“Interesting. (Head tilts. Eyebrows raise.) Why Tempe?”
This was the natural response when people heard where I was going to in Arizona.
I do have to admit, I smiled on the inside at the intrigued surprise my answer caused. My husband sometimes says I like to be different just to be different. Maybe sometimes, but don’t tell him that. 😉
But, I bet you’d agree, there’s just something about the unexpected. Things that were entirely off your radar suddenly enter your mind and make you wonder. Like when someone asks what’s your favorite food. Everyone says things like pizza, chocolate, pasta, french fries. No one expects to hear red lentils.
“So, why aren’t you going to Phoenix, Sedona, or the Grand Canyon?”
Well, because everyone thinks of those places. And, there are just too many fabulous places to see and things to do that just might refresh what comes
to mind when you think of Arizona. Tempe seemed like the perfect place to start.
15 Inviting Reasons You Need to Plan a
Tempe Arizona Getaway
1. Tempe feels alive.
You’ll feel it right away. Tempe, Arizona has a spirit and a tangible energy whether you’re walking along Mill Avenue, kayaking on Tempe Town Lake, or in and around the
Downtown Tempe is lined with independent shops selling everything from classic candy to original artwork and artisan-made clothes. Cafes, restaurants, bars, and breweries can be found in every other storefront with their outdoor seating running along the sidewalk, as well as tucked into pedestrian-only courtyards complete with dog-friendly patios.
(On a side note, let’s just say Tempe makes it all too easy to pop into an eatery for a hearty breakfast or an award-winning local brew paired with some soft pretzels, fondue, and live music! More about Tempe restaurants later.)
A steady stream of college students and young professionals zoom by on shared electric scooters found in nearly every corner of Tempe. Visitors, students, and locals, alike, head out to the numerous Tempe events that happen year-round. And no matter where you go, the vibe is welcoming and friendly.
2. Tempe weather forecast = ???
In a typical year, Tempe has about 300 sunny days, averages exactly 0 inches of snow, and gets about 9 inches of rain. Need I say more???
Given my sun sensitivity, I’m not sure I’d last the intense sun and heat of an Arizona summer. But, with “winter” temperatures hovering around 75°F during the day and a comfy 50°F at night, clear skies, basically no chance your vacation will be a rainout, and spectacular desert sunsets, I’m sold. Aren’t you??
3. Getting around is quick and easy with the Tempe light rail.
Tempe makes it really easy for visitors to land at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and transfer right into downtown with the Skytrain and light rail. All without the hassle and expense of needing to rent a car.
Within an hour of landing, I had taken the light rail just steps from the Courtyard Marriott Tempe Downtown (now a Sonesta Select Hotel), checked in, and was climbing “A” Mountain to get my legs moving after the flight.
And, for any excursions you want to take, Tempe to Phoenix on the light rail only takes about half an hour, depending on where you’re going.
4. Tempe is affordable.
There’s no denying the popularity of Phoenix and Scottsdale as travel destinations. But, did you realize that Tempe is less than 20 minutes from both of these cities and restaurants and hotels in Tempe are more affordable??
If you’re using hotel points, Tempe has plenty of loyalty program hotels. Marriott and Hilton, in particular, have several options to choose from. Award redemptions in Tempe are much more reasonable when compared to the luxury redemptions in Scottsdale.
5. Tempe restaurants (and distilleries!) will thrill your taste buds.
How many of you think foodie paradise and Arizona in the same thought? Well, holy smokes I totally admit, I wasn’t at all expecting Tempe’s stellar food scene! But each meal was one fantastic surprise after another.
Now before you think I’m a glutton, remember it’s my job to test-taste everything to make sure you get the best eats on your travels. 😉
From vegetarian-friendly lunch cafes with salads and falafel, urban chic restaurants with a modern take on Southwestern classics like Chile Relleno, Indian breakfast tacos while overlooking an actual desert oasis, and ethnic bites along Tempe’s Spice Trail on Apache Boulevard, let’s just say it’s a good thing Tempe also offers a ton of ACTIVE outdoor activities to burn some calories.
Either that or channel your inner-cactus and store away some calories for those drier months…
6. There’s always an event happening in Tempe. 🙂
No matter when you visit Tempe, there’s sure to be something going on. If you visit during Ironman Arizona weekend, you can stare in amazement at the incredible athletes working out around town while you build your own ice cream sandwich (for less than $3!) at Slickables like I did.
Or plan your Tempe visit around an Arizona State University sporting event or an MLB spring training game. ASU Gammage welcomes the latest Broadway-caliber musicals throughout the year. There’s a half marathon, concerts, festivals, art exhibitions, and Tempe’s own Oktoberfest to name just a few. The Tempe Tourism calendar will list what’s happening when, so you can plan your visit without the FOMO.
7. Cacti everywhere in Tempe.
Speaking of cactus, if you’re coming to Tempe from a non-desert landscape like I was, be prepared for cacti everywhere you look! Tempe sits squarely in the Sonoran Desert. And just like there are 50 Eskimo words for snow, Tempe must have nearly 50 cactus species!
The tall classic Saguaro are standout because of their size. They also look the part when you think about the stereotypical cactus. But, to really dive into the Tempe cactus scene, head to the Desert Botanical Garden which has all the information you need to sound as knowledgeable as the locals.
8. Take your pick from a range of Tempe activities.
Hiking, biking, paddle boarding, and kayaking are all just minutes from wherever you’re staying in Tempe. From downtown, you can easily rent a bike and explore the area on hundreds of miles of bike paths.
Or start your day with a sunrise hike up the surprisingly steep “A” mountain, right from the center of town. The hike to the top takes about 20 minutes but will help erase any guilt you have from indulging in Tempe’s oh so gratifying food scene.
Later on, take the light rail or bus to Papago Park to hike on one of the many trails, including the popular Hole-in-the-Rock trail. Coincidentally, it’s also one of the best spots to catch one of those famous Arizona sunsets!
Prefer to be on the water? Tempe Town Lake activities are perfect for an upper body and core workout whether you prefer a kayak or paddleboard. And if you go out on a breezy day like I did, it’ll feel like you just crossed the Ironman finish line when you finally reach the dock again!
9. Fun in the Sonoran Desert!
And, if you’re looking to take your desert adventures to the next level, how does spending the morning or afternoon driving an ATV or UTV in the Sonoran Desert sound? What about watching the sunset over the desert while on horseback?
The combination of the desert setting and Tempe’s warm climate is sure to have you yearning to get outdoors and experience the desert landscape firsthand.
Arizona Outdoor Fun says it all in the name! You’re guaranteed one of the best desert off-roading adventures anywhere. Not to mention how amazingly enormous the saguaro get the deeper you go into the desert!
Koli Equestrian Center sits on the Gila River Native American Reservation. Out in the wide open with your horse, taking in the desert views as far as the eye can see, it’s easy to lose yourself in the moment. And if you’re lucky, you just might catch a glimpse of a herd of wild horses as the sun sets.
10. College towns, like Tempe, AZ make perfect travel destinations.
There are reasons why college towns like Tempe and Flagstaff in Arizona, Ann Arbor, MI, Chapel Hill, NC, and Madison, WI also make great places as a getaway or road trip stop.
- They have pedestrian-friendly downtowns and make it super easy to get around and enjoy everything the town has to offer.
- The best college towns have an endless lineup of events, as well as plenty of cultural, educational, and/or historical places to visit.
- And they’re usually in places with scenic natural landscapes and plenty of outdoor activities. After all, college campuses need space to stretch out and must be an attractive place with plenty to take advantage of to entice prospective students.
Tempe checked off all of these boxes.
You’ll absolutely love how accessible the ASU campus is! Whether it’s to visit museums on campus, look at their meteor collection, watch actual scientists and researchers do their work or attend student-led presentations, it’s clear that ASU welcomes visitors to take advantage of the University.
11. Tempe Public Art embodies a genuine community spirit.
Naturally, the college town spirit combined with an urban chic vibe makes Tempe the perfect setting for public art displays. But we’re not talking tons of huge flashy murals in the way an NYC neighborhood would repurpose industrial buildings…although Tempe’s old mill has definite potential there.
Instead, as you wander around town, notice the paintings on the newspaper bins created by 8 local female artists, the colorful utility boxes or the changing art displays in the Post Office windows.
Look for the “Air Apparent” public space on the ASU campus meant to capture the essence of the Hohokam, the first Native Americans who lived in the area, and the houses they lived in.
Even grab a scooter to discover the community-inspired mosaics in the Maple-Ash neighborhood. The people here dedicated funds to creating these works of art just for the streets in and around where they live.
12. Tempe’s Native American past is all around.
The American Southwest is ripe with its Native American history. The Hohokam were the first people to live in and around Tempe and their presence can still be felt in the area. Their descendants are part of the fabric of Tempe where artifacts from long ago can still be found.
Notice their markings on the rocks as you climb “A” Mountain. Or, hop on the light rail to the Pueblo Grande Museum to learn more about these first people and how they survived in the harsh desert landscape.
13. The best of Phoenix is just minutes away from downtown Tempe.
Hoping to go to a Phoenix Suns game? Is an afternoon at the Phoenix Art Museum part of your Arizona itinerary? Maybe you’d just like to walk around downtown Phoenix. Either way, because Phoenix and Tempe are so close, the light rail whisks you just footsteps from these popular Phoenix attractions and more.
14. Tempe day trips open up Arizona.
Tempe makes the perfect base for day trips around the area, even beyond Phoenix. Not to mention, it’s an ideal starting point for an epic Arizona road trip.
Rent a car to fully explore Tempe and the surrounding area. I use Kayak to check rental car prices because it compares many sites at once instead of me having to search each site individually.
Scottsdale is just 20 minutes away, allowing for plenty of time to golf, walk around Old Town Scottsdale, or go for a hike, to name a few.
Tuscon is about 90 minutes to the south of Tempe. Not only does Tuscon offer all sorts of outdoor activities, but it’s also close to Saguaro National Park (1 of only 59 National Parks in the U.S.). If you’re on a Utah National Parks road trip and including the Grand Canyon, why not check off another, albeit under-the-radar, National Park from your bucket list.
Sedona’s famous red rock formations are just 2 hours to the north. Hike in Red Rock State Park. Drive along Red Rock Scenic Byway, stopping along the way for nearby outdoor activities and to take photos of the nonstop scenery.
Have more time? There are plenty of other Arizona surprises close to Tempe!
15. Tempe is full of surprises.
Just when you think you’ve seen and done everything Tempe has to offer, you’ll wind up in a corner of Tempe that feels like you’ve just uncovered a secret.
Consider Singh Meadows Farmers Market, an oasis right in Tempe! Not only a place to buy some fresh produce. But also a beautiful green spot to sip on a freshly made juice or some savory bites while overlooking the pond from the grassy meadow.
It wasn’t until the very end of my trip when I learned about Singh Meadows and it left me wondering…what other secrets is Tempe keeping? Just what will you discover on your Tempe trip?
Well, luckily, Tempe is easy to get to and sets up perfectly the next time I’m looking to plan another warm-weather getaway!
So, why would you like to visit Tempe, Arizona?
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