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.

Top Hotels Close to Big Surf

3 Palms
3 Palms
3.5 out of 5
7707 E McDowell Rd, Scottsdale, AZ
Fully refundable
The price is $101 per night from Jan 26 to Jan 27
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 ...
3.8/5 Good! (3,010 reviews)
"Everything was clean and neat. The staff were courteous and very accommodating. Christina especially was extremely helpful. I highly recommend 3 Palms!"

Reviewed on Jan 21, 2022

3 Palms
Hotel Bixby Scottsdale, BW Signature Collection
Hotel Bixby Scottsdale, BW Signature Collection
3 out of 5
409 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ
Fully refundableReserve now, pay when you stay
The price is $139 per night from Jan 26 to Jan 27
Located in South Scottsdale, this hotel is within 2 mi (3 km) of Tempe Town Lake Marina, Phoenix Zoo, and Papago Park. Tempe Town Lake and Big Surf are also ...
4.1/5 Very Good! (652 reviews)
"A good deal for the price and location. A couple of drawbacks, though. The tub/shower could use some anti-slip treatment, the pool enclosure could use a keycard entry lock, and there were too many homeless and working girls hanging around in the stairwells and out in front of the property. The room ..."

Reviewed on Jan 21, 2022

Hotel Bixby Scottsdale, BW Signature Collection
Post 1429
Post 1429
3 out of 5
1429 N Scottsdale Rd, Tempe, AZ
Fully refundableReserve now, pay when you stay
The price is $129 per night from Jan 26 to Jan 27
This family-friendly Tempe hotel is located near the airport, within 3 mi (5 km) of Arizona State University, Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden. Old Town ...
4/5 Very Good! (986 reviews)
"Our stay was a short overnighter, but we got a good rest and used the hot tub to relax after long drive. Great food across the street at Mediterranean restaurant."

Reviewed on Jan 20, 2022

Post 1429
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.

Plan a trip to see Big Surf

Spur Cross Inn
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort

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Best Lodging Options Near Big Surf

WanderJaunt | Birch | 2BR | Tempe
WanderJaunt | Birch | 2BR | Tempe
Tempe, AZ
The price is $100 per night from Jan 31 to Feb 1
WanderJaunt | Birch | 2BR | Tempe
3 Palms
3 Palms
3.5 out of 5
7707 E McDowell Rd, Scottsdale, AZ
The price is $101 per night from Jan 26 to Jan 27
3 Palms
Hotel Bixby Scottsdale, BW Signature Collection
Hotel Bixby Scottsdale, BW Signature Collection
3 out of 5
409 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ
The price is $139 per night from Jan 26 to Jan 27
Hotel Bixby Scottsdale, BW Signature Collection
Post 1429
Post 1429
3 out of 5
1429 N Scottsdale Rd, Tempe, AZ
The price is $129 per night from Jan 26 to Jan 27
Post 1429
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
NEW! Chic Scottsdale-Area Oasis w/ Private Yard!
NEW! Chic Scottsdale-Area Oasis w/ Private Yard!
Tempe, AZ
NEW! Chic Scottsdale-Area Oasis w/ Private Yard!
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
Hayden 509 2 Bedroom Condo
Hayden 509 2 Bedroom Condo
3.5 out of 5
3500 N Hayden Rd 509, Scottsdale, AZ
Hayden 509 2 Bedroom Condo
🍁Tempe/Scottsdale🍁 Heated Pool, Min to Old Town Scottsdale, Golf, Spring Training
🍁Tempe/Scottsdale🍁 Heated Pool, Min to Old Town Scottsdale, Golf, Spring Training
Tempe, AZ
🍁Tempe/Scottsdale🍁 Heated Pool, Min to Old Town Scottsdale, Golf, Spring Training
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.