Planning a trip to Tempe when you don't like Arizona
August 5, 2022 4:31 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to go see a NHL game in a minor hockey league stadium. Which means going to Tempe, AZ to see an Arizona Coyotes game. What else is there to do there (or the surrounding area)?

The "longer inside" is that I'm a big hockey fan and I'm pretty intrigued by the idea of watching, e.g, my favorite team the NY Rangers or Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers play hockey in an arena better suited for, like, a really good high school team from suburban Minneapolis.

I'm a life-long East Coaster but my mom is from one of the more rural parts of California and I have been to Arizona to visit extended family in my youth. It was a brief trip and I was very young but suffice to say, I did not care for it and all these years later I'm still skeptical that planning a big trip to AZ is something that I (let alone my wife) would enjoy or that's it worth planning a big vacation around. But I also do kinda want to do this hockey game thing and I'm open to the idea that there are things in Arizona that I've misjudged or haven't heard about.

My wife and I are both also interested in visiting New Mexico. We've heard it's the Land Of Enchantment. If we're going to travel from the Northeast to the Southwest then it kinda seems like maybe we should visit New Mexico too while we're there. But I have no idea how far the interesting bits of NM are from the greater Phoenix area. Maybe it's not feasible.

In any event, what does planning an American Southwest trip look like when your starting point is Tempe, AZ and you don't care for the desert?
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Arizona and the entire region has amazing outdoor stuff that isn't just barren desert if you're venturing out of the Phoenix metro area. Are you open to any of that or are you primarily looking for urban destinations?
posted by theory at 4:36 PM on August 5

From Phoenix to Santa Fe NM is only 7 1/2 hours. I'm a New Mexican, and there are many things you can enjoy in our great state on the way to that other state. Albuquerque (6 1/2 hrs to Phoenix) is a great city with cool evenings, many brew pubs, a tram, and an internationally acclaimed flamenco scene.

On your way to the other state from the New Mexico Rio Grande corridor, you can pass through some amazing red rock vistas, visit pueblo communities, and travel through mountains that cross the Continental Divide.

The White Mountains in AZ are cool, with beautiful lakes and places for hiking and fishing.

Do come down and explore the southwest. It is beautiful and we would be glad to welcome you!
posted by furtheryet at 5:42 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

Spend the time in Tucson which is (in my humble opinion) far superior to Phoenix in almost every way, and day trip to Phoenix for the game.

Tucson has excellent hiking, has the Desert Museum, the best and most diverse Mexican food outside of Mexico and an otherwise excellent food scene, a great botanical garden, Mount Lemmon, and is generally a good jumping off point for lots of other things in Arizona.
posted by honeybee413 at 5:58 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]

It’s funny you post this; my FB news feed blew up with “recommended for you” posts about the arena situation today. The good news is that, the hockey arena situation notwithstanding, Phoenix is a really big city, and has big city amenities. Aside from the heat, you could spend a week doing normal big city stuff and not realize you’re in the southwest. I went to the science museum while I was there, which was fun. There are restaurants and bars in Scottsdale, and lots of stuff around the university in Tempe, which I thought was a good but not great college town.

IMO the coolest part of New Mexico is the eastern part, which is at least six hours from Phoenix. And those six hours are a lot of desert and not much else.

Personally, I’d probably go north to Utah and do some of the parks.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:15 PM on August 5

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is definitely worth a visit if you think you have even the slightest interest in musical instruments. I can pretty much guarantee that it's way, way more interesting than you're imagining.

Obviously there's a lot of good Mexican food. For me, that alone would almost be enough to make it worth the trip.

You could drive up to see the Grand Canyon or drive a shorter distance to see the red rocks in Sedona. There are mountains that aren't too far from Phoenix or Tucson if you like the outdoors but just don't like the desert. There's Kartchner Caverns State Park down near Tucson if you would enjoy visiting a cave.

If you like hockey, maybe you also like baseball? I guess people like watching spring training games in Arizona. I think spring training season overlaps with hockey season.

I don't know that you would find New Mexico any more enchanting than Arizona. There are parts that are more mountain and less desert but there are areas like than in Arizona, too. I would look up some tourist info on Santa Fe and see if you think it looks appealing. If not, you probably won't like the rest of the state either.
posted by Redstart at 6:46 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

In addition to the Musical Instrument Museum, I LOVED the Botanical Gardens. Lots of cacti so if you don't like desert don't go, but I had a wonderful time- lots of roadrunners and lizards and stuff to look at. They are open late for the heat in the summer. Both of these made my work trip to Tempe really memorable. For food: I loved La Santisima. There was also really good Navajo fry-bread around, so look for that. I can't remember where I went but it was a cash only side of the road sandwich/taco place.
posted by clarinet at 8:08 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

The Botanical garden is great. There are tons of urban bike trails (Scottsdale Greenbelt and lots of canalside trials are both accessible from Tempe). Climb the A mountain. Have a lovely dinner at a restaurant patio (everyday because the weather is almost always perfect*).

*Most of this assumes you will visit in the period from October thru March? But we still do tons of biking and outdoor eating (under misters) even in the hotter months.

I haven’t spent as much time in Tucson but also has very accessible hiking and biking right in the city and even more if you venture out of town a little.

As lifelong northeasters recently transplanted here, we also spend a fair amount of every day time just gawking at how much sky there is here and how surreal the sunsets are, like every day, when you’re just driving home from the grocery store…
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:47 PM on August 5

Drive up I17 to Flagstaff. Rent a decent sportscar if you can. It's a really beautiful twisty turny mountain drive and Flagstaff is by far the best small city on I40. It's also in the mountains, not the desert.

New Mexico rules, but the north part IMO is far better and Phoenix is on I10 in the south. So I40 to Flagstaff to Albuquerque to points north in NM.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:47 AM on August 8

I say this as someone who also doesn't think much of the desert as a place to drive past, so I40 is the way to go because you get some time in other biomes (as my kids call them) and northern Arizona and northern NM is the Grand Canyon and small mountain towns more active during the snow skiing season.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:52 AM on August 8

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