Michael Martin // © 2012 Tempe Tourism
Visitors to the Desert Botanical Garden can see and learn about a variety of desert plants, including the Cardon cactus. // © 2012 Mindy Poder
TravelAge West spoke with Michael Martin, executive vice president of Tempe Tourism, who shared tips on how to make the most out of a visit to Tempe and why the centrally located destination is a great addition to an Arizona vacation.
When is the best time to visit Tempe?
January through March is considered the peak season in Tempe but, for those seeking sunshine and outdoor activities, we suggest visiting anytime from October through May.
Is Tempe a good home base for travelers interested in the Grand Canyon or Sedona? How does Tempe fit into those kinds of vacations?
Tempe is centrally located and is adjacent to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Travelers who want to see other destinations in Arizona, such as the Grand Canyon, Sedona or Tucson, can take day trips from Tempe or start their trip in Tempe and extend their stay in those other areas. Because of Tempe’s central location, travelers have access to all the major interstates, which will take them to all points north, south, east and west.
What most surprises first-time visitors to Tempe?
Many people who have never been to Tempe are surprised by how green the Sonoran Desert is, especially in the spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom. Visitors sometimes don’t realize how accessible outdoor activities are, such as hiking, and they are especially surprised that there is a lake right next to downtown.
What are some must-sees in Tempe?
The iconic Mill Avenue District is what many people think of when they think about Tempe. This historic downtown has more than 100 shops, restaurants and taverns in a pedestrian-friendly area. You can also hike to the top of A Mountain to get a bird’s eye view of Mill Avenue, Tempe Town Lake and the Arizona State University (ASU) Tempe campus. At Tempe Town Lake, visitors can rent watercraft, such as pedal boats, kayaks, hydro bikes and paddleboards, or just go for a stroll along the five miles of pathways that surround the lake. Papago Park, located north of the lake, is a great place to go hiking or mountain biking in the Sonoran Desert. It is also home to attractions such as The Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden. The ASU Tempe Campus is one of the largest university campuses in the U.S. On campus, you can watch a Broadway show at ASU Gammage, a beautiful auditorium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; see thought-provoking contemporary art at the ASU Art Museum; or take a self-guided tour of the buildings and public art on campus. For shopping, Arizona Mills and Tempe Marketplace are must-sees. Arizona Mills has a mix of traditional retail stores, value retail stores and entertainment venues, such as Last Call by Neiman Marcus, H&M and Sea Life Arizona. Tempe Marketplace features national retailers, local boutiques and a variety of restaurants and cafes in an outdoor setting.
What are some new developments in Tempe over the last year?
There is a new pedestrian bridge that just opened over Tempe Town Lake in October. It provides easy access to the north shore of the lake on a bridge that is only for walkers and bikers. There is also a new trail in Papago Park called the Cross Cut Multi-Use Canal Path. Visitors in our downtown can easily access this new trail and explore public art and the buttes in Papago Park. We are also pleased that the Metro Light Rail, launched just two years ago, is serving visitors interested in exploring both downtown Tempe and the venues in downtown Phoenix. The 20-mile light rail line provides easy access to Tempe from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Are there any changes underway or in development?
Because Tempe is a land-locked city, new development comes in the form of redevelopment. There are always new restaurants and shops opening within the Mill Avenue District, Tempe Marketplace and Arizona Mills. The last major attraction to open is Sea Life Arizona which has hosted thousands of visitors since its opening two years ago. It is currently remodeling to welcome a new sea turtle, Ziva, who was rescued after being injured in the open water. In 2012, Ziva will add to the marine life at the aquarium that includes sharks, sting rays, colorful coral reef fish and other animals from the sea.
What aspects of Tempe draw in the most visitors?
Our sunny, warm climate attracts visitors along with our special events. The bi-annual Tempe Festival of the Arts, the Insight Bowl, Ford Ironman Arizona, athletic events at ASU, Broadway shows at ASU Gammage and Cactus League Spring Training are deciding factors that motivate visitors to spend their vacation dollars in Tempe.