Not many people know that August holds the unofficial title of “Family Fun Month.” That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy family fun time during the other months (see: “unofficial”), but it makes for a smooth segue into this topic, so we’re going to roll with it.
Whether you want to get in one last family hurrah before the kids return to school or celebrate that the kids are returning to school, the Valley offers plenty of options for “fun.” Let’s take a look at some of our favorites.
1. Water park
Just because August sits firmly in the middle of our rainy monsoon season doesn’t mean the heat goes away. A day to cool off at a water park like Wet ‘n’ Wild, Big Surf or Golfland Sunsplash could be just the recipe for family bonding.
Of course, while these parks are the ultimate in water play, and a great place to fill up on adventure, they’ll put a dent in your checking account in nothing flat. For families on a budget (“School supplies cost HOW much?”) the Valley offers more than 100 free pools and splash pads that can provide plenty of entertainment.
2. The Phoenix Zoo
Who could pass up the opportunity to see adorable and exotic animals? The Phoenix Zoo truly deserves its spot as one of the Valley’s top attractions thanks to its staggering 1,400 animals and more than 125 acres of space. In addition to the usual lions, tigers and bears (“Oh my!”), it also hosts a baby squirrel monkey, which — be honest — sounds like the most adorable thing ever.
Address: 455 N. Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Open Daily
Admission: (Summer pricing) $19.95 adult, $9.95 ages 3 to 13
3. Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park
Now, you might be thinking, “I’ve taken the kids to the zoo so many times already, I don’t want to go again.” Fortunately, Phoenix boasts more than one spot to see amazing animals.
Take a look at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park. Situated in Litchfield Park, its long name hints at an impressive list of things to do. The Zoo holds 600 animals from big cats to reptiles to kangaroos to a rare white rhinoceros. Get your dose of cute and cuddly at the Baby Animal Nursery or the Small Mammals of the World building (this place clearly knows its audience).
In addition to the zoo, tour the African Savannah in the Safari Park; see a range of North, Central and South American animals in Adventure Land — including buffalo, cougars and bears (“Oh my?”); visit the four-building Wildlife World Aquarium with fish, amphibians, invertebrates, reptiles, seals and the longest underwater acrylic tunnel in Arizona; plus there are rides for the family daredevils.
Address: 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Zoo) and 9 p.m. (Aquarium), daily
Admission: $39.99 adults, $19.99 ages 3 to 12
4. Arizona Mills
The Arizona Mills mall in Tempe might seem like an odd suggestion, but it contains a whopping four family-fun activities. First up, you definitely want to pay a visit to the LegoLand Discovery Center. In true LegoLand style, you can marvel at the miniature Lego versions of Arizona buildings and attractions, play with Lego, ride two indoor rides and take in the 4D Cinema that shows a follow-up adventure to the epic Lego Movie.
LegoLand Discovery Center
Address: 5000 S. Arizona Mills Cir., Tempe
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily
Admission: $17 online or $22 per person at the door (must be accompanied by a child 10 or under); $30 for combined ticket to LegoLand and Sea Life
When you’re done with LegoLand Discovery, walk next door to the Sea Life Aquarium, which boasts sharks, rays, seahorses, clownfish, a sea turtle and more sea creatures. Plus adventurous kids can touch some of the sea life in the interactive rock pool.
Sea Life Aquarium
Address: 5000 S. Arizona Mills Cir., Tempe
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Admission: $22 adults and $17 children at the door; Save up to $10.50 when you buy online; $30 for combined ticket to LegoLand and Sea Life
Next up, eat lunch (or dinner) at the always-fun Rainforest Cafe. If you aren’t familiar, the restaurant looks like it got dropped in the middle of a rainforest, complete with animatronic animals, a waterfall and occasional thunder and lightning. Finally, catch a family-friendly movie at Arizona Mill’s Harkins IMAX theater with its massive 5-story screen and body-shaking sound system.
You can also just wander the mall and look at the Disney Store, let the kids ride the train or animal-themed scooters, play in the play area, or — for the parents — take advantage of the chair massage area.
5. Musical Instrument Museum
For families with younger kids, recommending a visit to a museum might not seem very wise. However, the only-one-of-its-kind-in-the-world Musical Instrument Museum, or MIM as you’ll more likely hear it called, might surprise you. Not only do you get to see instrument from every country of the world, each display shows the instruments actually in use, which should capture some attention. Alternatively, the focused displays mean that with a few steps there’s something new to look at.
True, most kids won’t last the three to four hours it takes to get through all the displays, fascinating though they are, but that’s when you can visit the play room. Here, they — and you — can play replicas of many of the instruments, including a giant gong (only one hit per person, though).
Address: 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Admission: $20 adults, $15 ages 13 to 19, $10 ages 4 to 12, Free under 3
6. i.d.e.a Museum
As a less expensive museum experience for younger kids, take the family to the i.d.e.a. Museum. Enjoy kid-friendly activities like ArtVille, a socks-only space for kids 5 and under that lets them play with blocks, read books, work on art projects and pretend. Older kids can make environmentally friendly art projects in the Recyclery or build contraptions with Rigamijig. Don’t forget about the rotating art exhibits that showcase fun art and interactive activities.
Address: 150 W. Pepper Pl., Mesa
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday
Admission: $8 per person, Free for under 1
7. Arizona Science Center
For kids and parents with a more scientific interest, the Arizona Science Center provides more than 300 innovative exhibits and demonstrations. Explore the world of bugs from the perspective of an insect; stargaze in the planetarium; take a tour inside the human body; learn how flight works with fun hands-on projects; discover how the forces of nature work, including the Immersion Theater that puts in you in the middle of a hurricane, tornado, wildfire, a volcanic eruption and a monsoon; and so much more.
Address: 600 E. Washington St., Phoenix
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Admission: $18 adults, $13 ages 3 to 17, Free ages 2 and under
Bonus: Dine-in movie theater
Going to a movie as a family can be fun, but make the experience extra special at a theater that lets you eat a meal while you watch. FatCats Recline-N-Dine Theater and AMC Dine-in Theatres are two family-friendly options with good relatively inexpensive food and super-comfortable leather seats.
– Justin Ferris, Phoenix.org