8 ways to visit Tempe like a local

Oct 4, 2023

Tempe is more than a Phoenix suburb—it's a free-spirited city with an identity all its own. When you visit, you'll find that this independent streak informs nearly every aspect of the small city: The shops are funkier, there's art everywhere and menus showcase an eclectic mix of local and global flair. All of these characteristics culminate to make the city (dare we say it?) a bit cooler than other 'burbs, and it's this refreshing, unfussy culture that invites visitors to integrate into the scene and travel like locals. 

Read on for eight ways you can enjoy the city like a Tempe native.

Go boating at Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

Set just north of downtown, Tempe Town Lake is an oasis for the residents of this desert city. Walking, jogging and biking paths follow the lake's perimeter, and there's a lovely pedestrian bridge from which to take in the scene. If you'd like to get out on the water, kayak, standup paddleboard and pedalboat rentals are available from Boat Rentals of America — Tempe Town Lake

Dine at a local restaurant

Pedal Haus Brewery  - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

Not every small city has Tempe's wide diversity of dining options. And among its restaurant repertoire are some some headline-making newcomers—for example, Chihuahua, Mexico-inspired Cocina Chiwas. Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez are the power couple behind this new addition to Tempe's car-free Culdesac community.

Cocina Chiwas  - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

They've been recognized by names like the James Beard Foundation and Esquire magazine for their culinary efforts to date, which include Phoenix-area gems like Tacos Chiwas and Bacanora. In other words, you'll want to make a reservation to ensure you get to try their chile relleno, heirloom blue corn empanadas, tres leches carrot cake and other rave-worthy menu items. 

Another new hot spot to try: Chic Chef 77 Bistro & Wine Bar, Arizona's first Black-owned wine bar. Celebrity chef and owner Nik Fields has curated a 200 bottle wine list, plus charcuterie boards and a rotating dinner menu featuring the work of celebrated local chefs. Besides its gastronomical treats, the wine bar hosts live music, poetry readings and other pop-up events to enhance the experience. 

Nik Fields (left), the Chic Chef - Credit: Nik Fields

On the larger Tempe dining scene, you'll find a true cornucopia of world cuisines to enjoy. Visit local favorites like Yupha's Thai Kitchen or Curry Corner—a fast casual Pakistani eatery that was featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Stop into Pedal Haus Brewery, an award-winning gastro-pub, for a pint and a pizza or dig into the Ethiopian plates at Cafe Lalibela. Or for a slice of history, dine at Casey Moore's Oyster House, a purportedly haunted Irish pub serving seafood, bar snacks and draft beer.

Get moving (preferably on two wheels)

Biking in Tempe  - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

Here's an indication of how big biking is in Tempe: The city measures only 40 square miles, but is home to 217 miles of bike paths—ranging from Sonoran Desert trails to bike lanes on city streets.

This connectivity earned Tempe a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists, and it also makes sightseeing on two wheels both easy and safe. There are trails through the red butte formations in Papago Park, near Tempe Town Lake and throughout the city's neighborhoods and green spaces. And if you can't bring your own wheels, The Bicycle Center near Mill Avenue has rentals on hand. 

Be very entertained

Tempe locals are spoiled for choice when it comes to live entertainment—and you will be too, when you're in town. Catch shows from Stray Cat Theatre showcasing daring contemporary works and envelope-pushing artists; Arizona Theatre Company at Tempe Center for the Arts, an area staple; and 3,017-seat, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed ASU Gammage Auditorium, a top choice for big-name Broadway productions and concerts. 

ASU Gammage  - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

Music buffs have a variety of venues to explore, too, from intimate lounges like the Yucca Tap Room and the cleverly named Low Key Piano Bar to the larger Marquee Theatre, which stars local and national acts throughout the year. For those who like to dance, Sunbar and Varsity Tavern are popular for their DJ nights and fun themed events. And that's just the start of Tempe's wide-ranging nightlife spots.

Attend a local event

Beyond the stellar nightlife, there are plenty of daytime diversions happening in Tempe throughout the year. One consistent local favorite is Second Sundays on Mill, a monthly outdoor market and live music event that takes over Mill Avenue from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Tempe Festival of the Arts  - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

Or, to rub elbows with local artists and art fans, time your visit for the fall or spring Tempe Festival of the Arts. The weekends of Dec. 1-3 and March 8-10, you can browse the work of more than 350 artists, witness street performances and jam out to live music across multiple stages at these large-scale family-friendly art fairs. 

Indeed, you'd have to make many happy returns to take advantage of all the unique happenings at Tempe Beach Park throughout the year, from local Oktoberfest celebrations and the holiday-themed Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade in December, to Innings Fest in March and the Aloha Festival in April—and many more.  

Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade at Tempe Beach Park  - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

Sports more your scene? Tempe's own Mullett Arena is the current home of the Arizona Coyotes National Hockey League team. The venue seats only 4,600—making it the most intimate venue in the entire NHL. Even backrow seats are closer to the ice than decent seats in other arenas, so fans are right on top of the action. The season runs through April 2024.

Spring training at Diablo Stadium  - Credit: Fernándo Hernandez

Baseball fans will want to venture to the area for spring training, held between mid-February and late March each year. Half of the major league teams practice and play within an hour's drive of Tempe, but you won't have to go far to see the Los Angeles Angels, who play at Tempe's Diablo Stadium. Watch matchups with the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and more, right in Tempe. 

Catch a new view

Hiking in Tempe  - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

Local birders and fitness fans love Tempe's "A" Mountain for its scenic trail past wildflowers and desert shrubs, plus the sweeping vistas from the summit. Experiencing it yourself is incredibly easy; you can access its trailhead at the northern end of downtown Tempe.

The steep out-and-back trail is under a mile, with a big payoff at the top: panoramic views of the city, including Papago Park, Arizona State University, Tempe Town Lake and other landmarks. Time your short trek for sunset to catch especially stunning views. If you're hungry for more trails, Tempe's got the goods, including some in scenic Papago and South Mountain Parks. 

Sample local microbrews 

You'll find a robust beer scene in Tempe, and it's not just the quantity but the quality of choices that sets the city apart as a beer-lover's playground.

Among the spots in-the-know travelers will want to try is Hundred Mile Brewing Company, a 10,000-square-foot brewhouse, cocktail bar and restaurant opened in late 2022 by former ASU microbiology student, Sue Rigler. While Arizona-inspired ales ("Coyote West IPA" and "Desert Neon Hazy IPA," for example) are the headliners here, small plates like coffee-rubbed short ribs earn top marks from regulars, too. 

Hundred Mile Brewing Company  - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

Even newer to the Tempe lineup, Goldwater Brewing Co. Taproom opened its doors in May—though the family-owned business has been serving up craft brews at its locations in Scottsdale and Mesa, to much acclaim, since 2015. (Prior to that, the father-and-sons team concocted homespun "beer soup" in the garage, honing their skills and their palates.) Pay a visit to try an always-changing battalion of creative brews, from ciders with names like "Mango Foxtrot" to IPAs called "Can I Pet Your Tortoise." 

To drink in more of the scene, head to Pedal Haus Brewery—hop heads will love their White Rabbit Hazy IPA—or grab a seat under string lights in the backyard of The Shop Beer Co. for a creative and hyper-local experience (the tasting room is set in an ex-mayor's former residence). Enjoy a Scottish ale from one of the original craft brewers on in the AZ scene, Four Peaks Brewing Company (celebrating its 25th year) or a German-style Kolsch from husband and wife-owned Huss Brewing

Dive into a pool with a view

Marriott Phoenix Resort Tempe at The Buttes

Year-round sunshine is part of Tempe's appeal, and there's no better place to enjoy it than from a vista-blessed rooftop pool. A number of local hotels feature good ones—something you may want to consider when making your travel plans.

Omni Hotel Tempe at ASU is a chic new addition to the local scene, having opened its doors—and its lovely cabana-equipped rooftop pool deck and bar—just this year. Also relatively new (it opened in 2021), The Westin Tempe's stylish poolside loungers and open-air bar make for a relaxing place to watch the sun set over the city and the distant hills. 

Salt + Gila rooftop pool and restaurant at the Omni Tempe at ASU hotel  - Credit: Tempe Tourism Office

Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown's sky-high hangout Alibi offers similarly stellar vistas, plus fun themed nights (think Taco Tuesdays and Saturday night dance parties) that are popular among locals and visitors alike. That said, there are many more stay options in Tempe—from luxe resorts to household name brands to budget-friendly finds—so you're guaranteed to find a fitting base from which to launch your authentic Tempe experience. 

Ready to go? Visit Tempe Tourism's website for more ideas and information.

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