By Josephine Matyas
Few destinations offer such a rich palette of sights and activities as Mesa, Arizona. Once the little sister in the Valley of the Sun, Mesa has blossomed into its own as a gateway to adventure and unlimited possibilities for visitors to explore.
There’s a rich menu of activities, whether in urban or rural settings, mountain peaks or the desert floor: arts and culture, shopping and a wide-open landscape of outdoor recreation. Close to the city centre, there is dining, Western shopping and live performances that place Mesa firmly on the country’s arts and culture map.
Put it all together and visitors will find Mesa is a city of limitless lifestyle choices.
Adventure awaits just a stone’s throw from the city’s boundaries. A must-do is the historic Apache Trail, a steep cliffhanger that has been named one of America’s most scenic drives. What began a thousand years ago as a foot trail became a route used in the 1800s by traders and settlers, and then an access road to the Roosevelt Dam construction site. The 80-kilometre drive is a very popular day trip for visitors to the Valley. There’s a lot to see and do along the route:
- Film fans will find memorabilia collected from movies that were filmed at a nearby movie ranch at the Elvis Memorial Chapel on the grounds of the Superstition Mountain Museum.
- In 1892 gold was discovered at Goldfield, a restored mining town northeast of Apache Junction. After its initial heyday Goldfield languished as a ghost town for many years. Now, it has been revived as the Goldfield Ghost Town where visitors can pan for gold, ride aboard Arizona’s only narrow gauge train, tour an underground mine and watch gunslingers fight it out on Main Street.
Visit Mesa/Mark Mabry
- Just past Goldfield is Lost Dutchman State Park, tucked up against the wilderness of the craggy Superstition Mountains. In 1870, a prospector claimed to find a rich vein of gold deep in the surrounding hills. Many have searched for the fabled lost gold mine, but it remains hidden. Lost Dutchman State Park is popular with hikers – there is a variety of hiking trails for every ability level.
- Who says there’s no water in the desert! The Apache Trail touches beautiful Canyon Lake at several points and one of the most popular excursions is a cruise on the Dolly Steamboat, a replica sternwheeler paddleboat. The nature cruise or twilight dinner cruise travels the desert lake’s secluded inner waterways. Sightings of big horn sheep and bald eagles are common.
- The Old West stagecoach stop at Tortilla Flat (population: six) is a time capsule from an era when the junction boasted a hotel, saloon and general store. Modern-day travellers can hop onto a bar stool made from a saddle, gawk at walls plastered with currency from around the world, order a bowl of spicy Killer Chili or indulge in a scoop of prickly pear ice cream.
- After the pavement ends and the washboard gravel starts is the notorious Fish Creek Hill. In the days of stagecoach travel, a mule team was hitched to the rear of the coach, walking backwards to act as brakes on the steep descent.
Luckily, the joy experienced via tastebuds is endless! Mesa is surrounded by farms that grow peaches, citrus and olives – many of these provide the inspiration for a hopping foodie scene. The city’s 3,000-plus restaurants have created a palette of endless dining options:
- The influence of Mexico on Southwest cuisine is unmistakeable. The house-made tacos at Joyride Taco House anchor a flavour-packed menu that borrows heavily from daily life south of the border. The hacienda-style restaurant at Rancho de Tia Rosa is known for its signature Mexican flavours and a setting tucked into Mesa’s orange groves.
- Locals head to TQLA after sunset to pull up a chair at an outdoor fire pit and imbibe in one of 80 varieties of tequila on tap. The restaurant’s master mixologists create specialty cocktails.
- Noshing where the food grows is all the rage. Several times a year, notable chefs host casual dining under the stars at Dinners Down the Orchard at Schnepf Farms, Arizona’s largest peach orchard. At the Queen Creek Olive Mill, the Tavolo Dinner series features five-course meals with local produce (including delicious olives from the mill). Before dinner, guests can walk through the Tuscany-inspired olive grove.
- Springtime is orange blossom time in Mesa. The city has received fragrant accolades for the many local citrus groves. On the outskirts of town, the vast groves at The Orange Patch sell farm-fresh oranges, grapefruits and tangerines.
- A culture of good food is often twinned with great beverages. The new Desert Eagle Brewery has raised the bar on microbrewing. Visitors can sample their latest brews at the huge tasting room. Arizona wines are featured at D’Vine Wine Bistro. The restaurant offers complimentary shuttle service for guests.
The wilderness of the Tonto National Forest, the soaring peaks of the Superstition Mountains and the wide-open Sonoran Desert create one enormous landscape for play and exploration. On the waterside of things, there are lakes and rivers within a half-hour of Mesa; a perfect place to cool off while tubing, kayaking, swimming, rafting and boating.
- The volcanic peaks of the Superstition Mountains are a magnet for hikers, rock climbers and horseback riders. There are trails suitable for every ability level and from one end of the “fearless” scale to the other. For a more challenging option, backcountry wilderness trips can be arranged through expert guiding firms. Outfitters like 360 Adventures travel into slot canyon walls for canyoneering expeditions.
- Hikers love the Wind Cave Trail at Usery Mountain Park for its spectacular views over the surrounding Sonoran Desert and Tonto National Forest. This popular park has more than 50 kilometres of multi-use trails ranging in difficulty from easy to challenging. The park offers special programs like full moon hikes, stargazing sessions, guided nature walks and dog fitness hikes.
- Magical experiences don’t just happen on terra firma. Hot-air balloon flights over the early morning Sonoran or paragliding in the afternoon updrafts offer a new perspective of the tranquil landscape. For an adrenaline rush, Fighter Combat International takes visitors on a high-flying thrill ride aboard aerobatic aircraft. And for maximum thrills, children and adults can take trapeze lessons at Trapeze U, the first program of its kind in Arizona.
Visit Mesa/Gary Johnson
- Life on the water can be serene (a gentle tubing float along the Salt River) or more challenging. Outfitters like Desert Voyageurs offer guided rafting tours through spectacular desert scenery along the Lower Salt and Verde Rivers. There are also guided kayaking tours along the Lower Salt River, a 22-kilometre stretch with conditions that range from flat water for beginners to Class 2 rapids for a whitewater thrill.
- With near perfect weather, Mesa’s golf courses deliver year-round. More than 40 courses are within a 30-minute drive of downtown. Superstition Springs Golf Club has been rated a PGA Tour qualifying site and is one of the state’s most challenging courses. With spectacular views of the Sonoran Desert and the Superstition Mountains, the two Jack Nicklaus-designed courses at the Superstition Mountain Golf Club have garnered high praise.
Mesa is about the limitless possibilities for you to explore, experience and enjoy. And, certainly, there is no limit to the arts and culture vibe or the shopping opportunities at the area’s many retail centres.
- Cactus League fans can stay near to Chicago Cubs action at the Hyatt Place Phoenix/Mesa. A pool area renovation includes a 12-person hot tub and enormous TV/AV system to enjoy video or music poolside. The Holiday Inn Phoenix-Mesa/Chandler is also close to the Cubbies training stadium.
- Unlimited imagination is the mantra at the Mesa Arts Center, the largest performing arts, visual arts and arts education facility in the Southwest. The shaded outdoor plaza – Shadow Walk – holds free concerts year round.
- The shopping deals are irresistible at Phoenix Premium Outlets, an outdoor, village-style centre. Ninety outlet stores include designer fashions, home and giftware, accessories and jewelry. Shoppers can find everything from Brooks Brothers to Armani to J. Crew to Gap.
- In addition to a spectacular shopping experience – including Macy’s, Barnes & Noble, COACH and Dillard’s – the outdoor mall at San Tan Village offers a splash pad, children’s play area and free Wi-Fi.
- More low-key, the Mesa Marketplace Swap Meet offers a unique kind of weekend shopping experience. It’s the perfect browsing environment with two kilometres of covered shopping lanes and 1,600 booths selling everything from clothing to home furnishings to one-of-a-kind treasures.
Mesa is located just a few miles east of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, served by nearly 20 airlines, including Air Canada and WestJet. Mesa is also home to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, which connects to many small and large U.S. cities, including some close to the Canadian border.
Mesa packages are available from WestJet Vacations, who offer non-stop flights from Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg.