Tempe, Arizona, is part of the Phoenix metropolitan area, but it’s a city with a character all its own. Home to Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe’s downtown streets burst with excitement seven days a week.
Choosing what to do on your next stay in Tempe is difficult if you’re on a time crunch. The following are 10 things you need to do to soak in the most Tempe culture, cuisine, ASU pride, and more.
1. ASU Art Museum
The Art Museum at Arizona State University is on the main campus. Exhibits change often and provide insight into the history and culture of the university, Tempe, and beyond. The ASU Art Museum also serves as an ideal jumping point for exploring the campus of the Arizona State Sun Devils.
2. Tempe Town Lake
The Tempe Town Lake is a refreshing oasis on the corner of Rio Salado Parkway and Mill Avenue. It is one of Arizona’s most popular tourist destinations for a multitude of activities to try.
Visitors can try a variety of boat rentals, including donut boats, paddleboards, pontoon boats, paddleboats, and others. Those who don’t want to get on the water can stay onshore to fish, sunbathe, explore local artwork, bike, or jog the five-mile path around the lake. Tempe Town Lake is the best place to cool down when the Arizona dry heat strikes.
Note: Swimming is prohibited at Tempe Town Lake.
3. Mill Avenue District
Mill Ave, also known as the Mill District, is an area of the City of Tempe that every visitor needs to explore. This is where visitors can dine at award-winning restaurants, sip microbrews, catch a Broadway show, and shop locally-owned boutiques, art museums, and more.
Time your visit right, and you may get a chance to enjoy Second Sundays on the Mill, a monthly market with street performances, outdoor games, and more. The Mill Avenue District is the epicenter of Tempe Downtown.
4. Tempe Center for the Arts
The Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA) brings together local, national, and international artists. The mission is to bring art of all forms to the Sonoran Desert, introducing the Phoenix Metropolitan Area to musicians, dance, theater presentations, and so much more. Art has always been essential to local Tempe culture, and the Tempe Center for the Arts seeks to ensure it remains that way.
The TCA includes a variety of resident artists, including the Arizona Wind Symphony, the Desert Dance Theatre, the Stray Cat Theatre, the Hayden’s Ferry Chamber Music Series, and several others. Check the schedule before your visit to plan an unforgettable day or night out at the Tempe Center for the Arts.
5. Papago Park
This urban desert preserve is another place for Tempe locals and visitors to get outside and enjoy Arizona wildlife. The park is remarkably scenic and one of the easiest natural desert areas to explore in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Papago Park spans 1,500 acres and is full of trails, refreshing lagoons, picnic areas, and lookouts. Visitors may want to dedicate a couple of days to exploring the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Heritage Center, and the Desert Botanical Garden, which are all within the park.
Papago Park is only 1.5 miles north of the heart of Downtown Tempe.
6. Sun Devil Stadium
Catching a game at Sun Devil Stadium is an unforgettable Tempe experience. It’s known as one of the country’s most beautiful and innovative collegiate stadiums, and it’s also where the ASU Sun Devil football team takes the field. The stadium has hosted the university’s football games since 1958, and seeing the Sun Devils play is a must if you visit during the season.
7. Catch a Movie
Few U.S. cities still have movie theaters in the heart of downtown, and Tempe is one of them. This luxury movie theater offers AMC Signature Recliners, reserved seating, discount days, and plenty of snacks that visitors can even order ahead of time. Pick a flick from the marquee, take a seat, and relax after a delicious meal downtown.
8. Brunch Downtown
College students love brunch, and downtown Tempe offers plenty of places to eat a late breakfast/early lunch. Favorite brunch spots throughout the city include Postino Wine Cafe, Daily Dose Rio Salado, and Daily Jam. Visitors can choose a standard diner-style breakfast or unconventional dishes like the Adobo Pork Benedict from Thirsty Lion or a breakfast pot pie from Snooze.
9.“A” Mountain at Hayden Butte
Tempe is home to several famous hikes, including the “A” Mountain trail at Hayden Butte. This short .9-mile out-and-back trail is short and steep but accessible to most levels of hikers. It ventures to the famous “A” on the Arizona State University campus and offers stunning views of downtown Tempe. Hike the “A” Mountain trail at sunrise or sunset for the best photo opportunities.
10. Don’t Forget the Nightlife
College towns are known for their nightlife, and Tempe is no different. It’s one of the top spots in the state to enjoy a night out, whether you’re interested in live music, breweries, wine bars, taco stands, dive bars, or a variety of other nightlife options.
The new METRO Light Rail is a serious perk for evenings out in Tempe or other areas of the Phoenix metro area. Rail stations are at 5th St. and College Ave., and 3rd St. and Mill Ave., offering access to many award-winning restaurants and favorite night spots.
You can’t go wrong with a visit to downtown Tempe, at the heart of the Salt River Valley and home to Arizona State University. Tempe is a real-life oasis offering adventure, culture, nightlife, and so much more near the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert.