Disclaimer: The following post is in partnership with Tempe Tourism. As always, all opinions are my own! This post contains affiliate links.
Have you ever been to Tempe? I hadn’t! As a kid, I’d visited Phoenix and Scottsdale with my mom, and I remember shopping for turquoise in Old Town Scottsdale and lounging by the pool in the desert sun. But, I had never had the chance to explore nearby Tempe, AZ until now! Thanks to an invite from my friends at Tempe Tourism, I traveled with my friend Jane of A Taste of Koko for a little mid-week getaway, staying at the AC Hotel Phoenix Tempe/Downtown right near ASU campus, and exploring all that Tempe has to offer!
The city of Tempe is just east of Phoenix, and has a population of just under 200,000 people. It’s home to Arizona State University, or ASU, which is one of the largest universities in the United States, so during the school year, Tempe is lively and packed with thousands of students. Because of this, Tempe has a vibrant nightlife scene, and plenty of fun things to do during the day too! It’s the perfect destination for a weekend getaway or girls’ trip, or just some me-time. Some top attractions include Tempe Town Lake, the various hiking trails in the area like Hayden Butte, and the delicious restaurants and dessert spots around town, like Ghost Ranch and The Crepe Bar. Without further ado, here’s my quick guide to Tempe of things to do, where to eat, and where to stay!
Things to Do in Tempe
Explore the Desert Botanical Garden
While the Desert Botanical Garden is technically in Phoenix, it really borders Tempe, making it such a short drive away for anyone staying in Tempe that it’s worth including on this list. The Desert Botanical Garden is really a must-do for any visitor to Tempe. During the summer, as Tempe gets hotter and soars above 100 degrees, I really recommend visiting the garden as early as possible. Since they open at 7am, the best time to go is right when they open for the coolest temperature and best lighting for photos. They also sometimes do things like flashlight tours at night and other special night exhibits, so it’s worth looking on their website to see what’s on and tour times. My favorite parts of the garden were probably the Desert Discovery Loop Trail and the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, as those were, in my opinion, the best spots to look at different types of cacti and take the best photos.
Tour ASU Gammage
ASU Gammage is a historical auditorium building designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1950s. During my tour of the theater, I learned all about the history of the building, like how the original design was meant to be an Opera House for the King of Iraq, but the project was canceled when Iraq had a political coup and the king was assassinated. A few years later, ASU needed a theater, and came to Frank Lloyd Wright for help in designing it. He tweaked the original Opera House design, and ASU Gammage was born! Nowadays, the most common thing to see here are touring Broadway Across America productions, like Hamilton or Wicked. I definitely recommend seeing what’s on while you’re in town, as seeing a Broadway production is always a fun thing to do. If you’re looking to learn more about the history of the building and its unique architectural design, then you can call ASU Gammage for info on tour times.
Take in the Views from Papago Park
One of the most popular hiking and walking spots in the Tempe area is Papago Park. Here you’ll find 1500 acres of park to explore, and scenic viewpoints like the Hole in the Rock. If you’re looking for a fantastic spot to photograph sunrise or sunset from, the Hole in the Rock at Papago Park is one to definitely consider. It’s only a short walk up to the hole, and from there, you can take in all the views - large payoff with little effort! I especially recommend sunrise if you’re here in the summer, as Tempe rapidly gets hot, but in the early morning it’ll likely be in the 70s and much nicer weather for hiking. By 10am, it’s already quite hot out, the 90s during my visit, and you won’t want to be out in the sun too long!
Rent a kayak, SUP, or swan boat on Tempe Town Lake
Tempe Town Lake is one of the top attractions in Tempe, for good reason! Getting out on the water is a great way to spend the day, and an even better place to watch the sunset from. You can rent anything from kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to swan peddle boats and larger electric boats for groups!
Climb “A” Mountain
“A” Mountain is named as such for ASU and the giant concrete letter “A” that they put in tribute on the side of the mountain. Its real name though is Hayden Butte Preserve. You can hike up the mountain for views of Tempe and Town Lake, and it’s a great spot to watch the sunset from. What makes this hike so great is how accessible it is from downtown. It was located conveniently right across the street from my hotel!
Go Mural and Public Art Hunting
There are lots of fun murals and pieces of public art you can find and photograph all over Tempe. My favorite that I found was the giant “Get Together Tempe” mural that is on the side of Social Hall at 715 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, AZ 85281. Another mural I found was the Meet Me At Daley Park at Daley Park. You can find a map of public art in Tempe here!
Still looking for more things to do in Tempe? Try one of these activities:
Experience Downtown Tempe’s Nightlife on Mill Avenue
Visit the gallery at the Tempe Center for the Arts
Shop at Tempe Marketplace
Visit the Tempe History Museum
Try a walk-in pottery painting class at Burst of Butterflies
Play board games at Snakes & Lattes
Go to a movie party, singalong, or other fun screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Tempe
See if any events or festivals are happening at Tempe Beach Park
Where to Eat in Tempe
Address: 1006 E Warner Rd #102-103, Tempe, AZ 85284
The perfect lunch or dinner spot - Ghost Ranch serves up modern Southwestern cuisine like queso fundido, mesquite grilled sword fish tacos, or grilled chicken enchiladas. The food is just as fun and colorful as the interior of the restaurant itself!
Perfect Pear Bistro
Address: 603 W University Dr, Tempe, AZ 85281
With two locations around Tempe, the Perfect Pear Bistro is a great lunch spot to grab a sandwich, pasta, or salad at with local ingredients and flavors.
Address: 690 S Mill Ave Suite 110, Tempe, AZ 85281
Originally just in Old Town Scottsdale, Morning Squeeze has opened a second location in Tempe, bringing brunch with organic, locally-sourced ingredients. Try the peach/pear smoothie, nutella pancakes, and Scottsdale’s Finest Hash while you’re here.
Matt’s Big Breakfast
Address: 400 E Rio Salado Pkwy, Tempe, AZ 85281
Originally from Phoenix, Matt’s Big Breakfast is rapidly expanding, with several locations in the Phoenix area, including Tempe. They serve breakfast all day, with mostly locally-sourced ingredients of the best quality, as well as several lunch options. I had the griddle cakes!
Address: 1250 E Apache Blvd #112, Tempe, AZ 85281
Come get your dessert fix here! Stop in for boba tea and bubble waffles, and pose with their giant Line Friends teddy bear.
Address: 2161 E University Dr, Tempe, AZ 85281
While Hurts Donut isn’t local to Arizona, it’s still a fun place to stop and grab a donut. This place has lots of crazy donut creations, like the Cereal Killer or the Slim Shady. And, they make deliveries in a donut-themed ambulance!
Still looking for more places to eat in Tempe? Check out:
The Crepe Bar
Where to Stay in Tempe
AC Hotel Phoenix Tempe/Downtown
Address: 100 E. Rio Salado Pkwy, Tempe, AZ, 85281
Right across from “A” Mountain, the AC Hotel Phoenix Tempe/Downtown is conveniently located right by Tempe Town Lake, and is the perfect place to base yourself when in Tempe. The rooftop pool is a great spot for cooling off during the summer, and overlooks “A” Mountain for a view while you swim and relax. The AC Hotel Phoenix Tempe/Downtown is also part of Marriott Bonvoy, so don’t forget to earn Marriott points for your stay!
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