By Katherine Adomaitis | Photo courtesy of Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe
Though it’s located just minutes from Sky Harbor Airport and borders Phoenix and Scottsdale, Tempe is its own distinct city, with a laid- back, fun vibe, a still-visible history and a reputation as a university town, home to the main campus of Arizona State University. Founded in the late 1870s as a ferry crossing on the banks of the Salt River, Tempe grew thanks to agriculture and the establishment of the university in 1885. Today, the Salt River has been tamed into two-mile-long Tempe Town Lake, and an agricultural icon—a 19th-century flour mill— still marks the northern end of Mill Avenue, the city’s restaurant and nightlife district. Performing arts facilities, an art museum and numerous large-scale annual events make Tempe a cultural hub—as well as a business hub, with several national companies headquartered here. With a population of about 185,000 and access to the light rail, Tempe makes a great spot for small to medium groups.
Tempe boasts 6,200 hotel rooms, ranging from national hotel chains to luxe resorts. Among the largest, Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes has an architecturally striking design and is tucked into rock outcroppings overlooking the city. The resort has 353 recently renovated rooms and 40,000 square feet of meeting space, not to mention pools and a luxe spa. Another large property, Tempe Mission Palms, is located in the Mill Avenue district, within walking distance to ASU. With 303 rooms, traditional Spanish Mission-style architecture and an arcaded courtyard, the hotel features 30,000 square feet of meeting space and a second-floor pool terrace for outdoor functions.
Other venues include the 80,000-square-foot Tempe Center for the Arts, known for its dramatic design and lakeside setting, which can accommodate 10 to 600 in spaces such as its 600-seat theater, 200-seat studio, 200-seat gallery and a view-grabbing ballroom; and Arizona State University’s Old Main, which opened in 1898 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The gracious brick building on the university’s campus has been updated with modern meeting and event spaces, including a library, conference rooms and a third-floor ballroom that can accommodate up to 500.
Tempe Town Lake provides a primo spot for a bit of tension- releasing exercise, with a multi- use path along the banks for walking, running or biking. You can also rent kayaks, pedal boats and stand-up paddle boards for watery fun. Nearby, Hayden Butte—also known as “A” Mountain or Tempe Butte—has a half-mile, lung-busting uphill trail that offers views of the lake, Tempe and ASU’s football stadium. Not far away, Papago Park also features hiking and biking trails.
On the university campus, Frank Lloyd Wright’s distinctively designed, circular ASU Gammage is a performing arts center, known for its Broadway series, concerts and other events. Housed in an award-winning, modernist building designed by architect Antoine Predock, the ASU Art Museum features American, Mexican and European artworks, cutting-edge exhibitions as well as an adjacent Ceramics Research Center. In addition to being a venue, Tempe Center for the Arts presents an annual season by resident arts groups, plus concerts, comedy shows, open mic nights and a fine art gallery.
THE FOOD AND BEVERAGE
From breweries to wine bars, burger joints to chef-driven fine dining, Tempe satisfies all appetites. Numerous restaurants and adult-beverage purveyors are located within walking distance in the Mill Avenue district, still others require a short light rail or Uber excursion. Many can accommodate groups—Four Peaks Brewery, known for its Pitchfork Pale Ale, poutine and burgers, offers tours, tastings and meals at its brewery located in a 100-plus-year-old brick ice factory and creamery, as well as at its newer facility nearby. Culinary Dropout, a gastropub with a vast indoor/outdoor game area, has a few spaces for private dining and events, including its Showcase Room, which can fit up to 200.
Katherine Adomaitis is an Arizona- based freelance writer who covers travel, food, lifestyle and design for local, regional and national publications. Her favorite places in the state include the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Prescott and Saguaro National Park.