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2021 Summer Survival Guide

The heat is here, and with it long days of staying indoors. If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that we now know how to fill time. These favorite Arizona summer activities will help. As with everything lately, details have changed a bit as COVID-19 continues, and kids under age 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine. But there are still plenty of fun things to do — from affordable family movies to flashlight hikes to reading programs that help stop the summer slide in learning. Here are two dozen ways to get through these hot months.


The Children’s Museum of Phoenix hosts its first traveling exhibit, “Very Eric Carle: A Very Hungry, Quiet, Lonely, Clumsy, Busy Exhibit,” through Sept. 6. Carle illustrated Bill Martin, Jr.’s book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” then wrote and illustrated “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” which has been translated into 66 languages and has sold more than 50 million copies since it was published in 1969. “Very Eric Carle” features hands-on activities inspired by five of Carle’s classic books: Visitors can weave a web with the “Very Busy Spider,” compose a night symphony with the “Very Quiet Cricket,” and create artwork using many of Carle’s materials and techniques. 215 N. Seventh St., Phoenix. childrensmuseumofphoenix.org


The Arizona Diamondbacks’ air-conditioned, domed stadium offers relief from the heat with kid-friendly amenities, starting with the D-backs Kids Club. It’s free to join, and kids can visit the new Kids Club Headquarters at Section 125 to redeem a prize for each game attended, including a Nick Ahmed poster, Topps baseball card pack, sweatband set, rally towel, wrist watch, kids clear bag, Phoenix Zoo ticket and a baseball. Times and ticket prices vary. Chase Field, 401 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix. 602-462-6500 or dbacks.com


Playoff tickets are expensive and hard to come by, but enjoy the Phoenix Suns first playoff run since 2010 from home or join a watch party at a favorite restaurant with a patio around town. The championship WNBA Phoenix Mercury team plays all summer in the air-conditioned Phoenix Suns Arena. And every home Sunday is KidsDay, when the first 400 kids (ages 16 and younger) who attend get a free clear bag, postgame selfies on the court with Mercury players and $2 kid-sized concession items. Plus interactive games, guest appearances, sign-making stations and more! phoenixmercury.com


AMF’s Summer Games Season Pass lets passholders bowl three games daily — and it covers shoe rentals — at a local AMF, Bowlero or Bowlmor bowling center. Buy your pass at a participating center or upgrade to a passport for use at all participating bowling alleys nationwide. Prices vary, but the pass starts at about $49.95 for ages 16 and up; $34.95 for ages 15 and younger. Kids Bowl Free — a national program designed by bowling centers to give children a safe, fun summer — lets each registered child bowl up to two free games daily. Let It Roll Bowl in Phoenix participates, as does Glenfair Lanes in Glendale. Bowlers still rent shoes for about $3.50. The offer is available to ages 15 and younger, and others can participate at discounted rates, making it a great family outing.

Cheap movies

Even when it’s 115 degrees outside, it’s always cool in the movie theater! From June 11-July 22, The Harkins Family Fun Series offers a family favorite movie for $3 for My Harkins Awards Members (it’s free to join) and $5 for non-members at participating Harkins Theatres. Plus, get 50 percent off a Kids Combo for members each weekday before 6 p.m. Learn more at harkins.com/family-fun-series. Alamo Drafthouse movie theaters (drafthouse.com) in Tempe, Chandler and Gilbert hosts Kids Camp matinees for $1-$5 that must be reserved online in advance. All ticket sales are donated to local nonprofits working to improve the community. And at FatCats movie theaters in Gilbert, Mesa and Queen Creek (fatcatsfun.com), movies are only $5 for everyone on Tuesdays!


Crayola Experience is now open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday at Chandler Fashion Center. Kids and adults can enjoy hands-on art projects, such as creating a custom crayon, bringing 4D art to life, creating melted wax spin-art and more. The Crayola Store offers a huge array of Crayola products and souvenirs, including plush toys and apparel. General admission is $19.99; annual passes start at $35.99. Visit crayolaexperience.com/chandler

Flashlight Nights

On Saturdays all summer — June 5 to Sept. 4 — shine your own flashlight along the Desert Botanical Garden’s trails to discover night-blooming plants and animals that only appear in the desert after dark. Plus, live performances by local bands, dance groups or puppeteers each week. $14.95, $9.95 for ages 3-17. 6-9 p.m. Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix. 480-941-1225 or dbg.org

Free concerts

Let the hottest part of the day pass, then head out to hear live music at Desert Ridge Marketplace (shopdesertridge.com); Westgate Entertainment District (westgateaz.com) or Tempe Marketplace (tempemarketplace.com) on various nights all summer.

Free meals for kids

Kids Café at select Phoenix Public Library locations (phoenixpubliclibrary.org/kids/programs/kids-cafe) provides free meals courtesy of St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance for ages 18 and younger Monday-Saturday while supplies last. Children do not need to be present, but parents/caregivers will be asked to provide proof of children and list each child’s name and age. On Fridays, customers may request double meals if supplies allow. The Peoria Unified School District (peoriaunified.org/breakfastandlunch) is also offering breakfast and lunch curbside free to ages 18 and younger this summer at 12 school sites. A snack and dinner will be available at the Peoria Community Center. Children must be present, or student identification must be presented, but children do not have to be enrolled in the Peoria Unified School District to participate. Meals for ages 19 and older are $1.75 for breakfast and $3.75 for lunch. For more free kids meal locations, call 602-528-3434 or 1-800-445-1914 or text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877.

Free museum visits

Summer is the perfect time to explore air-conditioned museums around the Valley, and many offer free or pay-what-you-wish admission days in the summer. The Phoenix Art Museum (phxart.org) offers voluntary donation days from 3-7 p.m. Wednesdays and First Fridays. The Heard Museum (heard.org) in Phoenix offers free admission from 4-8 p.m. on First Fridays. The Chandler Museum (chandlermuseum.org) offers free admission Tuesday-Sunday (closed Mondays). The Blue Star Museums program (arts.gov/bluestarmuseums) provides free summer museum admission to America’s active-duty military personnel and their families through Labor Day. More than a dozen Arizona museums participate, including the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona Museum in Mesa and the Arizona Railway Museum in Chandler.


Find a new friend and help save a kitten at The Kitten Pop Up [Adoption] Shop at Scottsdale Quarter from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 26-27 and July 24-25. Every summer, more than 1,200 kittens are rescued by the Arizona Animal Welfare League (aawl.org), which needs to find loving homes for these adorable fur babies. The AAWL Pop Up is on the second floor of building 15279, near the public restrooms, on 72nd Place between North Street and Quad Drive. scottsdalequarter.com

Lego play

Legoland Discovery Center inside Arizona Mills mall in Tempe boasts an indoor playground, two small rides, Lego-building areas, a car-testing space and a 4D theater showing short Lego films. There’s also a cafeteria and parents lounge. On display now is the Lego Trolls World Tour that includes a scavenger hunt, Troll Lego builds, a dance party, a giant Lego Poppy and more. Visit arizona.legolanddiscoverycenter.com

Maricopa County Reads

Ages 11 and younger can sign up for a free summer reading program intended to promote literacy and help stop the summer slide — the term given to the learning losses experienced by children between school years. Participants earn points, unlock badges and win prizes for minutes added to a personal reading log. Prizes include a free personal pan pizza from Peter Piper Pizza, a free kids meal from Rubio’s, a free lemonade from Raising Cane’s and even a free book. Visit maricopacountyreads.org


Miniature golf is a great, safe outdoor activity that allows for social distancing, but still lets families get out and have some fun — especially in the cooler morning or evening hours. There are lots of places to enjoy minigolf in greater Phoenix, but three nice outdoor courses include CrackerJax (crackerjax.com) and Castles-n-Coasters (castlesncoasters.com) in Phoenix and Golfland Sunsplash (golfland.com) in Mesa.

Moonlight hikes

Maricopa County parks (maricopacountyparks.net) offers popular full-moon hikes monthly. Also, check the event calendar for Arizona State Parks (azstateparks.com), which details a Sunset Stroll in Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction and more.

Outer space

Arizona has been at the forefront of space discoveries and NASA missions for decades. Explore “Ready to Launch: Arizona’s Place in Space” featuring objects from NASA, Lowell Observatory, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, including an Apollo-era space suit, hand-drawn moon maps and photographs of deep space. Learn about the researchers, astronauts and scientists who are taking us to the edges of our galaxy and beyond. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through Nov. 30. $5-$10. Arizona History Museum, 949 E. Second St., Tucson. 520-628-5774 or azhs.org/tucson

Pottery painting

As You Wish (asyouwishpottery.com) hosts $25 summer kids classes and to-go projects at its six Arizona locations. In-store classes are from 9-10:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Color Me Mine (phoenix.colormemine.com) at Biltmore Fashion Park also offers in-studio and take-home pottery painting projects.

Splash pads

Splash pads abound at outdoor shopping centers and local parks Valleywide. This is a brilliant and free way for kids to cool off and get some exercise despite the heat. Family favorites include the Pioneer Community Park splash pad in Peoria (peoriaaz.gov), and one of the area’s largest new splash pad playgrounds — The Cloud — in Tempe’s Kiwanis Park (tempe.gov). We also love the beautiful fountain/splash pad area at Scottsdale Quarter (scottsdalequarter.com) along with splash pads at Tempe Marketplace (tempemarketplace.com) and Desert Ridge Marketplace in north Phoenix (shopdesertridge.com), which typically offer periodic kids entertainment. Find a favorite splash pad near you at raisingarizonakids.com/splash-pads

Summer Bridge Activities

Kidstop Toys and Books in Scottsdale loves to help stop the summer slide in learning with its Summer Bridge Activities book program. Buy an age-appropriate Summer Bridge book for $14.99, and when your child finishes every page of the book, he or she will get to redeem it for 50 percent off a toy at Kidstop. Kidstop also partnered with Advantage Tutoring to give four lucky local teachers Summer Bridge books for their entire classes. Visit kidstoptoys.com

Summer Fridays at The Quad

Scottsdale Quarter outdoor shopping center hosts free family friendly Summer Fridays from June 4 through Aug. 20 at its scenic splash pad. Starting at 10 a.m., enjoy a DJ, snow cones by Tropical Sno and more. The first 100 kids get free toys to take home! Visit scottsdalequarter.com

Summer Reading Bingo

Changing Hands bookstores in Phoenix and Tempe are rolling out their summer reading program aimed at ages 8-12. The free program celebrates diversity and inclusion in children’s literature. Collect a Summer Reading Bingo Board in person (in store or curbside) or download it at changinghands.com/kidsread2021. Kids color in corresponding squares as they complete each task, such as reading a book with an evil villain or a graphic novel based on a real person or event. Other tasks include reading a book by a debut author, a book about an immigrant or refugee, or one with an animal as a main character. Those who complete enough tasks to connect five squares earn a prize pack. Kids who complete the whole board will be entered in a raffle for a $50 Changing Hands Kids’ Book Bundle.

Tie dye

Tie-dye clothing is all the rage right now, and it’s a fun, easy summer project for all ages. Buy a kit — such as the Tulip One-Step Tie-Dye kits — from any craft store, and grab white shirts, socks, pillowcases, towels or anything that needs some new life. Pinterest.com offers lots of tutorials, from spiral techniques to heart-shaped patterns.

Tucson Nights

The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum — which is part zoo, part botanical garden — is even cooler after dark! It’s open until 9 p.m. on Saturday nights in June. See bats perform aerial acrobatics in pursuit of dinner, beavers splashing around in their pond, and scorpions glowing green under a black light. Bring your flashlight! 520-883-2702 or desertmuseum.org

Youth on Course

Ages 6-19 can join the nonprofit Youth on Course for about $20 and golf for $5 or less at more than 1,400 participating golf courses nationwide. The national nonprofit also offers a caddie program, paid high school internships and college scholarships. Participation includes a membership to the Arizona Golf Association, which offers additional access to local golf events and opportunities to connect with other young golfers. Visit youthoncourse.org

RELATED: Summer Survival Guide II



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