How to Plan the Ultimate Trip to Tempe, Arizona
City sophistication and small-town charm make Tempe, Arizona, the ultimate desert getaway for travelers looking for energy and excitement in an easy-to-get-to getaway.
There’s a short list of cities in the West that combine city style, rich culture, nearby nature, and vibrant nightlife in a friendly and easy-to-get around locale. And Tempe, that sun-drenched oasis that defies desert stereotypes, is at the top. For business travelers looking to book an event, friends seeking a perfect party weekend, and couples planning for a convenient warm-weather getaway that’s equal parts chic and charming, Tempe has it all. Situated in the heart of the Phoenix Metro area, this dashing yet down-to-earth enclave offers a weekend brimming with fine art, high-end bistros, and recreational pursuits, all bathed in the sublime hues of a Sonoran Desert sunset. Touch down at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and within minutes you’re in this easily navigable city of boundless allure: a user-friendly urban lake, contemporary galleries, scenic hikes, and a restaurant and bar scene that comes alive at night. And fall, with its incredible weather, is the perfect time to visit and take full advantage of Tempe’s unique combination of city style and small-town charm. Here’s our five-step plan for dialing up a perfect weekend in the desert.
1. Sync Your Season
Whether you’re in town for business or booking a bachelorette party, the city will be humming with activity no matter the season. In spring, sports fans—and let’s face it, any experiential traveler—will love the double dip of catching spring training with the Los Angeles Angels, accompanied by live tunes at the Innings Festival. In fall, partake in autumnal revelry at the Four Peaks Oktoberfest, where the best-known local brews and German-inspired festivities come together at a carnival-style affair at Tempe Beach Park. And in winter, revel in the creative Mecca of the Tempe Festival of the Arts, when 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. Active travelers can sync their sojourn with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon (capped off at picturesque Papago Park) in January or level up at the Ironman Arizona in November.
2. Elevate Your Nature Game
While nightlife may beckon, the city’s 300 days of sunshine means there are myriad opportunities to take advantage of the city’s outdoor offerings. With nearly 3,000 acres of welcoming Sonoran Desert open space within minutes of its downtown, Tempe has outdoor activities for every skill level. Wake up to a morning paddle on Tempe Town Lake, a serene liquid sanctuary for both active travelers and Zen seekers. Want a true-to-place scenic selfie? Climb the contours of “A” Mountain or delve into the organic geometry of Papago Park’s Hole-in-the-Rock Trail. The latter is a popular selfie spot for good reason. Yes, you should park by the Lagoon at the Phoenix Zoo for easy access. For avid hikers, South Mountain Park and Preserve is one of the country’s largest municipal parks and offers 58 miles of loops and trails that veer from leisurely strolls to adrenaline-pumping routes.
3. Curate Your Culture Quest
You’ve pre-gamed with nature, but still owe yourself a dose of culture. For such a small town, Tempe goes big with arts, entertainment, and historical sites you won’t want to miss. Here indigenous heritage, university star power, and a vibrant performing arts scene thrive. Witness world-class acts at the architectural marvel that is ASU Gammage, where Broadway revivals and contemporary dance share the stage. Satiate your artistic sensibilities at the Tempe Center for the Arts—a lakefront gem hosting everything from ballet to bumping concerts. Or, if minimalism is more your speed, bask in the immersive light at the James Turrell ASU Skyspace, an inviting installation that will have you pondering the shape of the sky. To deeply immerse yourself in the local culture, consider spending time at area museums. And for the long view, the Arizona Heritage Center offers a window into the region’s past through a variety of displays and events by the Arizona Historical Society, featuring both historical and modern photography, art showcases, and talks. Additionally, no visit to Tempe would be complete without exploring S’edav Va’aki Museum (formerly Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park). This site is home to a 1,500-year-old archaeological dig containing remnants and replicas of a village once occupied by the Ancestral Sonoran Desert people. The museum on-site further enriches the experience with a collection of artifacts and exhibits that illuminate Tempe’s rich Native American history.
4. Dine Deeply
Tempe tempts all tastes with an impressive array of all-day dining options and nightlife options in a conveniently compact setting. The modern Southwestern food revival has hit Tempe in full force with the thrilling opening of Cocina Chiwas, a new wood-fired, Chihuahua-inspired restaurant overseen by chef Nadia Holguin, semifinalist in the James Beard Award’s Best Chef, Southwest category. Here you can taste the evolution of Southwestern cuisine in aguachiles, habanero-spiked, caviar-topped oysters, and heirloom blue corn empanadas. For a more traditional take, try the flawless enchiladas and other local specialties at Ghost Ranch, which delivers Southwest cuisine that never goes out of style. While Tempe boasts exceptional Southwestern and Mexican food, its dining scene is impressively diverse for a city of its scale. For a modern twist on Italian classics, Caffe Boa is a must-visit, renowned for its artisanal and organic offerings—think innovative takes like Sicilian-style cioppino and street corn infused with Calabrian chile. Beer enthusiasts will appreciate the ample selection and spacious outdoor seating at Pedal Haus Brewery, located in the core of Downtown Tempe, or Hundred Mile Brewing with its wall of taps and expansive indoor-outdoor layout. If you’re seeking a blend of aesthetic ambiance and diverse cuisine, head to Alter Ego at Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown. The restaurant’s eclectic, globalist menu includes everything from shishito peppers and banh mi bowls to striploin accompanied by patatas bravas.
5. Book a Suite Dream (or a Sky-High Bar)
Tempe’s hotels aren’t just places to sleep—they’re full-on experiences from booking to bedtime. Style seekers should check into Canopy for ultra-modern interiors and a rooftop pool that redefines what a cityscape should be. Or, ascend to luxury at The Westin Tempe, where Skysill Rooftop Lounge invites visitors to get comfy on the expansive pool deck and enjoy some of the venue’s unique programming and events. (Pool parties, fitness classes, and nighttime movie screenings to name just a few!) Be sure to stick around to soak up the sunset with cocktails in hand and vistas for days. The latest addition to this elevated hotel scene is the Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU. Inspired by the local terrain as well as the city’s layered history, this AAA Four Diamond-rated oasis is conveniently located right next to campus. Tuck into the innovative New American cuisine at Neighborhood Services, the property’s ground-floor concept. Or dine above it all at the dreamy Lucero Rooftop Lounge & Terrace. Pair a true-to-Tempe prickly pear margarita with an unforgettable golden hour, and toast your good fortune for having taken full advantage of the temptations of Tempe.