Landing at the Phoenix airport, most travelers head north into Phoenix or rush off to Scottsdale, forgetting that there are so many other great cities to explore in the area. If you just head east, you could be in the city of Tempe, Arizona in under 20 minutes, enjoying creative cocktails, paddling on the lake, climbing “A” mountain, experiencing the best of Broadway and getting to know the real Arizona desert.
Just in case you haven’t heard of Tempe, AZ, it is home to Arizona State University (ASU) one of Arizona’s largest universities, making this one heck of a college town. And yes, this means there are a lot of babysitters available for parents wanting a night out when they come to visit.
Sports teams are coming in and out for games. There are loads of activities and festivals on and off campus throughout the year that visitors can participate in. Just check the calendar and something is happening around here.
But let’s dive into the everyday things you can enjoy.
A LAKE… IN THE Tempe DESERT
Not many desert cities can claim that they have a lake to paddle around on. In fact, Tempe Town Lake is so unique that many East Coast rowing teams come out in the winter months to practice when their own lakes and rivers are just too cold to practice on.
Non-crew team members can rent kayaks, paddle boards and paddle boats to enjoy the breeze coming off the water and local wildlife (white herons are easy to spot as they look for their next fishy meal on the lake). Swimming is not allowed, but there is plenty of other fun to be had as you paddle under the bridges.
CHEAPER STAYS DOESN’T MEAN LESS LUXE
Here’s the best secret of all that not many people will tell you. While Phoenix and Scottsdale are more popular, this also means their hotel prices can be much more expensive, especially in winter.
Tempe, a bustling college town, is a bargain in the winter months, but still offers the same full-service lodgings, cute boutique hotels, modern design and the usual chains you will find in other cities throughout Arizona.
Even better, Tempe is in the middle of all the action. If you want to explore Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, and the mountains, Tempe is the best place to set up your home base as you will spend less time commuting around and more time actually having fun.
COLLEGE TOWN = GREAT FOOD
I don’t know about you, but I find that college towns have some of the best up and coming food scenes in the nation. Alumni stick around to try out a new restaurant concept.
Perhaps rents are cheaper or restaurant groups know that they have a willing audience to test out the latest food craze. Either way, Tempe is no exception to the college food town phenomenon.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner provide great options for healthy (and not so healthy) options, whether you need to satisfy your carnivorous cravings, a gluten intolerance or have to stick to your vegan diet. Ice cream sandwich joints have popped up, and you may just have to taste them all to pick your favorite.
It’s a burden we all have to bear. Are you up to the challenge?
Read more about our favorite Tempe Restaurants now.
ACTIVE ADVENTURES RIGHT OUT THE DOOR
Tempe is an outdoor-lovers kind of place. Once the weather drops below 100 in Arizona, residents head out and start climbing the mountains, tuning up their bikes and tying up their running shoes. You don’t even have to get into your car to get active.
“A” mountain (officially named Hayden Butte, but called “A” mountain because of the giant “A” on the side as a nod to ASU) is right smack in the middle of town. Papago Park is an easy bike ride away thanks to rentals from The Bicycle Cellar near the ASU campus.
Boat rentals are available on Tempe Town Lake, or you can just run, skate, bike and skateboard the trails around the lake if you don’t feel like being on the water. There’s really no excuse to not get outside and enjoy those Arizona bluebird days. They have an average of 300 of them!
THE REAL ARIZONA DESERT
Just outside of Tempe is KOLI Equestrian Center at the Gila River Indian Community. Visitors can saddle up to take a ride through the desert with a guide.
If you are lucky, you will see jack rabbits and coyotes. If you are VERY lucky, you will see the wild horses on the reservation.
What you won’t see are palm trees. One thing that many visitors to Tempe and outside of Phoenix don’t realize is that palm trees aren’t actually native to the desert. They are brought in.
One of the guides at KOLI told me that when people come out they wonder what they are looking at on the trail. He turns to them and says, “this is the real desert. What you see in the city isn’t the desert at all.”
Well, there you go.
SMASHED FACES AT FREE ASU MUSEUMS
Arizona State University has about 13 free museums throughout Tempe with a huge collection of art work on display at many of them. The ASU Art Museum was cited in “Art in America” as the “single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona,” which is no small potatoes. Even more impressive is that this museum has the largest collection of Cuban art in the nation.
Curators work closely with professors at the University from all different disciplines to put together shows that show art in a variety of ways. They also aren’t afraid to tackle controversial political issues like modern immigration through historic immigration acts.
Saturdays are big at the ASU Art Museum, and when most of their programming occurs. Children’s programming, workshops and events are regularly held. Keep a close eye on the calendar for exhibition openings and events during your visit.
YOU WON’T GET THE BEST OF BROADWAY ANYWHERE ELSE IN ARIZONA
Tempe has the only Tony-voting member in Arizona, which means she has a bit of pull to get the best Broadway shows to the ASU Gammage, a 3000-seat theater designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Shows like Something Rotten, Les Miserables, and yes, Hamilton, travel through and are performed at this historic venue.
You won’t see these shows in Phoenix, which means everyone is coming into Tempe to catch a show, so make sure you buy your tickets before you get to town.
TEMPE HOTELS FOR EVERY TRAVELER
- AC Hotel Tempe. Looking for a minimalist hotel with clean design, a fabulous rooftop pool and cozy beds? The AC hotel is right for you. Rooms are spacious with a sofa and coffee table to lounge on. Do pack your favorite sound machine (this is mine!) as you will get a bit of airplane traffic depending on what side of the hotel you are on.
- Residence Inn Downtown/ Tempe University. Families will get the space and amenities they need at the Residence Inn. Each room comes with one king bed or two queens, a sofa and kitchen.
- Tempe Mission Palms Hotel. The only full-service hotel in Tempe, the décor reflects the Southwest colors and vibe perfectly. Located on the main street through Tempe, you are in walking distance to most restaurants, shops and attractions.
- Graduate Hotel Tempe. If you love funky design and fun spaces, you already know that you need to stay at a Graduate Hotel when you visit a college town. If you are planning to see a show at the ASU Gammage, this is the perfect spot and an easy walk to the theater.
Grab the best rates and availability on Tempe Hotels now
This post is part of a paid partnership with Tempe Tourism. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t, you will be the first to know.