this hotel: “The outdoor heated pool is great!”Brett’s father, on a business trip, had been able to join us for the first morning of our activities, so at the end of our stay, when we asked what Brett what he liked best about our trip, we weren’t surprised when he said, “Well. . . I think the horseback ride my dad and I both got to go at Goldfield was probably right up at the top of my list of favorite things.”
“And, if you had to choose just one super activity?” we asked. “Had to be jumpstreet,” he enthusiastically replied. Probing a little further, we asked: “And on a scale of one to ten, ten being the most enjoyable trip you’ve ever taken with us?” “I’d have to give SUNNY ARIZONA a BIG Number Ten,” said Brett. And, from our grandparents’ perspective, we’d have to agree.