As a city in the larger Phoenix Metropolitan Area, Tempe has a personality that sets it apart. Still with the same gorgeous desert scenery, Tempe also offers travelers a mix of arts, culture and dining complemented by the action on the Arizona State University campus.
With over 300 days of sunshine every year, you’ll have ample opportunity for park and lake days along with hiking around the nearby buttes. When the sun gets a little too hot there are also plenty of thing do in Tempe indoors, with interesting museums, aquariums and shopping malls.
In this post, we'll cover:
11. Tempe Center for the Arts
Steps from the southern shore of Tempe Town Lake, the Tempe Center of the Arts features two theaters and a spacious art gallery. The striking building, complete with a geometric roof, has become a centerpiece of the city’s skyline.
Far more than just an interesting piece of architecture, the TCA hosts a variety of events throughout the year. These include a welcome selection of dance, music and theater shows granting visitors the opportunity to see a wide range of performances when traveling around Tempe.
The center’s gallery is a renowned visual arts space that houses exhibits featuring local, national and international talent.
10. Kiwanis Park
A popular gathering spot for Tempe locals, Kiwanis Park is a great place to go on a beautiful day. Including the gorgeous Kiwanis Lake, the park has a large green space to enjoy, great for picnics or for some fun yard games.
Visitors will also find watercraft to rent, along with a playground and sports fields for the kids to run around on. While everyone can make the most of the park’s exciting wave pool found in the indoor recreational center.
You can make the most of the balmy Tempe evenings as Kiwanis Park stays open until midnight, later than most in the region. Grab some dinner and take a lovely late-night stroll under the glistening sky.
9. Arizona State University
Not just another university campus, Arizona State University is home to some of the best attractions in town. Here you’ll find the wonderful Arizona State University Art Museum comprising over 10,000 artifacts, contemporary paintings and ceramics. All representing the Southwest and Latin America. Another cultural experience can be had at the 3000-seat Gammage Auditorium.
But the university campus is a great place to get your sports fix. Home to Sun Devil Stadium and the university’s impressive basketball stadium, you’ll have the chance to enjoy some top-shelf football and basketball in Tempe.
8. Hayden Butte
A natural and man-made landmark all at the same time. Hayden Butte has long been a major part of life in Tempe. Known by locals as simply “A Mountain”, Hayden Butte first had the letter A written on its side back in 1938. Paying tribute to Arizona State University, a permanent A was built 17 years later.
Long before this artistic creation, the Hohokam Native Americans drew around 500 petroglyphs around the butte dating as far back as 750 AD. Exploring the petroglyphs and beautiful landscape is easily done on the many nature trails. Hayden Butt is also a popular destination for sunset-seekers. A simple hike to the peak offers expansive views of the valley with the colorful desert sunset creating mesmerizing vistas.
7. Tempe Diablo Stadium
If you can’t wait for baseball to return, then get ahead of the action and make your way to Tempe Diablo Stadium for spring training. As a part of the Cactus League, 15 major league teams make their way to Arizona. The stadium hosts all the LA Angels “home” games, giving you plenty of opportunity to watch your favorite players and up-and-coming stars.
The stadium also plays host to the minor league Tempe Angels who play in the Arizona Fall League. Beginning in October, the floodlights of Tempe Diablo Stadium turn on and baseball is played in the balmy evenings. Grab some cheap tickets and a hot dog for a fun night in Tempe.
6. Papago Park
Featuring mesmerizing sandstone buttes, Papago Park is full of enchanting attractions throughout. The most renowned, however, is the famous Hole in the Rock. After completing a moderate hike, with some short but tricky sections, hikers can bask in the stunning views from within the unique rock formation.
The “hole” operates as a natural telescope offering expansive views of the cityscape and is the perfect spot to watch the local sunrise. There are several other hiking trails, including paved paths that show off the scenery.
The Desert Botanical Garden is also within Papago Park and showcases a variety of desert plants from around the world. If you have some extra time, consider walking over to the park’s other major site, the Arizona Historical Society Museum.
5. Big Surf Waterpark
When Big Surf Waterpark opened in 1969, it brought to the United States something that hadn’t been seen before. The country’s first wave pool wowed the masses then, and continues to do so all these years later.
Additional water experiences have been added to Big Surf Waterpark, making it even more attractive on those hot Tempe days. Other rides include the hair-raising Hurricane and Black Hole water slides.
Kids can safely ride down the Otter Slide while the entire family can rent a raft and float along the lazy river, reflecting on the many exhilarating water adventures that have come and gone.
4. Arizona Mills
If you’re itching for some retail therapy when in Tempe, then look no further than the Arizona Mills. The sprawling outlet shopping center opened in 1997 and is now home to almost 200 retailers. Add in the 6,000 parking spots and you won’t have an issue getting right down to business.
Among all the major chains, you’ll discover a mall that’s quite different from ones you’ve seen before. Arizona Mills features an abundance of interesting artwork and abstract graphics, adding a splash of color and deviation from the regular mall layout.
After scratching the shopping itch, visit Sea Life Arizona or the state’s largest IMAX theater.
3. Tempe Town Lake
Splitting Tempe with the neighboring town of Scottsdale, the Tempe Town Lake offers some of the best outdoor activities in the city. Aside from being one of the most photographed parts of Tempe, it’s a perfect spot for a picturesque walk. While you can also get out of one of the pedal boats to explore even further.
Another popular part of the lake includes Tempe Beach Park. The single acre green space is right on the water and is a great launch point for paddling. The park also features the Splash Pad, a water playground for kids complete with a slide, spray cannon and waterfall. Stick around for one of the better sunset spots in Tempe.
2. Sea Life Arizona Aquarium
One of the biggest family-friendly attractions in Tempe can be found at the Arizona Mills. Here, the Sea Life Arizona Aquarium has an amazing number of marine animals for visitors to experience. On your way around the aquarium you’ll walk by a variety of intimidating sharks and stingrays along with exotic species such as the lion and angel fish.
The entire family will love the Interactive Rockpool where the young ones can experience touching such creatures as sea stars and lobsters. Importantly, the Sea Life Arizona Aquarium is involved with animal conservation focusing strongly on rehabbing injured aquatic animals. A popular example is Ziva, an endangered green sea turtle now safely roaming a 161,000 gallon home.
1. Mill Avenue District
Popular with locals and travelers alike, you’re sure to love your time roaming the Mill Avenue District. The pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in Tempe is the place to go to experience local culture, inner-city attractions or to simply partake in some people watching from a park bench.
Along the surrounding streets renowned for their brick sidewalks, you’ll find an array of homegrown boutique shops to browse. In addition, there are family-friendly entertainment options, such as the Gammage Auditorium, a selection of fun bars and casual dining, all among a vibrant downtown atmosphere.
The Mill Avenue District is well-connected to the rest of Tempe thanks to a strong public transport system. The neighborhood also plays host to a number of prominent events, such as the Tempe Arts Festival.