Tempe, also known as Hayden’s Ferry during Arizona’s territorial times, is named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece. The famous pioneer Darrell Duppa is recognized for suggesting Tempe’s name in 1879, after he compared a part of Salt River valley to the Vale of Tempe near Mount Olympus in Greece.
The town was home to US Airways until the end of 2013, when they then merged with American Airlines and moved to their new home in Fort Worth, Texas. It is the home of Arizona State University and always busy with sporting and other events of one kind or another.
There are many activities you can do and attractions you can visit in Tempe. I understand that choosing where to go can be a hassle. So to help you make your plan, I, an Arizona local who frequents Tempe, have prepared a list for you. Here is my list of the best things to do in Tempe:
1. Segway down Tempe Lake
Tempe Town Lake is a reservoir occupying a portion of the (currently) dry riverbed of the Salt River as it passes through Tempe. To get a really good look and feel of the lake, I suggest you take a Segway Tours of Tempe to find out all about it!
As you pass through the area touring the lake, your guides will narrate stories and historical facts while you learn how to negotiate this interesting ride.
Safety is a big priority and you will be taught the correct way to maneuver as you paddle along. A great experience for all the family.
2. ASU Gammage Auditorium
This stunning auditorium is thought to be the last public commission of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, having taken 25 months to complete. It is a popular theater venue with both patrons and touring performers, offering comfortable seats, wide aisles and very good acoustics.
It’s also worth viewing the three lobby galleries which feature paintings and photography from local artists. Official building tours are available too.
3. Tempe Center for the Arts
The Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA) is indeed a sight for sore eyes! Bring the family and have a walk around this Center which features a roof made of complex geometric folded plates – wow!
In fact, the roof has become a real landmark of the city, being highly visible from the nearby freeways and to the many airplanes that land at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. But of course, the roof is not the only thing that made TCA popular. I hold it as one of the best places in Arizona to watch a play, live band, or concert.
The grounds are also beautiful, complementing the Center’s modern and chic interior. The kids will love the fountain overflow that drops off into the surrounding pool, making it an awesome wall for them to climb on!
4. Desert Financial Arena
The Desert Financial Arena is a 10,754-seat multi-purpose arena, and not only home to the Sun Devils men and women’s volleyball, basketball, gymnastics and wrestling, but also host to many graduation ceremonies as well as a variety of shows and concerts.
This lovely campus is situated within a mile square space surrounded by pretty landscaping. There are some very interesting museums to visit here too. A majority of them is at no cost, so I recommend checking them out.
Bring the whole family and experience some sport, cultural or musical enjoyment – there’s something here to interest every member!
5. Sea Life Arizona
If you are like me who is fascinated with aquatic wildlife, you must take a trip to Sea Life Arizona. The family are bound to have great fun visiting Sea Life Arizona. The 26,000 square foot interactive aquarium is home to thousands of aquatic creatures, together with a 360 degree ocean tunnel and even some interactive touch pools!
The aquarium is filled to the brim with amazing sea life, including octopi (if you want to be posh about it), sharks and seahorses that swim in the educational aquarium facility.
Though not the largest of aquariums, it can certainly provide a few good hours of entertainment and, as it is situated within a mall, can be easily combined with some shopping! I had the time of my life here.
6. Tempe History Museum
This is a very well maintained center and a great find for families as there is plenty here to keep your kids entertained. The museum is home to plenty of actual information about Tempe’s past, with varied displays of interesting and thought provoking topics. I highly recommend to visit this place if you want to know what events occurred on this land.
The museum also has a lawn surrounding it on which live performances of all different music genres are frequently held.
There is also an attractive café inside where you can get some hot and cold refreshments along with tasty snacks.
7. Tempe Marketplace
Some days, you are not sure what to do but you know staying at the hotel or home is not an option. If you find yourself in this situation, I recommend doing what I did – spend an enjoyable afternoon at Tempe Marketplace. This place is a cornucopian mix of shops, restaurants, coffee houses and movie theaters, all comfortably sharing 1.3 million square feet of eye-catching retail space. There’s plenty of things to do!
The skillful architecture includes dramatic light and laser elements, unique water features and outdoor fireplaces which make for a very attractive environment in which to walk around.
The kids can head for the movies while mom and dad enjoy an afternoon of shopping, then meet up afterwards at one of the attractive outdoor dining areas.
8. Kiwanis Lake and Park – two lovely attractions in one!
I consider Kiwanis Lake and Park one of the best places in Tempe for recreation. Kiwanis Lake is situated in gorgeous Kiwanis Park, with many locals enjoying the various attractions available, which include boating, seasonal paddleboat rentals, sports fields, playgrounds and a recreational center with wave pool.
And there’s more! For the little members of the family there’s a small toddler area with a small climbing structure and music makers. There are swings and a zip line together with a 3 story tower with several slides. As an adventurous person, I loved the zip line and highly recommend you try it.
9. The music never ends at the Marquee Theatre
Marquee Theatre is a small-sized music venue that sits on the north side of Tempe Town. Popular because of its intimate and cozy setting, finding your way to your seat is a breeze, normally taking a very short time.
The Marquee is truly a type of old style music venue, hosting one bar, large standing area in front of the stage, (no seating) and a small merchandise area where the bands can sell their wares.
I think this really is a wonderful venue for music lovers, giving fans a chance to see good, live music at an affordable price. It’s nothing extravagant, but I believe that beautiful memories are oftentimes made in simple places like this. And indeed, I had fun in Marquee Theatre. Thus, I hold this place close to heart.
10. Diablo Stadium
The Diablo Stadium complex was constructed in 1968 and has since undergone extensive renovations. Overlooking the attractive Marriott Buttes Resort, it is very convenient for drivers to locate.
It is also a very popular stadium, hosting a number of sports events as well as being the spring training home to the Los Angeles baseball team and home field for night games of the Arizona League Tempe Angels. I suspect that piece of news has got the baseball fans interested now!
Every seat in the house offers excellent viewing opportunities; just make sure all family members are fully protected from the sometime searing Arizona heat!
11. Arizona Heritage Center
This is a showcase for multimedia and hands on displays, referencing Arizona history and city life. Recently renamed, it now acts as a gathering place for all age groups, focusing on twentieth and twenty first century history.
The family can learn about and enjoy exhibits which will take them on a trip through time, from early settlements to WWII, the post war growth of desert cities to a look at Arizona pop culture. If you’re a local like me who wants to be more connected to our culture, it is certainly a place to visit. And if you’re a tourist, I’d say learning about the culture in the place you’re visiting is always valuable.
Enjoy the new Copper Mine Exhibit, featuring a scale model of an Arizona copper mine with interesting facts together with mineral and ore displays, as well as the Geology Activity Booklets for kids. A fun learning experience for all!
12. Mill Avenue District
Popular with everyone for its constant choice of attractions, or simply the option to relax and people watch if you would rather, Mill Avenue District is a very well planned, pedestrian friendly locale.
Depending on your age group and what interests you, the area has a great bar scene with lots of dining options. It is well known for its fun and peaceful ambiance and choice of nice boutiques and retail stores also. I love going there, especially because there is reliable public transit to get you there! It’s very convenient. With all that said, I recommend you check Mill Avenue District if you want a hassle-free day.
You are also close enough to the lake to be able to take advantage of the many concerts and festivals on offer as well. A real sense of community can be felt here.
13. Papago Park
Papago Park has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride, and no wonder! I can’t help but smile from ear to ear whenever I’m there. It is a wonderful location for everyone; its stunning red rocks with their various rock formations and many hiking, biking and running trails make for a fabulous fun filled and active day out.
The extra good news is that the wide, paved trails make getting around extra easy for those who might have limited mobility, so nobody misses out! The surrounding grounds also have some stunning palms and cacti to enjoy viewing.
Good for everyone, even if you just want to meander slowly around this big park.
14. Pollack Theater
The Pollack Theater was devised by Mr Pollack himself, a dedicated movie buff who delighted in sharing his collection of movie artifacts which are distributed throughout the theatre.
Guests of all ages delight in taking photos with the life sized celebrity figures that line the lobby walls. I sure did enjoy that mini activity. I also love how it’s a real walk down memory lane when you check out the posters, statues and displays of movie characters and icons. The kids will love it!
There is also a remodeled snack bar and games area to keep everyone happy. And best of all, the movies shown here are slightly past their peak viewing period which reflects in the ticket prices!
15. Phoenix Rock Gym in Tempe
The Phoenix Rock Gym is the place to climb, and an attraction where you can experience the world of climbing as never before! The Rock Gym has thirty foot high walls with a vast amount of climbing service area. I love this place and other thrill-seekers will surely do too. Just thinking about the challenge makes me very eager to visit again.
And don’t worry if the family have never experienced rock climbing before, as the highly trained staff are there to teach you about all the skills needed to climb safely.
The gym has 56 top ropes with everything from easy routes to overhanging arm blasters, faces, cracks, chimneys, and lots more. It is a perfect venue for pre teens and teens to expend some energy and learn some really useful climbing skills.
16. Kiwanis Recreation Center
This beautiful 54,000 square foot complex has a bit of everything for everybody, from a fabulous indoor wave pool, gym, fitness center, awesome tennis center with 15 lighted courts, to dual courts for volleyball and basketball leagues.
There are various classes on offer too, so it’s worthwhile checking out the Center’s programs as well. This is really a great place for the family to spend some quality time together, perhaps even enjoy a float-in movie too!
I love that the center is sheltered. It makes play time in the pool without getting sunburned even better!
17. Painting with a Twist
This is an opportunity to experience a painting class in a BYOB setting, and a very comfortable experience it is too! For a reasonable price, bring your favorite bottle of vino (or soft drink if the kids want to come along) and enjoy an afternoon of painting with an instructor.
I love how you don’t have to buy and bring your own painting supplies. Painting with a Twist provide all painting supplies as well as cups and wine openers, and there is a large choice of painting subjects to opt for, from cityscapes and landscapes to abstracts, florals, animals, and many others.
For any hopeful artists, group pictures of your masterpieces are posted on the company’s Facebook site at the end of the class! I highly recommend going here for that exposure.
18. Full Throttle Power Sports Tours
Whether a novice, a little experienced, or an advanced rider, this company can offer you a fabulous family fun day out! For an adventurous person like me, this is what heaven looks like. With the choice of a four wheeler ATV or dune buggy, experience loads of excitement powering up and down the nearby sand dunes and mountains, and through the beautiful desert cacti! And, if you’re more of a water lover than landlubber, Full Throttle Power Sports also rent jet skis for you to glide along the waters in safety and with the full knowledge that the machinery is safely maintained.
19. Arizona Distilling Co
A fact still surprising to some; despite the prohibition repeal of December 1933, no whiskey has been legally made in the Phoenix metro area until Arizona Distilling Company arrived in 2013!
It wasn’t an overnight historical change, however, as the company then spent a good few years refining technique and sourcing local grains, the general (and first) result being Copper City Bourbon, which had been barrel-aged for two years and named after an Arizona brewery shut down during prohibition.
The company has since branched out with small batch gin and Desert Durum Wheat Whiskey. Why not drop by and enjoy a tour conducted by one of the very welcoming and informative owners? The one hour tour includes three 0.5oz pours. I tried it, and it’s good. You can tell so much work was put into that.
20. Changing Hands Bookstore
What I love about Tempe is it caters to everyone. No matter what type of person you are, there is a place for you. I have listed several places for adventure lovers. But how about the bookworms? Well, I’m glad to inform you that one of the two Changing Hands Bookstores is in Tempe. This bookstore chain has been a favorite stop for presidents, rock stars, diplomats, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and the town of Tempe has been one of its lucky recipients too! This literary treasure trove has a continuously changing mixture of new, used and sale books arriving from many sources, including its customers! Books are sold at competitive prices and if slightly shelf worn, you can probably pick up some bargains at very reasonable prices, often between 30% – 60% below the original list price. A perfect way for the readers of the family to spend some time.