Gilbert, Arizona, is a charming place to visit and is Arizona’s best-kept secret. When I visited for the first time, I was surprised to find a modern and progressive city with a friendly small-town feel.
Just a short drive southeast of Phoenix, the historic district downtown reminds you of something from a road trip in an old movie with iconic signage and storefronts.
While the city of Gilbert has that quaint small-town feel, it is big on activities and things to see and do. With almost 10 million square feet of retail and designated open space for entertainment and recreation, life in Gilbert is thriving.
The city might be 100 years old, but it is positioning itself to be a city of the future, and it has already been labeled as one of the best places to live in America. Gilbert will not be a secret for long.
Let’s explore some of the best places to visit when you are in Gilbert.
Discover Gilbert hosted my visit. All opinions are my own.
The locals call the downtown area the Heritage District. It is a fun and vibrant place with lots of neon lights at night. It is the heart of the community.
This is where you will find over 30 restaurants. And locals refer to it as Delicious Gilbert for good reason.
The district features active weekend markets, including the popular Gilbert Farmers Market and the Hale Centre Theatre. You’ll find a family-friendly environment, pet-friendly restaurant options, and a vibrant nightlife in the downtown area.
Pro Tip: Downtown Gilbert Heritage District is a great starting point for just about any activity, including hiking and bicycling. The trail system connects parks and attractions throughout the town with the Heritage District.
Gilbert Central Trail System
The popular Central Trail System has earned Gilbert the reputation of a “bicycle-friendly community.” Fifty-four miles of bike trails running parallel to the canals and equestrian tracks make Gilbert a haven for the outdoorsy types.
The Marathon, Santan Vista, and Heritage Trails make up the trail system that runs from north to south connecting the city’s parks and canal systems. There are drinking fountains, several pocket parks, fascinating monuments, ramadas, and other entertaining features that people can see as they cycle through the trails.
Pro Tip: Be sure to take sunscreen when visiting Gilbert. Even in the winter, the sun is strong.
Water Tower Fountains
When you are in the Heritage District, head to the Water Tower, which stands over the town. The Water Tower Plaza is beneath the tower and includes a park with water features that include a splash play area for kids, a pop-jet fountain, a water wall, and more. If you have children with you when you visit, they will love this area as a spot to cool off on hot Arizona days. There is free admission for anyone desiring to get wet.
Pro Tip: Adults enjoy cooling off, too!
Located in the Old Town, in a historic corner building, Liberty Market is a neat cafe open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I visited, I enjoyed their handmade pancakes with a side of bacon. They were wonderful.
They serve all kinds of salads, sandwiches, and soups for lunch, and there are a variety of options for dinner.
The unique thing about the Liberty Market: It used to be a grocery market. Inside, above the windows, there are antique grocery carts from the store for decoration.
Pro Tip: Don’t just eat there; take some time to look around. There is a fascinating history within the market.
Riparian Preserve At Water Ranch
The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is a lake that was created in 1999 to preserve valuable water sources and protect wildlife habitats. Home to nearly 300 species of insects, birds, and animals, the 110-acre preserve, including seven water recharge basins, features hiking trails, vegetative zones, an observatory, and an actual paleontology dig site. There are educational programs and fun recreational opportunities for all ages.
Pro Tip: Be sure to take bottled water if you plan to spend much time outdoors. The Arizona sun is hot, and you need to stay hydrated.
Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory
Near the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch is the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory (GRCO). The town of Gilbert owns the community observatory, and the Riparian Institute operates it. It is open on Friday and Saturday evenings at nightfall. They host Public Star Parties, which include viewings of the stars and astronomy-related talks. Check their website for dates.
Arizona Goat Yoga
When I visited Gilbert, I attended an Arizona Goat Yoga session. It was hilarious and fun. I had never done much yoga, let alone done it with goats. What a hoot. You can read about my experience in I Tried Goat Yoga At 59 And It Was More Laughter Than Oms.
What you need to know is it is a fun experience for all ages. You don’t have to be in great shape; just be sure you can get down on your knees and get back up. You need no yoga experience. Be prepared to have the goats get close to you — and even walk on top of you — and have a great sense of humor.
The ladies who run Arizona Goat Yoga have a close bond with the goats and treat them like their “kids.” (Pun intended!) I promise you will enjoy this experience.
Pro Tip: Wear comfortable clothing. You may end up with hoof prints on your clothes.
Hale Centre Theatre
You will find both Broadway and Off-Broadway shows at the Hale Center Theatre. A family-orientated theater that lovers of drama will enjoy. You can enjoy shows at the Hale Center Theater Monday through Saturday. Check their website for performance information.
Prickly Pear Ice Cream At TOPO
While you are visiting, stop at TOPO for some delicious ice cream. You can’t miss it. TOPO is a small food stand with a giant beaver above it. I tried the Prickly Pear with a chocolate coating. I had never had Prickly Pear ice cream, and it was very tasty. I highly recommend a stop. There is beautiful artwork on the sides of the building to enjoy while you eat your ice cream.
Pro Tip: Be aware the cones are large, and if it is hot outside, your ice cream will melt faster than you can eat it.
Freestone District Park
Freestone District Park includes 88 acres of beautifully maintained landscapes that showcase various outdoor sports and recreational activities. The family-friendly community park is home to a mini amusement park with carnival rides and trains, a skate park, a playground for children, picnic areas, athletic fields, and a recreational center. Fishing is also available. If the weather permits, the park is open 365 days of the year.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget your sunscreen!
This homestead, which has morphed into a thriving community centered around an urban farm, is known as Agritopia.
Our visit to this village was enlightening. The planned community is surrounded by 11 acres of urban farmland. While you are in the village, you feel like you are out in the country. The streets are tree-lined, and it feels homey.
Within the community, you will find places to eat, shop, work, and create. It is a village that honors farming traditions and the simpler life of the past.
West Brewing Company
In the Barnone building at Agritopia, you’ll find XII West Brewing of Gilbert. The brewery offers mouthwatering drafts and craft brews. The owners brew their beer offsite, so you don’t see brewing tanks in the no-frills space. But the beer is delicious. A pizza company is nearby, so you can grab some tasty pizza or snacks to enjoy with your beer.
Gilbert Farmers Market
Enjoy the Farmers Market located in downtown Gilbert near the water tower on Saturdays. The market features local fresh fruit and vegetables as well as artisanal food products.
You will find between 60 to 100 vendors selling their products from nearby farms. The market’s mission is to promote healthy eating, local sustainability, and green living practices within the community and surrounding area.
Gilbert Historical Museum
Highlighting the history of the town of Gilbert and the surrounding area, the Gilbert Historical Museum is near the southern end of the Heritage District. The museum is in the original Gilbert Elementary School built in 1913 and is on the Register of Historic Places. It houses a repository of artifacts, photographs, and documents, plus a gift shop. You can explore Gilbert’s past, present, and future through an array of displays, exhibits, and presentations that chronicle the town’s vibrant history.
Joe’s Real BBQ
Gilbert is a foodie town with lots of restaurants to visit. I recommend a stop at
Joe’s Real BBQ. It is a cafeteria-style spot that serves traditional pulled pork, barbecued ribs, and chopped brisket. All are slowly smoked over pecan wood till they are falling-off-the-bone delicious. Food is served in a casual, relaxed setting in a brick building that dates back to 1929. Joe’s Real BBQ exudes an ambiance of Arizona’s golden age of agriculture.
Pro Tip: Be sure to try the house-made cobbler for dessert.