Downtown Tempe

June 23, 2023
Share This
Sunset on Tempe Butte; Photo by Kevin Kaminski; Model: Josh Villa
Sunset on Tempe Butte; Photo by Kevin Kaminski; Model: Josh Villa

Perfect for: Sports fans, outdoorsy folks and festival-goers

Past & Present

The Valley’s signature college town traces its higher education roots to 1885, the founding year of the Territorial Normal School, a small teachers college. Before that? Farming. Lots of farming. Mexican settlers arrived in the area to dig out the irrigation canals left by the Hohokam, establishing a community east of Tempe Butte. West of the butte, another settlement known as Hayden’s Ferry was built, and soon became a trade center for the Salt River Valley – and the genesis of Tempe’s modern downtown along Mill Avenue. For years, the butte signaled the “end” of downtown until 1999 when Tempe Town Lake opened on the north side. Today, luxury apartments and glossy, high-rise offices line the lakeshore, shifting Tempe’s boundaries and communicating its big-city stature.

Mark Your Calendar

ASU Sports (year-round): Cheer on the PAC-12 Sun Devils at a football game, basketball game, tennis match, swim meet, golf and more.
Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade (December): Light-covered boats drift along Tempe Town Lake in a holiday celebration.
Innings Fest (March): Multistage music festival and culinary event.
Tempe Festival of the Arts (March and December): A juried art show with more than 350 artist booths lining Mill Avenue.

One Day in Tempe

First: Water sports on Tempe Town Lake. Rent a kayak, pedal boat, electric boat or stand-up paddleboard to spend a few hours plying the calm waters of the lake. Boat Rentals of America,
Next: Lunch at Pedal Haus Brewery. Grab a table outside and order a dish from the surprisingly large, mouthwatering menu of gluten-free and vegan options.
Then: Walk Mill Avenue. Tempe boasts one of the Valley’s most walkable downtown cores. Wear comfy shoes, take your time, window-shop, maybe even stop for a mid-afternoon glass of wine.
Finally: Dine at House of Tricks. Request a table on the lush, string-light lit patio at this long-running, fine dining establishment.

Paddleboats on Tempe Town Lake; Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
Paddleboats on Tempe Town Lake; Photo courtesy Adobe Stock Images
3 Retail Gems

1. Cactus Sports: Arizona State University alums going back 25 years will fondly recall this shop, still going strong as the place to pick up ASU merch.
2. The Shoe Mill: For your Birkenstock fix.
3. Yucatecan Imports: A hidden gem – literally and figuratively – this store lines its shelves with clothing, jewelry, art, trinkets and more, all with a global flair. 480-303-9404

Parking Tips
You’ll likely pay for parking no matter what, so download ParkiT, the city’s parking app. You can add money to your meter from wherever you are.

Future Tempe
Alibi, the East Valley’s only full-service rooftop pool and bar, arrives by way of the newly opened Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown. Perched on the hotel’s 14th floor, it boasts a fire pit and lounge-y cabanas for soaking up epic sunset views. Under construction and set to open by the end of 2020, Mirabella will cater to the ASU alumni crowd with a luxury, 20-floor, high-rise retirement home.

2020 Population: 200,500
2050 Population: 280,000 (est.)
source: MAG

Get Your Bearings
Mill Avenue remains the heart of downtown, though lakeside high-rises and student housing have stetched it north and east.

3 Questions with Corey Woods

Newly sworn in as Tempe City Mayor, Woods not only lives in downtown Tempe, but he’s made it his mission – and passion – to help guide it into the future.

What are three adjectives to describe downtown Tempe?

Fun. Diverse. Eclectic.

What does downtown Tempe do best?

I love how strong the community is. The residents are active, engaged and involved. They want to be a positive force. I’ll be at the grocery store or picking up takeout and I’ll bump into residents who have ideas about how to move our city forward. They reach out to offer not just their opinions but also their time. They roll their sleeves up and help.

What is the heart and soul of the downtown district?

There isn’t any one person or entity. It’s the companies. It’s the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s the people who’ve been here for years and who provide input and stability to downtown, and a vision for where we should go as a city.

Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Gabrielle Hofer