7 Ways To Visit Tempe Like a Local

Jan 5, 2021

Tempe is more than a Phoenix suburb—it's a free-spirited college town 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, residents are laid-back and menus have an eclectic mix of local and global. 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 seven ways you can enjoy the city like a Tempe native.

Go boating at Tempe Town Lake

Located at the edge of downtown, Tempe Town Lake is an oasis for the residents of this desert city. While strolling along the artistic pedestrian bridge, you're likely to see locals gliding on the water below with their kayaks, rowboats, standup paddleboards and small sailboats. Join in the fun with a rental of your own from Boat Rentals of America. For an Insta-worthy experience, rent one of the swan pedal boats. If you can't get on the water, spend some time at the lake's edge with a jog or a bike ride on a path bordering the lake, or with a picnic in the adjacent park.

Dine at a local restaurant

Pedal Haus Brewery

Not every small city has Tempe's wide diversity of dining on offer. Here, you can sample dishes with roots in both the Southwest and far-flung destinations. 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. Or stop into Pedal Haus Brewery, an award-winning gastro-pub (named Best Brewery in the U.S. by Copa Cervezas de Americas 2019), for a pint and a pizza. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will adore the Ethiopian plates at Cafe Lalibela. Try one of Tempe Mayor Corey Woods' favorites with a meal at The Dhaba—a restaurant serving up "deliciously prepared" Indian food (Zagat). Head to Casa Reynoso for Mexican or Caffe Boa for Italian. 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)

A city with seemingly perpetual sunshine (300 sunny days per year), Tempe is a favorite for many annual triathlons, races and fun runs, including IRONMAN Arizona (scheduled for Nov. 21, 2021). This fitness focus doesn't stop with big events; it's ingrained in the city's culture. Hiking is a common pastime for residents. The "A" Mountain trail is a fun challenge that rewards the hiker with views of Tempe and the surrounding desert.

Biking is also quite popular. There are 215 miles of bikeways, including bike lanes, desert trails and canal paths connecting virtually every corner of the city. This connectivity earned Tempe a Gold Level Bicycle-Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists. If your own bike can't make the trip with you, rent one from The Bicycle Cellar in Downtown Tempe or borrow one from your hotel (several hotels—including Graduate Tempe, Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown and Moxy Phoenix Tempe—have bikes available to guests). Once you've got the gear you need, take a ride around Tempe Town Lake, down Mill Avenue or in Papago Park. 

Appreciate the arts

You'll find Tempe residents' art affinity exhibited in the public art around the city. Don't miss the mural "Rangoli Sunrise" on the side of The Dhaba resturant by Kyllan Maney, or "El Valle del Sol"—a permanent installation at Tempe Marketplace by a graffiti art father and son duo, Champ and Such Styles.

Arizona State University (ASU) is a cultural center in Tempe. Visit the ASU Art Museum on campus for contemporary art; one of their current exhibits spotlights works by women artists. The James Turrell ASU Skyspace: Air Apparent is also a must-see. The concrete and steel structure is said to be a modern interpretation of a pit house. In the Native American tradition, partially subterranean pit houses were used for shelter and cultural activities like storytelling, dancing and celebrations. For dramatic effect, visit Air Apparent at sunrise or after sunset when its 15-foot sky opening is illuminated by color-changing LED lights.

When live events resume, attend a show at ASU Gammage—a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed performance center that hosts touring Broadway shows. Next year, the musicals Mean Girls (Aug. 31 - Sept. 5) and Hamilton (Sept. 8 - Oct. 3) are scheduled take the stage.

Hike at Papago Park

A point of pride for all three cities it inhabits (Tempe, Phoenix and Scottsdale), Papago Park is where locals go to play. The park spans 1,500 acres and is filled with hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, lagoons, the Phoenix Zoo and the Arizona Heritage Center. Papago is also where you'll find the aptly named Hole in the Rock, where massive openings (tafoni) in the sandstone hill frame views of the palm trees and desert landscapes below. You can reach the geologic marvel via a short trek (less than half a mile) that can be completed in around 10 minutes. (Pro tip: this is a nice sunset hike because it's fairly short and particularly beautiful during magic hour.) Another lovely place for a stroll is the Desert Botanical Garden that has more than 50,000 flora and fauna from arid climates around the world.

Sample local microbrews 

Any college town worth its mettle boasts a colorful bar scene, but you'll find more than the typical college dives in Tempe, including several spots with the good stuff (we're talking the dry-aged, hoppy and micro-brewed ales). To drink in 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, 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

It's pool weather year-round in Tempe, so when you pick a place to lay your head at the end of a long day of exploration, find a spot to make some waves. Consider Marriott Phoenix Resort Tempe at The Buttes whose pool is built into a distinctly Southwestern, craggy hilltop. For a more urban setting, the newly opened Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown has a rooftop pool with killer city and sunset views. Westin Tempe is still under construction, but the rooftop pool is sure to be popular when the hotel opens in summer 2021.

Ready to start planning your own local-inspired getaway? Visit Tempe Tourism's website for more ideas and information.

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