Tempe, Arizona is home to Arizona State University and located in the heart of the Valley of the Sun. I am no stranger to Tempe, graduating from both high school and University. Many years later, I am back to walk down memory lane and explore my hometown. Tempe is no longer just a college town in the shadow of Phoenix and Scottsdale, this little town has grown up! Offering an amazing variety of excellent independent restaurants, shops, and activities, Tempe is a wonderful blend of modern and hip fitting along the rich history of the town.
Visiting twice in the last two months, I have discovered some new and wonderful activities and am reminded of the spots that are better than ever. Here are my recommendations for the Best of Downtown Tempe Activites, Shopping, and Dining.
Explore the eclectic mix of independent shops along Mill Avenue.
There are city bikes for rent, and some boutique hotels (such as The Moxy) offer complimentary bikes for guests. Tempe Town Lake is built with wide bike lanes and the entire downtown Tempe is easily explored via bike.
Tempe Town Lake runs parallel to Downtown Tempe providing beautiful lake views and activities including Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP), kayak rentals, and various seasonal water sports. There are plenty of spots on the grass along the lake for picnics and playground areas for kids. Check the events calendar for upcoming festivals and concerts.
Take in a show from a local theatre company at the Tempe Center for the Arts, or simply enjoy the Architecture as you walk along Tempe Town Lake.
Climb “A” mountain for a great view of Mill Avenue and Downtown Tempe.
Walk around ASU Campus on a self-guided tour.
The desert heat is no joke in summer and the most popular place to cool off is poolside. Summer unofficially kicked off in March for Spring Break and lasts through Thanksgiving!
Visit the architectural conundrum of ASU Gammage Theatre. The last design by Frank Lloyd Wright is constructed to be acoustically perfect, resembling a Birthday cake from the street and a more comical shape from above. The next time you fly over Tempe, see if you can spot the toilet bowl shape.
ASU Art Museum showcases seasonally changing contemporary, modern art, Latin art, and an entire section for ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center. Learn about the techniques involved in ceramics alongside the impressive collection.
Book lovers can get lost strolling the through Old Town Books on Mill Avenue. More than a used bookstore, Old Town Books specializes in first editions, out of print, and hard to find books. Located in the historic Tempe Hardware Building, known as Odd Fellows Hall when it was built in 1898, this three-story brick building is the perfect home for Old Town Books.
Pick up some ASU Swag at the various ASU stores. Everyone needs a Sun Devils tee shirt!
Buffalo Exchange Consignment shop is full of unique used clothes. Designer duds, vintage pieces, and an ever-changing array of quirky clothing line the store walls at budget-friendly prices. Bring your gently loved fashions in to sell or trade.
There is no better place to start the day than Snooze. This Colorado chain offers delicious Southwest inspired breakfast options with friendly staff one block from campus. Try the breakfast Tacos!
Chuckbox burgers are the thing of legends. This campus favorite serves up nostalgia and charm in a rustic Wild West atmosphere. Old fashion mesquite grilled hamburgers and chicken burgers are the menu staple. Bring cash, the Chuckbox does not accept credit cards.
Postino Annex wine bar is the smaller version of the Postino Wine Café in the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix. The original location is a converted post office, inspiring the name and adding an Italian flair to the food and wine. The menu is packed with traditional and creative toppings for the wide selection of Bruschetta, along with olives, meat and cheese platters, and Panini.
Casey Moore’s Oyster House is more than meets the eye. The converted historic residence from 1910 leads a dual life as top-rated restaurant and an Irish bar. Within this Western Colonial style brick house guests enjoy great seafood, the famous French onion soup, salad, burgers and more making this a perfect dining option for business lunch or romantic dinner. Starting at happy hour, the bar and outside patio are packed and every night is a party. Fun Fact: I celebrated my 21st Birthday at Casey Moore’s and it is my favorite bar for Halloween!
House of Tricks is my all time favorite restaurant in Tempe, and one of my top restaurant picks worldwide! The decor is mixed pattern vintage that is hip and darling all rolled up. There is cozy indoor seating or outdoor patio dining in the lush garden. If you are lucky, you may spot one of the garden cats. There are a couple outside fire pits and plenty of heaters for the cool desert nights in winter months. The impressive wine list is almost overshadowed by the menu of exotic meals including perfectly prepared rabbit, duck, bison, and fresh fish frequently on the menu. Call ahead for reservations.
Getting Around Town
The Phoenix metro light rail runs through the heart of Tempe. Clean, well lit at night, and efficient. Wide aisles and ample bike rakes make the light rail a popular way to get around Tempe. The light rail runs the entire length of Tempe, through ASU campus and connects to Downtown Phoenix. Passes can be purchased at automated kiosks near every stop.
Returning alumni and first-time visitors will enjoy spending a few days exploring the historic and charming college town of Tempe, Arizona.
19 thoughts on “Best of Downtown Tempe, Arizona”
Wow Tempe has come on in leaps and bounds. I used to live in Phoenix back in 1990 and we used to go to Tempe to get away from the cowboy bars and two-stepping, to enjoy a slice of college bars and the indie music scene. I hardly recognize the place anymore!
Tempe is hip and so full of activities, definitely a big change from the 90’s.
Just by reading your post, Tempe sounds like a nice, cool place to go to. I like the homey vibes of House of Tricks. I love reading and collecting first edition books and i will probably visit the Mill Avenue. Great post and i enjoy reading your adventure.
I love Arizona
I noticed that Arizona’s restaurants looks homey, a kind of place that you will enjoy food for hours. I never been to this place and i am glad you virtually toured us. Where will be your next adventure?
Arizona, and Tempe in particular, have amazing restaurants and so much more to explore!
Tempe sounds like a pretty cool and charming little town! I would love to stroll around the Tempe Town Lake or try stand up paddle boarding in it. Also, House of Tricks seems like a pretty cool restaurants.
Yes, Tempe Town Lake is such a nice addition to this desert town.
It must have been a great experience to go back years later to a place you called home, seeing what has changed and reminiscing the old days. I’d love to check out the Old Town Bookstore and the restaurants. I’m already loving Tempe for its vintage feel.
Tempe seems like a prime example of relaxed small town America. Stand up paddle boarding sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon and Churchbox burgers look like a great place with character. Your list of activities would be very useful for anyone who makes their way to Tempe.
I’ve vistited Tempe few years ago while I was staying with some family in Phoenix. I would this little area very charming and nice, I liked it much more that downtown Phoenix. Looks like there’s so many great places to eat, I can’t belive I missed them all! I hope I’ll get to go back there one day as Arizona is one of the pretties states in USA !
Downtown Tempe has so many hidden gems, it is worth another visit to explore a few more.
Tempe sounds like a lovely town to visit. Stand Up Paddle Boarding on the lake would be wonderful and such a fun activity to do. I also would love to explore the old bookshop – who knows what gems you might just find! House of Tricks sounds like a cool restaurant – I like cozy and you had me at fire pit!
House of Tricks is hands-down my favorite restaurant in Tempe, and easily one of the best in Arizona! Come for the firepit, stay for the amazing food.
Tempe sounds like a really lovely town full of character that you just wouldn’t find in much larger cities. No doubt the people would be more friendly and welcoming as well. I just love to spend my holidays in places like this with more charm and soul and Tempe is just that somewhere I would want to visit when next in the region.
Tempe is so worth the visit!
I love Arizona but only been there for a road trip in the national parks and we feel inlove so we are definitely going back to explore some more.
Next time we will have so much more time so we can visit small towns and the surrounding area and Tempe sounds very cosy! I think my favorite thing to do around there would to rent one of the green city bikes and paddle along the lake…and have a stop at the Chuckbox burgers! Sound like to be a delicious place to satisfy my hunger after the bike tour in Tempe!
If you love Arizona, you should definitely check out the small towns like Tempe and Cottonwood. http://jentheredonethat.com/historic-cottonwood/