A Weekend of Wonder in Tempe, Arizona
This inspiring, accessible, and diverse desert getaway offers activities for everyone. Here’s how to plan a perfect weekend for any type of traveler or taste.
Of all the Southwest’s inspiring travel destinations, Tempe, Arizona, stands out as an ideal and effortless desert getaway. Combining urban culture and convenience with nature and outdoor activities—plus exciting seasonal events—this compact city in the heart of the Phoenix metro area can deliver a weekend of wonder to match any traveler’s taste. Are you looking for a trip that offers a morning kayak outing and a deep dive into local culture, capped off by craft beer and internationally influenced dining? Are you in search of a family trip that balances pool time with museums, outdoor fun, and kid-friendly attractions? Are you a sports fan looking to take in Cactus League spring training, Arizona Coyotes hockey, Sun Devil athletics, or a Phoenix Rising soccer match?
Whatever your travel goals are, Tempe will deliver a weekend of wonder. Just a short flight from most major cities in the West and less than 10 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Tempe packs beautiful public spaces and parks, an inviting urban lake, museums, and stunning desert sunsets into an accessible 40 square miles. Here’s how to make the most of this desert gem.
Find Nearby Nature
Nature bathing may be trending, but outdoor experiences are always on tap in Tempe. With nearly 3,000 acres of welcoming Sonoran Desert open space within minutes of its downtown, Tempe has outdoor activities for every skill level. Unique to this desert destination is the expansive Tempe Town Lake, a 220-acre refreshing respite that draws morning joggers, picnicking families, stand-up paddle boarders, and those seeking some time on the water to reset their day.
For hikers and anyone looking for a firsthand nature experience—or an amazing, 360-degree view of the city—Tempe is rich in free parks and trails, the most convenient being “A” Mountain, where an easy-to-moderate ascent will reward you with views of downtown. Selfie-seekers should prioritize Papago Park for its postcard-worthy Hole-in-the-Rock Trail, which leads to a rock formation that perfectly frames the city skyline in the distance. (Pro tip: Park by the lagoon at the Phoenix Zoo). For trail-runners and serious hikers looking for elevation and distance, South Mountain Park and Preserve, one of the country’s largest municipal parks, offers 58 miles of loops and trails that range from a walk in the park to heart-pounding challenges.
For more outdoor experiences go to tempetourism.com/things-to-do.
Capture Cool Culture
Culture is a constant in Tempe, thanks to its rich Indigenous history, numerous museums, and the fact that it’s home to Arizona State University. Large-scale festivals, Broadway shows, and concerts are on regular rotation year-round at ASU Gammage, the thriving events center that hosts some of the year’s splashiest performances. ASU Gammage’s 2023 calendar is already packed with symphony and dance performances as well as Broadway productions of Annie, Hairspray, Frozen, and more. For a deeper dive into local culture, check out the architecturally striking Tempe Center for the Arts. Dramatically perched on Tempe Town Lake, this venue hosts a diverse roster of productions and counts multiple dance troupes, the Tempe Symphony Orchestra, and (beginning in 2023) the Arizona Theatre Company among its resident artists.
For a quick hit of world-class contemporary art, visit the James Turrell ASU Skyspace installation, one of a handful of the global art star’s immersive open-roofed Skyspace installations. For a truly enriching experience of local culture, take the long view at local museums: The Arizona Heritage Center preserves the history of the region through exhibits and programming from the Arizona Historical Society, including historical and contemporary photography, art exhibits, and lectures. And no trip to Tempe is complete without a visit to Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Park, home to a 1,500-year-old archeological site that includes vestiges and reconstructions of a village inhabited by the Ancestral Sonoran Desert people, as well as a museum housing artifacts and exhibits that convey the rich history and vitality of the Native American experience in the region.
For an extensive activity finder go to tempetourism.com/things-to-do.
Experience Seasonal Splendor
With its sunny Sonoran Desert climate, events are a mainstay in Tempe and timing your trip with one of the town’s many popular happenings is a travel hack that will help maximize your stay. Spring is when perfect weather pairs with spring training to make Tempe a destination for baseball fans. In addition to getting their baseball fix at Los Angeles Angels games, they can rock out at Innings Festival (February 25 and 26) where America’s favorite pastime and music converge with three stages of musical acts and appearances by MLB greats. Art lovers can sync up their visits in either spring or fall with the Tempe Festival of the Arts (March 31 – April 2 and December 1-3) where hundreds of artists exhibit at booths against a backdrop of live entertainment and food and drink vendors for a multiday, multisensory affair along Mill Avenue and beyond.
Also in fall, Four Peaks Oktoberfest brings the best-known local brews and German-inspired festivities to a carnival-style affair at Tempe Beach Park. And for maximum family holiday fun, the Fantasy of Lights Parade and Holiday Market in Downtown Tempe offers the spectacle of twinkling floats, plenty of presents, a fireworks display, and, of course, a visit with Santa.
For a complete listing of local events go to tempetourism.com/events.
Dive into Diverse Dining
Yes, there’s stellar Southwestern and Mexican cuisine in Tempe, but there are also a wide variety of dining offerings unrivaled for a city of its size. Modern Italian mainstay Caffe Boa is an institution for its artisanal and organic dishes grounded in Italian traditions but with clever spins, like a Sicilian-inspired cioppino and street corn spiked with Calabrian chile. Craft brew aficionados will love the beer and expansive patio found at Pedal Haus Brewery in the heart of Downtown Tempe.
For style and sustenance, head to high-design restaurant Alter Ego at Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown where the eclectic menu ranges widely: shishito peppers, banh mi bowls, and striploin with patatas bravas deliciously run the global gamut. But when you just want perfect enchiladas and other regional fare, there’s Ghost Ranch, where modern Southwest cuisine is always a classic move.
For dozens more delicious dining options arranged by category go to tempetourism.com/food-and-drink.
Keep cool on your desert getaway at a rooftop hotel pool or a luxe resort getaway, or live the suite life at hotels right-sized for families. Of Tempe’s dozens of options, a few standouts: Hunker downtown at Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown, where mod rooms and suites, a rooftop pool, and location right by ASU make it a perfect city retreat near numerous local attractions. The elegant The Westin Tempe boasts sleek accommodations, and a roof deck 18 stories above the city, which is home to a pool, Jacuzzi, and Skysill, a rooftop lounge boasting sweeping views and craft cocktails.
Families will find no shortage of suite-style hotels, such as the all-suite Residence Inn Tempe Downtown which has spacious accommodations in the heart of the city and the Marriott Phoenix Resort Tempe at the Buttes, which is alluringly set into a mountainside and features two pools and the Top of the Rock restaurant where you can dine with a view of those beautiful desert vistas you came here for.
For a comprehensive hotel finder go to tempetourism.com/where-to-stay.