Photo Credit: @traveling_newlyweds
2021 is here, thank goodness. I’m not sure if I’m more excited that 2021 is here or if 2020 is over… I digress. Here are 20-ish things to do in Tempe, Arizona in 2021.
Whether you think you’ve done it all in Tempe or are just skimming the surface of all the wonderful things Tempe has to offer, we’re here to help you plan your next trip, your next fun-filled weekend or maybe even your year in Tempe. If you’re planning a trip to Arizona, this may be a great guide for you to help with your trip planning needs.
1. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden
No matter what is happening in the world, the beauty of the desert is a constant. The Desert Botanical Garden showcases plants from arid regions from around the world and lucky for us, it’s in Phoenix, just a few minutes from Downtown Tempe. To ensure safety, reservations are now required in advance and masks must be worn during your visit. Their website has all the details. And, don’t miss one of their annual events on January 9, 2021, Dog’s Day in the Garden, where your pup can explore the trails right alongside you.
This winter and spring, you can visit multiple times to see the latest exhibition at the Garden, Wind, Water, Earth by wife-and-husband duo Natasha Lisitsa and Daniel Schultz. Their large-scale living sculptures are made with flowers and plants and are inspired by the desert. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden to learn when and where the sculptures will be on view on select dates from Jan. 19-April 25, 2021.
2. Try restaurants and coffee shops you kept saying you would try last year
There are so many new restaurants, long standing restaurants and awesome local coffee shops in Tempe. Check out some of our favorite coffee shops in the Tempe area, you’ll definitely skip Starbucks after giving this a read.
Or maybe there’s a cuisine that you haven’t tried yet. 2021 is a great excuse to explore Tempe more and try something new to you. We suggest Café Lalibela for Ethiopian food, Hachi Ramen for authentic noodles and flavorful broths, Chou’s Kitchen for authentic dishes from northeastern China or Phoenicia Café for delicious and reasonably priced Mediterranean fare. Or just check out a spot in your neighborhood that you’ve been meaning to visit.
3. Hike “A” Mountain at sunrise
“A” Mountain is a wonderful and popular hike in Downtown Tempe that is frequented by many, especially at sunset. However, I’d like to recommend taking a sunrise hike because, why not?!
It’s a quick and somewhat challenging hike up to the top but going at sunrise helps you avoid the crowds, get a jump on your day and get amazing photos.
Insider tip: after you hike, you can reward yourself with breakfast at one of the hot spots, Daily Jam or Snooze, an A.M. Eatery.
4. Visit the Arizona Heritage Center
Even native Arizonans will learn something new at Arizona Heritage Center. This beautiful museum in Papago Park is filled with artifacts that explain the contemporary history of the 48th state. You’ll learn about copper mining, agriculture, and even how the invention of air conditioning led to the development of metro Phoenix. Featured special exhibits include “Current State” featuring the artwork of Thomas “Breeze” Marcus, who is part of the part of the Akimel and Tohono O’odham communities, and “Still Marching: from Suffrage to #MeToo.” Their hours are reduced at the moment, but you can visit Tues.-Sat. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
5. Visit the ASU Art Museum
ASU Art Museum was cited in “Art in America” as “the single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona.” ASU Art Museum exhibits nationally and internationally known contemporary artists, with a focus on Latin American art. The Museum also houses the largest collection of Cuban art in the U.S. and an award-winning print collection.
As you visit ASU Art Museum, we invite you to check out the new exhibit “Point Cloud (ASU)”, a newly commissioned artwork by Leo Villareal designed specifically for the ASU Art Museum in the Nelson Fine Arts Center. See how Villareal used a mobile 3D scan technology to map both the inside and outside of the building, creating over 200,000,000 data points. The artist then manipulated the data points with his own custom software to create this public artwork. Experience this exhibit now through December 31, 2021.
6. Schedule a tour of the Eisendrath House
A beautiful adobe home that was built more than 80 years ago by Rose Eisendrath as a sign of protest against the Arizona resorts that wouldn’t accommodate her because of her Jewish heritage. Sign up for a tour ahead of time in order to hear the fascinating story of both Rose Eisendrath and the restoration of this iconic historic building. Docent led tours are available on Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. by appointment only.
7. Hike to Hunt’s Tomb
Hiking in Papago Park, especially the Hole in the Rock trail, are very popular places to explore and we recommend them both. However, many residents and visitors haven’t explored the path to Hunt’s Tomb. It’s a bit farther than walking to Hole in the Rock but it’s well worth the trek to experience the history of this landmark. It happens to be the final resting place for Arizona’s first Governor, George W.P. Hunt, who was fascinated by the pyramids that he saw on a trip to Egypt. Governor Hunt, his wife and several family members are buried at this landmark.
*Directions: Follow Galvin Pkwy. Signs to visit the Phoenix Zoo. Along the pathway you enter the zoo parking lot, park as close as you can to the zoo, or head to the left through a secondary gate where you’ll find a small parking lot just below Hole in the Rock. Knock out two hikes in one! The pyramid should be in your line of sight east of Hole in the Rock or behind the zoo.
8. Self-guided tour of Downtown Tempe with the Public Art map
We seek out art for different reasons, to inspire us, to make us laugh, to give us a new perspective, or just to help us appreciate the beauty that exists all around us. Tempe is a city that showcases the arts through murals, prints, and sculptures. Lucky for us, they are all located in Downtown Tempe! Check out the self-guided tour of Downtown Tempe with the Public Art Map that showcases 50 pieces of public art.
If you want to explore more of Tempe’s art scene, we suggest hopping in your car for a self-guided driving tour of a few of our favorite Tempe murals. Check out our blog, Murals in Tempe, Arizona Part I and Part II to see the City of Tempe’s public art collection and you’ll be amazed at the creativity all around the city.
9. Schedule tea time at Drink Me! Tea Room
If you haven’t experienced an afternoon tea, then you definitely need to add this to your list. Drink Me! Tea Room is a whimsical and enchanting tea room which just opened in July 2020 in South Tempe. What’s even better is that all their teas and treats are plant-based and gluten-free! Their Alice in Wonderland-inspired tea room includes six teas to choose from, each named after a character from the Alice in Wonderland story. They also incorporate different themes year-round depending on the season, with different kinds of seasonal flavors to choose from. Just last year, they’ve had an Edgar Allen Poe theme for Halloween and Winter Wonderland theme during the holiday season. We can’t wait to see what they have in store for this year!
If you’d like to read about the cool story of how Drink Me! Tea Room was founded and our experience during our tea time, then make sure to check out this blog post.
You’ll find them on the northwest corner of McClintock Drive and Warner Road. Be sure to make a reservation on their website before visiting!
10. Find your new favorite salad to rotate into your weekly routine
New year, new salads to try!
Last year, we talked about the Super Kale from Daily Jam that we pretty much ordered all-year round for lunch. This year we got a new contender from the newest kid on the block, CoreLife Eatery. You can create your own bowls (90% dressing, 10% greens for me, if you know what I mean) or you can try one of their signature bowls like my personal favorite: the Mediterranean, which is made up of: shredded kale and chopped romaine, house made hummus and a bunch of other greens and organic ingredients.
To help kick off your healthy journey this year we put together this healthy restaurant blog post filled with lots of green goodies, featuring places like ChopShop, MAD Greens, and 24 Carrots.
11. Brunch crawl in Tempe with your friends/family
My 2021 motto is “Work hard, brunch harder”. Grab your best foodie partners and plan an awesome food tour throughout Tempe. Host your own with friends/family with the guidance of our Top Breakfast Spots blog. Maybe a walking tour is best because you’ll burn off some of the calories. Or, drive between places in north and south Tempe to allow a little time for digestion. Totally up to you!
Lucky for you, a new brunch spot just opened, east of Tempe Marketplace called Daily Dose, and let me tempt you with three words: cinnamon roll cakes. Mic drop.
12. Go axe throwing at Lumberjaxes Axe Throwing
We love axe throwing!! It’s fun and only slightly dangerous, but you may discover your own hidden talent. Grab some friends or have a unique date night. For every group, they provide an “axe-pert” who will teach you everything that you need to know about this fun sport. Social distance and safety measures are implemented and they provide you with your own sanitized axe. You’ll have a great time and as a bonus, you can bring your own food and drinks after 4 pm!
13. Go indoor rock climbing at Phoenix Rock Gym
If you’re doing you due diligence of figuring out what you’re committing to for the New Year when it comes to be “being a better you,” you may want to consider this. We want to make this a suggestion because it’s a unique active activity that will engage your body. Rock climbing could be one of those things. It feels a little risky, but not as risky as going on your own out in the desert. We definitely don’t recommend that.
14. Try something new – learn to cook or create your own artwork
Try out a cooking class at Tracy Dempsey Originals. The legendary Tracy Dempsey Originals bakery is open Thursday-Saturday and is located on University Drive, just east of Priest. If you haven’t gone to her cute shop, it’s a must. She and her team fill the cases with the most wonderful treats from tarts to cookies and cakes. She also features local wines and other Arizona products. Take a virtual or in-person class with her so you can learn to make wonderfully warm meals or tasty desserts. Call (602) 775-4693 to register or learn more about upcoming classes.
Get creative at Painting with a Twist. Not your normal pottery painting place, Painting with a Twist offers a wide variety of activities for all creative levels and abilities. Sign up for an in-studio class, order an at-home paint kit or attend a virtual class. And don’t forget to bring snacks, beer or wine during select evening classes. Advance registration is required.
Brush up on your painting skills at a new spot in Tempe called Hammer and Stain. Create your very own trendy wood signs using personalized stencils, paints and stains provided during the workshop. Book an in-person workshop, attend a virtual workshop, or pick up a DIY kit for home. In-person workshops last around 2-3 hours, and attendees are welcome to bring their own snacks, beer or wine. Advance registration is required.
15. Shop local at Tempe shops
Shop local more than ever this year to support our local Tempe businesses. Tempe has a wonderful array of local shops to explore. Find that perfect outfit at Creations Boutique, show your ASU spirit by shopping at Cactus Sports, head to Great Harvest Bakery for that perfect muffin, or spend some time finding your next great read at Changing Hands Bookstore. And support some new restaurants that have opened in Tempe.
16. Check out pop up art at Tempe Marketplace
Check out “Artscapes,” on view now at Tempe Marketplace. Be awed by a window wonderland of art as you safely stroll through The District. Stop to admire and snap shots with creative works from local artists and makers. It’s an outdoor gallery experience peppered between your favorite spots to eat, drink and shop.
17. Join ASU Gammage for a digital experience
ASU Gammage is committed to staying connected in their community. With show season temporarily post-poned, they’ve been making immense efforts to host virtual events, including more than 100,000 minutes in 2020 with their 72 virtual events (we applaud you ASU Gammage). More events and masterclasses are scheduled in 2021 and you’re all invited. You can learn more about the Digital Connections series on their website, we’re sure you’ll find something beautiful and inspiring to enjoy until we can meet again in the audience.
P.S. If you haven’t ever walked the beautiful grounds, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture of the building is inspiring. You’ll be in awe of its grandness.
18. Order food to go and enjoy at a beautiful Tempe park
Grab take out and hit the great outdoors. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic and while you may not be comfortable to dine in a restaurant or enjoy one of their patios, but you still want to support a local business… might we encourage you grabbing takeout from your favorite restaurant and take it to a nearby park for enjoying in some fresh air and lots of social distancing. Some things you won’t want to forget, your choice of beverage (ours is water in our Hydroflask), a blanket or towel to sit in the grass in case it’s wet or scratchy, and your sunscreen, because that Arizona sun is mighty bright. Some parks you could check out include Tempe Beach Park, Kiwanis Park or Daley Park, just to name a few.
19. Explore Tempe Town Lake on your choice of watercraft
We can say with 98% confidence that Tempe Town Lake is the most photographed spot in Tempe. The reason we know that is because we participated in a photo contest, #TempeInstagrammys2021 where we had 1600+ submissions and most were photos of Tempe Town Lake. However, we’re not complaining. We love photos of the lake. We have a strong appreciation for how beautiful the sunset looks at the lake, especially with all of the bridges, the Tempe Center for the Arts and the peacefulness of this open space in our busy city.
You should check out one of the pedal boats because it allows you to sit comfortably and requires a bit of effort to pedal yourself around the lake. Or, you can take out a paddleboard, kayak or bring a few friends and family for a cruise on an electric boat.
Whatever way you decide to explore the lake, our friends at Boat Rentals of America will help you have an awesome and safe time!
Don’t forget to tag us in your photos @tempetourism or #OurTempe
20. Plan for vacation or staycation
According to U.S. Travel Association, in 2019, “Americans were earning even more days off than 2018. But more than half (55%) of American workers report not using all their days off – totaling 768 million unused vacation days.” They’ve also said that the average employee takes 17.4 days off each year, but only 9 of those days are for travel. U.S. Travel Association hasn’t released this year’s data yet, but can you imagine the amount of unused vacation days and lack of travel due to COVID-19? We won’t lie, travel/tourism and hospitality were hit hardest from the pandemic.
So, if you’re just sitting at home not doing something slightly fun – do something! Plan a staycation even, Tempe is home to some of the coolest hotels with rooftop pools, restaurants on-site or within walking distance. Tempe’s unique properties are synonymous with relaxing. We’re encouraging you to actually plan a vacation in the New Year, 2020 is gone, so let’s move on to something better in 2021. Save this date, January 26, 2021: National Plan for Vacation Day! Make plans to travel later and save tourism now. https://www.ustravel.org/events/national-plan-vacation-day
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