Tempe, Arizona is a city of surprises

An afternoon in Tempe is only enough time for a glimpse of this vibrant city. But if that’s all the time you have, there are some marvelous ways to spend it. Opt for a meal at one of the dozens of locally owned restaurants. We chose Caffe Boa Bistro and Wine Bar for lunch where I had dessert and a glass of wine—who can resist homemade tiramisu? Alex had a panini and salad, also tasty.

If Tucson and Phoenix were overwhelming in size, scope and speed, Tempe was a wonderful way to wind down and finish off our southwest trip. It’s a simple town to navigate with large signage, abundant public parking and humor tucked into unexpected places.

There are three jackrabbits you’ll want to seek out just off Mill Avenue (and I understand there are some tiny bunnies scattered here and there). At 8, 12 and 14 feet tall, they’re hard to miss even if you don’t go on the search for them. There’s a walking guide to the art scattered around downtown Tempe, you can download it here.

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A bit of meandering down main drag South Mill Street led us to the Tempe Town Lake, a thriving park area even in February. The two-mile long lake was created from damming the dry Salt River and adding water. The lake serves the municipal purpose of flood protection but adds to the livelihood of the community with its recreational opportunities. This is a place for lots of hot-day activities—both on the water (paddling, electric boats) and alongside it: running, picnicking and enjoying a slide area to be unveiled this spring.

On the walk to the lake, we passed a huge abandoned building that turned out to be a historic marker—the Hayden Flour Mill. The mill was instrumental in the growth of Tempe and the site of flour operations from 1874 until 1998. There are windows available for peeking in and exhibits outside for education.

From October through May, Sundays will find 6th Street converted to an open air market with music, brunch and interactive art. That’s a good reason to plan for a weekend stay. If you’re there on a Thursday, seek out the Hayden Square Amphitheater for “Live Music, Beer + Wine and Food from Downtown Tempe Eateries.” What a great way to sample the city’s artistic side—from cuisine to tunes.

Lest you think Tempe is nothing more than a college town—home to America’s largest public University, Arizona State—think again. Both ZipRecruiter and Endurance International Group have their headquarters here with plans to expand both real estate and number of employees in 2017. Other employers of note include Insight Computers, Wells Fargo, Honeywell, and Edward Jones Investments. For a population of under 200,000, the city thrives far beyond university bounds.

The city is 10 minutes from Sky Harbor International Airport and has a Metro system of both light rail and buses.

If you have more than an afternoon, check out the Tempe History Museum locate on E. Southern Avenue. If you can’t get there, you can easily view exhibits through their online museum, click here. What a great way to tour the city’s history.

Tempe Street

Tempe Street