By Josephine Matyas
Photos Mesa CVB
When the snow flies and the temperature plummets, winter weary Canadians cast their gaze to warmer climes. And often that gaze lingers on Mesa, a popular destination in the Valley of the Sun, and a place that is synonymous with the beauty of the Arizona desert, year-round summery temperatures and a slate filled with the business of play, relaxation and retirement.
Mesa In A Snapshot
Low rainfall, 325 days of sunshine a year, unlimited outdoor recreation opportunities, a family-friendly mindset, the richness of arts and culture, and a culinary landscape made for foodies. Sounds like paradise? Sounds just like Mesa.
The mid-size Arizona city (third largest in the state, 38th largest in the U.S.) has got a lot to boast about. Did you know?
• More than 700,000 Canadians travel to Arizona each year.
• The surrounding desert and canyon landscape of the Sonoran Desert and the Tonto National Forest is a recreation mecca – lakes and rivers for watersports, miles of hiking and biking trails.
• Mesa has more than 3,000 restaurants – many are kid friendly with picnic table settings or outdoor spaces where kids can blow off steam.
• 5,000 rooms spread over more than 60 hotels and resorts.
• There are 40 golf courses within a half-hour drive of downtown Mesa (and more than 200 in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area).
• Rains in 2012 mean a bumper crop of spring wildflowers in early 2013. Blooms reach their peak in mid-March and parks roll out the red carpet with wildflower walks, photography outings and special lectures on the desert ecosystem.
Photos Mesa CVB
Agri-tourism is growing in leaps and bounds in the fields, farms and restaurants of Mesa. Producers and chefs have embraced the concept of “farm to fork” – much of the land surrounding the city core is farmland, and many family farms boast a long history of growing quality produce. The 100-mile diet? No problem. Mesa is ripe with countryside experiences that connect visitors with the very source of their meals.
• In May, the largest organic peach grower in the state, Schnepf Farms, welcomes guests to their Queen Creek Peach Festival. It’s the prime time of year to pick peaches, plums and apricots right at the source. The fourth-generation family farm also hosts Dinners Down the Orchard, a fine dining experience showcasing seasonal bounty prepared by well-known Valley chefs, served al fresco at sunset and under the stars for a real “orchard experience.”
• You might not think of olive oil when you think of Arizona, but the growing conditions of long, sunny days and cool desert nights are ideal for olive trees. At the base of the San Tan Mountains, just east of Mesa, the Queen Creek Olive Mill grows more than 16 different varieties of olives on their pesticide-free, sustainable farmland. The family-owned olive mill and farm produces Arizona’s only extra virgin olive oil, harvesting the olives by hand. Visitors can tour the farm, learn the basics in the “olive 101” class, and then taste olives, oils and tapenades. For a true agri-tourism experience, diners at the mill’s Tuscan-inspired eatery can choose to have dinner served in the olive grove.
• In east Mesa, Superstition Farms is a true family affair. Run by a brother and sister team – third generation dairy farmers – visitors get an inside look at life on a modern, working dairy operation. The farm hosts special locavore dinners feature meals where each course is made with products that were grown, raised and harvested within a 160-kilometre radius.
Arizona’s hot days and cool nights combine to create optimal growing conditions for grapes. All across the state, small wineries, tasting rooms and festivals showcase the products of three distinct wine districts. Visitors don’t have to be wine connoisseurs to enjoy a visit to a vineyard.
• The closest of the state’s three wine regions is the Verde Valley Wine Trail, a collection of eight wineries near the communities of Prescott, Cottonwood and Sedona, just under two hours from Meda’s city centre. Small group day trips with companies like Detours depart from Mesa and visit up to four wineries and include lunch.
• Tasting rooms are becoming trendy tourism hotspots as people become more and more interested in learning about wines, and wine and food pairings. There are tasting rooms at del Piero at Queen Creek Olive Mill, the Windmill Winery in Florence (just east of Mesa) the brand-new Postino East Wine Bar in Downtown Gilbert and Sun Devil Wine Cellar & Pub in downtown Mesa. The wine bar at il Vinaio also holds themed dinners pairing gourmet foods with their boutique Arizona wines.
Citrus Should Be Top Of Mind
Photos Mesa CVB
The travel experts at National Geographic have given the citrus groves of the Mesa region a coveted place on their list of Top 10 Food Road Trips. A few things you might not know about Mesa’s thriving citrus industry:
• Citrus groves were one of the five C’s of the Arizona economy. The others are cattle, cotton, copper and the state’s enviable climate.
• Mesa is home to acres of fragrant citrus groves. Growers like the Orange Patch offer special tours of the picking and production process, plus a farmers’ market where visitors can load up on sun-ripened oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes.
• Peak season to soak up the sweet aroma of orange blossoms is March and April (it’s a popular daytime side trip for visitors to the Chicago Cubs spring training games at Mesa’s Hohokam Stadium).
Lights! Camera! Action!
The incredible popularity of food shows on television has launched Mesa into the “foodie spotlight.” From dinner theatres to sports bars, from Southwest fare to exotic flavours, Mesa’s restaurants and dining scene have it covered. For a fun itinerary, follow the informal trail blazed by these Mesa-area eateries that have found success on the screen.
• The Queen Creek Olive Mill was featured on the Discovery Channel’s show, Dirty Jobs. Host Mike Rowe helped process the harvest of Italian, Spanish and Greek olives into high quality, extra virgin olive oil. The Mill’s Tuscan-styled restaurant, del Piero has created a signature panini that made the grade on the Food Network’s hit show, The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
• Meals that go from field to plate on the same day? Now that’s beyond fresh! The Food Network’s show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives – aimed at the baby boomer generation who remember these eating experiences – set its sights on Joe’s Farm Grill, an original Mesa-area homestead turned burger stand. The show featured staples like Joe’s BBQ chicken pizza, rosemary-dill onion rings and a fontina burger made from local, natural beef.
• “Where there’s a war, there’s a way” could be the motto at The Coffee Shop at Agritopia, where their recipe for chocolate marshmallow cupcakes catapulted the bakery to the winning spot on the Food Network’s show, Cupcake Wars. The shop is also known for its creative list of coffees and espressos.
• Does a five-layer brownie sound decadent enough? Head for Sweet Cakes Café where they serve brownies, cookies, cakes and gigantic cinnamon rolls made from scratch. The café was featured as one of the Top 10 Bodacious Bakeries on the TLC show, Best Food Ever.
For more information, go to www.VisitMesa.com.