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Headed to Tempe AZ with the family? Then check out these family-friendly and fun things to do in Tempe AZ with kids – from spring training and museums to hiking and downtown shopping.
If you’re looking for a great, affordable trip for kids of all ages, I’ve got a great destination for you: Tempe Arizona. Tempe is located just outside Phoenix, conveniently close to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. Direct flights to Phoenix are available from most major U.S. airports and flights are generally affordable. You can enjoy outdoor activities in Tempe year round, which makes it an enticing spot for a winter vacation. No matter what your kids’ ages or interests are, you won’t lack for choices in things to do. If you’re dreaming of a southwest destination, here’s a list of Traveling Mom tested kid-friendly things to do in Tempe AZ.
I’ve broken the activities down by age group, although many of these are suited to multiple age groups. If you see something on the “preschoolers through school age” things to do in Tempe AZ list, don’t assume your older kids won’t like it.
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You can find lots of things to do in Tempe. Of course, Phoenix is a short drive away if you want more options, but my family and I found three full days worth of fun to enjoy inside Tempe. We’d go back in a heartbeat and it’s a destination we heartily recommend, especially to our friends up north who would enjoy the warmer winters. Also, visit in early December (a GREAT time to visit Tempe) and you can catch the Tempe Festival of the Arts.
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Kid-Friendly Things to Do in Tempe AZ for Preschoolers through School-Age
Some of these activities will work for older kids, such as the zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden. Depending on interests, your tween or teen might like the fire museum or the gallery at ASU. Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life Arizona Aquarium probably won’t be super enjoyable for kids above 10.
Hall of Flame Fire Museum
There’s just something about kids and fire trucks, right? If you’re interested in the history of firefighting, this is a can’t miss. The Hall of Flame includes more than 90 pieces of firefighting equipment and trucks dating from 1725 to 1960. There’s lots of fire memorabilia from the United States and beyond. There’s also quite a few hands-on activities, like a station where your kids can dress up like firefighters and sit in a real firetruck.
Be sure to check out the area in the back, that is mocked up like a firehouse, complete with a pole. This area is geared toward preschoolers, but my eight-year-olds had fun with it.
Sea Life Arizona Aquarium
I was really surprised to find an activity dedicated to sea life in landlocked Arizona, but we did and my kids had a blast here. This is a mostly indoor attraction, with some water play available outdoors.
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SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium also offers special events, such as animal encounters and mermaid viewing. Check online before you visit or ask a staff member what’s available that day. Our favorite part was walking through the 360-degree ocean tunnel. SEA LIFE does an awesome job at giving our kids a unique view of the ocean. Out of all the the kid friendly things to do in Tempe I’ve listed, this is the most preschooler friendly.
With cafés, shops, lush gardens and exciting experiences like Stingray Bay, Giraffe Encounter, Monkey Village, Safari Cruiser and many more, your visit to the Zoo will be memorable for the entire family. There’s also the opportunity to get a great look at animals indigenous to the desert in their natural habitat.
Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden is not technically inside Tempe but it’s right on the edge of Downtown Tempe. It’s easily accessible if you’re staying in Tempe. The Desert Botanical Garden is a living history museum featuring 55,000 desert plants from around the world on 55 cultivated acres. They offer an on-site restaurant, Gertrudes, that features a seasonal, ingredient driven menu showcasing local artisans and farmers. They also have a snack bar with outdoor seating that serves amazing, fresh sandwiches. There’s also a really cool gift shop that has all kinds of fun, local items like soaps and clothing…as well as local Arizona souvenirs.
Legoland Discovery Center
LEGOLAND Discovery Center is co-located with the Sea Life Discovery Center in the Arizona Mills shopping center. This is a small on space, big on fun attraction. We stayed for about three hours and honestly my kids would have stayed all day if we’d let them. There are two rides inside, a 4D theater, and multiple stations where you can build and create. There are also classes with a master builder you can sign up for and a food court with seating for the parents. Yay for seating for the parents, right?
Gallery of Scientific Exploration at Arizona State University
The Gallery of Scientific Exploration at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus is outfitted with kiosk-style interactive exhibits and large-format, high-definition monitors that display video from Earth-observing satellites and robotic probes of other worlds. This first-floor gallery invites visitors to explore earth and space sciences through digital media, public lectures, visible laboratories, and interactive displays. The university’s meteorite collection is on level 2. If you’re looking for another great indoor activity in Tempe, Sun Devil style, this could be it. You can also check out the ASU Art Museum.
Kid-friendly things to do in Tempe AZ for Tweens and Teens
Here’s a list of activities that are guaranteed not to produce eye rolls or wails of “I’m bored.” Just kidding. If I knew the secret to that I could retire and buy that island I’ve had my eye on. But, these are activities that are more geared toward older kids, especially active older kids.
Hike A Mountain (AKA Hayden Butte)
Not hike a mountain, hike A Mountain. It’s called A Mountain because of the gold letter A embedded in the side of the mountain. This is a nod to Arizona State University. The proper name is Hayden Butte but almost no one calls it that.
This is a moderate level hike that’s just off downtown. There’s ample parking around the area and lots of hikers to visit with on your way up and down. The top offers a great view of downtown Tempe and also of the airport runway. Most of the path is paved or includes man-made steps but there are a few places that are pretty rough terrain, particularly near the top.
As far as hikes go, this was pretty mild and my kids had no difficulty (but they’re used to hiking).
You will find the trail head just over the light rail tracks east of Mill Avenue at Third Street.
Hike Hole in the Rock at Papago Park
Hole in the Rock at Papago Park is right outside the Desert Botanical Garden, so you can combine a short hike here with your visit. Hole in the Rock is a natural geological formation located in a municipal park shared by Tempe and Phoenix. The name “hole in the rock” refers to a series of opening called tafoni that eroded in a small sandstone hill, presumably caused by water flow. Early inhabitants of the area may have used the opening in the rock to mark the seasons. If you can swing it, try to watch the sunset from up here.
This isn’t really a difficult hike, either. I’d call it moderate and my younger kids did fine but they’ve been out on trails since they were four. Your mileage may vary.
Spring Training – Cactus League
If you are a baseball fan, Tempe is a great place to be. Spring training is a popular time to be in Tempe, so get your tickets early and prepare for crowds. We watched the Angels play the Mariners at Diablo Stadium and had a wonderful time.
Tempe Town Lake at Tempe Beach Park
There’s a boat rental kiosk here where you can rent an electric pontoon boat, a kayak or a paddle boat. Tempe Town Lake is a great, tranquil place to explore when the weather is nice…and the weather in Tempe is almost always nice. They also offer bike rentals by the hour. More info here
Explore Downtown Tempe
There are a lot of fun restaurants, shops, bars (many with live music – check beforehand to see how kid friendly they are) you can walk to in the downtown area. There’s also a new AMC Movie Theater that has really sweet seats. I know, I know…you can see a movie at home but if you’re looking for an indoor activity (or to keep the peace and make everyone happy) then a movie is always a good option. If you’re comfortable with your teens seeing “their own” movie or sitting separate from you in the theater, you have a good chance of getting parent cool points.
The Main Event Entertainment
Main Event Entertainment operates high volume family entertainment centers throughout Texas and Arizona. The 58,000 square foot center in Tempe is home to 26 high quality recreational bowling lanes, laser tag, a gravity high ropes course, billiards and shuffleboard tables, more than 125 interactive games and a tempting array of food and beverage.
This is another place where older kids can have some autonomy. The bar/seating area has a good view of the front area, so we were comfortable letting our kids lose on the video games while we relaxed with a drink.
Arizona Mills Shopping Center
Arizona Mills Shopping Center is home to a theater (including an IMAX screen), an arcade and a wide variety of retail stores and restaurants. There’s Buckle, Aeropostale, Forever21, American Eagle and many other shops that appeal to teens. If you’re splitting your group up, consider pairing this with Legoland Discovery Center or Sea Life Arizona Aquarium, which is in the same location.
Snakes and Lattes
This is a restaurant/bar/coffee house that stands on its own as a Tempe eatery. You can’t come to Tempe and not check this place out – you just can’t. Snakes and Lattesis a place like absolutely no other. First, they have a great and inventive food and bar menu. I recommend the poutine…it’s hard to find in Texas and I was excited when I saw it on the menu. And, as their name suggests, there’s also an extensive coffee menu.
While the food and service is notable, what really makes Snakes and Lattes pop is the selection of board games. There are hundreds of board games, puzzles, card games, dice available for you to play at the flat fee of $5 per person and you can switch games as often as you’d like. They have every game you’ve ever heard of and a bunch you haven’t heard of. They have a dedicated games person who roves around making suggestions on game choices or giving assistance on game play. You can tell the games guru “We like trivia games,” or “We like things like Risk or Battleship but we want to try something new,” and they’ll introduce you to a new game. It’s very cool.
When you’re making your list of things to do in Tempe AZ with kids, you might not automatically think a coffeehouse/bar would be your place. I get that, but trust me, this is a great place for families. Their “younger kid friendly” selection is a little smaller but everyone will find something to enjoy.
Koli Equestrian Center
The one Tempe area thing we didn’t get to experience was horseback riding at Koli Equestrian Center in nearby Chandler AZ. They offer various horse riding experience for different levels of riders. My kids have never ridden a horse before and they have a Horseback 101 geared toward kids that I’d have loved to take my kids to…but we just weren’t able to fit it in. They can also coordinate carriage and hay wagon rides.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our recommendations for fun things to discover in Tempe. If you need more trip planning inspiration or other ideas for things to do with kids in Tempe AZ, check out the Tempe Tourism website. If you want a longer trip or have more time to explore the area, check out the nearby cities of Scottsdale and Mesa.