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The Quiet Pleasures of Tempe, AZ

Palm tree park

From kayaking and getting a chocolate oil massage, to watching a movie inside a historic theater, there’s no shortage of novel and fun things to do in Tempe, AZ.

More Than A College Town: An Overview of Tempe, AZ

No other city embodies the spirit of the American Southwest quite like Tempe. This prosperous and thriving city in Maricopa County is best known as a college town and southern suburb of Phoenix. While the city takes great pride in quality education and world-class research, it has so much more to offer. 

As part of the Valley of the Sun, its stunning desert landscape, gorgeous weather, and palatial homes make it one of the most desirable places to live in south-central Arizona.    Situated along the Salt River, the city is located about 10 miles east of Phoenix and is bordered by Scottsdale to the north. Tempe is conveniently situated near Interstate 10 and State Route 202. 

With a land area of over 40 square miles, it is the seventh largest city in Arizona with a steadily growing population of approximately 192,364 residents as of 2020. The population is expected to increase to more than 217,100 over the coming decade. This makes the city an excellent choice for real estate investing and business development. 

As Tempe becomes denser and more populated, ArcGIS anticipates a high concentration of new development north of Broadway to meet the demand for recreation facilities and services. According to data from ArcGIS, the largest increase in population has been observed in the areas of northeast Tempe, north of University Drive, and east of Rural Road. 

Its population is also younger than most jurisdictions in the Phoenix Metro Area, which is due in part to the large number of students attending Arizona State University (ASU). Tempe’s population contributes to a spirited and diverse community.

What It’s Known For

Tempe is famously home to the main campus of ASU, one of the largest public universities in the United States. The university is lauded for its academic and research programs. Its large student population gives the city a youthful energy and distinct college town vibe.

Best known for its arts programs, ASU makes valuable contributions to the creative culture of the city. The ASU Gammage Auditorium was designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and serves as an acclaimed venue for Broadway shows, musical performances, and other events.

In addition to ASU’s arts programs, the city has a robust arts scene with festivals, workshops, galleries, and studios that support a wide range of creative disciplines. The Tempe Center for the Arts hosts various theatrical performances, dance recitals, and concerts while the Arizona Historical Society Museum showcases the rich history, culture, and heritage of the region. Visit these esteemed venues for fun things to do in Tempe, AZ.

With its natural landscape and warm climate, Tempe offers desert living with outdoor activities such as hiking, jogging, and biking. Residents also enjoy kayaking and paddle boarding on Tempe Town Lake, an artificial lake with a scenic shoreline. The abundance of parks and open space contributes to a sense of wellness and a connection to the land. The city also hosts various events and festivals throughout the year. These gatherings help create a sense of community and belonging among residents with shared interests. 

Aerial view of Stadium


Tempe Then and Now: A Brief History

Tempe is a bustling city with a long and colorful history. Once a small agricultural community, it was first settled by entrepreneur and probate judge Charles Hayden in 1872. The area was called Hayden’s Ferry before being renamed as Tempe in 1880. The city gets its name from the Vale of Tempe, a scenic gorge in Greece. Tempe was incorporated in 1894. 

The city grew at a rapid rate in the years following World War II with many veterans moving to Tempe. The remaining local farms disappeared around this time. By 1974, the city had expanded to its present day boundaries through annexation. 

Over the years, the local economy shifted from agriculture to manufacturing, trade, biotechnology, healthcare, and professional services. Its farmlands were subject to residential and commercial development throughout the 1990s.

In addition to tech and manufacturing, Tempe also has a robust tourism and hospitality industry. The weather, culture, natural attractions, and entertainment options make the city a popular destination for tourists and snowbirds.

A Dynamic City in the Sonoran Desert

With so many fun things to do in Tempe, AZ, knowing where to start can be difficult. Downtown Tempe, better known as Mill Avenue, should be first on your list. A collection of locally owned businesses, theaters, galleries, and restaurants make it an exciting destination.

In addition to the bustling downtown area, the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem supports innovation. Startups, business incubators and networking events give Tempe a progressive and forward-thinking atmosphere.

Lastly, Tempe has a strong sports culture. Diablo Stadium is home of the spring training camp of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Tempe also hosted the Fiesta Bowl, or the college football playoffs, from 1971 to 2006.


Fun surprises and memorable experiences await at every corner of the city. From stylish boutiques and outlet malls to wine bars and restaurants, there’s an endless list of fun things to do in Tempe, AZ.

Night view of Tempe AZ

Boutique Shopping

Tempe offers an array of independently owned stores and major retailers to suit each taste:

  • The Mill Avenue District, also known as Downtown Tempe, is located near the ASU campus. This vibrant commercial area is filled with independent boutiques, speciality stores, bars, restaurants, and live entertainment venues. It is a renowned destination for nightlife, art exhibitions, and live music. 

With unique stores like Rave Circus (for all your festival and rave needs), Luxie Vintage (from 1960s psychedelic patterns to romantic 80s chiffon), Changing Hands Bookstore (new and used books plus more than 300 author events each year), and Yucatecan Imports (colorful jewelry and satchels), Mill Avenue offers a one-of-a-kind shopping experience.   

In addition to boutiques and restaurants, there are several shopping centers and mixed-use developments along Mill Avenue. These include Mill Avenue Shops, Courtyard Shops, Centerpoint on Mill, Huntington Square Shopping Center, and Danelle Plaza. These shopping centers feature an eclectic mix of major retailers, supermarkets, arcades, record stores, dispensaries, breweries, offices, and apartments.

Mill Avenue also hosts community events and seasonal celebrations throughout the year. Signature events include 2nd Sundays on Mill, Festival of the Arts, Halloween Stroll, and Fantasy of Lights Street Parade & Tree Lighting.   

  • Arizona Mills is an outlet mall with popular brands like Adidas, Nike, H&M, and Vans. It also features family-friendly attractions like SEA LIFE Arizona, which is home to manta rays, sharks, turtles, and tropical fish; LEGOLAND Discovery Center Arizona, which has indoor rides, building areas, and a 4D cinema.
  • Broadway Marketplace is a shopping center with major retailers, nail salons, and casual dining restaurants.
  • Tempe Marketplace offers more than 1.3 million square feet of retail, dining, and entertainment. It features major retailers like Barnes & Noble, Nordstrom Rack, Petsmart, and Ulta as well as casual dining restaurants serving Greek, Korean, Japanese, Tex-Mex, and Southwestern fare.
  • Tempe Square Shopping Center is home to a Trader Joe’s, Petsmart, and Walgreens along with fast casual options like Baskin Robbins.  

Wine Bars

Man in a Wine Bar

Tempe wouldn’t be the same without its wine culture. Here are some wine bars to check out:

  • Bar Louie at Tempe Marketplace is known for its signature martinis, cocktails, spiked sangrias, and domestic and imported beer. It also offers a selection of wine from Italy and California. 
  • Caffe Boa Bistro and Wine Bar offers an impressive selection of natural and biodynamic wines along with small batch liquors and artisanal cocktails. Stop by for brunch, lunch, dinner, or happy hour.  
  • Chic Chef 77 offers a 200-bottle rotating wine list in an upscale atmosphere. The food is no less remarkable with small bites like shrimp ceviche, salads, and charcuterie platters. The bar also hosts weekly events with live music, game night, and other forms of entertainment. 
  • Postino Annex is housed in a historic brick building and offers wine by the glass and bottle. This popular wine bar also serves fantastic bar chow such as shrimp scampi, smoked salmon, and crispy cauliflower.
  • Postino South Tempe is known for its debonair interior complete with Mid-Century Modern  furniture and  a recreation of the cigarette machine in Mad Men. Enjoy the atmosphere while savoring fine wine and sign up for their seasonal wine subscription to bring the experience home with you.
  •  Taste of the Tops is a no-frills wine bar where you can bring your own food and choose from more than 1,000 wine bottles and over 20 by-the-glass wine choices.

Day Spas

Enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation at any of the day spas in the city:

  • Narande Spa at The Buttes Resort features upscale treatment rooms, including a rainshower room, couples room, and salon and nail area for a full day of pampering. Get a facial, massage, body treatments, and waxing during your visit. The Buttes Resort also provides access to mountainside hot tubs, glistening pools with a cascading waterfall, and poolside bar and grill.
  • ReVibeU Wellness Spa offers floating treatments for a meditative experience. The spa features several float rooms and tanks with water and Epsom salt for enhanced buoyancy. You can customize your floating session with ambient music and lighting. 
  • Sonoran Serenity Spa & Holistic Wellness Center has a wide range of treatments depending on your needs. From reiki and relaxing facials to therapeutic and prenatal massages, the center offers a diverse range of experiences in a clean and peaceful environment.
  • True Rest Float Spa gives you the benefits of float therapy with well-designed float pods and soothing music. The spa also features a lounge and oxygen bar for further relaxation.

Makeup Artists

Luxury salon

Tempe is home to talented makeup artists and studios that offer quality services:

  • Az Beauty Studio specializes in permanent makeup services such as powder brows, microblading, and lip tattoos. The studio was founded by Alexa Juarez, a certified permanent makeup artist. 
  • Bar de Beauté can help you create a variety of looks with professional makeup, lash extensions, and other services. 
  • BBINK Babette Beautee is a cosmetic tattoo studio known for microshading, microblading, lip blush, and powder brows.  
  • Beauty X Natasha LLC is a brow bar that offers makeup services and makeup artistry lessons in addition to brow tinting and microblading. 
  • Makeup by Diana LLC was founded by freelance makeup artist Diana Anghelus, who has worked with high-end and luxury beauty brands like MAC, Guerlain, and Dior. 
  • Nakd Beauty is known for permanent makeup, microblading, and natural brow enhancements. The studio also offers advanced courses and continuing education for permanent makeup artists. 
  • The Smokey Eye & Lash Parlour offers airbrush makeup, bridal styling, tattoo cover-up, and eyelash extensions.   
  • The Sparkle Bar provides access to professional make-up artists and high quality products. If you need makeup services for your wedding, birthday, reunion, or job interview, their professionals will help you create your best look.

Massage Salons 

Recover from the stress of the week by getting a massage at any of Tempe’s salons:

  • Massage Envy offers personalized massage services depending on your needs, concerns, and preferences. The spa also offers customized facials, advanced skincare, facial enhancements, and total body stretch therapy.
  • Serene Society Nail Bar & Day Spa is a high-end spa offering a wide range of massage services. Standouts include the Chocolate Antioxidant Massage, which involves warm chocolate oil and a scrub and buttercream massage; and the Hawaiian Lomi Massage, which relieves stress and tension. 

Hair Designers 

Get quality hair services at these spas and salons:

  • Beyond Beauty Lounge is a local salon specializing in hair extensions, highlights, balayage, and hair treatments to help you care for your locks. 
  • Endless Beauty Med Spa offers hair regeneration services such as platelet-rich Fibrin (PRF) therapy.
  • Soul Salon & Spa provides hair color services and various treatments to help keep your hair in good condition.
  • Urban Glow Hair and Makeup by Maritza is known for offering hair coloring, styling, and braiding services using specialty and high-quality products.


Tempe is an underrated culinary destination that offers a diverse range of gastronomic experiences:

  • Anoche Cantina offers fiery Latin-inspired dishes and an interactive margarita bar where you can make your own drink. This modern cantina is a popular brunch and nightlife spot with craft cocktails and bottle service.
  • Cousins Maine Lobster at the VIB Hotel gives you a taste of New England in the Sonoran Desert with delicious chowder and lobster rolls and tail. 
  • Desert Roots Kitchen is a vegan cafe serving nutritious and tasty meals. The ever-changing menu includes breakfast burritos, hummus dip, veggie wraps, pasta salads, and more.  
  • Matsuri Izakaya on Mill is a fast-casual Japanese restaurant that offers sashimi poke, special ramen, curry katsu, sweet fruits sando, and other crowd pleasers.  
  • Salt + Gila Pool Deck Restaurant has a chef-driven menu with seasonal dishes like chicken wrap and Baja fish tacos. Enjoy some cocktails and sumptuous food while you soak up the sun on the third floor of Omni Tempe at Asu. 
  • Skysill Rooftop Lounge offers some of the best views of the Tempe skyline along with baked wings, lobster corn dogs, smoked turkey sandwich, and other comfort food.
  • Tocaya Modern Mexican is a casual dining restaurant serving hearty rice bowls, burritos, quesadillas, and vegan and non-vegan tacos.

Main Attractions

people on the Museum
With a combination of outdoor and cultural attractions, there’s plenty of fun things to do in Tempe, AZ:

  • ASU Art Museum has two locations, namely the Nelson Fine Arts Center, which features rotating exhibitions and the museum store; and the Brickyard on Mill Avenue, which is home to the Brickyard Gallery and Ceramics Research Center. 
  • Harkins Valley Art Theater is a historic theater that dates back to 1940 and was renovated to include state-of-the-art technology in 2000. It is considered the oldest and longest operating movie theatre in Arizona. 
  • Kiwanis Community Park is a 125-acre park with open spaces, sports fields, and a beautiful lake that offers fishing, swimming, and kayaking with boat rentals in the area.
  • Kiwanis Recreation Center is situated on the grounds of Kiwanis Community Park and features an indoor wave pool, fitness center, batting range, and tennis courts. 
  • Linear Park features a multi-use path and sandy beach area for boaters and kayakers. It also has benches, shaded ramadas, and sand volleyball courts.
  • Papago Park spans over 1,500 acres with gleaming lagoons, picnic areas, and hiking and biking trails. Located within the Phoenix Metro Area, it is home to top attractions such as the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo, and AZ Heritage Center at Papago Park.
  • Ragsdale-MLK Park is an urban oasis spanning 1.5 acres east of Mill Avenue. It features a concrete walkway and several benches.
  • Shalimar Golf Club features a nine-hole golf course for players of all skill levels. It also has an on-site bar and restaurant. 
  • South Mountain Park is a nature preserve with more than 50 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Dobbins Lookout, the highest point in the preserve, rises at 2,330 feet and offers sweeping views of the surrounding areas. 


There are several neighborhoods and residential areas known for having a more relaxed pace of living:

  • Alta Mira is a neighborhood with gorgeous homes in a suburban environment.
  • Warner Ranch is an established community with spacious properties and mature landscaping. Here you’ll find a mix of single-family houses and townhomes.
  • Shalimar offers a diverse mix of condos, townhomes, and single-family homes.

There are many homes and communities just waiting to be discovered in Tempe. Get in touch with a local expert for help finding a neighborhood that fits your lifestyle.


Discover more fun things to do in Tempe, AZ when you find the perfect home with Carol Royse, a top-producing luxury Realtor with over three decades of professional experience. You can reach her at 480.776.5231 or send a message  here  to get started.

Caroly leads a team of agents that has generated sales totaling over $150 million each year since 2018. They assist clients with buying, selling, and managing properties, which helps them maximize their investment. Contact the team today for more information.

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