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Big Surf
Vacation Travel Guide

Phoenix’s closest surf spot started as a backyard experiment and is now an aquatic theme park.

Big Surf is a water park in Tempe that only opens in summer. It is a good place to escape the Arizona heat, but it can get crowded. The main attraction is the big wave pool. This and other slides and rides will keep children splashing around for hours.

Big Surf’s major claim to fame is Waikiki Beach, the first wave pool in the U.S. It was the brainchild of engineer Phil Dexter who generated ocean-like waves in a backyard swimming pool in 1966. He then scaled it up in an abandoned building and finally constructed a perfect model out in the desert. In 1969, the pool, with a beach, opened up as Big Surf.

Today the beach is gone, but the wave pool is still one of the largest in the world. It generates a wave every three minutes. Dive in for a swim, go surfing or float on a raft to get an ocean experience. Thrill seekers can plunge down giant slides like the Tornado Twisters or race along the Kilauea Cove slides. For the very brave, there’s the steep, dark Black Hole tube ride.

The water park features a designated toddlers’ play area. Every weekend, surf is up during the last hour of the day when the pool is given over to boarders for some real wave action. The park is also the setting for concerts. The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are among the many famous bands that have performed here.

Big Surf is open from Memorial Day (May) to Labor Day (September). Get there early because it fills up quickly and the lines for the rides can be long. You can rent rafts, boards and lockers, and buy beachwear. You can’t bring in food, just bottled drinking water, but there is a cafeteria. Tempe is 13 miles (21 kilometers) east from Phoenix.

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Top things to do in Big Surf

Top Hotels Close to Big Surf

3 Palms
3 Palms
3.5 out of 5
7707 E McDowell Rd, Scottsdale, AZ
Free Cancellation
The price is $61 per night from Jan 20 to Jan 21

Located in South Scottsdale, this hotel is within 3 mi (5 km) of Big Surf, Desert Botanical Garden, and Scottsdale Stadium. Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical ...

3.9/5Good! (2,949 reviews)

"Loved the outdoor pool area. There was an issue with our door handle so the front desk gave us a new room and upgraded our other room. The staff was great."…"

Reviewed on Jan 6, 2021

3 Palms
Tempe Escape · Prime Location, Sparkling Pool, Bbq, Tennis Court
Tempe Escape · Prime Location, Sparkling Pool, Bbq, Tennis Court
3.5 out of 5
1428 North Dorsey Lane, Tempe, AZ
Get Rates

Situated in Tempe, this apartment building is within 3 mi (5 km) of Tempe Town Lake, Arizona State University, and Phoenix Zoo. Old Town and Desert Botanical ...

Tempe Escape · Prime Location, Sparkling Pool, Bbq, Tennis Court
Heated + Cooled Pool 3 Bed 2 Bath Tempe/Scottsdale
Heated + Cooled Pool 3 Bed 2 Bath Tempe/Scottsdale
Tempe, AZ
Get Rates

Situated in Tempe, this vacation home is within 3 mi (5 km) of Tempe Town Lake, Phoenix Zoo, and Arizona State University. Old Town and Desert Botanical Garden ...

4.3/5Excellent! (3 reviews)
Family getaway

"Clean little house, perfect for our family of four. David is great to work with. Only thing we could have used is a table and chairs outside to hangout and visit and eat at."…"

Reviewed on Dec 21, 2020

Heated + Cooled Pool 3 Bed 2 Bath Tempe/Scottsdale
Lowest nightly price found within the past 24 hours based on a 1 night stay for 2 adults. Prices and availability subject to change. Additional terms may apply.

Top Big Surf Flight + Hotel Deals

Renaissance Phoenix Glendale Hotel & Spa
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Best Lodging Options Near Big Surf

3 Palms
3 Palms
3.5 out of 5
7707 E McDowell Rd, Scottsdale, AZ
The price is $61 per night from Jan 20 to Jan 21
3 Palms
Tempe Escape · Prime Location, Sparkling Pool, Bbq, Tennis Court
Tempe Escape · Prime Location, Sparkling Pool, Bbq, Tennis Court
3.5 out of 5
1428 North Dorsey Lane, Tempe, AZ
Tempe Escape · Prime Location, Sparkling Pool, Bbq, Tennis Court
Heated + Cooled Pool 3 Bed 2 Bath Tempe/Scottsdale
Heated + Cooled Pool 3 Bed 2 Bath Tempe/Scottsdale
Tempe, AZ
Heated + Cooled Pool 3 Bed 2 Bath Tempe/Scottsdale
Post 1429
Post 1429
3 out of 5
1429 N Scottsdale Rd, Tempe, AZ
The price is $85 per night from Jan 17 to Jan 18
Post 1429
Bluebell Retreat 2BR by Casago
Bluebell Retreat 2BR by Casago
3 out of 5
1219 E Bluebell Lane, Tempe, AZ
Bluebell Retreat 2BR by Casago
Stunning Home With Access To Pool + Great Location
Stunning Home With Access To Pool + Great Location
4 out of 5
1106 East Weber Drive, 1010, Tempe, AZ
Stunning Home With Access To Pool + Great Location
Newport by Avantstay - Condo Near the Beach w/ Rooftop, Pool & Hot Tub
Newport by Avantstay - Condo Near the Beach w/ Rooftop, Pool & Hot Tub
3.5 out of 5
1106 E. Weber Drive, Tempe, AZ
Newport by Avantstay - Condo Near the Beach w/ Rooftop, Pool & Hot Tub
Newport by Avantstay - Beach Condo w/ Rooftop, Pool & Hot Tub
Newport by Avantstay - Beach Condo w/ Rooftop, Pool & Hot Tub
4 out of 5
1106 E. Weber Drive, Tempe, AZ
Newport by Avantstay - Beach Condo w/ Rooftop, Pool & Hot Tub
Newport by Avantstay - Condo in Heart of Tempe w/ Rooftop, Pool & Hot Tub
Newport by Avantstay - Condo in Heart of Tempe w/ Rooftop, Pool & Hot Tub
1106 E. Weber Drive, Tempe, AZ
Newport by Avantstay - Condo in Heart of Tempe w/ Rooftop, Pool & Hot Tub
Lowest nightly price found within the past 24 hours based on a 1 night stay for 2 adults. Prices and availability subject to change. Additional terms may apply.