This issue’s Hometown Tourist tour features the East Valley city of Tempe. Some commuters might only know Tempe as the long stretch through the Loop 202 Corridor en route to somewhere else—either Phoenix, to the west, or Mesa, to the east—but this gem of a city is worth a visit.
It’s been inhabited for well over a thousand years—and under more than one name.
While Tempe wasn’t founded under that name until 1879, the Hohokam had built irrigation ditches and settlements along the Salt River hundreds of years before. Resourceful famers took advantage of these canals and soon the mushrooming settlements of San Pedro and Hayden’s Ferry merged into what we now know as Tempe. The richness of its green farming fields nestled near the butte and along the Salt River clearly impressed early settlers. Just as Phoenix draws upon the mythological bird, Tempe takes its name from Greek lore—the fabled Vale of Tempe, home to the goddess Artemis, is located at the base of Mount Olympus. Latter-Day Saints have been calling Tempe home since the early 1880s.
It’s the place for good eats.
While many residents balked at the 2014 closure of Monti’s La Casa Vieja, a historic restaurant landmark for over 60 years, Tempe still boasts some great choices for foodies. If you’re missing your mission home meals and in the mood for some good ethnic grub, Guy Fieri of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives raved about the chicken tikka at Tempe’s own Curry Corner. For those in search of a more northerly clime, Beaver Choice will whip you up something eclectically Polish, Swedish or Canadian. Pierogi and laxpudding, anyone? You can top it all off with some whipped cream and a cherry at Sparky’s Old Town Creamery, where the made-from-scratch dairy delights are fresh and local. It’s no surprise that Tempe was rated one of Livabilitiy’s Top 10 Foodie Cities for 2015—you definitely won’t go hungry here.
You can hit the beach, see the ocean, and catch some waves here.
Wild for watersports? Mad about marine life? Don’t think for a moment that this landlocked state offers no options…Tempe’s your answer to the “dry heat” of Arizona. Tempe Beach Park provides 25 acres of fun, including a splash pad, biking and hiking trails, fishing and boating, all on Tempe Town Lake. The area is home to festivals, regattas, marathons and Tempe’s own New Year’s Eve Block Party. If creatures of the watery deep are what you’re after, Arizona Sea Life Aquarium can give you your fill of rays, sharks, sea turtles and more at its Arizona Mills location. Pro tip: since a day out with a large family can get costly, check Groupon and Goldstar for discounts before you visit. Finally, Big Surf Waterpark has been cooling off Arizonans since 1969. With 2.5 million gallons of water, you can surf, boogie board, or speed down one of Big Surf’s many waterslides. Keeping cool in Arizona doesn’t get any better than Tempe!
Arts, entertainment, culture? Check, check, check.
Want culture? Tempe’s got it. ASU Gammage has hosted performances of LDS composer Michael MacLean’s The Forgotten Carols, as well as blockbusters like Wicked and Phantom of the Opera. Tempe Center for the Arts is home to Tempe’s own symphony orchestra, the Arizona Wind Symphony, Desert Dance Theatre and Childsplay, among others. Arizona State University’s on-campus art museum (where admission is always free) boasts some amazing regional pieces as well as works by art world luminaries like Georgia O’Keefe and Edward Hopper. Too highbrow? Tempe’s Improv Comedy Club, back after a brief hiatus, will keep you in stitches. Your entertainment options are abundant in this corner of the Valley.
While Tempe may get lumped together with the Greater Phoenix Area on maps, it’s definitely a stand-out for history, food and fun.