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Festival fans should consider Tempe, Ariz., a desert getaway that considers itself synonymous with festivals.
“The downtown Tempe area, known as the Mill Avenue District, is regarded as one of the top places to hold events,” said Michael Martin, executive vice president of Tempe Tourism. “Pedestrian-friendly, historic and adjacent to Arizona State University, downtown Tempe is designed to host events.”
The Fiesta Bowl Block Party on New Year’s Eve draws the most visitors — more than 100,000 revelers flock to Tempe for nationally renowned live acts, beer gardens, food, dancing, carnival rides and a fireworks display. Guests to Tempe in 2012 don’t have to wait until the end of the year for festival fun, however — Tempe’s upcoming events honor the state’s traditions of Southwestern cuisine, athleticism, microbreweries, arts and the great outdoors.
Tempe Festival of the ArtsThis free, bi-annual festival occurs in the spring and the fall so guests have two chances to enjoy the three-day affair. A jury of local members of the art community selects top pieces from a pool of nearly 1,000 applications from artists throughout the U.S. The festival takes over the Mill Avenue District with more than 400 artist booths, which display and sell handmade artwork, from woodwork to photography. Visual art is the main attraction, but the festival offers live performances at the festival stage, as well as street performances. Food abounds, but drinks are the specialty — the Arizona Wine Festival offers tastings and purchases by the glass, bottle or case, and the Art of Beer event features local microbrew samples and sales. Kids also have a dedication space at the Innovation Station where they get to make their own art to take home. March 30 to April 1 and Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. www.tempefestivalofthearts.com
Great Arizona Beer FestivalArizona’s longest-running beer festival celebrates its 24th year with more than 200 microbrews from more than 50 breweries, making it the largest beer festival in the Southwest. Breweries, including Tempe’s own Sleepy Dog Brewery and Dave’s Electric Brewpub, serve samples — all of which are donated. This year’s event features public pre-festival events, including judging in the annual Great Arizona Beer Competition on Feb. 17 and the annual Pub Crawl on Feb. 25. Brewers’ tents will also feature scannable tags, which provide information on the brewer and the beers that they are pouring.
Advance tickets are $45 and include up to 24 different beer samples while VIP tickets, which are $85 in advance, include early entry, an exclusive lounge area, catered food, access to brewers, a festival T-shirt, a gift bag, shaded seating and casino-style gaming. March 3. www.azbeer.com/tempe.htm
Arizona Dragon Boat FestivalTempe Town Lake’s kayaks, sailboats and stand-up paddleboards make way for Chinese dragon boats during this festival. Teams from near and far compete in the two-day paddling competition, which also serves food to onlookers. March 31 to April 1. www.azdba.com
Pat’s Run and Finish Line ExpoPat’s Run, Walk and Honor event attracts more than 35,000 participants, volunteers and observers and entails a 4.2 mile run/walk, a .42 mile Kids Run for children 12 and under and a Finish Line Expo, a festival that includes a Kids Corner, refreshments, entertainment and local and national vendors. The event benefits the Pat Tillman Foundation, which honors the legacy of the Arizona State University (ASU) graduate who died while putting his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold to serve in the U.S. Army. Proceeds of the event help provide educational scholarships to military veterans and their spouses. The eighth annual event takes place at ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium. Entry fees for the run/walk are $35 before Feb. 29, $42 until April 13 and $50 during the race week, if available. The Kids Run is $5 before race week and $10 during race week. April 21. www.pattillmanfoundation.org/pats-run
Salsa ChallengeMy Nana’s Best Tasting Salsa Challenge is not to be missed by fans of the condiment. The annual charity event features restaurants, businesses and individuals who compete to make the best salsa in their category — mild or hot. The winner receives $1,000, but attendees win as well with samples of nearly 100 fresh, homemade salsas, complemented by thousands of pounds of tortilla chips. A separate competition within the event — the Cazadores Margarita Mix-Off — features bartenders vying for the honor of the best margarita in town. Kids can also participate in the fun at Funzone, which offers bounce houses, a bungee run and laser tag. Admission is $10, and children 12 and under get in for free. April 28. www.salsachallenge.com
Transportation Tip for Tempe Festival-GoersClients can utilize the Metro light rail. While the Mill Avenue District is well designed for events, people may opt to park and ride into town rather than drive their own cars. Metro light rail offers two free park and ride locations within two miles of the Mill Avenue District, where visitors can park for free and then pay the small roundtrip ride fee of $3.50 which takes event attendees directly to Mill Avenue where they can enter any event quickly and easily.