Do you have family and friends coming to visit you in Tempe during the holidays? Are you expected to be the expert on what there is to see and do? No worries! We’ve got you covered. Here are a few of our favorite places to take out of town guests. We promise you’ll have a great time too.
All ages love the Phoenix Zoo. Home to more than 1,000 animals from African lions to zebras, the Phoenix Zoo has plenty of variety. And, they have unique interactive experiences like Stingray Bay, the Arizona Trail with native animals, birds and reptiles, Giraffe Encounter, Monkey Village, and a 4-D Theater. Plus, the zoo just opened the brand-new Isle of the Tiger exhibit, which offers more views of the two Sumatran tigers, Jai and Suriya, than ever before. Guests might see handlers working with the tigers, tigers splashing through water or basking on their new structures.
If you need something to do at nighttime, don’t miss ZooLights, powered by SRP EarthWise Energy, starting November 23. The zoo is aglow with nearly 4 million lights including entertaining animated displays. The Music in Motion show, happening at regular intervals each night, takes place at the main lake. This year, the lights on the lake are set to music from Polar Express and Winter Palace by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Kids will love Tortuga the Talking Galapagos Tortoise and Jengo the Talking Giraffe. You’ll love casually strolling through the zoo and enjoying the lights with a hot chocolate in hand, especially since the zoo is introducing new 3-D light sculptures, 2-D butterflies and professional ice sculpting. Check the zoo’s website for ticket information and hours of operation. ZooLights continues nightly through January 10.
Desert Botanical Garden
No trip to the Tempe and Phoenix area is complete without a visit to Desert Botanical Garden. This is a living museum with more than 50,000 plants from arid climates around the world. The trails are easy to navigate, and there’s something intriguing at every turn from the majestic saguaros to quail to the Dr. Suess-like Boojum trees. Plan your visit around a meal at Gertrude’s, the on-site restaurant. This beautiful spot features creative food made from local ingredients for brunch, lunch and dinner.
After dark, Desert Botanical Garden transforms into the perfect Southwestern holiday scene with their annual Las Noches de las Luminarias. From 5:30-9:30 p.m. from November 25 through December 31 (with select days open to members only – check the Desert Botanical Garden website for more information about membership), the trails glow with 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags, twinkle lights and holiday music from multiple entertainers. Visit their website for the specific dates and more information. I strongly suggest buying tickets in advance, as this event often sells out. This year, the Bruce Munro: Sonoran Light exhibit will also be housed at the Desert Botanical Garden from November 22 through May 8, adding even more breathtaking light effects to the location.
Take a Hike
If your friends or family are visiting from someplace a bit chillier than here, they’ll love enjoying our warm sunshine on a hiking trail. There are lots of places to hike around town, from strenuous mountain climbs to leisurely strolls. No matter where you choose to roam, just bring water and sunscreen and enjoy the scenery. We have a guide to hiking trails options on the Tempe Tourism website. My personal favorites are South Mountain Park and Preserve and trailhead at Papago Park just across Galvin Parkway from the Phoenix Zoo entrance.
This outdoor shopping destination is fun any time of year, but it takes on even more charm during the holidays. Every night from November 25 through December 31, at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., it magically “snows” near the Christmas tree near Dave & Buster’s. Snow is kind of a novelty here in Tempe, so I love seeing how people react to it. From toddlers to grandparents, everyone has a huge smile on their face as they try to catch the snowflakes. Tempe Marketplace is a great place to come with the whole family for dinner or dessert. In addition to the holiday cheer, you can complete your shopping list.
Speaking of shopping, don’t miss Arizona Mills. They have a wide variety of stores, including U.S. Polo Assn. Factory Outlet, O’Neill, Hurley, Conn’s, H & M, Gap Oulet and At Home. And, their food court, Villa Food Hall, includes food options from Mo’ Burger to Tinta Mexicana. You might even want to plan a special trip just to visit SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium, the Harkins IMAX Theater or GameWorks. Plus, Santa will be at Arizona Mills until December 24.
There are so many great restaurants in Tempe that it’s hard to mention just a few. Here are a few options that are sure to impress and prove that Arizona is becoming a culinary destination in its own right. Four Peaks Brewing Company is Arizona’s most awarded brewery. I’m not sure what I like more: their signature Kilt Lifter, their cool location in a historic creamery building or their beer bread sandwiches. Pedal Haus Brewery is the new kid on the block, with hand-crafted beers, a delicious gastropub menu and a huge outdoor patio. Locals and visitors love Rustler’s Rooste with their incredible views of the city and a hearty and tasty menu filled with American classics like burgers, ribs and seafood. Culinary Dropout is another fantastic option. Located in an awesome converted warehouse space, they pair their imaginative menu with an expansive patio with ping pong tables, cornhole games and fire pits, and an impressive cocktail menu. The newest valley Postino location, Postino Annex, is another great option for guests as it offers sharable bruschetta and other delicious options in a historic Arizona State University building. You can see the full list of Tempe restaurants, and even sort them by category or location, on the Tempe Tourism website.