Tempe's Mill Avenue district has more than 100 shops, restaurants and bars.

Tempe’s Mill Avenue district has more than 100 shops, restaurants and bars.            photo: Andrea Guthmann

Being mom to a high school sophomore means my family travel plans have a new focus: college visits. If you’ve got college-bound teens, it’s time to start adding campus visits to your vacation itineraries. Not that I’d ever need an excuse to visit the Valley of the Sun, Arizona, especially in the winter, when it’s bitterly cold in Chicago. But now that I’ve got a teenager, I’ve got a new reason to visit Tempe, home to Arizona State University, the largest university in the United States, with more than 70,000 students.


Visiting a college can give you a feel for the school’s culture. Walk around ASU’s campus, and it’s easy to understand why the Sun Devil is the school mascot. The 330 average days of sun per year seem to be reflected in a sunny attitude. Maybe it’s just because I’m escaping a gray and chilly Midwest winter during my visit, but most people seem to be in a generally good mood.

That’s the kind of thing you don’t learn from a brochure or off the Internet. You have to see it for yourself. Take the time to dine in the student union, read the billboards around campus, and, of course, talk to other students… ones who aren’t on the official tour.

If you’re traveling to visit a college, make sure and stay a few extra days to get a feel for the town. Spend a few days in Tempe and you’ll see there’s not only good weather, but a great arts scene, nearby mountains for nature lovers and plenty of teams for sports lovers.

Here are a few of the top picks for what to do with a few days in Tempe from Toni Smith, director of communications for the Tempe Tourism Bureau:

Mill About MIll Avenue

Tempe's bustling Mill Avenue district.

Tempe’s bustling Mill Avenue district.                                 photo: Andrea Guthmann

Smith recommends taking the time to check out Mill Avenue, the hub of downtown Tempe and a rare walkable urban district in car lover’s country.  Like any college town, there are plenty of pubs, but you’ll also find trendy restaurants and delightful shops and galleries.

Fuel up before checking out the town and campus at NCounter, a hip downtown diner. A good dinner choice for out-of-towners? Monti’s La Casa Vieja, an iconic steak restaurant started by the original founder of Tempe. While you’re waiting for your food, check out the many archival photos and Arizona artifacts lining the walls.

Market Watch at the Tempe Marketplace

Smith recommends the Tempe Marketplace as a fun option for families. It has 1.3 millions square feet of restaurants, retail, a movie theatre, and ASU Night Gallery, a unique arts space open to the public. There’s live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Phoenix Valley is home to spring training's Cactus League.

The Phoenix Valley is home to spring training’s Cactus League.                                        photo: Andrea Guthmann


Play Ball!

Time your college visit in March and you can enjoy one of the Valley’s (as locals refer to it) favorite pastimes—Cactus League spring training baseball. Half of the MLB teams train in the greater Phoenix area. On any day in March, you’ll have several different games to choose from.

Tickets to spring training are less expensive than regular season games, ranging from $6-40. Combine that with the opportunity to see your favorite players up close and get autographs, and you’ve scored a home run.


Boat  and paddle board rentals are easy and affordable at Tempe Town Lake.

Boat and paddle board rentals are easy and affordable at Tempe Town Lake.              photo: Andrea Guthmann


Test the Waters at Tempe Town Lake

Take the time to check out the engineering marvel known as Tempe Town Lake, located just off the Mill Avenue District. A former drybed that was flooded in 1999, it’s now a recreational hub hosting festivals, live music and other events.  For $18 an hour you can rent pedalboats, kayaks or paddle boards. For $70 an hour, you can have a party on your own pontoon!

Rooftop oasis at Tempe Mission Palms Hotel.

Rooftop oasis at Tempe Mission Palms Hotel.              photo: Andrea Guthmann





Rest Easy

One of the best places to stay in the Mill Avenue district is the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel. A gracious lobby, rooftop pool, free Wi-Fi and a complimentary ten minute shuttle to/from Sky Harbor Airport makes this hotel an easy and affordable option for a weekend college visit. No car necessary! You can walk to ASU and there are plenty of shops and restaurants also within walking distance.