You’ve likely heard of Phoenix, Arizona, but not as many people have heard of its nearby sister city, Tempe. Home to Arizona State University, Tempe offers visitors the chance to enjoy the outdoors in a vibrant and growing college town. Here are 10 fun things to do in Tempe to enjoy what makes this southwest city worth the visit.
Thank you to Tempe Tourism for partnering with me on this trip and showing me all the great things your city has to offer visitors!
Hike “A” Mountain
One of the most notable landscape features of Tempe is Hayden Butte which is affectionately known as “A” Mountain. You can hike “A” Mountain quite easily, and it offers some stunning views especially at sunrise.
The trail starts in downtown Tempe and heads up and across the “face” of Tempe Butte. You’ll even pass by the letter “A” as you work your way to the top. When you start off there is a bit of a steep climb as you gain elevation, but the hike is still what I’d consider fairly easy. It should only take you about 15 minutes to reach the top. The lower part of the trail is paved and turns to a rocky path when you reach the letter “A”.
I highly recommend setting out about 30 minutes before sunrise. Once you reach the top, you will hopefully be treated to a beautiful pink and orange sunrise and will see the colors reflecting off Tempe Town Lake, with planes taking off over your head from Phoenix Airport.
If you love hiking, you’ll also want to look into hiking at Papago Park and nearby Camelback Mountain while you’re staying in Tempe.
Tempe Town Lake sits in the center of Tempe and is a bit of a surprising find in the middle of the desert. It appears closer to a river than a lake, with bridges crossing it at various points around the city. As I mentioned above, Tempe Town Lake viewed at sunrise from “A” Mountain is quite the eye-catcher.
One of the best things to do in Tempe is to enjoy some water recreation on Tempe Town Lake. Check out the rental options at Boat Rentals of America in Tempe Beach Park. I rented a kayak for an hour with my friend, but they also have paddleboards, pedal boats shaped like swans, and even electric donut boats that are great for a group of friends!
As I mentioned Tempe Town Lake is in the heart of the city and you’ll enjoy the view of the mountains in the distance while also seeing the business growth around the city on the banks of the lake. There are a surprising number of birds hanging out around the lake as well, so keep your eyes peeled if you enjoy wildlife.
Roll On Two Wheels
Tempe is home to over 217 miles of bike paths! Being a college town it’s fitting that so many in the city choose to use a bike to get around. It also helps that beyond hot summers there isn’t a lot of rain and snow to worry about for outdoor commuting. Tempe actually has one of the highest percentages of bike commuters in the country!
If you’d like to try your hand at biking around the city, look at renting an e-bike for an easy touring option. We rented bikes from Northshore Watersport Rentals which is located on the north side of Tempe Town Lake.
There are nice bike paths along both sides of the lake and a great pedestrian bridge across. It’s a fun way to spend the day exploring the city, and they even offer bike locks so you can make stops during your rental. They also offer e-bike tours if you’d rather have a guide help you discover the best spots in Tempe.
Enjoy ___day Brunch
While Sunday Brunch is the common title for most midday breakfast meals, in Tempe you can get away with having brunch every day of the week. The city boasts some amazing breakfast joints that you can enjoy meals at all day long.
Snooze an AM Eatery is a local classic and offers a fun retro boho style dining experience. The menu also is not your standard brunch menu. They offer some of the typical dishes, but many have a fun twist. Their pancakes are one of the most notable dishes, offering seasonal flavors like Pumpkin Pecan Pie and Cranberry Orange along with some year-round favorites like Pineapple Upside Down.
Another popular brunch spot is Daily Jam, which is located in Downtown Tempe. They have a great patio and a substantial menu with brunch and lunch options. I enjoyed their chocolate chip waffles and loved them! Just enough crispy outside but soft waffle inside. Yum!
Morning Squeeze is another breakfast & brunch spot located near the ASU campus. They have a great open-air bar patio seating area as well as a retro-styled indoor seating area. And, they’re dog-friendly, they even have a Tail Waggin’ menu just for pups!
And if you’re more of a coffee drinker and less of a morning eater, Tempe has a great number of fun, local coffee shops.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
You don’t actually have to drop, but it is worth noting that you can enjoy a variety of shopping while in Tempe. They have some unique shops in downtown Tempe, but you can also head to Tempe Marketplace. It’s one of the best places to shop in Tempe with multiple big box stores in addition to cute local boutiques. Tempe Marketplace also has an area called “The District” that is the perfect spot to hang out with friends and grab a bite to eat while shopping.
The District at Tempe Marketplace is also a great spot to catch live music performances on the weekends.
Hang Out On a Rooftop
While Tempe isn’t filled with skyrises, there are still some great rooftop spots to hang out and check out the view. Hotel guests and visitors can enjoy the rooftop of The Westin Tempe. While the pool is for hotel guests only, their rooftop features the fabulous Skysill Rooftop Lounge which is open to all. You’ll be able to grab a drink at the bar and lounge around with panoramic views of Tempe, including a great view of “A Mountain”.
Another fabulous rooftop lounge can be found at the Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown. Alibi Rooftop Lounge has a Florida Keys-inspired vibe and offers visitors another chance to enjoy rooftop views of Tempe along with some delicious drinks and a tapas-style menu.
Visit the Desert Botanical Garden
Papago Park is a popular outdoor recreation spot in Tempe with multiple hiking and biking trails as well as some popular attractions. It’s home to the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden. The Desert Botanical Garden covers 140 acres in Papago Park and has four unique trails featuring over 50,000 plants. In addition to helping you learn about local plants like cacti and wildflowers, you’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the native cultures of the region.
During the December holiday season, you can enjoy their Las Noches de las Luminarias event. Stroll the Desert Botanical Garden trails at night and enjoy thousands of hand-lit luminarias. The Garden also offers a few other special events during the year.
Through June 19, 2022, the Desert Botanical Garden is home to the Chihuly in the Desert exhibit which showcases Dale Chihuly’s stunning, large-scale installations nestled among the Garden’s collection of desert plants.
Catch a Game
Baseball spring training is a popular event that occurs in February and March around the Phoenix area. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Tempe in the spring. There are 15 MLB teams that come to 10 stadiums in the area and play over 200 baseball games.
Tempe is a great home base if you’re planning a trip for Cactus League Spring Training. Tempe Diablo Stadium is home to the Los Angeles Angels, but you’ll also find Tempe centrally located for reaching many of the other 9 stadiums around the area.
Take a College Tour
As I’ve mentioned above, Tempe is home to Arizona State University. If you have a kid who is nearing the college application process, you can take a tour of the campus during your visit to Tempe. But beyond taking a college tour, ASU is also home to some amazing museums that are open to the public.
Most notably is the ASU Art Museum, which focuses on featuring Latin American art. ASU also has a few museums focused on space sciences, the ASU Gallery of Scientific Exploration, ASU Lunar Exploration Museum & NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Operations Center (LROC) Visitor Gallery, and the ASU Mars Space Flight Facility.
You can also catch a live performance show at the ASU Gammage Performing Arts Center. It’s a 3,000 seat hall that was designed by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Grab a Bite to Eat
I’ve already mentioned that Tempe is an amazing town for breakfast and brunch. Well, it’s also a great place to enjoy lunch and dinner, too! One of the things I love best about eating in Tempe is how so many restaurants have outdoor patio seating. It’s really a great city for enjoying a meal with friends! A few of my favorite spots to eat:
- Postino Annex – great patio seating spot for lunch near ASU campus and they have a special for $5 glasses of wine before 5 p.m.
- Top of the Rock – amazing views over the city with a unique southwest menu; I recommend the Chicken and Doughnuts appetizer!
- Barrio Queen – order some tableside guacamole and a mix and match variety of street tacos while you enjoy their fabulous southwest decor.
- Ghost Ranch – the spot to go when you’re hungry and craving a prickly pear margarita.
- Culinary Dropout at the Yard – hanging with friends? Get a variety of dishes and brews while you relax and play some games of ping pong and cornhole.
- Jalapeño Bucks (Mesa) – a tourist and local’s favorite, get some unique BBQ sandwiches and a variety of freshmade salsas.
- Queen Creek Olive Mill (Mesa) – one of my favorite spots to enjoy an outdoor picnic with flatbread pizza and antipasto. There are some great things to do in Mesa, AZ.
Where to Stay in Tempe
Once you’ve decided that Tempe is where you want to be, there are plenty of great hotel options for all budgets. Plus, Tempe is right next to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Here are five fabulous spots I’d recommend staying in Tempe.
- Tempe Mission Palms Hotel – located in the heart of the downtown Mill District with easy access to ASU, Tempe Town Lake, and the Phoenix Airport. They also have a great rooftop pool and large suites for extra space.
- The Westin Tempe – brand new hotel that opened the summer of 2021 right next to the ASU campus. It features beautiful rooms and decor as well as a fabulous rooftop pool and bar. They also have a really nice Starbucks coffee shop in their lobby.
- Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown – another new hotel, this one features the popular rooftop lounge, Alibi. They also offer complimentary bikes so you can explore Tempe without a car.
- Graduate Tempe – Graduate hotels are popular in college cities and this one offers a great retro vibe in addition to being the home to a Southwest Roadtrip Visitors Gallery exhibit.
- Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes – for a classic southwest vibe outside of downtown, this hotel offers a resort feel with great pool and dining options.
Tempe is a fabulous vacation destination and offers visitors plenty of fun things to do from outdoor activities to delicious dining options. With so many new hotels being built, Tempe also offers guests the chance for a lower-cost vacation than you might find in nearby Scottsdale or Phoenix, as well as being centrally located for many of the other popular Phoenix suburbs.