Most cities are cities of neighborhoods, but Phoenix is a city of cities. It sprawls nearly 60 miles end to end and breaks down into “sub-cities,” like Scottsdale, Downtown Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe, each with its own personality. For a first-time visitor, it can be challenging to see it all, or to decide which hub to call home. Scottsdale has long been known as an LA-getaway for its luxury, art, and Vegas-esk pool parties, and Downtown Phoenix has slowly rounded out its edges to become more than a business district. But Tempe’s growth may be the most impressive of all. Home of Arizona State University, the city has evolved to attract the more active, down to earth traveler, packed with diversity, craft breweries, and outdoor activities. Accessible from the airport via the Valley Metro Rail (15-minute ride, $2 one way), it’s time for snowbirds and spring training fans to give Tempe a try.
Mill Avenue is Tempe’s main drag, named after the old, towering white flour mill that still stands today. Rich with history, it runs through downtown Tempe and is the spot for all your bar and restaurant needs. It’s a great place to stroll and window-shop for the scene of your liking, with many diverse options ranging from Mexican to Asian. If you’ve come for beer, the Pedal Haus Brewery on Mill Ave sets the tone for the town’s brewery scene with a lineup of award-winning beers and green chili burgers. Speaking of, Tempe’s newest brewery is The Shop Beer Co, is a great place for a floral IPA under the misters on the warm afternoons. Four Peaks Brewery is a tried and true local favorite for its beer bread sandwiches, having just completed a renovation of its brewpub and restaurant. For breakfast, start your morning at the Singh Meadows Farmers Market. Formerly a golf course, you can sit out in the cool morning air on the expansive grounds, drinking organic coffee and choosing from farm-fresh smoothies and quiches. If you’re looking to start your day with comfort food, try a popular Phoenix restaurant that just opened its newest location in Tempe, Matt’s Big Breakfast. Grab a seat at the diner-esk bar to feel like a local. Casey Moore’s Oyster House is the most unique and interesting bar in town. It sits unassumingly in the heart of a residential neighborhood, and looks like a residence itself with beautiful wrap-around patio seating that draws a large mix of local residents. Inside, the place is said to be haunted, and the bartenders are not shy about sharing stories.
There are a lot of chain hotels to choose from in Tempe, most catering to visitors of the university. But travelers looking for something more leisure-friendly have plenty of options as well. The Graduate Tempe hotel runs on a university theme, with composition notebooks, school pennants, and views of campus dotting its décor. From here, you can walk to Mill Ave. Down the street farther off campus is the Moxy Tempe hotel. Whereas the Graduate is cute and comfortable and modest, the Moxy tries harder to be a destination itself as a boutique hotel that carries the youthful vibe of a hostel. The check in counter doubles as a bar, and the lobby is one large community room with records, board games, televisions, old-school arcade games and pinball. The rooms have large sitting areas, making them just as good for hanging out as they are for sleeping, complete with a tuned guitar in every room. Die-hard baseball fans will want to consider the Phoenix Marriot Tempe at the Buttes, which sits just beyond the left field wall of Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The first thing you should do in Tempe is climb A Mountain. It will take about 10-20 minutes to reach the top, and it affords 360-degree views of Tempe to help you get a perspective of where you are. From there you will see Tempe Town Lake, which offers the unique opportunity to kayak or paddleboard in the desert and can be very refreshing on warm days. Rent bikes from The Bicycle Cellar and check out the trails in Papago Park, like the Crosscut Canal Path, or walk the Lizard or Canal trails to see saguaro cacti and rocky buttes. March is perhaps the best time of year in Tempe during MLB Spring Training. Don’t miss a game at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the spring training facility of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Also, just 10 minutes away in Mesa is Sloan Park, home of the World Series’ Champion Chicago Cubs. Both stadiums are convenient and must-dos for those staying in Tempe.