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Tempe is Arizona’s Best City for Things to Do, Here’s Why

Cheyenne Reed



Tempe, Arizona is an exciting city with a lot of things to do for fun. It borders the cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Chandler, and Mesa. Therefore, it’s a central location in the valley. It is home to Arizona State University’s main campus as well as some of Arizona’s most important historical artifacts. Check out these 13 things to do in Tempe whenever you plan to visit.

1. Watch a Performance at Tempe Center for the Arts

Exterior night time shot of the Temoe Center for the Arts. Flickr User Jason Corneveaux
Flickr User Jason Corneveaux

Completed in 2007 and publicly owned, the Tempe Center for the Arts building was the result of a three-phase design competition. The winning design makes the building easy to see from surrounding areas with its roof of geometric folded plates. It is located in close proximity to Tempe Beach Park and Arizona State University. So, there are also a lot of great dining options and hotels nearby.

The center is home to a long list of the city produced programs like Walk-in Wednesdays Open Mic Night, Songwriters’ Showcase, Art After Work, Music Under the Stars, and Finally Friday. The Tempe Homegrown Cultural and Arts group also bases its theater, dance, and music groups out of this facility. Don’t forget to check out the public art pieces and exhibits as well.

2. Cool Off at Big Surf Waterpark

Aerial shot looking down at the wave pool at Big Surf water park in Tempe. Flickr User Shane Phillips
Flickr User Shane Phillips

Big Surf water park is the home of the first-ever wave pool in the United States!  Their wave pool was recognized with the ASME Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark for being the “first inland surfing facility in North America.” In the past, they were known for holding surfing competitions and exhibitions and even a teen disco. The park has undergone many upgrades over the years, including replacing their sand beach with a concrete bottom and adding water slides in 1979. They continually add attractions, so you can always expect something new and adventurous!

3. Enjoy the Acoustics and Aesthetics of Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium

Exterior fish-eye lens shot of Grady Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, AZ. Flickr User John M. Quick
Flickr User John M. Quick

Thought to be architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s last publicly commissioned work, this building is named after former Arizona State University president, Dr. Grady Gammage. It was built under budget in only 25 months. It’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985, and you can find it on the main campus of Arizona State University.

The unique design of the interior allows for powerful acoustics and sound projection. This ingenious design makes it so there is not a single bad seat in the house.

Visitors come to see not only the buildings flying buttress design, but also the multitude of Broadway musicals, grand operas, dramatic productions, solo productions, and lectures they host. If you’re one among the 3, 011 they’re able to seat, you’re sure to have a great time.

4. Take a Stroll Through Tempe Beach Park

Night shot of the bridge at Tempe Beach Park. Flickr User Jeff M
Flickr User Jeff M

Tempe Beach Park encircles man-made Tempe Town Lake which is great for swimming, fishing, or boating. There are five miles of paths for biking, jogging, and skating. You’ll also find a baseball field and a $1.3 million Splash Playground that helps children learn about water while having fun. They have a 5,000 person amphitheater and they host festivals like Fiesta Bowl New Year’s Eve Block Party, Circle K Tempe Music Festival, Oktoberfest, as well as the APS Fantasy of Lights. Each November, they also host the Arizona Triathlon. If none of these activities are up your alley, you can also just hang around into the evening to watch the bridge’s LED display light up the lake with a variety of colors and designs.

5. Watch a Game at Tempe Diablo Stadium

Anaheim Angels playing outside at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Flickr User JFernandez614
Flickr User JFernandez614

Built in 1986, this baseball field is where the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim do their spring training. It is also where the Arizona League Tempe Angels play their night games. In the past, other teams have used this stadium as well. The stadium can hold 9, 558 people. It also received a $20 million renovation in 2006, partially funded by the Arizona Tourism and Sports Authority. If you don’t have time to spare to visit this attraction, luckily you can get a decent view from the Red Mountain Freeway. You can even go hiking on Papago Mountain nearby.

6. Explore the Arizona State University Art Museum

Exterior shot of the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe. Flickr User C.W. Robertson
Flickr User C.W. Robertson

This museum is operated by Arizona State University and is located on its main campus. The majority of their 12,000 works are contemporary art, American ceramics, and art from Arizona and the Southwestern states. The art collection was established in 1950 and includes works by  Hung Liu, Karel Appel, Derek Boshier, Deborah Butterfield, and Sue Coe. They receive contributions from a number of painters and sources and have a vastly diverse collection.

Another thing that makes the museum unique is that it’s underground. There are several levels that go deeper underneath the city. Everyone is sure to find a type of art they appreciate here.

7. Learn History at the Arizona Heritage Center

The front of the Arizona Historical Society Museum at the Arizona Heritage Center in Tempe. arizonahistoricalsociety.com

The Arizona Heritage Center is located in Papago Park. They strive to educate people about Arizona’s history and its continuing impact. They mostly focus on twentieth and twenty-first-century history. You can learn about a variety of diverse subjects, from Arizona’s pop culture to the rise of desert cities after World War II. They also feature gems and minerals from Arizona and around the world. Don’t forget to soak up the beautiful vistas and the desert atmosphere while you’re there.

It’s also very close to Papago Park and the Phoenix Zoo. So, there are lots of things to do in this area.

8. Go for a Hike on the Tempe Butte AKA “A Mountain”

The sun sets over Tempe Butte. Flickr User CEBImagery
Flickr User CEBImagery

The Tempe Butte is an andesite butte of volcanic origin. Its highest point is 1,398 feet in elevation! Because it’s partially on the Arizona State University Tempe campus, you’ll find a sixty-foot gold letter “A” near the top. Locals often call this butte “A Mountain” or “Hayden Butte.” Visit the Tempe Butte and you’re likely to see remnants from the early settlements of the Hohokam people. You can look forward to discovering things like petroglyphs and pot shards. You’ll see a ton of native vegetation like Saguaro cacti, mesquite, and creosote bush as well as native wildlife like jackrabbits and pack rats. It’s also a great place to hike a mountain and take in views of the city at the same time.

9. Have a Shopping Spree at Tempe Market Place

Image credit: Alex Shashin via Flickr

Tempe Marketplace is the city’s unique outdoor shopping mall. The shopping mall is decorated with gorgeous fountains, giant fireplaces, and colorful lights. Altogether, these attractions create an exciting shopping environment like no other.

At the mall, you’ll find a Barnes and Noble bookstore, Harkins movie theatre, fine dining from various restaurants, a splash pad for the kids, a large music stage, Dave and Buster’s restaurant and games, as well as a plethora of high-end clothing stores. There is something for everyone at the Tempe Marketplace. You could easily spend your entire day there.

10. Visit the SEA LIFE Aquarium

Image credit: Jody Halsted via Flickr

This 26,000 square foot aquarium is the perfect place to bring your family on a weekend outing. It’s conveniently located inside the Arizona Mills Mall across from LEGOLAND (we’ll get to that in a moment).

The SEA Life aquarium features an awesome 360-degree ocean tunnel (see picture above), various interactive touch pools, and thousands of aquatic sea creatures.

Admission Prices

Adults – $19.95 at the door or $17.95 online

Children 3-12 years – $14.95 at the door or $12.95 online

Children Under 3 years – FREE

11. Become a Giant at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center

Image credit: Michael via Flickr

Most of us grew up playing with Legos and even today the craze continues. With the Legoland California as the flagship and theme park, there are also many other Legoland’s around the country. Tempe, Arizona is one of the lucky cities to have a Legoland of its own.

Like the SEA LIFE aquarium, Legoland Arizona Discovery Center is conveniently located inside the Arizona Mills Mall. There are 12 amazing attractions inside the discovery center for the entire family to enjoy. They are as follows:


Examine over one-million legos make up impressive still-life exhibits.

Lego 4D Cinema

Bring your family to watch 3-D Lego movies and experience the 4-D effects of wind, rain, and snow. It’s a truly immersive movie-going experience.

Kingdom Quest

Climb into a chariot and save the captured princess in this magical interactive ride.

Merlin’s Apprentice Ride

Ride your pedal cart and fly through Merlin’s magical potion’s chamber and embrace the magic as you level up.

Dino Explorer

This is the dinosaur lover’s paradise. Construct your own dinosaurs and play a variety of dino-based games.

Meet Lego Characters in Real Life

Bertie, Emmet, Officer Brick are here to meet and greet you and your family. Take pictures with these icons. You can also host birthday parties here in private rooms.

Lego Factory Tour

Go behind the scenes and discover how Legos are made. This is a top-secret area. So, remember to keep the Lego magic you’ll learn confidential.

The Great Lego Race VR Experience

This virtual reality racing experience is a must for any Logo enthusiast. Put on your goggles, get in your car, and bring home the prize of first place in this exciting virtual race.

Creative Workshop

Learn how to make amazing Lego buildings from the Lego pros.

Lego City Play Zone

Jump, climb, slide, and play in every way inside the exciting Lego City Play Zone. It’s perfect for children of all ages.

Lego Racers Build and Test

Create your super fast Lego racing car and test it out on the tracks.

Duplo Farm

This is for the littlest Lego fanatics. Extra-large Duplo bricks are perfect for novice builders.

Lego Friends Heartlake City

Help Lego friends Olivia, Emma, Stephanie, Mia, and Andrea build some of their favorite things to add to their hometown of Heartlake City.

The Lego Cafe

When you’re hungry from all the Lego building and excitement, stop by and eat at the Lego Cafe. It’s a truly unique dining experience.

Admission to Legoland Arizona Center

2 years and up – $19.95 at the door or $17.95 online

2 years and younger – FREE

12. Check Out the Unique Collections at Hayden Library

Hayden Library is Arizona State University’s pride and joy. It’s been located on the main Tempe campus since it was opened in 1966. The library has recently undergone a $90 million renovation and reinvention.

This unique library has 6 distinct floors filled with classrooms, geospatial hubs, unique collections, study rooms, videos, a restaurant, a cafe, and lots and lots of books!

Hayden Library is open for faculty and students 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The general public is also invited to explore the library from 7 AM to 10 PM every day.

13. Experience the College Town Life on the Streets of Mill Ave

Mill Avenue has been alive since the 1800s when the Tempe Town Lake was formed from the Salt River to irrigate crops. The avenue is named after the still-standing (though abandoned and decrepit) flour mill at the north end of it. Mill Avenue today is next to the Arizona State University Tempe campus.

The south end begins with University Drive and the northeast end of the ASU campus. It ends at Rio Salado Pkwy on the north side which is the beginning of Tempe Town Lake and Tempe Beach Park.

Mill Avenue is full of exciting mom and pop shops, bars, restaurants, two movie theaters, clothing stores, and so much more. It’s a popular college hangout and is THE place to be on Friday and Saturday nights.

There just are so many exciting and interesting things to do in Tempe. You’ll never get tired of this unique old city in Arizona. It’s the most culturally diverse city in the state and definitely has a unique history. So, the next time you’re in Arizona, do yourself a favor and check out the amazing city of Tempe.