By Christine Tibbetts
CNHI News Service
A desert in downtown. The fragile and famous Sonoran Desert. Aquarium inside a shopping mall. Paddle boarding on a city lake.
This is Tempe, Arizona.
METRO light rail starts it all from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and connects Tempe from end to end.
Desert is the scenery I wanted in Arizona, and it’s accessible from any Tempe hotel.
Bike paths, 170 miles of them, include desert preserves.
Papago is one name to remember, and “A” Mountain for desert, park, mountain, visible from city center.
Claiming to be America’s largest municipal park, South Mountain Park/Preserve has 58 miles of hike, bike, horse ride trails.
That’s Tempe’s style: big park, city location.
Camelback Mountain is here too with strenuous hiking trails.
Sports not mandatory. Food, drink, theater, concerts and exhibitions fill walking-distance districts and neighborhoods.
Universities add zest to destinations; is it students or faculty supporting restaurants, bars, music and performances?
Doesn’t matter to visitor-me; lots of strong, local businesses means travelers have choices.
Arizona State University with 70,000 students isn’t a hidden-away ivy covered entity.
ASU is downtown, the fabric of Tempe, with museums and galleries, 20 free, concert halls, sports stadiums and an arboretum.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Gammage performing arts hall on campus; I recommend seeing what’s showing when you go to Tempe.
Mall visiting never tops my list of things to do, but that’s home to Sea Life so Arizona Mills is the place to access 5,000 sea creatures.
Easy stroll past 30 display tanks, kid-friendly with pop-up viewing tubes to insert your face into the habitats.
One tank is a 360-degree experience with water overhead, underfoot and all around, called Ocean Tunnel.
Makes sense that Sea Life is an engaging kind of place; its owner is Merlin Entertainment, a British company that also owns LEGOLAND amusement parks and Madame Tussauds' wax museums.