Family Fun in Tempe and Chandler, Arizona
We’ve just returned from our first trip to sunny Arizona with a new attitude towards the Phoenix area, Tempe and Chandler specifically. Prior to visiting, we hadn’t given Arizona much thought as a stand alone destination. Sure, famous attractions like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley come to mind, but we didn’t view Arizona as a good place to bring young kids. Hindsight has proven that perception wrong.
This was Baby Connor’s first flight and it was our first big trip together as a family of four.
For us, travel to Arizona makes a lot of sense. First, it’s a short 3 hour flight from Vancouver and there are lots of direct flights. Secondly, it’s sunny 330 days of the year, so the chance of showers is highly unlikely. Finally, it’s a kid friendly destination with plenty of activities for kids of all ages (and parents that are still young at heart).
If you do visit the Tempe/Chandler area, it’s smart to rent a car because the activities are spread across a large area.
1) Rawhide Western Town
Located in Chandler, Rawhide Western Town was a clear winner for everyone. Set like an old Western Town in the dusty desert, there are burro rides for the kids, old western shows, a petting zoo, gold panning and many themed stores that take you back in time.
There are special events and attractions throughout the year. Fortunately for us, there was a beer and wine festival during our visit. We paid an additional $30 to get a wrist band and 15 drink tickets, which were then redeemed at each beer and wine vendor for a sample.
If you visit during lunch or dinner, you can dine at the infamous Rawhide Steakhouse. Some favorites include BBQ baby back ribs, the Gunslinger (filet mignon) and the Trail Boss (Rawhide’s famous BBQ combination). But bring your appetite because the portions are enormous.
It’s free to get into the venue, but if you want to participate in certain activities/rides/shows it’s best to purchase a wrist band for $15. It costs $5 for parking.
Before going, it’s best to check the Rawhide website. They are closed Monday’s and Tuesday’s and hours of operation vary depending on the season.
2) Visit downtown Chandler and Tempe
Downtown Chandler is a great place to stroll and get something to eat. We walked by a number of bars and restaurants that looked very trendy and kid friendly. We dined at Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant, a long time local favorite located on the main strip, and for dessert we visited Paletas Betty for handmade Mexican pops (pictured above).
We stayed in Downtown Tempe at the Tempe Mission Palms, which is a very nice hotel with a rooftop pool and beautiful courtyard that’s surrounded by orange trees. Tempe is a University town so there’s no shortage of drinking establishments and retail shops.
If you like beer, be sure to check out World of Beer – there’s LOTS of beer on tap. A great spot for brunch is NCounter. It serves a delicious banana french toast and has a kids menu with fun Micky Mouse pancakes.
3) Rent a boat a cruise Tempe Town Lake
Yes, you read it right. You can rent a boat in the desert.
Tempe Town Lake boat rentals have paddle boats, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, and also motor boats. Braydon really wanted to go on a boat, but we were nervous about him going in a paddle boat, so we opted for a motorized boat instead. The boat is covered, which gives nice protection from the sun, and it’s easy to drive.
The lake is not very big, so you won’t get lost. One to two hours is enough time.
4) The Phoenix Zoo
Only a $15 dollar cab ride from Downtown Tempe, the Phoenix Zoo is a must visit when staying in the Phoenix area (even if you don’t have kids). We were pleasantly surprised at the variety of animals at the zoo (read about our visit here).
It’s quite big, so it’s best to go in the morning (while it’s cool) and give yourself at least 3 hours to see the entire zoo. There are multiple restaurants and it’s very stroller friendly.
The cost is $20 per adult and $10 for children 3 and older, but everything else costs extra (including the tram). Therefore, it’s good to plan ahead and budget accordingly if you wish to do special activities, like feed the giraffes and stingrays or go on the FlyWire Zipline Ride.
Or, you can purchase a Wild Admission ticket that includes unlimited, all-day access to Stingray Bay, Safari Train Tours and Endangered Species Carousel.
5) Have a game night
New to Tempe is Main Event, a 50,000 square foot entertainment complex that’s loaded with activities for kids of all ages.
Main Event has laser tag, bowling, billiards, a gravity rope course, and over 100 video games. You load up a card with money and each game earns points that you can cash out at the end of the night for prizes.
We spent 3 hours at Main Event and that was just for dinner and a few games. There’s enough action to keep you and your little ones entertained for hours and hours.
6) Bird Watching at Veterans Oasis Park
Located in Chandler, Veterans Oasis Park is a great spot for bird watching and light hiking. We witnessed lots of different birds, a pair of burrowing owls, and huge jack rabbits that looked more like tiny kangaroos.
It’s best to get a guide to help with the bird watching. Bird watching tours are on the first Saturday of every month from November-April starting at 8am to with the last tour leaving at 11am. Binoculars and guidebooks are provided.
There’s limited shade, so it’s better to make this a morning activity to avoid the afternoon heat. Make sure you bring sun protection, closed-toe footwear, and drinking water.
7) Visit SEA Life Arizona Aquarium
We were very impressed by the Sea Life Arizona Aquarium. Located in the Arizona Mills mall (along with an IMAX theater, Game Works and the popular Rainforest Cafe), it takes about an hour to walk through the exhibits.
Sea Life Arizona is a 26,000 square foot aquarium with more than 30 display tanks, 12 habitat zones, over 5,000 creatures and an Ocean Tunnel with 360 degree views (pictured above). The tanks are low to the ground, which is perfect for toddler viewing while on foot or in a stroller.
Admission prices are $18 for adults and $13 for children 3+ but if you buy online ticket prices are 20% cheaper.
These are just a few of the family friendly activities we experienced during our stay in the Tempe and Chandler area. There’s also a seemingly infinite number of outdoor parks and recreation facilities, like the popular Tumbleweed Park.
Have you visited the Phoenix area? Where are some of your favourite spots?
Share your feedback in the comments section below, we’d love to read about them!