Just south of Phoenix lies the happening city of Tempe, AZ, loaded with outdoor activities and indoor attractions. The hiking trails of Papago Park and trendy dining of downtown Tempe combine to make the perfect mix of family fun. We’ve compiled a great list of fun things to do in Tempe with kids to help make the most of your visit here.
Outdoors Things to do in Tempe
1. Tempe Town Lake
Paddle, ride, or stroll along this desert oasis. Boat Rentals of America-Tempe Boat Rentals offers a variety of equipment to take on the water, including kayaks, SUP, or even pedal boats.
Or choose to stay dry by renting bikes at The Bicycle Cellar and riding along the miles of scenic riverfront paths.
2. Attend a Seasonal Festival
Tempe knows how to throw a party and hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. My favorite is the Aloha Festival in March, which features Polynesian food, dancers, live music, and vendors. Other amazing family events include Four Peaks Oktoberfest at Tempe Town Lake and Tempe Festival of the Arts.
3. Hike “A” Mountain
Right in the middle of the ASU campus, adjacent to Mill Avenue, a butte rises from the ground creating the perfect spot for a family-friendly urban hike.
Affectionately known as “A” Mountain (because of the giant A on the side of it), Hayden Butte Preserve Park showcases the beauty of the desert through interpretive signs along the half-mile trail.
The end of the trail gets a little steep, but push through to the end because the peak offers stunning 360 degree views of Tempe and the neighboring cities and mountain ranges.
4. Papago Park
Miles of desert trails, lagoons, and picnic areas beg to be discovered at Papago Park. Hike the iconic “Hole in the Rock” for views of Downtown Phoenix and Tempe. Or try Double Butte Trail, which goes through and around the buttes, for lots of kid-friendly climbing opportunities.
Because Tempe shares this urban desert preserve boundaries with Phoenix, you can actually find a couple top Phoenix attractions here. The Phoenix Zoo showcases animals from around the world. Or for a more local experience, discover the plants of the Sonoran Desert at the Desert Botanical Garden.
Find more Phoenix destinations with the Top 10 Things to do with Kids in Phoenix and 12 Free Things to do in Phoenix with Kids.
5. Kiwanis Park and Recreation Center
The 125-acre Kiwanis Park packs in recreational opportunities with playgrounds, sports courts, a lake, and even an awesome wave pool.
On a hot day, kids love cooling off at The Cloud, the park’s splash pad. Kayak and pedal boat rentals are available for the lake, as well as surrey bikes to ride around the park.
6. Big Surf Waterpark (currently closed, will reopen for Summer 2022)
In the summer, swimming is one of the best things to do in Tempe. Stay cool in North America’s original wave pool at Big Surf Waterpark.
The wave pool (currently ranked the third largest in the nation) offers large wave sessions exclusively for boogie boarders and surfers throughout the day. And tons of waterslides and splash parks provide hours of outdoor fun for all ages.
7. Spring Training at Tempe Diablo Stadium
Each spring the Los Angeles Angels move to Tempe to train at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Spring training is a great way for younger baseball fans to get close up to the action and possibly even meet their favorite players.
Try the lawn seats for affordable tickets, lots of room for kids to run, and a chance to catch a homerun. Check out our article, Arizona Spring Training: The Cactus League with Kids, for tips and tricks on enjoying the season as a family.
Indoor Fun Things to do in Tempe for Families
8. LEGOLAND Discovery Center Arizona
Little LEGO fans will have a blast at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Arizona. Rides, 4D movies, a virtual factory tour, and lots of LEGO building opportunities fill this attraction.
And the unique miniland provides an opportunity to all your favorite Arizona landmarks in LEGO form, including the Grand Canyon and the cute town you’re visiting, Tempe.
Did you know most LEGOLAND discounts are also good at LEGOLAND Discovery? Find discounts with our article How to Score LEGOLAND California Discount Tickets.
9. SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium
Explore the ocean while in the middle of Arizona at SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium. This aquarium houses the only 360 degree ocean tunnel, where you’ll find sharks, sea turtles and more swim over, around, and underneath you. Kids especially enjoy the interactive elements and the touch tank.
10. Tilt Studio at Arizona Mills Mall
Make your gamer’s dreams come true at this 40,000 square foot, two-story family entertainment center. This arcade features classic arcade games, pinball, driving games, carnival midway games, claw machines, and pretty much every arcade game you can think of.
Adults appreciate the Taproom for adult beverages, while the whole family can enjoy regional cuisine and American dishes at the BYO Craft Kitchen and Bar.
11. Main Event
Main Event is like a bowling alley to the extreme. The traditional bowling lanes, billiards, food court and arcade games all exceed expectations in quality and quantity. In addition to the traditional, the unique aerial ropes course and laser tag arena offer even more ways to have fun.
12. ASU Gammage Shows
The best place to catch a family-friendly Broadway show in Arizona is at the ASU Gammage. In addition to touring Broadway performances, Gammage also hosts other professional and local performers. Check their website to see what shows you can catch this season.
13. Childsplay Theatre
If your little ones aren’t quite ready for the big time shows, check out Childsplay Theatre. This local playhouse offers kid-oriented productions with a variety of shows throughout the season.
Best Museums in Tempe with Kids
14. Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park
Explore the history of Arizona through hand-on exhibits and multimedia displays at the Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park.
Galleries take visitors through the early years to present times in Arizona, including the geological history and the local internment camps of World War II. Save the Early Routes and Roadways exhibit until the end, because transportation loving kids will not want to stop playing with all the fun exhibits on display here.
15. Tempe History Museum
Sometimes the local free museums can surprise you, and Tempe History Museum is for sure a hidden gem. The room invites guests to experience Tempe through the years with artifacts and interactive exhibits.
Young visitors especially enjoy the Kid’s Place area, where they can dress up, drive a farm truck, or play in a mini Sun Devils Stadium.
16. Gallery of Scientific Exploration at Arizona State University
Come learn about the wonders of earth and space through the interactive exhibits at the Gallery of Scientific Exploration at ASU. First, create an earthquake and see the university’s meteorite collection. Then catch a 3-D show in the Marston Exploration Theater.
The Gallery is open Monday through Friday and on select Saturdays when Marston Exploration Theater shows are taking place.
17. ASU Art Museum (open Friday-Sunday)
Another of the free things to do in Tempe that is surprisingly kid friendly is the ASU Art Museum. In addition to offering monthly family programs and weekly story times, the Artists’ Workshop provides a space for hands-on educational activities and information about the museum collections. It is open Friday through Sunday.
Best Places to Eat and Shop in Tempe with Kids
Slickables offers custom, made-to-order made ice cream sandwiches and affordable prices. Choose from a variety of ice cream flavors and homemade cookies or brownies. Or skip the sandwiches and enjoy a delicious sundae or milkshake.
19. Snakes & Lattes Tempe
Coffee tastes extra great when paired with a classic board game at Snakes and Lattes. This café offers a menu of tasty food and beverage (including adult beverage) options, along with thousands of board and card games available to play while you’re there. There’s a $5 game fee per person but you can stay all day long.
20. Sparky’s Old Town Creamery
Nothing beats fresh-made ice cream on a hot Arizona day, and one of the best places to cool off is Sparky’s Old Town Creamery. Sparky’s churns ice creams right in Tempe with cream sourced from local Arizona cows. Frozen treats include milkshakes, cookie sandwiches, Hawaiian ice, and more.
21. The Chuckbox
If you are looking for the quintessential college burger joint, go to The Chuckbox. This cash-only restaurant offers burgers, fries, plus a few other sides and drinks, all cooked right in front of you while you wait. It sure isn’t “fast” food, but the results are delicious.
22. Arizona Mills (Rainforest Cafe & Joe’s Crab Shack)
Lots of family-friendly outlets, restaurants, and attractions can be found at Arizona Mills Mall. After discount shopping, reward the kids with a meal at Rainforest Cafe or Joe’s Crab Shack. Or take a ride on the carousel or mini-train.
This mall is also home to LEGOLAND Discovery Center, SEA LIFE Aquarium, and Tilt Studios.
I know IKEA may not be unique to Tempe, but it is a fun place to explore. Choose to drop the kids at Smaland, or bring them with you through the maze of displays. Afterward enjoy a cheap treat or meal in the cafe.
Best Places to Stay in Tempe
24. Hyatt House Tempe/Phoenix/University
Extended stay hotels work great with kids and this Hyatt House is no exception. Spacious rooms keep families from tripping over each other and a fully stocked kitchen helps stave off hunger. Hyatt even provides blenders upon request.
The location on the ASU campus puts families at the base of “A” Mountain and within walking distance of top dining choices. And of course, we are always fans of hotel pools and free breakfast. Ask at the front desk for water toys to use during your stay.
25. Marriott Phoenix Resort Tempe at The Buttes
Nestled between scenic desert buttes lies the Marriott Phoenix Resort Tempe at The Buttes. The picturesque location is just minutes away from the airport and top Tempe destinations. Families love the sparkling pools and waterslide, plus on-site dining options with a view.
A special thanks to Hyatt House, SEA LIFE and LEGOLAND Discovery for hosting us! And to Tempe Tourism for all their help. I was not given any other compensation and all opinions expressed are my own.