By Kim Heitzmann
School is out for the summer, so now is the perfect time to get away and enjoy quality family time! Living in Arizona gives us a lot of options for a quick or long getaway. We can head north for a reprieve from the heat; make a drive over to sunny California to enjoy the ocean and summer breezes; or stay right here in Phoenix to enjoy the beautiful local resorts that are practically in our backyard.
It is no secret that Phoenix temperatures rise in the summer. Those of us who live here understand that the heat is the price we pay for mild winters and the privilege to live in this beautiful part of the country. However, we find that the Valley is a little less congested in the summer and tourism slows down, which gives us some wonderful opportunities for staycations right in our own backyard.
Locals here know how to stay cool and beat the heat. Pack the whole family up and head off to a nearby resort. Many resorts offer great rates for the whole family and often have a wide variety of family activities, including: beautiful pools, water slides, lazy rivers, late night pool movies and some even offer kid programs throughout the day so that mom and dad can do their own thing.
While enjoying your staycation, head off to any one of the Valley’s many air-conditioned museums. Museums are not just educational but offer kids hands-on fun. If you have a kid who loves science, head off to Challenger Space Center, SEALIFE Arizona, i.d.e.a. Museum, Arizona Museum of Natural History or the Arizona Science Center. Love music? Be sure to stop in at the Musical Instrument Museum, which was just listed in the 10 best museums for kids in the country by USA Today. Have a little one who wants to play pretend, climb and do crafts? Check out the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. The Valley really does have something for everyone. For more information, visit www.visitphoenix.com.
In Flagstaff, things are really heating up this summer . . . well, everything except the temperature that is! At a cool 7,000 feet in the Ponderosa Pines, Flagstaff is an ideal summer getaway where you choose the adventure that best fits your family’s lifestyle or use the town as your base to explore the iconic landscapes and history of northern Arizona.
With the awe-inspiring San Francisco Peaks as your backdrop and pleasant summer temperatures luring you outside, hike or bike miles of lush forest trails, explore one of the Flagstaff area National Monuments, rent a canoe and paddle out on a local lake, take a scenic ride to 11,500 feet elevation on the chairlift at Arizona Snowbowl, or spend the evening stargazing at Lowell Observatory.
For the adventurous, mountain bike rentals, lessons and tours are available all summer at the Flagstaff Nordic Center. Or to experience thrills high in the pine, visit Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, Arizona’s only suspended obstacle course, with more than 70 aerial challenges for children and adults.
Take part in annual summer events such as Summer Nights on the Square, Fourth of July Parade and Native American Heritage Festivals at the Museum of Northern Arizona; or simply show up anytime and there is bound to be a special event going on. On Thursday nights musicians fill the square with the Flagstaff sound, on Fridays performing arts take center stage, and on Saturday evenings it’s the family-favorite Movies on the Square. For more information, visit www.flagstaffarizona.org.
Laid-back Tucson is where it’s at for discovering nature and science with family members of all ages. In the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Tucson’s unique environment provides a fun learning laboratory. At the top of the list for kids and adults alike is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Ranked by TripAdvisor.com as the #9 museum in the world for 2013, the “Desert Museum” differs from a traditional museum in that most of its plants and animals are living and exhibited in realistic settings. On summer Saturday evenings the museum hosts special Cool Summer Nights programming. For several changes of scenery—and temperature—the 27-mile drive up Mount Lemmon on the Sky Island Scenic Byway goes from saguaros to pines. Here, University of Arizona’s Mount Lemmon Sky Center presents its SkyNights observing program, featuring the Southwest’s largest public telescope. Sharing the 9,157-foot summit is Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, the southernmost ski resort in the United States. Its chair lift is open year-round, ferrying passengers to a high overlook with panoramic views. Back in town, on the university campus, Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium allows families to explore the wonders of Arizona’s starry night sky, our solar system’s constellations and planets, and spectacular images of celestial bodies. For more information, visit www.visittucson.org.
Durango is the outdoor adventure hub! From Mountain Bike Mecca to Best Water Town in the West; best scenic train ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to most friendly vacation and ski town; top western lodging at the historic Strater Hotel to most outdoor adventures! Majestic fourteeners, rambling rivers, bluebird skies and fields of wild flowers create awe-inspiring beauty.
Celebrate at the funky festivals, soar through the aspens on a Tree Top Adventure, hike miles of mountain or river trails, soak in natural hot springs, raft the Animas River, and play at Durango Mountain Resort. The activities are endless. It’s guaranteed that you will find magnificent mountain scenery, a historic downtown, inspiring art galleries, delicious cuisine and 300 plus days of sunshine. Over a dozen vacations in one destination. For more information, visit www.durango.org.
San Diego, California
Sun-kissed San Diego is consistently recognized as one of the country’s leading family destinations. In addition to its nearly idyllic climate, San Diego offers world-class family attractions like the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, LEGOLAND California, SeaWorld San Diego and Aquatica, and Balboa Park, the “Smithsonian of the West,” with 14 museums housed in ornate Spanish-Renaissance style buildings.
During the summer, San Diego’s 70 miles of beautiful beaches – including Coronado Beach, the number one beach in America – beckon families with their sparkling waters and glistening white sands. Outdoor recreation like biking, surfing, standup paddle boarding, snorkeling and kayaking is available at Mission Bay Aquatic Park and charming coastal enclaves like La Jolla and Coronado, located a bridge or ferryboat ride away from downtown San Diego. San Diego Bay offers incredible adventures for the whole family to enjoy, from whale watching excursions and harbor tours to Cabrillo National Monument with its majestic panoramic views from Point Loma, the mighty USS Midway aircraft carrier museum, Maritime Museum of San Diego/Star of India and the Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista, featuring friendly sea turtles, leopard sharks, stingrays, birds and more. For more information, visit www.sandiego.org.
Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, CO
Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, Tucson
Historic Strater Hotel in Durango, CO
Built in 1887, the historic Strater Hotel is a prominent downtown Durango, Colorado landmark located two blocks north of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and one hour east of Mesa Verde National Park. Guests experience the Old West while just steps away from fine dining, shopping, and many year-round outdoor activities for the entire family in the heart of the rugged San Juan Mountains. 800-247-4431 www.strater.com
The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, Scottsdale