12 Attractions in Tempe, Arizona

Last Updated on February 9, 2024 by Robert Wilson

Tempe is a vibrant college town located in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area of Arizona. Home to Arizona State University’s main campus, Tempe offers visitors a mix of natural beauty, historic landmarks, cultural attractions, family fun destinations, exciting nightlife, and great shopping and dining.

With beautiful parks and lakes, unique museums and galleries, sports and entertainment venues, and a lively downtown scene centered around Mill Avenue, Tempe has something to offer travelers of all ages and interests. This article covers 12 of the top attractions and things to do in Tempe, Arizona that should not be missed.

ASU Campus and Facilities

Arizona State University’s Tempe campus spans over 700 acres in the heart of the city. The campus itself is filled with contemporary buildings, public art installations, and attractive green spaces that are nice to walk around. Visitors can explore campus facilities like the Memorial Union and Nelson Fine Arts Center, which host cultural events, exhibits and performances that are often open to the public.

ASU also operates world-class museums, galleries and performing arts venues, including the ASU Art Museum, Galleria della Rosa, Gammage Auditorium, Kerr Cultural Center and Desert Financial Arena.

Tempe Town Lake and Beach Park

Tempe Town Lake is an oasis in the desert, located just west of downtown Tempe. The lake has over 200 acres of water for kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and pedal boating. Walking paths line the shore of the lake, connecting Tempe Beach Park on the north side of the lake with parks and attractions on the south shore.

At Tempe Beach Park visitors will find volleyball courts, playground equipment, splash pads and interactive fountains for cooling off, along with scenic views of downtown Tempe across the water.

Mill Avenue District

Stretching from Rio Salado Parkway to University Drive, Mill Avenue is the lively main drag of downtown Tempe. Lined with boutique shops, eclectic restaurants, vibrant bars and hip cafes, Mill Avenue draws college students, locals and visitors alike.

Visitors can shop for antiques, records, vintage threads, plants, southwestern home goods and art. Dining options range from pizza and burgers to sushi, Indian, Mexican and more. When the sun goes down, Mill Avenue remains lively late into the night. An assortment of bars, pubs and clubs offer drinks and entertainment like comedy shows and live bands.

Tempe History Museum

To learn more about Tempe’s origins, settle into the adobe houses of the Tempe History Museum. Exhibits trace the history of this valley area from its habitation by Hohokam Native American tribes through early pioneer settlement to the founding and evolution of Tempe as a city.

Some highlights include an entire preserved 19th century adobe home, fossils from the dawn of the dinosaur era found in Tempe, artifacts of the Hohokam, and displays on Tempe in the territorial and early statehood eras.

Papago Park

At the eastern edge of Tempe where it meets Scottsdale lies the sprawling Papago Park. This hilly desert landscape encompasses over 1200 acres of picnic areas, lagoons, trails and holes of the Phoenix Zoo and Papago Golf Course.

The park’s highlight is the striking red sandstone formations known as the Hole in the Rock and the Red Buttes. These fixtures stand out against the natural desertscape, which can be explored via an extensive network of hiking and mountain biking trails.

Tempe Center for the Arts

Tempe takes pride in its support for the arts, which is evident upon visiting the sleek Tempe Center for the Arts complex. This multi-disciplinary arts center houses two state-of-the-art theaters, a 3,500 square foot gallery space, and artist studios and creative spaces.

The center’s calendar brims with cultural programming like plays, musical performances, comedy acts, art exhibitions, and classes. Extra family-friendly offerings include magic shows, youth theater productions and hands-on art activities for kids.

Arizona Heritage Center

For a journey through Arizona’s history, art and culture, make a stop at the Arizona Heritage Center in Papago Park. This museum brings the state’s history to life through displays on Arizona’s diverse Native American heritage, early Spanish colonialism and Mexican rule, pioneer settlement, and achievements since statehood.

Visitors will find Native American pottery, cowboy artifacts, mining equipment and other historical items. The Lifeways exhibit uses replica dwellings to showcase how indigenous people and groups like early miners and homesteaders lived in Arizona through various eras.

Tempe Diablo Stadium

As the Cactus League spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels, Tempe Diablo Stadium offers visitors a slice of Major League Baseball action before regular season play starts up. Watch the Angels take batting and infield practice on the manicured ball field against the backdrop of the striking red buttes in Papago Park.

Fans can get autographs from their favorite players along the foul lines before the game. Between innings don’t miss the carnival-style entertainment and races. Before and after the game explore the family fun in the interactive play area beyond the outfield wall.

Kiwanis Park and Playground

Parents looking to tire out their kids should head to Kiwanis Park, touted as the largest playground in Arizona. Spanning three acres, this playground features over forty climbable structures including slides, towers, bridges, and tunnels all connected by a sprawling web.

Kids can expend endless energy running through this playground fantasyland. When they finally wear themselves out, families will find grass, shade, picnic tables and a lake with ducks nearby to relax and recharge. Conveniently located beside Mill Avenue, Kiwanis Park makes an ideal pitstop during a day of downtown Tempe exploration.

Hayden Butte and “A” Mountain

Rising above Tempe is Hayden Butte, more commonly known by locals as “A” Mountain thanks to the massive letter ‘A’ whitewashed onto its side representing Arizona State University. Hiking trails switchback 700 feet to the top of this small peak, where an observation deck serves up panoramic views across the expansive metro valley and downtown Tempe.

Sunset views are particularly stunning. Visitors should time their hike to catch the valley bathed in golden hour light and stay to watch the lights of the city start flickering on as dusk deepens to night.

Phoenix Zoo

Though technically located just over the border in Phoenix, the Phoenix Zoo makes for an excellent day trip from Tempe given its proximity to Papago Park. This world class zoo sits on 125 acres, providing ample space for exhibits showcasing all sorts of ecosystems from wetlands to tropical rainforests to the Sonoran Desert.

Visitors will spot exotic wildlife like orangutans swinging from vines to lazy hippos wallowing in pools. Unique resident animals include Mexican gray wolves and thick billed parrots native to Arizona. Fun rides like the safari train, carousel and zip line add amusement between animal encounters.

Gammage Auditorium

Frank Lloyd Wright fans visiting Tempe should pay a call to Gammage Auditorium, one of the famous architect’s last designs before his death. Wright intended for the performance hall’s dramatic angles, arches and circular patterned facades to echo the dramatic mountainous landscape surrounding it.

Today this Tempe landmark continues functioning as a premier performing arts venue, hosting over 350 shows per year ranging from musical theater to ballet performances to touring Broadway productions and big name musicians. Even without seeing a show, architecture buffs can admire Gammage’s exterior year-round or take a guided tour.

Rio Salado and Lake View Trails

Nature lovers will find plenty of places to roam around Tempe. Two top treks are the Rio Salado Trail following the Salt River through Tempe Town Lake park and the Lake View Trail circling scenic Tempe Town Lake.

Sections of these trails overlap along the shores of Tempe Town Lake, making it easy to design loops routes of various lengths by connecting them in different ways. Hikers, joggers, cyclists and skaters all enjoy these paved multi-use paths with scattered picnic pavilions and art installations providing pleasant diversions.

Conclusion

With historic sites and cultural attractions, an energizing downtown district, scenic natural landmarks, family fun destinations and extensive outdoor recreation, Tempe offers visitors many ways to experience the best of Arizona. Conveniently situated near Phoenix and the surrounding communities, Tempe invites travelers to come explore this vibrant and sunny slice of the desert southwest.

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