Situated just east of Phoenix and north of the Sonoran Desert, Tempe offers a vibrant mix of urban sophistication and natural beauty. Tempe is home to Arizona State University as well as a slew of corporate headquarters and performing arts venues, so there’s certainly never a dull moment. With the stunning mountain vistas as a backdrop, you’ll find lots of exciting attractions and activities here. For the ultimate local experience, check out these desert-inspired things to do in Tempe, Arizona.

Walk among local plants at the Desert Botanical Garden

A favorite of outdoor enthusiasts, writers, and artists, the Desert Botanical Garden is teeming with local flora and fauna. Set within enormous Papago Park, the Garden features seasonal exhibits, guided walking tours, and even fun activities for families and kids. Choose from a variety of trails that lead you through themed gardens to learn all about Arizona’s native species, like cacti, wildflowers, and hummingbirds. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a bite at the Patio Cafe – or just peruse the gift shop to find some souvenirs to bring home.
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: goldstar.com

Put on your hiking boots and head to Papago Park

Welcome to Tempe’s favorite outdoor attraction, where the activities are endless, from the Arizona Heritage Center to the Phoenix Zoo to the iconic Hole in the Rock rock formation. The park spans nearly 1500 acres and contains historic landmarks like the tomb of Arizona’s first governor, George Hunt, and sports fields and golf courses. Lace up your boots and set out for one of the Phoenix area’s best hikes, which will lead you to the Hole in the Rock. It’s the perfect place to take advantage of Tempe’s fabulous weather, just be sure to drink plenty of water!
Hole in the Rock, Papago Park, Arizona.

Hole in the Rock, Papago Park, Arizona. Photo: Chris Tingom

Dine with a desert view

Just because Tempe is located in the desert doesn’t mean the food scene has to suffer! This town’s restaurants rival those of any coastal city, though with some more Western character and spicy flavors. Dig into a hearty steak at Rustler’s Rooste, a famous honky-tonk that’s just as well known for its entertainment as its spectacular views. From your table on the patio, you can watch the sun set over the desert, which is just unforgettable. Wrap up your memorable meal with a ride down the slide! We’re not kidding on that one!

For a more sophisticated experience (leave the cowboy boots home for this one), head up to Top of the Rock, a swanky restaurant that offers panoramic vistas of the mountains and Phoenix metro. At night, the glittering city lights are not to be missed.

Prefer to cook up your own desert-inspired feast? If you’re searching for vacation rentals Tempe is home to modern travel apartments with full kitchens, including cookware and dishes, and comfortable living rooms where you can kick back and relax.

Indulge in a desert-themed massage

You don’t need to go all the way to Scottsdale to get the resort spa experience! High-end Tempe spas like Sonoran Serenity Spa and Cloud Nine Spa offer a full selection of massages, facials, and specialty treatments that are perfect for the self care you deserve. Many of their treatments even incorporate desert herbs that can help with various ailments. There’s no better way to relax and appreciate the desert’s bounty!

Try a refreshing local craft beer

Not much tastes better than an ice-cold beer on a scorching Arizona day! Raise a glass of locally brewed beer at one of Tempe’s eclectic local taprooms, where you’re sure to spot a desert-inspired beer or two. Huss Brewing Co has the Papago Orange Blossom Ale on tap, and Sleepy Dog Brewing serves up the Desert Dog Ale, which is brewed for humans to enjoy. Also worth a visit is the historic Four Peaks brewpub, which serves their own beer in addition to some tasty pub grub.
Sleepy Dog Brewing Alcohol Display

Sleepy Dog Brewing, Arizona. Photo: Jess Harter

Check out some desert-inspired art

What’s more inspirational than Arizona’s mountainous, colorful landscape? For ages, artists have flocked to the desert to create all kinds of art, and some of that work is on display in Tempe. In addition to many galleries around town, the ASU Art Museum has a wonderful ceramics collection and exhibitions that change frequently. For more local artwork, don’t miss the Tempe Festival of the Arts, which runs twice per year, in the spring (late March) and the fall (late November or early December).Tempe’s performing arts scene is also thriving, thanks to the world-class Tempe Center for the Arts and a variety of more intimate show venues. Whether you’re in the mood for a Broadway- style musical or an indie rock concert, you can find it here.

Tempe Festival of the Arts Street Fest

Tempe Festival of the Arts, Arizona. Photo: downtowntempe.com

Ready to start your desert adventure? Be sure to hit all of these desert-inspired highlights on your next trip to beautiful Tempe, Arizona.
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