Disclosure: These things to do in Tempe AZ were part of the #AZFamilyFun trip. Two of our flights, hotel, and activities were included at no cost (we paid separately for the other two flights). All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. A purchase and/or click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us.
When we look for a winter family vacation destination, we usually seek out fun experiences, lots of things to do with kids, and most importantly – warm weather! By mid-February, I’m usually desperate for a break from the snowy cold weather in Massachusetts. This year, we were especially lucky, because our February vacation destination, Tempe and Chandler, Arizona, was experiencing unseasonably warm temps.
In addition to the family-friendly activities, we got to enjoy a small taste of summer which was a welcome despite from our New England winter.. Here’s part one of our vacation experience, including some fun things to do in Tempe with kids.
Things to Do in Tempe AZ With Kids
Location of Tempe AZ
Tempe, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, is located about 10 minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. This 40-square mile city is best known as the home of Arizona State University (ASU), and offers 44 hotels along with numerous kid-friendly indoor and outdoor activities.
If you are visiting the greater Phoenix Arizona area, you’ll find several options of cities and suburbs to stay in. There’s Tempe, Chandler, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Phoenix. All of them are nearby, and convenient to any of the activities that you’ll be looking to do during your vacation.
Things to Do in Tempe AZ
My kids’ favorite stop in Tempe was the Arizona Mills Mall, an outlet mall that offers 175 retailers, including a Last Call from Neiman Marcus and an Off 5th Saks Fifth Avenue. Since the weather in the Phoenix area can definitely get hot, a climate-controlled environment is a good idea to include in your vacation plans. I’d recommend looking at the weather forecast, and planning your time at the Arizona Mills Mall for the day with the hottest temperatures (or perhaps the rare day when it rains).
Within the Arizona Mills Mall, you’ll find lots of family-friendly entertainment options. These include the SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium, an indoor aquarium with exhibits, animal feedings, and so much more. My son, who loves turtles, especially loved seeing the two rescue sea turtles that makes their home at SEA LIFE.
It’s 26,000 square feet, and includes a 360° ocean tunnel. You can purchase timed tickets online, which help save time in the ticket line. The aquarium isn’t too large, so it’s very approachable for families with young children.
Arizona Mills is also home to a LEGOLAND Discovery Center. If you aren’t familiar with the Discovery Centers, they are different than the LEGOLAND theme parks. Instead of offering outdoor rides, the Discovery Center has 2 indoor rides, a 4D movie cinema, building areas, and a MINILAND.
LEGOLAND Discovery Center is most appropriate for kids aged 3 to about 10 or 11. Tickets are available online, and you can also get combo tickets with SEA LIFE. I’d definitely recommend doing this, because it’s the only way to guarantee admission, especially on busy days.
If your kids love video games, you may also consider visiting Tilt Studio. This two-story 40,000 square foot complex, within the mall, has over 150 video games, a taproom, and a restaurant. It would be a fun place to grab dinner and then play some games one evening of your Tempe family vacation.
The Arizona Mills Mall also offers a Rainforest Cafe, an IMAX theater, a regular theater, and a kids’ play area. There are also several other restaurants, including a Claim Jumper, a food court, a Johnny Rockets, and a Joe’s Crab Shack.
Another great place with kids is the Main Event, a Texas entertainment chain that recently expanded into Arizona with its first location in Tempe. The Main Event is a huge complex with 26 bowling lanes, laser tag, billiards, and arcade, a gravity ropes course, two restaurants, and complimentary WiFi. It does close on occasion for special events, so check their schedule online before heading out.
We visited the Main Event for dinner and games, but it’s open at lunchtime as well. Again, as a climate controlled environment, it’s a good option to visit when the weather outside isn’t cooperating with your plans.
During our family trip to Tempe, we also enjoyed some activities along the Tempe Town Lake. A lake is a surprising thing to see in the desert, and it’s nice to have those activities available to families. The lake is at the junction of the Salt River and the Indian Bend Wash.
Located along the shore of the Tempe Town Lake is the Tempe Center for the Arts. During our visit, we enjoyed a performance of “The Cat in the Hat” from Childsplay, a professional theater company that offers kid-friendly productions at the TCA. The play was just about an hour – the perfect length for children – and was entertaining for the whole family.
Everyone has a great seat in the small theater, and after the performance, the actors came out and took questions about the production from the audience. Shows change all the time, so check their website to see what is being offered during your trip.
Although we enjoyed the play, we were eager to get outside again, since the weather was so beautiful. We stopped at the Tempe Town Lake to rent some paddle boats – a fun thing to do in the gorgeous weather. Other boat types are available and if you don’t want to take a boat out, you can just sit and enjoy the view, or rent a bike and travel on the adjacent paths.
The Tempe Beach Park at the Tempe Town Lake also offers a splash park, and is home to events hosted throughout the year including Oktoberfest. You can also choose to book a segway tour of the area. They are offered to kids at least 12 years old.
If you are visiting in March, and love baseball, you’ll definitely want to watch at least one spring training game. All of the Cactus League games are hosted in the Greater Phoenix area. Within Tempe, you’ll find the Tempe Diablo Stadium. This stadium, which accommodates about 10,000 spectators, is home to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
We’ve seen two different spring training games at this location, and it’s so much fun. While I love regular season baseball games, spring training is a special experience. Not only do you have a much closer view of the action, but also the stadiums are a treat to walk around. I’ve loved the various food available at the stadiums, as well. Definitely plan to get lunch there if you are watching an afternoon game (and bring sunblock!).
In addition to Arizona Mills, the Tempe Marketplace is another great spot for family entertainment. There, you’ll find a Dave and Busters, a movie theater, a splash pad, and a pottery-painting studio.
If you are visiting during specific times of the year, you can head to Downtown Tempe for various festivals and events. These include holiday events, the festival of the arts, and the 6th Street Market.
Where to Stay in Tempe AZ
While visiting the Tempe/Chandler area, we stayed at the Tempe Mission Palms hotel, a Destination Hotels property located in the popular Mill Avenue District. The Mill Avenue District offers more than 100 shops, restaurants, and bars in a hip, bustling atmosphere. There’s lots to do with kids during the day, but at night, it’s more of a college/adult atmosphere.
The Tempe Mission Palms hotel is definitely a great place to stay for a more luxurious vacation. We loved the pool, and although we were busy, my kids definitely wanted to visit the pool at least once per day.
In addition to the Tempe Mission Palms, you’ll find lots of other great family hotel options in the area. These include the following:
- The Drury Inn and Suites: I’m a fan of the Drury brand, which offers great prices and fantastic family amenities. The Tempe location is right off of route 10 and is near the Main Event.
- The Graduate Tempe: This boutique hotel is located across from ASU Gammage stadium. It offers a pool and is pet friendly.
- Phoenix Marriott Resort Tempe at The Buttes: I had the opportunity to visit this resort during a separate press trip to Phoenix. It’s a beautiful hotel, built right into the butte. It’s also walking distance from Tempe Diablo Stadium, so it’s a very popular spot during spring training season.
Getting Around Tempe Arizona
If you are flying to Tempe, you’ll definitely want to rent a car. It can be challenging to get around this large metropolitan area without having a vehicle.
I’d definitely recommend staying in Tempe when visiting the Greater Phoenix area. We loved being in the middle of the action without being too close to the big city. To learn more about Tempe, visit the Tempe Tourism website.
Originally posted in 2014, updated for 2018