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Arizona State University (ASU) dominates the city of Tempe. From the big “A” mountain monogram on Tempe Butte (also known as “‘A’ Mountain”)

Tempe A Mountain

to the sports arenas and the visually striking Gammage Auditorium, it’s hard to miss ASU.

Gammage Auditorium

The downtown area – the Mill Avenue District – is a university town embedded in the larger city and worth visiting just for the atmosphere. However, there are lots of other things that make up the city as a whole. Tempe Town Lake provides all sorts of recreational possibilities and is the site for many events through the year, including the Fourth of July fireworks and the display lighted boat parade after Thanksgiving.

Tempe Town Lake dam 1

The lake also supports quite a bit of wildlife, including these birds just below the dam…

Tempe Dam birds

Anchoring Tempe on the west and east are two large shopping centers – Arizona Mills and Tempe Marketplace. Other shopping can be found around ASU and along Southern.

Gammage is not the only striking venue in Tempe. The Tempe Center for the Arts on the western end of the lake, looks like a giant origami construction, with its dramatic roofline.

Tempe Art Center

The 7th largest city in Arizona, with 170,000 or so people (depending on whether ASU is in session or not), Tempe plays host to both the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and the Ford Ironman Arizona triathalon.

The city government site has a map that shows the location of Tempe within the Phoenix metro area. Surrounding the city are Phoenix, Scottsdale, the Salt River reservation, Mesa, Chandler, and the small town of Guadalupe. The map is interactive and clicking on Tempe will take you to a pair of maps showing the general location for some of Tempe’s attractions.

Tempe is split by US-60, so it splits neatly into two halves, north and south. Most of the business is in the north half, with much of the south side devoted to residential development. With nowhere to go but up, tall buildings are being built and more are planned. As this is in the flight path for Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, the growth of high-rise construction has been a subject of some discussion.

Tempe is also more or less surrounded by freeways: On the north side is the Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway, on the west is the I-10 Maricopa Freeway, on the east the Loop 101 Price Freeway, and cutting across the city to the south of downtown is US-60, the Superstition Freeway. Also on the west is the Hohokam Expressway, AZ-143.

The Tempe Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has some other maps that might be helpful. If you want to get around by mass transit or bicycle, the Tempe in Motion site has good information on the bike routes, light rail and buses.

Using the same format as the city site, I’ve broken the information on Tempe’s attractions into two sections.

Attractions- North Tempe

Arizona State University

ASU would get its own page except that it is so much a part of Tempe. From its stadium to its student population, ASU is embedded in Tempe, so I’m including it here. ASU is a cultural, sports and entertainment hub for the city and the whole region.

Here are some of the things that you may find interesting to do and see at ASU (aside from actually attending one of the country’s premier schools!):

A note: Some of the museums and attractions at ASU have tours available. The School of Earth and Space Exploration offers a centralized location to set up tours.

ASU operates the Deer Valley Rock Art in north Phoenix, too. Hundreds of petroglyphs are visible from an short easy trail.

The Intitute of Human Origins at ASU has a full collection of Australopithicus afarensis, of which the fossil “Lucy” is the most famous member. Don Johanson, the head of the team that located “Lucy,” is part of the faculty.

The ASU Art Museum “houses permanent collections of 19th and 20th century American paintings and sculptures, Latin American art, and an emphasis oncontemporary art including new media.”

The ASU American Museum of Nursing “portrays the image of the nurse through the years.”

The Arboretum at Arizona State University is an extensive collection of plants with a unique setting. From a visitor’s standpoint, this is essentially a walking tour of the grounds of ASU. Please get the maps and enjoy.

If you are looking for something a little more down-to-earth, try the Center for Meteorite Studies. It is “home to specimens from over 1500 separate meteorite falls…”

The R. S. Dietz Museum of Geology, among other things, has Columbian Mammoth bones found in Chandler and a six-story Foucalt pendulum.

The ASU Life Sciences Center features “reptile displays, including all 18 sub-species of Arizona native rattlesnakes.”

ASU’s Gammage Auditorium is “best known as the last major architectural design of Frank Lloyd Wright.” It takes a while to get used to it – we thought it was a hideous overdone wedding cake of a building when we first saw it, but it has grown on us.

Another striking structure is Sun Devil Stadium. I like the fact that the stadium appears to be wedged between the two hills. It makes for a pretty neat visual from Loop 202. The stadium was recently the site of a commencement address by President Obama, but it has also been host to the Cardinals and the Fiesta Bowl as well as the home of the ASU Sun Devils football team.

Other North Tempe attractions:

The Arizona Historical Society Museum, located in Papago Park, focuses on Central Arizona and the last century’s changes.

The Tempe section of Papago Park has a dog park, a lagoon, ramadas, volleyball courts, a baseball field and playgrounds.

Tempe Town Lake is located on the north side of downtown and it’s the site for kayaking, sailing, paddleboats, rowing, on the lake, and bicycling, running, and partying.

The only part of the Salt River that stays wet inside the metro area itself, the lake is formed by inflatable dams at both ends. When the Salt actually starts running, the dams have to be deflated.

The Petersen House Museum is a “restored Queen Anne-style home built in 1892 by one of Tempe’s earliest settlers.”

The Tempe Historical Museum is now reopened after renovations through early 2010. The musuem covers Tempe’s history from its Hohokam predecessors through today.

The Marquee Theatre is a small venue north of the lake and features up and coming acts in jazz, ska, reggae and the like.

Big Surf claims to be America’s first wave pool, and has lots of different ways to stay wet.

Attractions- South Tempe

The south-side attractions, as befitting a more residential area, are more about having family fun. For instance, the IMAX Theatre at Arizona Mills shows both traditional IMAX shows and current theatrical releases.

Sega Gameworks is also at Arizona Mills. “Games, drinks, music and food in an energetic, fun, family atmosphere.”

The newest entertainment at Arizona Mills is the SeaLife Aquarium. Sea horses, crabs, sharks, rays…

Fiddlesticks offers “Go-karts; bumper boats; driving range; batting cages; arcade and mini-golf. Great family fun.”

The Kiwanis Community Park “features a lake, boat rentals, picnic ramada, softball/soccer fields, batting range, playgrounds and indoor wave pool.”