Arts and Culture

Top 14 Reasons To Visit Downtown Tempe

From Tempe Town Lake all the way to ASU Gammage, Downtown Tempe is buzzing with things to do.

Spanning from the timeless Tempe Town Lake, along the famed Mill Avenue and surrounding streets, to the Broadway stage of ASU Gammage, Downtown Tempe is a buzzing district that’s home to countless unique experiences.

This compact, walkable desert oasis beckons both locals and visitors seeking out its vibrant atmosphere, nonstop events, lively nightlife, rooftop pools, globally influenced dining, Sonoran Desert recreation and endless vantage points for experiencing iconic Arizona sunsets.

Whether there’s hiking, shopping, festival-going or performing arts spectating on your to-do list, you’ll find it in Downtown Tempe.

Check out our top 14 things to do in Downtown Tempe for your next itinerary:

14. School Spirit

In Downtown Tempe, maroon and gold aren’t just Arizona State University colors — they are symbols of community, history and a way of life. And ASU has made a significant impact on the Tempe experience. So, whether you’re into yoga or movies on the field at Mountain America Stadium (formerly Sun Devil Stadium), spectating during Sun Devils game-day action or just exploring these hidden gems on campus, there is no shortage of programming and festivities here. Don’t miss the ASU Pow Wow (April), Pat’s Run, honoring Pat Tillman (April), the annual homecoming parade and block party (October) and James Turrell ASU Skyspace: “Air Apparent” (always open).

13. The Culinary Landscape

Dining experiences in Tempe offer a cross section of multigenerational staples and immersive, new establishments. For adding the perfect flavor balance to your next itinerary, we recommend savoring both ends of this spectrum: Find out what all the hype is about at mainstays with enthusiastic fan bases and be among the first to experience game-changing newcomers that add to this city’s evolution.

While Tempe is known for its laid-back vibe, there’s no shortage of elevated experiences too. Romantic views, curated wine lists, top-notch ingredients and noteworthy chefs catapult this city from its college town roots into the realm of world-class dining. Just be sure to make your reservations in advance. Bon appétit!

12. Explore the ASU Art Museum

Upon your arrival at the ASU Art Museum, you’ll be greeted by two larger-than-life installations: Stone-carved snakeskin cowboy boots by Eduardo Sarabia, and “Opportunity (reflection),” a sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas that resembles the Vince Lombardi Trophy, stand on either side of the entrance. Inside, a variety of visual arts and mediums, from prehistoric drawings left by Tempe’s earliest dwellers to the contemporary art by national and international artists — greet you at every turn. The ASU Art Museum is located at Mill Avenue and 10th Street, and admission is always free.

11. Catch a Theatre Performance

Between the smart and edgy performances from Stray Cat Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company — performed at the Tempe Center for the Arts — and the blockbuster Broadway shows at ASU Gammage, there’s always something amazing to behold onstage in Downtown Tempe. Not to mention the exquisite architecture of these venues. Each of these venues also offer a wide variety of year-round programming, from cultural celebrations and community events to national touring acts and revolving exhibits.

8. Take in a Live Show

Tempe’s music roots run deep. So naturally, there are several venues in downtown that bring the hottest acts to concert stages and turntables throughout the week. Low Key Piano BarMarquee TheatreSunbar and Varsity Tavern are among the hottest spots for live music, DJs and more.

7. Explore Tempe’s Nightlife Scene

Downtown Tempe has long been known as a hotspot for nightlife. Like all wonderfully eclectic things, the scene varies by venue, genre, and special events. Whether it’s local breweries or dance floors in your evening plans, our nightlife blog has all the details you need for deciding where to step out to once the sun goes down.

6. Downtown Tempe’s Chic Stays

In Downtown Tempe, visitors can choose from a variety of properties — from suites to upscale retreats — all located within walking distance of countless restaurants, coffee shops, retailers and Sonoran Desert recreation. Explore all Downtown Tempe’s hotel offerings.

5. Rooftop Pools with Downtown Views

With 330 days of sunshine, Tempe knows the importance of a great pool. In fact, we’re raising the bar (literally). Whether you prefer cocktailing with a bird’s-eye view of the sunset or spending the day working on your tan, Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown, Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU and The Westin Tempe offer sky-high pools accompanied by sweet cabanas, bar/lounge concepts and unique programming. And that’s just the beginning. Here are even more rooftop pools to choose from.

4. Go Exploring Via Bicycle

Biking in Tempe is part of our way of life and that’s a really great thing. In fact, you’ll find 217 miles of bike paths — from Sonoran Desert trails to bike lanes on city streets — in Tempe. Not bad for a city that spans only 40 square miles. So, grab a bike and head downtown to experience this bike-friendly city on two wheels. Explore nearby Tempe Town Lake, a 7.5-mile loop or check out other bike paths that wind through the city. Feel free to bring your own bike or rent one from The Bicycle Cellar, just steps from Mill Avenue. 

3. Hit The Trails

Taking in a new view, especially at sunset, is a must in Tempe. At the north end of Downtown Tempe, “A” Mountain is a perfect perch. This quick, but steep, summit offers hikers panoramic views of Tempe Town Lake, Papago Park‘s beautiful buttes, and other surrounding Tempe landmarks. It doesn’t get any better than this, so have your camera handy!

2. Soak Up the Sun at Tempe Town Lake

Just north of Downtown Tempe, Tempe Town Lake is an oasis for Sonoran Desert recreation. Join runners, walkers and bikers along the north and south shores of the lake. Cross the lake via one of our iconic bridges for the most-scenic vantage points — especially at sunset. Or, if you’re looking for some fun on the water, rent a stand-up paddleboard, kayak or pedal boat at Boat Rentals of America – Tempe Town Lake. You’ll also find plenty of opportunities for fishing or picnicking here, too.

1. Check Out Downtown Tempe’s Signature Events

Each year, Mill Avenue plays host to Second Sundays on Mill, a monthly event series that brings a variety of vendors to the heart of Tempe from November through April; Tempe’s Spring and Fall Festival of the Arts (March and December, respectively), ranked among the Top 100 Classic & Contemporary Craft Shows in the nation; Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade & Holiday Market (November), and so much more.

Mark your calendar for Innings Fest (March), Aloha Festival (March), Boots in the Park (May), 4th of July (July), Oktoberfest (October), Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade (December), and more — all of which take place lake side at Tempe Beach Park. Check out or calendar of events for a complete list of happenings at Tempe Beach Park.

Tempe Sky Nav Open Tempe Sky Nav

Sports Newsletter

Get the inside scoop on the best sports in Tempe - straight to your inbox. We'll send you our list of local deals and activities when you do.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Meeting Planner Newsletter

Get the inside scoop on the best meeting venues, dining scene and hotels in Tempe - straight to your inbox. We'll send you our list of local deals and activities when you do.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.