Catch a jazz concert or a ballet in the open air amphitheater at the Tempe Center for the Arts during your visit to downtown Tempe, AZ.
Andrea M. Gómez

This fall, forget football and focus on the emerging art scene in Tempe, AZ

Nora Burba Trulsson

Why go to Tempe now: Long equated with ASU football, this neighborhood has quietly emerged as a hot arts destination. ASU’s campus has a dozen art galleries and collections, and September kicks off the season of plays, concerts, and exhibitions.

What started it all: The opening of the dazzling Tempe Center for the Arts three years ago.

Our favorite gallery: Northlight Gallery (closed Fri and Sun; free), which has a knack for discovering local photographers.

Best place to see public art: The Mill Avenue and Third Street light-rail station, where glass panels with desert motifs shimmer by night.

Showtime: The Frank Lloyd Wright–designed ASU Gammage theater lands big Broadway productions (asugammage.com for tickets). 

Make it a weekend: Tempe Mission Palms Hotel puts you within striking distance of it all (from $139). 

Street smarts: Don’t circle the block looking for scarce parking—head for one of the public garages just off Mill Avenue.

Things to do in Tempe

  • Palace of the arts: The soaring, angular Tempe Center for the Arts, right on Tempe Town Lake, is home to nine performing arts groups. Catch a jazz concert in its black box Studio, a ballet in the open air amphitheater, or another of the 12 or so performances that happen every weekend. If you don’t have time for a show, wander the outdoor sculpture garden or stroll the lake path, which has great views of the architecture. Closed Sun; 700 W. Rio Salado Pkwy.
Who says you can't mix pop culture with history? The restored Harkins Valley Art theater in downtown Tempe, AZ boosts brand new indie flicks along with its original marquee from 1940.
Andrea M. Gómez

  • Catch a movie, in style: Take in a flick at the gracefully restored Harkins Valley Art theater, a downtown landmark that still has its original marquee and neon sign from 1940. It’s now the neighborhood go-to for foreign, art, and indie films. $9.50; 509 S. Mill Ave.
  • New at the ASU Art Museum: a multimedia exhibition from Dinh Q. Lê who uses bicycles and motorbikes as a way to look at his native Vietnam.
    Andrea M. Gómez

  • Art museum : At the Arizona State University Art Museum, explore a cool multimedia exhibition from Dinh Q. Lê, who uses bicycles and motorbikes as a way to look at his native Vietnam. Next door, the ceramics gallery always has something interesting going on, from lush tableware to funky pots. Closed Sun; free; 51 E. 10th St.
  • Theater: Expect a streak of dark humor from Stray Cat Theatre, an indie troupe at the Tempe Performing Arts Center. Show up early for a good seat (it’s first come, first served, and performances can get packed). The group’s ninth season kicks off with Neil LaBute’s Reasons to Be Pretty (Sep 24–Oct 9). $20 in advance, $25 at the door; 132 E. Sixth St.
  • Shopping: Bring a little bit of Tempe’s boho-chic vibe back with you: Yucatec-an Imports is packed floor to ceiling with Guatemalan messenger bags, handmade paper from Nepal, Lithuanian amber, and Venetian masks. 414 S. Mill Ave.; 480/303-9404. 
  • Where to eat

    • Dinner alfresco: Try the shiitake-crusted salmon at House of Tricks, where two historic bungalows are joined by a sweet vine-covered pergola. $$$; closed Sun; 114 E. Seventh St.; 480/968-1114.
    • Pre-show buzz: Caffeinate before curtain time at Cartel Coffee Lab—equal parts coffee shop, artsy hangout, and industrial roaster. 225 W. University Dr.
    Tempe may be a college town, but you don't have to settle for beer with your pizza. Pair a gourmet slice with a fine wine at La Bocca Urban Pizzeria & Wine Bar.
    Andrea M. Gómez

  • Pizza and vino: People-watch from behind a glass of Malbec or Albariño and a truffled mushroom pizza at the art-filled La Bocca Urban Pizzeria & Wine Bar. $; 699 S. Mill Ave.; 480/967-5244. 
  • Sugar rush: Nab a hazelnut or caramel cream macaron from Essence Bakery Cafe. $; closed Sun; 825 W. University Dr.; 480/966-2745.
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