There’s so much more to Arizona than the desert. For students new to the area, it would be easy to just stick around campus and play video games, but don’t do that! Take advantage of all that Tempe and the surrounding area has to offer. There’s something for everyone!
The Tempe Marketplace isn’t just for shopping—it’s also a place you can rock out with free concerts! Rock It Up features up-and-coming bands taking the stage just outside Dave & Buster’s throughout the fall. Plus, you can hang out at cozy fireplaces outside of Barnes & Noble.
A really short hike up the Hole in the Rock Trail takes you to a spectacular view, so plan to take photos. Dogs are allowed, and unfortunately people are too… so don’t be surprised if it’s busy. Still, it’s a great place to picnic, walk, bike, and enjoy the natural beauty.
Gallery at Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA)
If you enjoy the arts, the Gallery at TCA provides visitors rotating exhibits in a variety of themes, open year-round and with no admission cost. From local to international art, there is something for every art enthusiast. The Gallery is open Tuesday–Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River
The Salt River Memorial is a tribute to the US forces aboard the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Open daily from dawn till dusk, the garden features a lighted column for each of the lives lost, as well as an unlit pillar for each who survived. The Memorial is located between the Salt River Fields and Great Wolf Lodge on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
At the Tempe History Museum, you’ll find a Main Gallery, Featured Exhibit, and Community Room Gallery, all open to the public and free to view. Check out exhibits such as Surviving the Desert, as well as special features like Video Invaders that showcase vintage games and arcades. The museum is open Tuesday–Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Find other free activities at https://www.tempetourism.com/things-to-do/free-things-to-do/.
Arizona may be a desert, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of places to splash around. The Tempe Town Lake is a great spot for kayaking, sailing, rowing, walking, jogging, fishing, or picnicking. Although some activities require rentals or permits, taking a stroll around the lake or hanging out with a picnic is free for all. If you do decide to rent a watercraft, make sure to check out the Dragon Boats!
The Phoenix Zoo has a monkey village. Do you really need to know more? Bring your student ID for a discount to visit the sloths, elephants, Komodo dragons, and much more. Watch for special events during the holidays, like ZooLights, where you can drive through the Zoo filled with Christmas lights.
See the beauty of the desert at the Desert Botanical Garden! Arizona has much more to see than just cacti—although they are diverse and beautiful. There are desert wildflowers, a butterfly pavilion, and mountain views, plus learn how the Sonoran Desert plants were used by native people for food, medicines and buildings. Advance tickets are required and must be purchased online.
Although closed this season, Big Surf lives on and will reopen for the next season. And even though you can’t ride the wave right now, you can still rock out at a live show. Visit https://liveatbigsurf.com for concert acts and information!
There are mountains in every direction in Tempe. From South Mountain to Camelback, Hayden Butte Preserve to Piestewa Peak, there are trail lengths and difficulty levels for all hikers. However, before you hit the trail, make sure you have the right gear for the hike, and that especially means plenty of WATER. Hiking is one of the best ways to see Arizona, but you need to do it safely. The Tempe Tourism office can help you plan ahead with details about the locations at https://www.tempetourism.com/things-to-do/hiking-and-biking/.
Are you ever too old for Legos? No. The answer is no. Thank goodness there’s a LegoLand Discovery Center right here in Tempe. From a factory tour to a miniature replica of Arizona landmarks, LegoLand will make you feel like a kid again. (And you might have to ask your parents for money to spend at the Lego store.)
Get out of the heat and under the sea with the 360-degree ocean tunnel at the SEA LIFE Aquarium. Jellyfish, sharks, seahorses—all of your favorite under-water creature live at the Aquarium, and if you’re making a big day of it, you can buy a combo ticket to LegoLand, too!
A massive turkey leg and a sword—huzzah! If jousting, feasting, and majestic creatures are your jam, then Medieval Times is your ultimate destination. It’s a pricey excursion, but the four-course meal is included with the epic tournament. All hail the queen!
A popular local bookstore since 1974, Changing Hands Bookstore sells new and used books, but it doesn’t stop there. With locations in both Tempe and Phoenix, this bookstore hosts many fun events, such as an annual Harry Potter Birthday Party, where you’ll find Butter Beer, Polyjuice Potion, and more to go along with your reading adventure! Check out their full events calendar for meet-and-greets, virtual workshops, and book clubs: https://www.changinghands.com/event.
Have you ever wanted to Office Space a fax machine? OK, chances are, you’ve never used a fax machine, but it you do have some pent-up rage, Simply Smashing may be the place for you. Called “therapeutic destruction,” you can book a room, choose your weapon, and smash away! And although they do not offer discounts for students, they do add extra breakables for them!
Arizona Day Tripping
If want to get out of town, there are many options that you can visit for just a day, or maybe the whole weekend. Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and Havasupai Falls are all places that look like screensavers. In Jerome you just might find some ghosts, and Flagstaff and Payson will cool you off a minimum of 10 degrees. Check out Visit Arizona for more of the best places to explore.
In addition to all these choices, Arizona provides a free show every evening—the gorgeous southwest sunset! So, pick what interests you, and get out to see what your new home has to offer. Welcome to Tempe!