Looking for fun things to do in Tempe, Arizona? Read on for all you must do, see, and eat during a perfect weekend in Arizona’s coolest city!
From outdoor adventures, delicious food, vibrant nightlife, and a thriving arts scene, there are so many things to do in Tempe, Arizona! I was so excited when my friends at Tempe Tourism invited me out for a weekend to explore all the city has to offer, and fell in love with the city’s quirky spirit, undeniable energy, and its friendly, welcoming vibe.
Located just east of Phoenix, Tempe is home to Arizona State University, and is a lively, thriving college town. It is a city with a population of just under 200,000, and with a median age of 28, resulting in a youthful, hip vibe, and plentiful dining and nightlife options.
From sampling the local food, experiencing the vibrant nightlife, exploring the nearby hiking trails, experiencing the thriving arts and culture scene, or relaxing poolside in the endless sunshine, this is a city that has something for everyone! With so much to offer, Tempe is the perfect spot for a quick little weekend getaway (and a fun stop on the way to the Grand Canyon!).
Keep on reading for all the best things to do in Tempe, Arizona!
**Note: this post was written in partnership with Tempe Tourism. As always, opinions are all my own. This post also contains affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase or booking. **
When to Go to Tempe, Arizona
With over 330 days of sunshine a year, any time of year is a great time to visit Tempe! We spent our weekend in Tempe in the fall, and found it a perfect time to go – it was a great way to soak in some sunshine and escape the chilly November temperatures back home in San Francisco. With highs in the 70s Fahrenheit, it was the perfect temperature for spending time outdoors, and we took full advantage of it by checking out some of the hiking trails in the vicinity.
Tempe is also a popular destination in the winter, since its sunshine and mild climate provide a perfect respite from the winter cold in many other parts of the United States and Canada.
Spring is also a great time to visit Tempe, with its warm-but-not-too-hot temperatures, making it the perfect time to explore the outdoors. The area also comes alive during this time with lots of things to do in Tempe, including the Cactus League spring training baseball season.
Yes, Tempe does experience super hot desert summers, with highs often well into the triple digits Fahrenheit, but do not let that deter you from visiting! Most hotels in the area have a pool, so it is the perfect time for some relaxation poolside. The city also comes alive with lots of things to do in Tempe during the summer season, with many outdoor festivals and concerts, making it a fun time to visit.
How to Get To Tempe
Tempe is conveniently located just four miles outside of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which offers direct connections to over 100 cities in North America and beyond. Tempe is just a quick 10 minute drive from Sky Harbor, making it closer to the airport than some parts of Phoenix itself!
Car rentals: If choosing to rent a car, Sky Harbor is served by many major rental car agencies, including Alamo, Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, and Thrifty. Shuttles to the rental car center run every few minutes, making stops at all terminals on the arrivals level, right outside baggage claim.
Ride Shares: Uber and Lyft service is also available from Sky Harbor, and is a convenient way to get into Tempe (this is what we did). This costs about $10-15. The pickup zones are located outside baggage claim in each terminal – for specific pickup spots, log into the app after you land and it will tell you where to go.
Public Transit: If you wish to take public transit, the free PHX Skytrain connects the airport to the 44th Street & Washington metro station. The Skytrain runs every 3-5 minutes, 24 hours a day from level 2 in Terminal 3 and level 3 in Terminal 4. A covered walkway connects Terminal 2 to Terminal 3.
From 44th Street and Washington, you can easily connect to the Valley Metro Rail, which has nine station stops in Tempe. The trip takes about 15-20 minutes and costs $2.
Getting Around in Tempe
One of the best things about Tempe is that having a car isn’t essential to getting around the city. Downtown Tempe is very walkable, and you can access many of the city’s highlights on foot.
For other points of interest outside of Downtown Tempe, you have several ways of getting around:
There are nine Valley Metro Rail stations in Tempe, with two stations downtown at the Tempe Transit Center on Veterans Way & College Avenue, and Mill Avenue & 3rd Street. The Valley Metro Rail connects Tempe to points in Phoenix and Mesa in about 30 minutes. Fares are $2 per ride or $4 for a day pass and can be purchased at a self-service machine in Valley Metro Rail stations. More information on routes, fares, and schedule can be found here.
Valley Metro Bus service connects Tempe to all surrounding cities in the Phoenix Metropolitan area. Buses stop along all arterial streets in the city. You can find more route and information by using the trip planner here.
Tempe has a free bus service around town called ORBIT, which connects downtown Tempe to its surrounding neighborhoods. ORBIT has six different routes, each named after planets. You can find more information about routes and schedules here.
Both Uber and Lyft operate in Tempe, and its central location means that you can find a ride fairly quickly. This is mostly what we used during our weekend in Tempe, and we found it a super easy way to get around. Fares were mostly in the $5-10 range, and it never took us more than 15 minutes to get where we wanted to go.
Bike and Scooter Sharing:
You will find lots of bikes from Grid Bikes or electric scooters from Bird parked around the city, which is another easy way to get around the city. I actually rode a scooter for the first time in Tempe and it was so much fun! You can use your smartphone to easily locate and pay for a bike or scooter, making it a convenient way to get around. Be sure to follow these bicycle and scooter safety rules when using one! (Please note that scooters are not allowed on the ASU campus).
Where to stay in Tempe, AZ
We stayed at the Moxy Tempe, and loved the hip, fun vibe of the hotel! The Moxy Phoenix Tempe was the first location of the Moxy Brand, which dubs themselves as “not your mother’s hotel.” The front desk at the Moxy also doubles as a bar, and you will be handed a delicious welcome drink as you check in.
The lobby and bar area also doubles as a social space, and there are many fun arcade games to play (for free!). The hotel hosts daily events, such as yoga, cornhole tournaments, karaoke nights, and more (there is a schedule up on a chalkboard in the lobby). The Moxy Counter/bar is open 24/7, which is great for grabbing an afternoon cocktail (they even have happy hour every day from 4-7pm), or for a late night snack!
The Moxy also has an awesome pool area, which would be the perfect spot to cool off and relax during those hot summer days.
The rooms all have a super comfy platform beds, giant 45” Netflix-enabled TVs, fast Wifi, and rain showers (my fave!).
The hotel is located right next to the ASU campus, and about 1.5 miles from downtown, making it a central location for easily exploring all that Tempe has to offer. The Moxy also offers complimentary Uber service to and from the Sky Harbor Airport – simply call the hotel upon arrival, and they will set you up with a ride.
Things to Do in Tempe, AZ
Hang Out at Tempe Town Lake
The two-mile long Tempe Town Lake is not only one of the city’s top attractions, it is the second most visited public attraction in Arizona. Adjacent to Downtown Tempe, the lake offers a bit of a desert oasis and is the perfect way to enjoy some outdoor fun, right in the middle of town!
One of the best things to do in Tempe is to enjoy the lake from on the water. The Boat Rentals of America, located on the south side of the lake, offers rentals of kayaks, stand-up paddleboats, electric boats, and swan-shaped pedal boats.
We rented one of the swan-shaped pedal boats, and it was so much fun even for this water sports-challenged girl (true story: I am comically bad at anything rowing/boat related, as in I once paddled a kayak backwards, and then in a circle for an hour. And then there was the time I paddled a rowboat into a tree and couldn’t get out for 30 minutes). After pedaling around for a bit, we stopped to watch the sunset from the water, which ended up being one of my favorite things to do in Tempe! It was absolutely magical to see the colors transform in the desert sky.
If you’d rather enjoy the lake from land, it is the perfect spot to go for a walk, run, or bike ride on the paved path along its edges. You can also hang out in the surrounding Tempe Beach Park, which also plays host to many events and festivals throughout the year – we were there while the Ironman race was taking place, and the area was bustling with energy and activity!
Lake Hours: 5am-midnight
Boat Rental Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-7pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-8pm
Climb “A” Mountain
Officially named Hayden Butte Preserve, this popular hike begins right in the middle of Downtown Tempe. The mountain gets its nickname because of the 60-foot tall steel “A” on its face, which defines the Tempe skyline.
The hike is short but steep (not gonna lie, it left me a bit more out of breath than I thought it would), and offers stunning views of the city and valley below. Because of this, it’s a popular spot for watching the sunset.
There are several trailheads, all of which start in the heart of downtown. It’s such a great way to fit in a workout after you enjoy some delicious food from all those restaurants along Mill Avenue – definitely one of the best things to do in Tempe!
Explore Downtown and Mill Avenue
Tempe’s vibrant downtown area is full of things to do, from sampling the local food and craft brews, shopping, enjoying the nightlife, or taking in a show!
Most of the action is centered around Mill Avenue and College Avenue, between University Drive and Tempe Town Lake. The area is filled with restaurants, shops, and more than 70 bars and taverns. You’ll find a mix of locals, visitors, and students hanging out in the area, and there is always something going on!
If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, the area also hosts the 6th Street Market, featuring wares from area merchants and artisans. It is the perfect place to pick up some unique local souvenirs, enjoy some live music, and enjoy a sunny Sunday downtown!
The market takes place on Sundays between early November-early April from 10am-3pm between 5th & 6th Streets on the east side of Mill Avenue.
Explore the ASU Campus
Tempe is home to the Arizona State University campus, which is one of the largest public universities in the United States. The ASU community definitely makes the town come alive, and even if you’re not a student, the campus is worth exploring as there are tons of museums, exhibits, events, and installations to see that are some of the best things to do in Tempe!
Some highlights below:
- ASU Gammage: This historic theater was designed was legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1950s, and definitely a must-see for its unique circular style. The original design was intended to be for an opera house in Baghdad, but the project never materialized. Today, the building hosts many performances, including touring Broadway shows. Guided tours, which will give you an insight into the unique history behind the museum, are available – see here for more information.
- ASU Art Museum: The museum exhibits contemporary art from both local and international artists, and has a large focus on Latin American art. It also boasts an award-winning print collection and the largest collection of Cuban art in the United States. (open Tuesday-Saturday 11am-5pm; free admission)
- Air Apparent: One of James Turrell’s famed Skyspaces can be found on the corner of Rural and Terrace Roads. This artistic interpretation of Native American Hohokam shade ramadas and pit houses provide a unique interpretation of light, and a changing perspective depending on the time of day.
Sample Local Brews at Four Peaks Brewery
One of my favorite things to do in a city is to tour the local brewery. Not only does it give you an insight into the local styles of beer (and give you a taste of them!), but it always gives you an interesting perspective into the history and community of a city.
We booked a free tour of the Four Peaks Brewery, one of the most well-known craft breweries in Arizona. The brewery is housed in a 100 year old building, which has been everything from a dairy creamery, ice factory, and recording studio, means that it has a very unique history behind it! It is even said to be haunted (there is even a haunted tour available)!
Our guide was knowledgeable and entertaining, and gave us a thorough rundown of the history of both the building and the brewery, as well as give us an insight into Four Peaks’ unique brewing barrel aging processes. Of course, we got to sample some of their beers as well – always a plus!
You can also hang out at the brewpub, and try even more of their beers! They also offer a full food menu, which features some beer-infused dishes.
Address: 1340 E 8th St #104, Tempe, AZ 85281
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 11am-2am, Sunday 9am-midnight
Tours every Saturday
Hunt for Murals and Public Art
Another one of my favorite things to do in a city is to find and snap photos of cool murals around town, and Tempe definitely did not disappoint! This is because the city sets aside a part of its budget for the Municipal Arts Fund in order to advance art in all forms.
You can check out some of my favorites here:
- Get Together Tempe mural (by Morgan Delaney) at Social Hall (pictured): 715 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, AZ 85281
- Floral murals (by Gennaro Garcia at Tempe Public Market Cafe: 8749 S Rural Rd, Tempe, AZ 85284
- Murals at Tempe Marketplace: 2000 E Rio Salado Pkwy, Tempe, AZ 85281
- Meet me at Daley Park (by James Early) at Daly Park: 1625 S College Ave, Tempe, AZ 85281
- Don’t Wake the Dreamer (by Lauren Lee) at Jaycee Park: 817 W 5th St, Tempe, AZ 85281
Visit the Desert Botanical Garden
While technically in Phoenix, the Desert Botanical Garden sits inside Papago Park just outside of city limits, which makes it worth checking out – it was one of my favorite things to do in Tempe! It’s a favorite of both locals and visitors alike (even our Lyft driver got super excited for us when she realized that’s where she was dropping us off), and for good reason! The gardens have over 50,000 desert plants from almost 4500 species in their collection – insane!
The 140-acre gardens have a number of paved trails and walking paths, which will allow you to see the unique and beautiful plants that thrive in one of the hottest and driest climates in the world. You can take in some epic desert views of the Papago Buttes from these trails as well, making for some awesome photo ops!
The Desert Botanical Garden also has rotating seasonal installations and exhibits. We got to see the Wild Rising installation, in which more than 1,000 colorful animal sculptures, made from recyclable plastic, were on display throughout the gardens. They definitely added a colorful pop against the desert landscape. The installation is the work of Cracking Art, a collective of artists who specialize in using plastic as an artistic medium, to raise awareness to sustainability and conservation issues.
Address: 1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008
Hours: Daily 8am-8pm
Admission: General Admission $24.95-29.95; Youth 3-17 $12.95-$14.95; Children under 3 free
Explore Papago Park
After you visit the Desert Botanical Garden, be sure to take some time to explore the surrounding Papago Park as well. The 1,500-acre preserve has over 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, as well as the Phoenix Zoo, and Arizona Heritage Center.
If you are looking for a quick and easy hike, do not miss the hike to Hole-in-the-Rock, which is literally rock formation with a hole in it. It is an easy 0.3 mile hike that begins a short drive away from the Desert Botanical Garden, which makes it an easy stop.
I loved the vibrant color of the red rock on the trail, as well as the views of the desert landscape below. It’s an especially popular place to watch the sunrise or sunset, and a favorite spot for local photographers. Do keep in mind that it is a very popular hike, and you should expect crowds at any time of the day – a bit of patience is a must! However, the views are worth it.
Address: 1201 N. Galvin Pkwy., Phoenix, AZ 85008
Hours: 6am-7pm daily
Shop at Tempe Marketplace
Not only is the Tempe Marketplace a must for those shopaholics out there, it also provides an interactive experience in a vibrant, high-energy outdoor setting. It has over 1.3 million square feet filled with retail and dining options, so there’s something for everyone. They also use the space to put on lots of special events and pop-ups throughout the year. There was a Tacotopia pop-up while we were there, which had super fun, interactive, Instagrammable displays for all those taco lovers, including a guacamole pit! The Tempe Marketplace also has live music every Friday and Saturday at 7pm on the District stage, making it a fun place to hang out at on those warm weekend evenings. In the summer, they even have a colorful umbrella installation – would love to see this sometime! During the holiday season, they also have a tree lighting and other festive events as well. There’s always something going on at the Tempe Marketplace – check their website here to see all of the latest happenings!
Address: 2000 E. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, AZ 85281
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-9pm, Sunday 11am-6pm
What to Eat and Drink Tempe, Arizona
One of the best things to do in Tempe is to sample all of the local food! Tempe has an up-and-coming foodie scene and there are so many delicious dining options, with any kind of cuisine you can imagine. I always plan my trips around food, so I was super excited about this, and it sure did not disappoint! Eating all the delicious food here was one of my favorite things to do in Tempe. Here are my picks for the top places to eat in Tempe:
Ghost Ranch came highly recommended, and it definitely did not disappoint! It serves modern southwestern cuisine in a stylish desert setting, paying tribute to Arizona’s history and multicultural roots. The flavors are on point, perfectly smoky and bold. We came for brunch, but it would be a perfect spot for dinner as well. I had the chilaquiles, which are my favorite brunch dish, and their take on it was different from all the others I’ve had, but with a unique mix of flavors. Be sure to try one of their cocktails as well – I loved the prickly pear froserita!
Address: 1006 E. Warner Rd. #102-103, Tempe, AZ 85284
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-10pm, Sunday 11am-9pm
Tempe Public Market Cafe
Another great spot to stop for brunch, or just for some drinks, like we did. The Tempe Market Cafe not only has a super cute space, they also serve fresh, locally-sourced and seasonally-inspired cuisine. They also have a creative cocktail menu, which includes a drink called “Schrute Farm” – with mezcal, beets, and celery shrub – which totally appealed to the Office fan in me (anyone else out there a huge fan of the show?). They also have a great patio space and a happy hour, making it a perfect space to hang out with a drink on those sunny afternoons and evenings!
Address: 8749 S. Rural Rd., Tempe, AZ 85284
Hours: 9am-10pm daily
We loved having dinner at Culinary Dropout, which had awesome food and drinks in a vibrant, lively atmosphere! They have games like cornhole and even do live music here, making it a super fun place to hang out. They also have lots of TVs, so it’s a great place to watch some football (it was ASU homecoming weekend when we were there so it was packed with people watching the game). They also have lots of events in the space. Our meal was excellent as well – my salmon was cooked to perfection. It was such a fun place to hang out at on a Saturday night! You can check out all their happenings on their website here.
Address: 149 S. Farmer, Tempe, AZ 85281
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11am-11pm, Friday 11am-1am, Saturday 10am-1am, Sunday 10am-10pm
Morning Squeeze serves up brunch classics in a sunny, bright space. They have an outdoor patio (which is dog-friendly as well), which is perfect for soaking up those sunny mornings! You’ll find all your traditional brunch favorites with a modern twist here, which are all made with locally-sourced, fresh, organic ingredients. The best part? They have a mimosa flight, which is as awesome as it sounds!
Address: 690 S. Mill Ave., Ste. 110, Tempe, AZ 85281
Hours: 7am-2pm daily
Snooze AM Eatery
I’ve been to a few Snooze locations, and have always enjoyed eating brunch there! There is a location in Downtown Tempe as well. Snooze does pancake flights and Benedict flights, which lets you try a few varieties at a time – perfect for people like me who are super indecisive and can never make up their mind!
Address: 615 S College Ave #103, Tempe, AZ 85281
Hours: 6:30am-2:30pm daily
Kuka Sushi & Izakaya
Kuka has an awesome selection of sushi, sashimi, ramen, and other Japanese izakaya favorites. We loved the yakitori skewers here – the pricing is reasonable as well so you can definitely sample a bunch! The sushi is fresh as well, and you can find anything on the menu from traditional nigiri to unique rolls. They also have a great sake selection, which makes a perfect accompaniment to your meal.
Address: 1221 E Apache Blvd #103, Tempe, AZ 85281
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-midnight
Perfect for people with a sweet tooth (like me)! Mango Rabbit has a selection of Asian desserts and boba drinks. Be sure to get one of their giant bubble waffle wraps, which come wrapped with ice cream and a selection of toppings!
Address: 1250 E Apache Blvd #112, Tempe, AZ 85281
Hours: Sunday-Thursday noon-10pm, Friday-Saturday noon-11:30pm
Chou’s Kitchen is in the same plaza as Mango Rabbit, and we randomly stopped in to grab some fried rice because we had the munchies. We walked in with zero expectations, but no joke, this might have been the best fried rice I’ve ever had!
Address: 1250 Apache Blvd, Tempe, AZ 85281
Hours: 11am-10pm daily (closed from 3pm-4:30 pm Monday-Friday)
Snakes & Lattes
We spent a few hours playing board games at Snakes & Lattes and it was so much fun! It is part cafe, part bar, and has a collection of thousands of board games and card games. They even have a game menu so you can select the perfect game for you based on a variety of criteria…and if you still can’t decide on one, they have some “game gurus” who can help you pick out the perfect game!
Address: 20 W 6th St, Tempe, AZ 85281
Hours: Sunday-Monday 11am-10pm, Tuesday-Thursday 11am-11pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-midnight