12 Wheelchair Friendly Things to Do in Tempe Arizona (and Where to Stay)

When most people think of traveling in Arizona, only one thing comes to mind probably – the Grand Canyon. It is one of America’s most awe-inspiring sights and certainly deserves to be thought of and visited, but Arizona also offers so much more that is worth seeing. During my recent trip in the state, I had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon for the first time, but before heading north to the canyon, I spent a few days in the city of Tempe, Arizona.
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To be completely honest, I knew nothing about Tempe before I visited. I couldn’t locate it on a map and I didn’t even know if it was in northern, southern, eastern, or western Arizona. However, within just one day in the city, I fell in love with it and it’s now my favorite city in the southwestern US. From experiencing the desert (and seeing cacti for the first time) to playing more board games than I’ve played in the past 15 years and much more, I had such a fun trip in Tempe and am already itching to visit again. Whether you’re in Arizona to view the majesty of the Grand Canyon or would simply like to check out a new accessible city, make it a point to discover these wheelchair accessible things to do in Tempe Arizona –
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Fun Things to Do in Tempe Arizona 

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Roll around downtown Tempe’s Mill Avenue

Downtown Tempe is a bustling area with loads of restaurants and shops to keep you busy, but even if you just prefer to people-watch, Mill Avenue is the place to be. Tempe is the home of Arizona State University, which is near all the fun of Mill Avenue. As a college town, you’ll find no shortage of nightlife. Whether you prefer to go bar-hopping or enjoy a nice evening with your family, almost anything is possible on Mill Avenue.
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Mill Avenue was my first stop during my time in Tempe and I found it very easy to roll from one place to the next. There were smooth curb cuts and every store that I saw had a wheelchair accessible entrance. Some of my favorite shops were Candy Addict, Sparky’s Old Town Creamery, and the various souvenir stores.
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 wheelchair accessible things to do in Tempe Arizona
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Candy Addict is a large shop selling all kinds of nostalgic and contemporary candies. Remember the old candy Slap Stix? I couldn’t help but buy way too many of them. I’m addicted to them. Send help please.
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Sparky’s is an ice cream shop and they offer every flavor that you can imagine… and some that you maybe can’t imagine. I saw a dark chocolate raspberry habanero ice cream that looked interesting and was talked into trying a sample of it. It was… interesting, to say the least. Next time, I think I’ll just go for the chocolate ice cream, which is a lot tastier.
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Experience the desert in Papago Park
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When I think of Arizona, I think of desert, so I took every opportunity to experience as much of the desert as I could. One great place to do that was Papago Park. Located just minutes from downtown Tempe, Papago Park has tons of cacti, rock formations, and hiking trails. Not all of the trails are wheelchair friendly, but as a wheelchair user, I particularly enjoyed one area of the park.
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Near Papago Park’s “Window in the Rock” (a rock formation that able-bodied visitors can hike to the top of), there was an accessible trail. The asphalt trail is 1.2 miles long and it is relatively flat. In the second half of the trail, there are some spots that are more steep. I didn’t do the whole trail because it was about 110° Fahrenheit when I visited, but I loved rolling on about half of the trail. The views were killer and even though I was in a city, it felt like I was in the middle of the desert.
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Shop till you drop at Arizona Mills
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I have a confession to make: sometimes I’m a bit of a shopaholic. I can never resist buying a few souvenirs (by “few”, I mean a lot) if I’m in a new city or way too many clothes if I’m in a mall. With more than 185 stores to choose from, I nearly maxed out my credit cards at Arizona Mills. I’m just kidding… or am I?!
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Arizona Mills is the largest indoor, climate controlled outlet and entertainment destination in Arizona. All of your favorite clothing stores are here, but there’s also a Rainforest Cafe, the state’s largest IMAX theater, LEGOLAND Discovery Center, an aquarium (more about that coming up next!), and many more dining options. I loved wandering around inside Arizona Mills for a couple hours. It was the perfect respite from the intense Arizona summer heat.
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Go underwater (kind of) at SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium
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Inside Arizona Mills is the SEA LIFE Arizona Aquarium. I always enjoy visiting aquariums, so of course I had to check it out. Plus, how fantastic is it that there’s an aquarium inside the mall?! I’d consider that a two-for-one deal! The aquarium is fully accessible for wheelchair users and costs $24.95 per person for ages 13 and up. However, you can save $5 by booking your ticket online before you go.
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There are more than 250 species of animals on display at SEA LIFE, so it took me about an hour to see everything. Some of my favorites to observe were the sharks, seahorses, and stingrays. One really cool area was the Ocean Tunnel, where animals surround both sides of you and sharks can even swim over your head. I’ve been through similar tunnels several times in the past, but it never gets any less exciting. For a real treat, try to schedule your visit during one of SEA LIFE’s talks or feedings. Check the schedule here.
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Eat All of Tempe’s Delicious Food
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Honestly, I could probably write an entire blog post about how great the food in Tempe is, but instead, I’ll let you know about a few of my favorite restaurants. Tempe may be known for its southwestern flair and Tex-Mex, but no matter what you’re craving, you’ll easily be able to find it in the city. Here are three of my favorite places to eat in Tempe:
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Daily Jam is located on Mill Avenue and is open from 7am-3pm daily. They serve breakfast and lunch, and while I’m sure the lunch is delicious, you really should make an effort to visit for breakfast. Why? Because Daily Jam’s red velvet waffles are AMAZING and were named the best waffle in all of Arizona by the Food Network. Trust me, they’re worthy of the honor and you haven’t lived until you have tried them.
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Daily Jam’s red velvet waffle

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Mexican food is probably my favorite type of food in the world and as a taco aficionado, I can highly recommend Macayo’s Depot Cantina. The restaurant has a cool, authentic Mexican design and the outdoor patio is huge, so depending on your mood and how hot it is, you can sit inside or outside. I had the fish tacos for my entree, which were great, but my favorite item was the Mexican corn. It was roasted corn served off the cob and topped with queso and salsa. So much yum!
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Macayo’s chips, guacamole, and salsa

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One of the last places that I ate in Tempe was Culinary Dropout, and I think I saved the best for last. I met up with my friend Vicky, who’s behind the travel blog Buddy the Traveling Monkey, for dinner at Culinary Dropout and we both agreed that it was an excellent dinner choice. We started with the soft pretzels and provolone fondue (it’s a must-order if you love fondue as much as I do!) and then I got the sweet corn ravioli for my entree. I’ve never thought of doing a corn ravioli before and I was a bit nervous about how it’d be, but it blew me away. Culinary Dropout also had live music and games, including cornhole. This is the spot to be for a fun evening out!
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Culinary Dropout's pretzels and provolone fondue

Culinary Dropout’s pretzels and provolone fondue

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Shop some more at Tempe Marketplace
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Unlike Arizona Mills, the spectacular Tempe Marketplace is an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment complex. There are over 100 restaurants and shops available for you to browse around in across the 1.3 million square feet of retail space. It is expansive, but you’ll have no trouble rolling in the heat, assuming that you go when it’s hot like I did, as there are plenty of shops to roll inside of and see what they have to offer.
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While at Tempe Marketplace, I ate at Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que and it was delicious! If you’re wanting good, southern food, Lucille’s has plenty of it. From sweet tea to fried green tomatoes and much more, everything was full of flavor and tasty. Other dining options at Tempe Marketplace include Dave & Buster’s, California Pizza Kitchen, and even Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to name just a few.
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Lucille’s sweet tea and biscuits

Lucille’s sweet tea and biscuits

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Bring out your creative side at ASU Art Museum
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I’ve visited many art museums around the world, from the Salvador Dali Museum in Catalonia to a small art museum in Muskegon, Michigan, and the more museums that I visit, the more I fall in love with art. Whenever I have a chance to admire art within a new destination, I jump at the chance. In Tempe, I was able to check out the ASU Art Museum and I quickly discovered that it is changing the game for university art and art museums.
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The ASU Art Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday and surprisingly, admission is completely free, but donations are happily accepted. New exhibits frequently showcase at the museum, but I found the focus on Latin American works beautiful. The “Clayblazers: Women Artists of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s” exhibit was fascinating as well.
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 wheelchair accessible things to do in Tempe Arizona
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The museum is wheelchair friendly with accessible parking spaces in the main parking lot and an elevator from floor to floor.
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Play board games and eat at Snakes & Lattes
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I thought about including Snakes & Lattes in my food section up above because technically it is a restaurant, but it’s sooo much more than that. This place is hands-down one of the most fun things to do in Tempe Arizona, so I think it’s worthy of its own section. I seriously could have stayed here all day and night. In fact, I was almost late to a show at ASU Gammage because I couldn’t leave Snakes & Lattes. What makes it such a fun place? The thousands of games!!
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That’s right, Snakes & Lattes has literally thousands of board games to choose from. Whether you prefer the classics like Monopoly and Scrabble or new, innovative games from Japan, they have them all. My mom and I started by playing Taboo and then we ordered some food. I got the vegan disco fries, which were a vegan poutine made of fries, portobello gravy, vegan cheddar cheese, scallions, and tomatoes. It was really good and as a poutine lover, I would highly recommend it. Snakes & Lattes also offers cocktails, beer, and wine, which could make the games seem even more fun if you drink enough.
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Vegan disco fries

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We finished our visit to Snakes & Lattes by playing the board game of Family Feud. I have always loved the TV show and my mom actually had this same exact version of the board game when she was a kid, so we both had a fun time playing it. If you only have enough time in Tempe to visit one restaurant, make it Snakes & Lattes! Not only will you get a great meal, but you’ll also have one of the most fun dining experiences ever.
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See a show at ASU Gammage
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If ASU Gammage has a show going on while you’re in town, consider yourself lucky and get tickets to see one of Broadway’s hottest shows. Not only are the upcoming shows in the 2019-2020 season wonderful, but the ASU Gammage building is an attraction in itself. It was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the lobby galleries on the inside feature paintings by local artists as well. Be sure to get to the show a bit early, so you can admire the building beforehand.
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During my time in Tempe, the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was touring in the city and I had the exciting opportunity to see it. The musical was modern, fun, and incorporated the same elements that made me love the movie. My wheelchair accessible seats were in the second row from the stage, so I had a terrific view. I’ve never been that close at a Broadway style show before and it was awesome to actually be able to see the expressions on the actor’s faces.
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Some of Broadway’s best shows are touring at ASU Gammage in its upcoming season. For example, you could see The Book of Mormon (August 6th-11th, 2019), Anastasia (October 29th-November 3rd, 2019), or Mean Girls (April 21st-26th, 2020). To see the full schedule of shows, click here.
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Go for a swim (and much more) at Ability360
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Easily one of the coolest and most accommodating places I’ve ever visited, Ability360 is a place for everyone. The Ability360 Center houses several disability organizations, including Arizona Autism United and the Multiple Sclerosis Society, but the highlight for me was the Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center.
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The Sports & Fitness Center allows everyone, no matter the disability, the opportunity to play and work out for just $5 per daily drop in. It is open every day except Sunday and is easy to get to, as there is a new Valley Metro light rail stop directly in front of Ability360. The Sports Center is one of only two centers in the U.S. that is designed specifically for those with disabilities. Whether you plan to work out or not, you should certainly see this incredible place. It opened my eyes as to how accessible the world could truly be.
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The pools included not only a chair lift, but also an elevator, which could get someone down into the water. I’ve never seen a pool with an elevator, so that was impressive to see. On the indoor sports courts, you may see a game of power soccer, wheelchair basketball, or quad rugby going on. And if you live in the Tempe area, maybe you can even join a team!
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Ability360 is also home to a 7,500 square foot fitness center, where anyone can work out. There were wheelchair accessible weight machines, recumbent and upright bikes, and much more. The great thing about the fitness center is that you could be working out on one machine in your wheelchair, and your family member or friend could be working out right beside you on a traditional machine. The entire fitness center is very inclusive and accessible changing rooms are available, so don’t worry about putting in too much work and sweating a lot.
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In addition to these incredible features, Ability360 also has a beautiful magazine that you should subscribe to. It’s packed with useful information about living with a disability and is called LivAbility Magazine. It is completely free and you can subscribe to it here.
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Learn about the history of firefighting at the Hall of Flame Fire Museum
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Firefighting has always seemed incredible, yet wild at the same time, to me. I cannot imagine how much courage it takes to run inside a burning building, so I’m tremendously grateful to the brave people that do so. While in Tempe, I learned about the history of firefighting and gained an even greater appreciation at the Hall of Flame Fire Museum.
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The Hall of Flame was much larger than I expected and I would recommend planning at least a couple hours for a visit. With nearly 100 restored fire trucks on display, dating all the way back to 1725, a theater with a short film about the history of the museum, and a Hall of Heroes, which honors firefighters that have died in the line of duty, there is no shortage of things to see.
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The Hall of Flame costs $10 per adult and is open every day. It’s fully wheelchair accessible, but don’t try to wheel up onto one of the old fire trucks, as that’s a big no-no. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. *just kidding*
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Go on a flashlight tour of Desert Botanical Garden
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During my last night in the Tempe area, I visited Desert Botanical Garden. During the summer, through August 31st, the garden has self-guided flashlight tours, where you can visit from 7-9:30pm and see what the desert is like at night. It’s only $14.95 per adult and activities like making s’mores cost a bit extra. It wasn’t overly crowded when I visited for the flashlight tour, so it was easy for me to roll around the garden and admire the various cacti, plants, and even some rattlesnakes that were on display.
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Whether you’re exploring at night for the special flashlight tours or during the day, you’ll discover just how amazing the 140+ acres of Desert Botanical Garden are. It is absolutely gorgeous and there are more than 50,000 plant displays showcased, making for some epic shots for Instagram. Who knew that the desert could be so beautiful?!
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Where to Stay in Tempe

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Courtyard Tempe Downtown
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While in Tempe, I stayed at the Courtyard Tempe Downtown. I’ve stayed at several Courtyard by Marriott properties in the past and they’re always great in my experience, and this one was no different. It was the perfect place to stay near all of the action of downtown Tempe.
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My wheelchair accessible room had 2 beds (a hoyer lift could roll under them easily), a desk, TV, and it was located on the first floor. It had an accessible patio area, which was nice to sit on as well.
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The bathroom had a roll-in shower with a fold-down shower seat, grab bars around the toilet, and a pull-under sink. I loved how spacious both the bedroom and bathroom were. I didn’t feel cramped at all.
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 wheelchair accessible things to do in Tempe Arizona
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In addition to having a fantastic room, the hotel’s pool and jacuzzi both had an access lift and the hotel staff was incredibly nice. I would highly recommend staying at the Courtyard Tempe Downtown if you’re needing an accessible hotel in a great location.
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Check prices at the Courtyard Tempe Downtown by clicking here.
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While I only had a few days in the city, the many accessible and fun things to do in Tempe Arizona kept me busy. I enjoyed everything, from learning about firefighting to just browsing the various shops on Mill Avenue. Whether you’re an active accessible traveler or prefer a more relaxed pace, Tempe has something for everyone and is certainly worth visiting. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your own Tempe getaway!
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*Thank you to Tempe Tourism for working with me on this trip and showing me the best things to do in Tempe Arizona! While most of my experiences in Tempe were complimentary, all opinions expressed are authentic and my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through on a link, you won’t pay a penny more, but we’ll receive a slight commission which helps us keep this information available to you. Thanks!  
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