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Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips.

Youthful, breezy, and inclusive, sunny Tempe boasts everything we love in an Arizona city. Not to be confused with Tucson (or Tampa, Florida for that matter!), this snug desert oasis nestled in the heart of the Valley of the Sun offers chill student vibes, excellent shopping, dining and people watching along hip Mill Avenue, and a dynamite location just minutes from Scottsdale and Phoenix. But what makes it the true envy of other Valley cities is its proximity to nature. Here are five ways to enjoy Tempe’s great outdoors and vibrant cultural life at the same time.

ALSO: Now you can earn $50 Bonus Orbucks on Tempe hotels—limited time!

Discover a “window” to the world

Rise. Shine. Hike. Whether you’re conquering Camelback or day trekking out at Dreamy Draw, no other metro area in the U.S. offers such a dizzying array of nature trails within metropolitan limits. One of our faves is this cinch .3-mile, out-and-back stroll up to Hole in the Rock located within beloved Papago Park and just minutes from downtown Tempe. The eye-shaped opening offers stellar Valley views, and is especially striking at sunset.

Pair it with: After reaching this peak, wind down with a quartet of summits (so to speak) at Four Peaks Brewery, a craft beer hangout housed within a 19th-century Mission Revival building that once housed a dairy creamery and recording studio (which hosted Stevie Nicks). Now in its 25th year, Four Peaks offers both year-round and seasonal suds, plus bar eats like fish ‘n’ chips and OG burgers.

RELATED: Escape the cold at these 10 sunny Arizona resorts

Float away

It’s no mirage. Tempe is a true desert oasis and that body of water slicing through downtown is a two-mile stretch of the Salt River, known locally as Tempe Town Lake. It’s gorgeous to look at, but don’t stop there. Do as the locals do and get out on the water. Aquatic activities include squad-friendly 10-person donut boats, 8-person electric pontoons, swan, duck and dragon pedal boats, kayaks, and standup paddleboards. Head to the marina at Tempe Beach Park for rentals but remember: Swimming is prohibited.

Credit-Tempe-Tourism

Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism

Pair it with: Those pedal boats will give your gams quite the workout. Carbo-load ahead of time either at Tampopo Ramen, a beloved local noodle shop, or at Oregano’s, a local bistro serving up about a dozen different pastas as well as both savory pizzas and the sweet Original Pizza Cookie (best not to confuse them).

Hike a mountain called ‘A’ Mountain

A lot of folks in Tempe are thinking about grades. That’s because Tempe is home to Arizona State University. But students aren’t the only ones clamoring for an ‘A’. Strap on some hiking shoes and head out for this .9-mile out and back trek up to the top of ‘A’ Mountain at Hayden Butte, so named thanks to the 60-foot gold letter ‘A’ emblazoned near its peak. Suited for all skill levels, hit it up in spring if you can when the hillside is covered in wildflowers.

Photo courtesy of Tim Trumble

Pair it with: Even if you planned your hike for the morning, you probably still worked up a sweat. Stroll down Mill Avenue until you reach the impressive (and air-conditioned) ASU Art Museum. Named “the single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona” by Art in America magazine, this architectural stunner contains works that are regional, Latinx focused, and contemporary, plus it houses an impressive ceramics collection.

Soak up the sun

Tempe isn’t just the home of the Sun Devils, the Arizona State University mascot. It’s also home to sun worshipers and if you happen to be in need of a “ray-cation” a great place to spread out a blanket and relax with book in hand or headphones blasting is Tempe Beach Park. This extension of Tempe Town Lake also offers five miles of paths for biking, jogging and skating paired with skyline views. Time your visit right and you may end up smack in the middle of a beloved local fest—though many are postponed until 2022.

Tempe Town Lake

Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism

Pair it with: So maybe you came for the sun, but aren’t keen on grass-stained board shorts. No sweat. Most of the city’s best hotels come equipped with pools (cannonballs not recommended). The funky Graduate Tempe features a plunge pool, free bike rentals and tons of quirky Southwest charm, and it’s located right next to the ASU campus. Meanwhile, both Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown and AC Hotel by Marriott Phoenix/Tempe Downtown boast rooftop pools with killer views. (Tip: Pick Canopy for fast access to Mill Avenue and AC by Marriott for its close proximity to Tempe Town Lake.)

See what’s blooming

Aloe vulgaris? Opuntia filipendula? No need to bone up on all the Latin names for cacti and succulents, though there is no doubt you’ll see both of these and more at the Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park. This 140-acre oasis is crazy beautiful and an excellent way to tour the desert without having to pack hiking boots or work up a sweat—unless you visit in summer. Highlights include the Butterfly Pavilion and Gertrude’s restaurant (reservations recommended).

Credit-Tempe-Tourism

Photo courtesy of Tempe Tourism

Pair it with: From roses to rosé and from bouquets of flowers to the bouquet of a fine zinfandel, raise a glass after strolling the gardens with a visit to one of Tempe’s trendy wine bars, including local favorite Postino Annex, biodynamic Caffe Boa Bistro and Wine Bar, and Salut Kitchen Bar, featuring a custom-glass garage door that spills onto a dog-friendly patio.

Tagged: Arizona

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Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason is a Lead Content Specialist for Expedia Group, and manages content initiatives across numerous Expedia-owned brands. His work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Time Out, the Huffington Post, Chicago Magazine, Passport and many others.

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