Arizona’s third largest city, Mesa, packs an unexpected tourism punch. With tons of attractions, the well-curated Fresh Foodie Trail, and excellent shopping options, this Phoenix suburb is sure to charm both first-time visitors and seasoned travel veterans.
I was recently invited there for a press trip with Visit Mesa and couldn’t believe how much the area had to offer! Read on for my tips on how to spend the perfect day in Mesa, Arizona.
Visit Mesa’s Museums
Mesa offers a variety of museum choices perfect for any type of traveler on any type of vacation. For multigenerational groups, the i.d.e.a. Musuem is the perfect place to entertain kids or grandkids. With a focus on children under 12, this spot also caters to the child within every adult, so it can be fun for the whole family!
Most folks plan to spend 90 minutes to two hours at this indoor space, which can provide a welcome respite from the unforgiving summertime heat. Expect interactive installations, rotating exhibitions, a large indoor play zone, and an under-$10 admission price.
For military and history buffs, Mesa is also home to the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum. This museum focuses on aviation history from World War I and beyond. Kids under 5 and military members get free admission, while seniors and veterans can expect to pay $12. The regular adult ticket price is $15. For a more interactive experience, guests can opt to fly in an actual vintage plane for an additional fee. Just be sure to schedule this ahead of time as it is not always available. There’s also a working hangar where visitors can see aircraft mechanics at work!
Another great museum located in Mesa is the Arizona Museum of Natural History. Kiddos under 2 get in free, students will pay $8 (with valid ID), and the cost for seniors is just $10. Regular adult admission is $12, and admission for kids ages 3 to 12 is $7. There are dinosaurs galore, numerous interactive exhibits, the offsite Mesa Grande Cultural Park, and famous ruins. Plus, the Arizona Museum of Natural History offers tons of information about the archaeological history of the Southwestern region of the United States.
Let’s Play Ball
In springtime, Mesa is a hotbed of Major League Baseball Spring Training activity. The city is the only place in Arizona that is home to two teams in two stadiums. Mesa hosts both the National League Chicago Cubs at Sloan Park and the American League Oakland A’s at Hohokam Stadium. Spring Training provides fans the chance to see a ton of games (200 games in 30 days!) often at a lower price point than the regular season. Keep in mind that baseball games are usually about three hours long and plan your schedule accordingly.
It’s no surprise that the desert is an appealing place to explore and enjoy nature. But definitely keep in mind that spending time in the extreme heat during the height of the day is not the best plan. This is especially important for those visiting in the summer. The good news is the Sonoran Desert truly shines the other three seasons of the year.
The Wind Cave Trail is an ADA-accessible easy 2.6 mile hike with a gradual elevation increase in nearby Usery Mountain Regional Park. Admission is just $7 per vehicle, and the park has almost 30 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. There’s also a nature center within the park where visitors can learn about the flora and fauna in the desert.
Those with more than a day to spend in Mesa should consider checking out the Superstition Mountains and Apache Trail. With an authentic stagecoach stop at Tortilla Flat, a steamboat at Canyon Lake, Lost Dutchman Mine, and the ghost town of Goldfield, there’s a ton to enjoy on a longer trip to the area.
Kayaking the Salt River is another cool way to enjoy the outdoors, and lucky travelers might even get a chance to see the area’s famous wild horses. The Salt River can also be tubed using Salt River Tubing, which was recommended to me by a local friend. Keep in mind that tubing is a bit more of a time commitment as routes take between two and five hours.
The nation’s fifth largest national forest, Tonto National Forest, sits just outside the Mesa city limits. It can be accessed with a pass that costs $8 per vehicle. Tons of recreational activities are available in the forest, including climbing, fishing, hiking, hunting, outdoor learning, and picnicking.
Experience The Arts Scene
Mesa has some great public arts displays sprinkled throughout the city. If you’re planning a day trip, consider checking out the murals and sculptures in the city’s downtown corridor. Mesa has organized a guide to the area called the Art Walk to make the installations even more approachable for visitors and locals alike. They also have a suggested Culture Crawl itinerary. This is an especially attractive option for those with a limited time in the city, since the downtown area is home to many other attractions, local shops, and tasty restaurants.
Additionally, the largest arts campus in the state calls Mesa home. The Mesa Arts Center hosts theater performances, live music shows, comedy, and more. Every year, the center also puts on over 1,000 classes for both adults and kids. Offerings include studio art, jewelry making, acting, photography, printmaking, and more. Price varies based on the chosen performance and class. There’s also an on-site museum, the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, with rotating artist exhibits.This space features five galleries that focus on both acclaimed artists and emerging newbies. Free public campus tours allow access to the arts center; those who wish to experience a private tour can expect to pay $5 per person.
Eating In Mesa
Mesa, Arizona, and the surrounding communities are home to the well-known Fresh Foodie Trail as well as a number of local markets and other eateries. There are so many excellent spots on the trail that the Detours tour company has even organized their own tour! The agri-tourism angle is evident with spots such as the Queen Creek Olive Mill, True Garden, Schnepf Farms, Hayden Flour Mills, and more.
There are even two winery stops, Garage-East at Agritopia in Gilbert (20 minutes from downtown Mesa) and Windmill Winery (45 minutes from downtown Mesa). Some tasty restaurants on the trail are Joe’s Farm Grill, with its unbelievable rib-and-waffles dish, and Jalapeno Bucks, with its famous mango salsa and PB&J brisket sandwich. During citrus season, which can start any time between November and February, visitors can pick their own fruit at the Orange Patch; depending on the season, this could be a lovely activity for a day out in Mesa.
For those seeking out a breakfast or brunch spot in the area, there are two excellent options: The Liberty Market in Gilbert is housed in a former grocery store and offers an expansive menu in its sleek and comfortable space. Another sure winner is Mesa’s T.C. Eggington’s, a town favorite since 1985. This spot is perfect for a tasty lunch as well, depending on how your day in the city unfolds. Both of these eateries are moderately priced, with tons of choices that are around $10.
There are many other noteworthy Mesa restaurants. Unphogettable has delicious Vietnamese cuisine including soups, buns, and more. Appetizers run about $6, with pho at $12 or so. There’s a quirky pizza shop called Organ Stop Pizza that features a giant Wurlitzer organ; this spot is affordable too, with small pizzas for about $6 and the most expensive large pizza at $19. Mangos Mexican Cafe serves homemade fresh fare from their Old Town Mesa locale. At Mangos, most entrees cost around $10.
Republica Empanada is a hipper Mexican spot in Mesa’s Southside Heights enclave. They offer tortas (Mexican sandwiches) for between $11 and $17, large platter meals for $11 to $15, and a variety of empanadas for about $4. Worth Takeaway is a minimalist artisanal coffee and sandwich shop on Main Street. Most menu items hover around $10.
Shopping In Mesa
Mesa’s best shopping options are generally clustered around its downtown area. Buckhorn Vintage is a cool antique stop with mid-century modern and bohemian home furnishings and clothing. Comic book enthusiasts can have some fun at Gotham City Comics and Collectibles; there’s even a coffee bar in this shop for a caffeinated pick-me-up. A funky toy shop with both vintage and new items, Lulubell Toy Bodega is a unique Mesa experience. Bibliophiles will enjoy a visit to secondhand bookstore Book Gallery.
Mesa and its neighboring towns are also home to a number of area markets, including the Gilbert Farmers Market. With tons of food and produce vendors, this Saturday market is a fun stop. Pro tip: There’s a family-friendly splash pad underneath the historic Gilbert water tower! The Mesa Farmers Market and Flea is another Saturday option that highlights local makers and artisans alongside traditional food offerings. If a Saturday excursion doesn’t fit into your schedule, the Superstition Ranch Farmers Market in Mesa is open all week.
It’s clear there is plenty to do during a day in Mesa, Arizona. In fact, there’s enough on my list of suggestions to cover at least a handful of days in the desert! I hope you consider a trip to this often overlooked part of the Valley of the Sun. You won’t be disappointed by Mesa’s foodie scene, great outdoors, museums and art, or shopping opportunities. Mesa truly embraces its “City Limitless” tagline.
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