Editor's note: This story was originally published in 2018 and updated in summer 2022.
Yes, it's even hotter in Phoenix than it is in Tucson.
...but they have water parks.
So when you can't splurge on a vacation out of state, drive the 100-ish miles north to Phoenix to float down a water slide and visit some cool museums.
Here are some of our picks, organized by Phoenix-area cities.
Tempe and Mesa
Arizona Museum of Natural History, 53 N. Macdonald Ave. in Mesa, exhibits the natural and cultural history of Arizona. The main thing you need to know here is they have a dinosaur hall with skeletons AND Dinosaur Mountain with dinosaurs that move and roar. So, if the kiddos are obsessed with the extinct giants, this is the place to go. Click here for info.
Legoland Discovery Center Arizona, 5000 S. Arizona Mills Circle in Tempe, is an indoor Lego playground. It features two rides, mini Lego replicas of Phoenix icons and a 4D cinema. Click here for info.
Golfland Sunsplash, 155 W. Hampton Ave. in Mesa, is two places in one. One side features miniature golf, an arcade and laser tag. And then there's the Sunsplash side, which is a full-on water park featuring water slides, a wave pool, a toddler pool, a lazy river and an activity pool with games like basketball. Click here for info.
Salt River Tubing, 9200 N. Bush Highway in Mesa, is an Arizona rite of passage. Bring a cooler, park, rent tubes (one for each of you and your cooler) and ride the bus down to the river. From there, tie your tubes together and enjoy floating down the Salt River. Click here for info.
Stay at Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, 6902 E. Greenway Parkway. There's a lazy river, a pool, hot tubs, FlowRider (surfing simulator) and a water slide. Honestly, you probably wouldn't even have to leave the resort. Click here for info.
As a second option, Great Wolf Lodge, 7333 N. Pima Road, opened in Scottsdale a few years ago. It's a massive indoor waterpark and resort (say goodbye to the Phoenix sun 👋) with slides, a lazy river, raft rides and a multi-level play structure for kids — plus a ropes course, mini golf course and an arcade. If you stay here, you really won't have to leave the resort. Click here for info.
Aside from the bathroom, though, the aquarium features penguins, stingrays, lots of fish and more. There are also up-close encounters with the penguins, plus a shark behind-the-scenes tour.
Affiliated with Odysea Aquarium is Butterfly Wonderland — a giant butterfly conservatory with thousands of butterflies and up to 70 different species from around the world. There's also a 3D theater and a reptile exhibit. Click here for info.
Ice Den Ice Skating, 9375 E. Bell Road, is the perfect way to cool down and get moving. And Tucson doesn't have an ice skating rink right now, so this is your chance to slip on your skates! Click here for info.
Stay at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa, 8000 S. Arizona Grand Parkway, and go to Oasis Water Park on site. Oasis is a 7-acre park with water slides, a wave pool, splash pad and a 25-person hot tub. Click here for info.
Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., has more than 8,000 instruments from around the world. There's also an Experience Gallery where you can play instruments, plus exhibits with instruments from music icons like Elvis Presley. The museum has kids activities and a STEM gallery. Click here for info.
Children's Museum of Phoenix, 215 N. 7th St., offers play experiences spread throughout three floors of the historic Monroe School Building. There's a climbing adventure made out of building materials, found objects and random objects that towers above the atrium. There's also an art studio, BlockMania, a book loft, a building area, special toddler areas and role play areas. Click here for info.
Hall of Flame Fire Museum, 6101 E. Van Buren St., is perfect for anyone obsessed with fire trucks with exhibits such as historic fire alarm systems and fire helmets, fire apparatus on display dating back to 1725. Click here for info.
Other area stuff
Hurricane Harbor Phoenix (aka Six Flags!), 4243 W. Pinnacle Peak Road in Glendale, is a giant water park featuring slides (big and small), a lazy river, a wave pool, kid areas and more. This spot used to be called Wet 'n' Wild, but changed over to Six Flags in 2019.
Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde is about 90 minutes north of Phoenix, but might be worth the drive. The park is unlike your typical zoo, offering behind-the-scenes tours, daily shows, a zip line and close encounters with animals like sloths and even tigers. Click here for info.