People flock to Tempe for entertainment. And why not, with Mill Avenue, Tempe Town Lake, Sun Devil Stadium, and Broadway shows at Gammage Auditorium.
But Tempe also has many lesser-known reasons that make it a great place to while away weekend hours — without the mileage of out-of-town travel or a Scottsdale-sized budget.
For instance, you can catch a fish, catch a wave or catch up on local history. Then break for lunch with an order of baba ganouj (a roasted eggplant dip pronounced "babaganoosh") or a plate of bangers and mash at one of the city’s many ethnic restaurants.
In Tempe, it’s fairly easy to get "caught up" with things to do and see.
KIWANIS WAVE POOL
Three-foot waves roll in at half price Saturday afternoon at Kiwanis Recreation Center, 6111 S. All-America Way. (480) 350-5201. Wave pool hours are 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays. The admission price of $6 for adults and $3 for children is cut in half starting at 2:30 p.m. The indoor and heated pool (a mild 84 degrees) also offers a 122-footlong, 16-foot-high doublespiral water slide. And inflatable rafts, for riding the waves, can be rented for a nominal fee.
Afterward, stroll around the park’s lake, check your swing in the batting cages or just watch a softball game. Kiwanis Park is just south of Baseline Road and Mill Avenue. For information about the park and its amenities, go to www.tempe.gov/pkrec/KRC.
TEMPE HISTORICAL MUSEUM
Squeezed between Tempe Public Library (billed as the largest library in the East Valley) and the Pyle Adult Recreation Center is the Tempe Historical Museum, 809 E. Southern Ave. (480) 350-5100. The museum is closed Fridays but open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Though the museum can be overlooked among other city amenities parked on the southwest corner of Rural Road and Southern Avenue, it offers 8,000 square feet of display space that includes a permanent historical perspective of Tempe (founded in 1871) as well as two galleries for rotating exhibits. Check out artifacts, interactive displays, the small-scale dwelling of some of Tempe’s earlier residents — the Hohokam — and more for the free admission price.
At Papago Ponds, which straddle the border between Tempe and Phoenix, the intrepid fisherman can haul up to the daily limit of sunfish, trout, catfish and largemouth bass. The stocked ponds are next to the Phoenix Zoo and Papago Park (turn in at the zoo parking lot off Galvin Parkway) and require an urban fishing license ($16). (602) 256-3220. Hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The rocky terrain provides ideal fishing spots while the nearby park offers picnic ramadas as well as hiking and biking opportunities. Two bathrooms are conveniently located at the shallow ponds (an average depth of 7 feet), which, when put together, would equal a six-acre lake.
Travel the world, at least gastronomically, at Tempe restaurants. Sample Israeli cuisine, such as baba ganouj, at Sabuddy, 825 W. University Drive, except on Sundays, when the restaurant is closed. (480) 894-8387. Sip Guinness with your shepherd’s pie at Rula Bula Irish Pub and Restaurant, 401 S. Mill Ave. (480) 929-9500.
Watch belly dancers while puffing on a hookah at the Oasis Cafe, 1310 E. Apache Blvd. (480) 966-6388. (The dancing starts at 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.) Then go next door to Haji-Baba Middle Eastern Food for the falafel or to shop the exotic grocery section, 1513 E. Apache Blvd. (480) 894-1905.
Maybe try some joojeh, a Persian-styled kabob made with Cornish game hens, at Tasty Kabob, 1250 E. Apache Blvd. (480) 966-0260.
The list goes on — Greek, Thai, French bistro, Chinese and, of course, Mexican — making Tempe a little like Disney’s Epcot Center, but with free admission.