Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Tempe, AZ

  • Published 2022/12/10

Visitors of Tempe on a tight budget can enjoy many freebies or free things to do in this city in Maricopa County.

Tempe was founded in 1871 and has since developed many points of interest that are free to the public.

Ranked as one of the top 10 cities of Arizona, Tempe hosts the main campus of Arizona State University or ASU.

The city’s character as a college town has spawned plenty of arts and cultural attractions you can enjoy at no expense.

There are also public parks and other recreational facilities, particularly those along or near the Salt River running across the northern side of Tempe.

Check out the following list of free things to do in Tempe, Florida, if you’re planning an inexpensive visit to the city.

Catch the Tempe Festival of the Arts

Art booths at Tempe Festival of the Arts

Thomas Trompeter /

You have two chances in a year to catch the famed Tempe Festival of the Arts: in early December or early March.

Admission is free to this festival which boasts more than 50 years of history.

The festival ranks among Sunshine Artist magazine’s Top 100 Classic & Contemporary Craft Shows in the U.S.

Signages of Tempe Festival of the Arts

Thomas Trompeter /

This festival draws over 350 artists across the country to join in exhibits and on-the-spot art contests like the mural competition “Chalk-a-Lot Street.”

Other features of the festival include music concerts, magic performances, and other entertainment programs, as well as food concessions.

The activities of the three-day weekend festival are held on downtown Tempe’s Mill Avenue between 3rd Street and University Parkway and on 5th Street.

Aerial view of Tempe Festival of the Arts

jonathan palagonia /

Join Tempe’s “Walk Through History”

Download the “Walk Through History” maps that the Tempe Tourism Office has crafted for self-guided tours.

These DIY tours cover not only the historic buildings in the city but also its major landmarks.

You can follow three maps for these walking tours: Downtown Tempe, ASU campus, and Tempe Town Lake.

The downtown tour at 0.75 miles is the shortest but nonetheless allows street snapshots of some 15 Tempe landmark buildings.

Some of these structures date as far back as the 1800s, but there are more contemporary ones, like Tempe’s remarkable City Hall on East 5th Street.

Rising like an inverted pyramid, this striking building was built in 1970 to mark Tempe’s centennial year.

The tour of the ASU campus runs about 1.25 miles and features the university’s old main building on East University Drive, built in 1898.

Meanwhile, the Tempe Town Lake tour runs over a mile, taking you around the Hayden Butte Preserve.

The maps of the Walk Through History of Tempe are interactive and provide info on the tour’s various stops.

Explore the City of Tempe Public Art

Marvel at the artistic expressions widely celebrated in the City of Tempe Public Art, which can be enjoyed in several areas with various artwork installations.

Some 30 art pieces are featured in the Downtown Tempe Public Art Walking Tour, featuring sculptures and murals.

One of the most striking artworks of the downtown public is the Origami Garden on East 5th Street.

This was built in 2008 by artist Lorna Jordan as an environmental art expression featuring recycled glass rocks and low-energy LEDs.

Some 20 artists’ renditions await if you take the Tempe Town Lake Public Art Walking Tour.

The diverse artworks here include “The Creative Edge Landmark” by Thomas Strich in 2009, with recycled materials, steel, concrete, fiberglass, and river rock as the components of his towering piece.

Visit the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center

Exterior of the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Level up your creative process at the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center.

In this academic facility on South Mill Avenue, you can draw inspiration from a collection of nearly 4,000 exquisitely made ceramic items.

You can drop by ASU’s Gallery 100 on East University Drive for more art pieces.

There are exhibition spaces here for the artworks of the university’s faculty, students, and academic professionals.

Similar exhibits can be enjoyed at The Gallery of Design in the ASU College of Design Building on South Forest Mall.

Watch Art and Science Meet in Air Apparent

Air Apparent is one of the contemplative “Skyspaces” that the internationally renowned artist James Turrell has created.

His Tempe piece is located off the northwest quadrant of Terrace Mall and South Rural Road.

The garden location of this masterpiece is quite apt for a meeting of minds in arts and sciences.

Three of ASU’s most sophisticated scientific and educational facilities are near this artwork.

Suspension wires were used in Air Apparent’s intimate architectural environment, bringing in an almost tangible presence of light for viewers to appreciate.

Tackle a Tempe Hiking/Biking Trail

Paved bike trail at Tempe

GoodFocused /

Hikers and bikers of all abilities have a wide selection from the different trails in Tempe.

The city boasts at least 21 scenic trails, including 19 best for walking, 16 for running, 11 for running, and nine for biking.

Many of these are multi-use paths, with several meandering within the expansive Papago Park accessible via North Galvin Parkway.

Cyclist along Papago Park

Harry Beugelink /

For a family-friendly choice, take the 2.2-mile Double Butte Loop Trail, which you can access from the Papago Amphitheater off McDowell Road.

This trail is generally considered easy and popular for hiking, running, and biking.

Averaging three feet wide, the trail has a gentle grade and a natural surface of sand, rocks, and dirt.

A person riding a bicycle along Tempe

Sean Leonard /

See the Moon Rock at the Lunar Museum

Learn more about U.S. exploration of the moon and outer space with a tour of the ASU Lunar Exploration Museum.

This museum is the centerpiece of the Visitor Gallery of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera Operations Center on East Terrace Road at the ASU campus.

The moon rock displayed here is the largest collected by the Apollo 15 mission and hints at how the Earth and the moon evolved.

This rock, believed to be almost 3.3 billion years old, has been the most intensively studied among the mission’s collection of lunar materials.

The free, unguided tour of the ASU Lunar Exploration Museum allows visitors to know more about the moon through an interactive audio-visual presentation.

Explore the Desert Arboretum Park

Welcome sign of Desert Arboretum Park

Ken Wolter /

The Desert Arboretum Park is open to the public free of charge from dawn to dusk seven days a week.

This botanical park is a facility under Arizona State University that spreads over 2.5 acres off South Packard Drive.

Its garden is tucked mostly into the east flank of the Tempe Butte or A Mountain, as locals call this prominent geological formation in the city.

Native plants from the Arizona desert regions of Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahua are the prominent features of this botanical garden.

The collection of this ASU Arboretum is listed in the North American Plant Collections.

The Desert Arboretum Park also features four ponds.

Experiments under ASU’s environmental and biology research programs are conducted in these ponds.

Have Fun under the Sun at Tempe North Shore Beach

You can enjoy exploring a sandy stretch on the banks of the Salt River at North Shore Beach.

This sandy beach patch of Tempe Town Lake is located off Lake View Drive and Curry Road.

Visiting the beach, you can park for free under the 202 Freeway and access several biking and walking trails nearby.

Just a short walk to the east, visitors can also have fun at the Tempe Town Lake Beach Volleyball Court.

In addition, this stretch along the banks of Salt River is suited for family bonding activities such as picnics and playing on the sand, especially for kids.

Swimming or wading on the water, however, isn’t allowed.

Tour the Vintage Eisendrath House

Exterior of the Eisendrath House

Jon Roanhaus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Eisendrath House is an adobe house originally built in 1930 and restored beautifully to its Pueblo Revival architectural style.

Located on North College Avenue, this historic house hosts docent-led tours free to the public.

These tours are by appointment and are typically held from October to April.

During the house tour, you will learn about its history, architecture, and former residents.

The Eisendrath House features educational interpretive displays and period furniture and offers remarkable vistas of the Valley of the Sun.

Watch a Fluvial Event on Salt River

Tempe Town Lake events are perennial crowd-drawers, particularly those set on Salt River.

For instance, visiting Tempe around early December allows you to catch the Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade.

This fluvial parade with fireworks ushers in the city’s holiday season and draws crowds at Tempe Town Lake and Tempe Beach Park, as well as Downtown Tempe.

In March, the much-anticipated annual dragon boat festival takes place.

This two-day competition, traditionally held late in the month, draws competitors not only from the U.S. but also from overseas.

Drop by Historic Petersen Park

Niels Petersen house at Petersen Park

Mcmillin24, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Petersen Park is home to the historic Peterson House on West Southern Avenue, which was converted into a museum.

One of Tempe’s pioneers, Niels Petersen, an immigrant from Denmark, had this house built in the early 1890s.

The Peterson House boasts a Queen Victoria architectural design, with its restoration in 1989 garnering the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.

After a tour of this vintage house, you can relax on the quiet grounds of Petersen Park.

This park spreads over five acres and features a playground and a covered picnic area with tables and benches.

Catch a Dazzling Sunset at “A Mountain”

Dazzling sunsets can be enjoyed at various vantage locations in Tempe.

But for the adventurous among city visitors, the most likely choice is the Tempe Butte or “A Mountain.”

This city icon sporting a 60-foot gold-painted letter “A” provides a 0.7-mile trail to its 1,495-foot summit.

You don’t need to reach the peak of “A Mountain” to view Arizona’s beautiful sunset, as this butte has a lookout point midway through the trail where the sunset viewing experience is as enjoyable.

You can pick from several trailheads to climb the butte’s trail, with one on the ASU campus off Rio Salado Parkway and Mill Avenue behind the Hayden Flour Mill.

Enjoy the Concerts at The District Stage

Hang out at The District Stage either Friday or Saturday for an evening of live music, which you can enjoy for free.

This outdoor entertainment hub is located in the center of the 13-acre Tempe Marketplace on East Rio Salado Parkway.

The performers include rock and acoustic bands and DJs dishing out techno, hip-hop, or house music.

Besides its vibrant stage, the outdoor environment of the Tempe Marketplace delights visitors with its pop-up art installations.

The place also includes unique water features, cozy fireplaces, and lush landscaping, all apt for kid-friendly activities.

The Tempe Marketplace holds some 300 special events annually, many of which are free to the public.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Explore the South Mountain Park and Preserve

Scenic view of South Mountain Park and Preserve

antsdrone /

South Mountain Park and Preserve sprawls over 16,000 acres around eight miles southwest of downtown Tempe.

This park offers free general admission to its 58 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding.

Its Beverley Canyon Trailhead on South 46th Street in Phoenix is notably just 3.5 miles west of Kiwanis Park in Tempe.

Bench overlooking the views from South Mountain Park and Preserve

NayaDadara /

A visit to the South Mountain Park and Preserve best culminates with a drive to its highest accessible point—Dobbins Lookout.

This vantage point at 2,330 feet above sea level features a shaded stone ramada with seats and an observation platform.

With the north-facing views at Dobbins Lookout, you will see the spectacular panorama of downtown Phoenix, Camelback Mountain, and other local mountain ranges.

Stone steps at South Mountain Park and Preserve

antsdrone /

Final Thoughts

Penny-pinching visitors will be delighted to choose from the amazing selections of free things to do in Tempe, Florida.

A stroll around the city’s downtown area, the ASU campus, and Tempe Town Lake offers many enjoyable activities and memorable experiences.

Start planning your trip to the city today!

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