The weekend before Cinco de Mayo, The Tucson Taco Festival pits 25 teams of taco craftsmen, ranging from amateurs to local restaurateurs, against each other in pursuit of a $5,000 prize as they feed thousands of attendees. Sporting Lucha Libre wrestling masks and working inside intricately decorated booths, the teams collectively produce 30,000 tacos, accompanied by sides such as salsa, guacamole, and more than 30 premium tequila brands. Meanwhile, bartenders rev their blenders in a margarita-making challenge, and visitors show off their ability to ingest spicy food without first ingesting an air conditioning unit during a hot-pepper eating contest. Live music from El Camino Royale and Shrimp Chaperone spurs bodies into motion, while youngsters can stop by the Kids Zone for festive face paint or a jaunt in the bouncy castle.
It's hard to say which is more distinctive: the karts zipping around Octane Raceway or the track itself. During each lap on the 1/3-mile course, drivers zoom through an indoor area, then weave around an outdoor section that's covered by a permanent steel canopy, making for a hybrid experience rarely found in American go-kart tracks not owned by bored supervillains.
An equally rare find in the U.S. is the raceway's fleet of 32 Sodi RTX karts, all imported from France, whose electric motors give off zero emissions while reaching speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Drivers who can stay in control at these top speeds are in for success: the winner of each race is determined not by who finishes a given number of laps first, but by who puts up the fastest single lap time, a result that's posted both at the track and online for posterity.
Races take place in a 65,000-square-foot space that doubles as a gathering place for parties and corporate events for up to 500 attendees. In addition to racing, the raceway is also home to off-track activities that include shooting pool in the billiards room, scaling a 21-foot rock-climbing wall, and melting burgers and pizza into rocket fuel at the Trackside Bar and Grill.
Blending the pitch-black void of outer space and the vibrant glow of a jungle that happens to be lit up like a lava lamp, Glow Putt Mini Golf beckons putters into a black-lit fantasy land. Wielding putters designed to glow under the special lights, players take aim at holes amid phosphorescent trees and murals depicting creatures such as tigers, giraffes, and frogs. The indoor course gives guests a chance to test their putting year-round without having to cover their kitchen floor in AstroTurf.
In 1966, Big Surf Waterpark founder Phil Dexter built his first model of a wave machine in his backyard, a place he affectionally named Tahiti Phil's. With some help, and several models later?including one assembled inside an abandoned billiards hall?he perfected the contraption, making it the centerpiece of his newly opened waterpark in 1969. Dexter's invention instantly snagged press from Time, Sports Illustrated, and Life, and today, it remains Big Surf Waterpark's 2.5-million-gallon keynote attraction. Over the years, despite Arizona's lack of rain or gigantic sprinkler, the park has managed to grow around the wave pool, and its current 20-acre campus features dozens of slides, rides, and areas for all ages. Big Surf's real estate has also played host to entertainment events, including concerts from Pink Floyd, Elton John, and the Beach Boys. New for this year, and in honor of Phil?s wave making machinery and his original backyard site where it all began, Big Surf has unveiled its own Tahiti Phil?s, a full service bar for adults over 21 that looks over the historic wave pool.
On Imagination Avenue, kids eight and under rule the roost. Kids let their creativity soar as they pretend in any of nine playhouses that compose a scaled-down replica of Anytown, USA. Speed demons borrow cars from the firehouse to cruise Main Street, while aspiring builders browse Home Depot for the materials needed to shore up the schoolhouse walls. Each business is stocked with props and toys, ranging from dress-up clothes in the boutique to out-of-date National Geographics at the medical clinic. When kids get tired of tea parties, the onsite caf? purveys healthy snacks such as almond-butter and jelly sandwiches and deli sandwiches on artisan rolls. Imagination Avenue also offers birthday party packages and hosts special events throughout the year.
At Jambo! Park, children uncork bottled up energy as they spring across an indoor playground sprawling with jungle-themed rides, family-friendly games, and towering play structures. The fun factory's Phoenix locale manufactures raucous laughter and endless enjoyment with myriad attractions, including the Himalaya mini roller coaster, Monkey Barrels ride, and Spin Tops ride. Families can settle disputes over who's the favorite child in a pirate-themed laser-tag arena or club their way through the six greens of a mini-golf course. Miniature pilots control their altitude as they circle around on the Flying Elephants ride or take a spin on the Jungle Swing ride. Little conductors can take in the views on the Safari Train. A three-level play structure festooned with tubes and slides welcomes climbers and sliders, and more than 90 nonviolent video games jangle merrily in the arcade.