It’s just after 9 p.m. on a recent evening, and Tempe Beach Park is alive with activity and teeming with people, despite the summertime scorch. Sweltering heat fills the air and radiates from all the concrete, making things a little uncomfortable for the hundreds of people who have gathered here at this particular moment.
Not that anyone seems to care, however, as most of them are busy staring or swiping at their smartphones while strolling through the park or along Tempe Town Lake. After all, who has time to worry about the heat when there are dozens of Pokémon to catch?
That’s exactly what pretty much everyone at the park tonight is doing – hunting for Squirtles, Charmanders, Poliwags, Pikachus, and other fantastical creatures via the recently released smartphone app Pokémon Go. You know, the one that’s been occupying seemingly everyone’s attention and dominating your Facebook feed for the last two weeks.
The free mobile game, which utilizes GPS-based maps to present an augmented version of real life where players walk around in search of Pokémon, has become exponentially popular since its release on July 6 and is being played by millions nationwide, including the throngs of Valley residents who have flocked to Tempe Beach Park on this particular evening.
“Hey, I just caught a Kabuto,” says one 20-something male who’s playing with several friends. It causes a minor stir among his crew, as well as anyone else within earshot. Within seconds, a few people nearby begin tapping their own phones in an attempt to find and wrangle this particular Pokémon before moving on to another location nearby.
Like anything else Pokémon-related, the M.O. of the game is to catch ‘em all. And there are a lot to catch at Tempe Beach Park, as it’s of the biggest hotspots locally for Pokémon.
James Macen, a Valley resident and Pokémon Go fanatic who helped beta-test the game, has played there several times himself, each time scoring a big haul. “Tempe Beach Park is one of the better spots to play,” he says.
However, it’s not the only place around the Valley where you can try to catch ‘em all or obtain some extra Pokeballs. Pokemon Go is a location-based game where many buildings, monuments, public art pieces, or similar landmarks scattered across metro Phoenix become either PokeStops (where you can score supplies) or Gyms (where you can train your creatures and battle for supremacy).
Some spots, however, are inevitably better than others, due to either having a greater multitude of PokeStops and Gyms, more Pokémon spawning in close proximity, or all of the above. According to Macen, who maintains an ever-growing map of Pokémon Go sports around metro Phoenix, the better gameplay locations are typically found in the most well-trafficked and popular public spaces around the Valley.
"From what I’ve seen, it’s definitely based around places where a lot of traffic goes through, like parks, shopping centers, colleges, things like that. Those are all condensed with all sorts of Pokémon stops, spawn points, et cetera," he says. “And just by going off where the PokeStops are found, usually there will be a high concentration of Pokémon around.”
And depending on the particular location and your experience level in the game, the Pokémon selection can vary between rarities like Dratini or Squirtles and more common creatures like Rattata and Zubats. Some spots have completely random spawns; others consistently produce the same creatures (aka “farms”). The terrain also plays a factor, Macen says. For instance, local lakes and canals will yield more water-based Pokemon like Magikarps or Kabutos.
"It’s been confirmed that the environment does play a part in finding particular Pokémon. Like on grassy areas, you're going to find any kind of Pokémon you'd expect to find in plains areas, and so on,” he says. “But while it generally holds true to that, there’s a random factor thrown into things as well, like I’ve found water Pokémon in the middle of a city.”
With all that said, there are a number of hot spots throughout the Valley that yield the bigger and better selections of Pokémon, as well as huge concentrations of Stops and Gyms. And after scouring local Pokémon Go groups on Facebook and consulting with hardcore players like Macen, we’ve assembled a rundown of the best places to play in metro Phoenix.
A few caveats, however: Locations like public parks and shopping centers will have particular operating hours, which you’ll want to respect. Local police are more than aware of the Pokémon Go phenomenon and are chiding players who are caught such places after hours. Additionally, you’ll want to heed the game’s advice of keeping aware of your surroundings at all time, especially if you’re playing in the middle of the dark.
Oh, and that thing you might’ve heard about ghost Pokémon popping up in graveyards? That’s been debunked. Leave the dead in peace.
In the meantime, get your Pokédex ready and have fun.
Westgate Entertainment District
"Westgate is another pretty big hotspot," Macen says. And how. We counted around 8 to 10 stops spread out across the entirety of the outdoor retail/entertainment complex, many of which are located at its various restaurants and bars. Meanwhile, both Gila River Arena and University of Phoenix Stadium serve as gyms.
Hours: While operating times for each business vary (and some are open as late as 2 a.m.), Westgate’s hours are from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Surprise Recreation Campus
Sure, it’s a bit of a haul to get out to this recreation and athletic hub, which includes Surprise Park, located near Bell Road and Bullard Avenue in Surprise. But if you’re eager to scoop up a Ponytas, it’ll be worth the drive, since the park is a nest for said creatures.
Hours: Daily, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
We had a productive visit to this outdoor mall – which is teeming with upwards of 10 different PokeStops, three gyms, and multiple characters – picking up a slew of creatures in the span of 30 minutes.. Your mileage may vary, of course, especially if any of the bars and restaurants have a lure going. Also, the Karsten Golf Course nearby is a nest for Squirtles.
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., although operating times for each business varies.
Downtown Phoenix & Roosevelt Row
The downtown areas and historic districts of every single city in the Valley – particularly in Chandler, Gilbert, and Mesa — will inevitably offer a wealth of stops, spawn points, gyms, and places for players to farm. That said, the largest selection, by far, can be found within downtown Phoenix, owing to its enormous amount of landmarks. Just ask local player Justin Oliva. “Downtown Phoenix is insane ... PokeStops every few feet,” he told us via Facebook. “Plus, it's where I caught my Snorlax, Gravler, Vulpix, Torros, Psyduck … all kinds of shit.”
It's just as dense in and around Roosevelt Row, which boasts a string of stops and gyms located at galleries, murals, and public art displays. Even better, many nearby drinkeries and restaurants, such as Cobra Arcade Bar or Bliss/ReBAR, are setting up lures every single night to attract creatures and customers alike and might also offer specials for players.
Hours: 24/7, but exercise some caution after dark. Operating times for bars, restaurants, and galleries vary by location.
Arizona State Capitol Plaza & Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza
Many of the monuments situated outside of the State Capitol building and dotting the neighboring Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza serve as PokeStops, and there are also a couple of gyms in close proximity. There are, of couse, a variety of Pokémon hanging around. Who knows? You might wind up running into a few elected officials playing on their lunch breaks.
Hours: Both outdoor plazas are open 24/7 (DPS officers regularly patrol the area, however, and might stop you if you’re playing in wee hours.)
Village Square at Dana Park
Hit up this upscale Mesa shopping center when its businesses have laid out lures on any of its 14 stops, and you might find such Pokémon as Flareon, Chansey, Onix, or Gyarados spawning right next to you. Here’s hoping your aim is true.
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., although operating times for each business varies.
Looking for either a Geodude? This particular Pokémon (along with Doduo, Eevee, and a few others) can reportedly be found around this expansive park in Gilbert. Plus, there also might be a few water-based Pokemon splashing around in its pond.
Hours: Daily, 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Local colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning are teeming with stops and spawn points. It’s certainly the case at any of the 10 different schools comprising the Maricopa Country Community College District, especially over at Mesa Community College. It boasts 18 different PokeStops, which makes it a great spot for mining supplies, and one online Pokémon Go map reports that Rapidash, Vulpix, Jigglypuff, and a Blastoise have all been sighted on campus.
Meanwhile, all three of Arizona State University’s locations in the Valley are swarming with both stops and Pokémon, particularly the main campus in Tempe. According to the aforementioned online map, you might just spy such creatures as Growlithe, Muk, Jynx, Chansey, and Arcanine and even Pikachu hanging out amidst the dozens of stops scattered about the place. And while ASU doesn’t offer any degrees in Pokémon training at present, you can definitely learn the ins and outs of the game there.
Hours: Daily hours vary at each school.
"Parks are particularly a very good place to go if you're looking for Pokémon,” Macen says. And one of the better parks for Pokémon hunting can be found on Cactus Road just east of the Piestewa Freeway, which has 15 stops and two gyms. Pay a visit and you might wind up adding such characters as Cubone, Lickitung, Dodrio, Graveler, Golem, or Exeggcute to your Pokédex.
Hours: Daily, 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
There are more than just lions, tigers, and bears populating the Phoenix Zoo these days. According to the zoo’s website, a bestiary of Pokémon are lurking about – including Venomoth, Pinser, Omanyte, Oddish, Sandslash, Ponyta, and Vulpix – thanks to the fact there are 30 different PokeStops and a couple of gyms on the premises. (The Safari Train also goes slow enough to simulate walking so you can accrue some mileage on your eggs while hitting up some stops along the way.) The zoo’s staff will also be setting up lures every day through July 23 and opening up an hour earlier than normal for players eager to check the place out. That said, you'll have to buy admission to enter.
Hours: Daily, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Desert Breeze Park
The dragon-like Dratini, one of the rarer creatures in the Pokedex, can be found in abundance at this neighborhood park in Chandler, according to players on a few different local Pokemon Go Facebook groups. "Desert Breeze Park in Chandler is Dratini heaven," states Valley resident Jake Kutak. Better make sure you’ve got some supercharged Pokéballs handy, which come in handy while trying to wrangle rarer types.
Hours: Daily, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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Downtown Tempe and Tempe Beach Park
Want to add a few dozen new entries to your Pokédex? Spend a few hours searching for Pokémon along Mill Avenue, around Tempe Beach Park, and throughout the city’s adjacent downtown area. All of the aforementioned locales are laden with stops, gyms, spawn points, and a couple of farms, especially both Mill Avenue and the Park. And if you’ve still got some energy left to hike up Tempe Butte (aka “A” Mountain), there’s reportedly a Charmander farm up there.
Make no mistake, however, the park is currently the most popular place to play in the Valley. In fact, there’s almost a block party like atmosphere about the place, as people tend to blast music from boomboxes (including the ultra-catchy theme to the Pokémon TV show) or sell shwag like Ash Ketchum hats and bottles of water. It’s pretty much busy every night. As such, parking spaces are typically scarce, so consider taking the light rail.
Hours: The park is open from 5 p.m. to midnight, while the operating hours of Mill Avenue businesses vary.