38 Fun Things to Do in Tempe Free of Charge

Tempe Skyline

No matter what you are into, Tempe, Arizona has something for you. Tempe is a suburb of metropolitan Phoenix. Whether the urban big city life or the relaxed suburban style is more your speed, you have your choice of either in Tempe. From hiking to watching live music to visiting one of Tempe’s many galleries, there is no shortage of things to do.

You do not have to search all over the internet to get a plan together. This list is all you need to decide your plans and get started. Read on to see all kinds of exciting things there are to do for free in Tempe.

ASU Campus and Sun Devil Football Stadium

The Arts in Tempe

The arts are a huge part of Tempe’s culture. There are multiple dedicated art galleries you can visit for free, as well as permanent and temporary art installations all over the city. Eye-catching murals are displayed outside restaurants and businesses, while the Tempe United States Post Office windows feature 3D art installations from local artists. 

The Arizona State University main campus alone hosts several art galleries and museums. The ASU Art Museum showcases Latin American art and artists and features installations that rotate with the changing seasons. The Art Museum also features a Ceramics Research Center displaying nearly 4,000 pieces of ceramic art.

Artist James Turrell created Skyspace: Air Apparent, an interactive art and sculpture installation on the ASU campus. Turrell worked with architect William P. Bruder to create the art piece which features tension cables, a large steel plate, and LED lights. Turrell programmed the lights to illuminate differently based on the time of day. 

The Harry Wood Gallery and The Design School’s Gallery of Design are also great places to visit if you have an interest in the arts or design. Visitors to the Harry Wood Gallery can see works by those associated with the ASU School of Art. The Gallery of Design features exhibitions of achievements in design by students and professionals. 

Hiking and Climbing Around Tempe

  • Camelback Mountain Cholla Trail
  • Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Trail and Recreation Area
  • Piestewa Peak (formerly Squaw Peak)
  • Hayden Butte Preserve aka “A” Mountain

Tempe is a great place to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. Tempe is a southwestern city with a desert climate where it stays sunny nearly all year long. Take advantage of this awesome weather with Tempe’s several hiking and climbing mountains and trails. No matter your experience level, Tempe has options from very easy to very difficult. 

Hiking Camelback Mountain
Hiking on Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain features the highest peak in the region, offering amazing views. It is one of the most popular hikes/climbs in the area. Both the Cholla Trail and Echo Canyon hikes are considered difficult or extremely difficult. Each is subject to extreme heat, steep ascents, and a portion of the Echo Canyon trail requires rock climbing. 

Piestewa Peak is the second-highest peak in the Phoenix mountains and its hikes are also considered difficult. The hike to the summit is 1.2 miles long with a high elevation, creating a strenuous climb for hikers. The peak was officially renamed as such in 2008 after Lori Piestewa, the first female Native American U.S. soldier to die in combat.

Hayden Butte Preserve, locally known as “A” Mountain, offers an easier hike. The mountain gets its colloquial name from the 60-foot steel and concrete “A” that sits atop the mountain. The preserve features Hohokam petroglyphs dating back thousands of years. The mountain’s peak offers a fantastic view overlooking Tempe.

Important Safety Considerations

While the weather is nice and consistent in Tempe, the heat can become overwhelming. This is especially true for tourists and visitors who are not used to the kind of heat and direct sunlight that occurs in Tempe. The city prides itself on its abundance of outdoor activities, but it is important that you take proper precautions before venturing out.

If you are planning a hike, pack plenty of water. This is crucial for any hike or mountain climb. The difficult and extremely difficult hikes are especially draining. The high peaks put you closer to the sun where the heat is most intense. Plan accordingly and stay hydrated. Also, wear proper gear and shoes suited for rock climbing if the train requires.

While these hikes are not explicitly dangerous, they can become dangerous if a hiker is ill-prepared. People have lost their lives on hikes due to overheating and dehydration.  Here in the desert even if you’re not sweating you are losing moisture!  Make sure you know as much as you can about a hike before you set out, including the length, ascent, and temperature for the day. You cannot have fun if you are not safe!

Parks and Recreation in Tempe

  • Tempe Town Lake and Beach
  • Kiwanis Community Park
  • Desert Arboretum Park
  • South Mountain Park and Preserve

If hiking and climbing are not your cups of tea but you still want to get out and enjoy the Tempe sunshine, the city has plenty of parks for you to explore. The Tempe Town Lake is a major destination near downtown Tempe. You can get out on the lake in your own personal watercraft, provided you have the required permit. No swimming, though.

If you do not have a kayak, canoe, paddle board, or similar craft to venture into the lake, you can hang out on Tempe Town Lake’s beach. Enjoy picnics, group events, or just soak up some sun on the sand. Several different species of fish can be found in the lake, so as long as you have your fishing permit, fishing is another great choice.

Kiwanis Community Park features its own lake and offers visitors a wide variety of free fun. The park sits on 125 acres, with plenty of space to take a relaxing walk or set up a picnic. Enjoy the Kiwanis Community Park Recreation Center which features a shaded rest area, tennis courts, a batting range, a gymnasium, and an indoor wave pool. 

South Mountain Park
South Mountain Park

The South Mountain Park and Preserve is a massive, 16,000-acre park where you could spend an entire day. This is one of the US’s largest city parks. You can get your rest and relaxation here, or you can ride bikes, hike, jog, or just enjoy being outdoors. ASU campus also features desert flora in the multipurpose Desert Arboretum Botanical Park.

Arizona State University Tempe Campus Must-Sees

  • Herberger Institute for Design and Arts
  • ASU Lunar Exploration Museum/NASA’s LROC Visitor Gallery
  • ASU Mars Space Flight Facility
  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s Grady Gammage
  • Historic Old Main
  • Palm Walk

I have already covered the many art galleries featured on campus, but there is even more than the university has to offer. The Herberger Institute for Design and Arts is involved with several of the art galleries mentioned above, but there are often free dance and theater performances, lectures, and concerts offered there as well.

At ASU you can visit the Lunar Exploration Museum and tour NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) visitor gallery. The Mars Space Flight Facility is available for visitors. ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration is unmatched in the field, and visitors can get a peek into the school’s pioneering, interplanetary work.

ASU is home to its fair share of historic buildings, as well. The Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium on campus was designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to have nearly perfect acoustic balance. This was one of Wright’s last designs before his death, and it was named for ASU president Dr. Grady Gammage. 

Palm Walk at ASU
Palm Walk at ASU

If you are into pleasing aesthetics and photo opportunities, look no further than ASU’s Palm Walk. This is a long concrete path through campus with towering palm trees on either side. Students, locals, and tourists alike enjoy traveling the path daily. More photographs are taken on the palm walk than any other place on ASU’s Tempe campus.

Tempe Culture

  • Bicycle Paths
  • Downtown Tempe
  • Mill Avenue District
  • Free Events

The city of Tempe is well known for its bicycle paths. Tempe has been designated a Gold-Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, thanks to the effort the city has put in to cater to the cycling population. Tempe has more than bike lanes. Some bike paths are so beautiful and relaxing, they are worth a visit themselves.

Tempe has a lively culture. You can experience this for free by visiting downtown Tempe where you may run into any manner of oddity or fascination. Street performers like dueling pianists can be seen in downtown Tempe, as well as the public art mentioned above. Tempe Town Lake and “A” Mountain are visible from downtown, as well.

Downtown Tempe features the Mill Avenue District, a hotspot for nightlife. While restaurants, bars, and shops are not free, strolling down the avenue is. Take in the atmosphere and just hang out. Plenty of events take place on the avenue, creating many opportunities for fun in the district that do not require spending money.

Tempe hosts free events on Mill Avenue as well as throughout the city. These events include festivals, comedy shows, live music, and others. These events are important to the culture of Tempe, as they allow tourists and residents alike to come together and enjoy common interests. Upcoming event schedules are always available online.

Tempe and Arizona History

  • Tempe History Museum
  • Downtown “Walk through History” 
  • Papago Park
  • USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River
Papago Park
View from Papago Park

Tempe’s lively history is steeped in its strong heritage. Tempe’s roots are Native American and Hispanic, similar to other regions in the midwest. The ancient Native American Hohokam society mentioned above dates back to ancient times of prehistory. Hispanic farmers repurposed the Hohokam irrigation canals to carry Salt River water.

The Tempe History Museum offers free admission and allows visitors to explore Tempe’s fruitful past. The museum is broken up into four themed areas to better acquaint visitors with Tempe’s history. Tempe’s downtown “Walkthrough History” is a self-guided tour giving visitors a closer look at Tempe’s historic buildings and sites. 

I have included Papago Park in the history section due to its historic ties. During World War II Papago Park acted as a famous POW camp where Italian and German soldiers were held and eventually escaped. Papago Park features unusual land formations like Hole-in-the-Rock, making this park a popular destination. 

The USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River is a memorial for the US soldiers who were on the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community built the memorial to span the exact size of the USS Arizona ship, with the actual boathouse in the center. 

Native American History Around Tempe

  • Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
  • Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park
  • Native Art Market
  • Huhugam Ki Museum

In and around Tempe there is a rich Native American culture. You do not need to spend money to experience it. The Casa Grande Ruins are a mysterious ancient structure created by An Ancestral Sonoran Desert People. Historians are not certain what exact purpose the Casa Grande served, but visitors can come to see the structure in person.

The Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park features an outdoor, self-guided trail with free admission. On the trail, you will see archaeological ruins of a platform mound and ball court, as well as replica pit houses, adobes, a garden, and a desert oasis, all features of prehistoric Hokoham life. Visitors are immersed in historical archeology.

The Native Art Market is operated by Native Americans on Native Land and all featured art is by Native American artists. Here you will see beautiful, hand-made art and experience the beauty of Indigenous culture. You do not have to spend money to enjoy the atmosphere, though shopping here directly supports Native American families. 

The Huhugam Ki Museum is a museum of the Salt-River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s history. Huhugam Ki translates to “House of the Ancestors” in the Onk Akimel O’Odham language. The museum features all kinds of culturally significant and enriching historical artifacts from weaved baskets to photographs to pottery. 

Things to do in Tempe for the Kids

  • Splash Pad at Tempe Marketplace
  • Hudson Park Spray Pad
  • Esquer Park and Esquer Park Splash Pad
  • The Cloud at Kiwanis Park

While nearly everything mentioned above is kid-friendly, you might be looking for something specifically tailored to their interests. Luckily, Tempe knows that kids love to play in the water, especially when the Arizona sun is bearing down on them. Tempe features children’s parks and a few free splash areas available for the kids to enjoy.

While they did not make it into my list of parks, Hudson Park and Esquer Park are great parks for the kids. Hudson Park features a volleyball court while Esquer Park has a playground, a skatepark, basketball courts, and other amenities the kids will love. Of course, both of these parks have splash pads for an easy and fun way to cool off. 

The Tempe Marketplace, where many folks love to visit and shop, has a splash pad. No kid can resist a good splash pad, and this one is no different. Located near stores, restaurants, and theaters, this is a great way for kids to cool down when walking through the open-air marketplace. Plus, it allows parents to take a break as well.

I have already mentioned Kiwanis Park and some of the fantastic amenities it has to offer. However, The Cloud at Kiwanis Park is like a splash pad, only bigger and better. The Cloud at Kiwanis is the largest splash play area in Tempe. It features a large overhead structure and several colorful ground-level structures for fun water play.

Tempe Tips

The best way to have fun for free is to prepare to spend a lot of time outside. This is true anywhere you go. In a place like Tempe, consider the climate. In a desert, the humidity is low and the heat index is high. Take that fact into account when you pack for your stay. Are you from a desert climate, or are used to different weather altogether?

  • Pack sunscreen
  • Stay hydrated
  • Wear loose, cool clothing
  • Wear large brim hats
  • Bring walking shoes

You do not have to have a specific destination in mind when visiting Tempe. With so many fanciful art installations and serene natural landscapes, you could simply walk outside without a plan and end up having a nice day without spending a dime. Ancient history blends with modern, urban entertainment.

With this list of 38 fun and free things to do in Tempe, you can prepare yourself for some awe-inspiring and exciting adventures. Whether you are a tourist planning a short visit, or a local wanting to get out of your comfort zone, you have more than enough information in your arsenal to plan a fabulous itinerary in Tempe, Arizona.