Mesa is the third-largest city in Arizona. It is nestled close to Phoenix, Scottsdale, and charming small towns, and it is well known for its heritage family farms and other agritourism attractions. These all combine to provide a plethora of options for day trips from Mesa. Whether it is a museum or outdoor activities, you will find plenty to do.
Note: Thank you to Visit Phoenix and Visit Mesa, who hosted me on a press trip to learn about the area. All opinions are my own.
1. Balloon And Tunes, Phoenix
Book the Balloon and Tunes package through the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). You will begin the day with Hot Air Expeditions. You’ll watch a hot air balloon inflation followed by a 45- to 69-minute hot air balloon flight. The package includes post-flight champagne and breakfast from Vincent on Camelback. Upon completion, you will be transferred to the MIM, where you’ll also receive lunch at the MIM’s award-winning Café Allegro.
I had mixed feelings when I visited the MIM, with visions of row upon row of static musical instrument displays. It, frankly, felt like it would be boring. Well, I could not have been more wrong. What an amazing experience! The collection of more than 8,000 instruments from more than 200 countries is displayed in interactive galleries that take you through every genre of music. You wear a headset for the tour, and as you get close to an exhibit, it plays the music and information for that instrument or artist. Unlike many audio tours, you can go in any order you like or skip an exhibit if it doesn’t interest you. The Geographic Galleries have more than 4,300 instruments from regions around the world. I loved that you could watch performances utilizing these interesting cultural instruments.
My favorite gallery was the Artist Gallery, which highlights some of music’s most influential artists and their instruments. See artifacts and hear the music of iconic artists, such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Roberta Flack, Maroon 5, and many others. The Experience Gallery gives visitors the opportunity to play instruments from around the world.
2. True Garden, Phoenix
The amazing True Garden is an indoor vertical aeroponic food farm. It is the first of its kind to be operated by solar power. This technological marvel allows produce to be grown all year, even in the scorching summer heat, where temperatures can reach 120 degrees.
Touring the greenhouse is so interesting. There are rows of white towers filled with lush, green produce. This is a larger commercial farm, but you can also buy products to grow your own produce at home. Book a Basic Tower Garden Class and learn all about how to grow produce with an aeroponic tower garden. If it is something you are interested in having at home, you can order everything you need and have it shipped. I really enjoyed my visit here. It is such an interesting way to grow produce, and I was amazed at how much each tower can produce.
3. The Windmill Winery, Florence
The drive to the Windmill Winery from Mesa gets you out in the desert with scenic views of saguaro cactus along the route. The winery complex has a real Wild West, old ranch vibe to it. After the drive through the desert, the lush trees on the property feel like an oasis. Arizona wine has come a long way, and the Windmill is producing a variety of varietals grown in their desert terrain. These varietals include pinot grigio, granada, zinfandel, chardonnay, moscato, pinotage, alicante couschet, and my favorite, barbera. On weekends, take advantage of the visiting food trucks and live music. Take some time to explore the property and visit the resident animals who call the winery home. I loved the burros Harry Garcia, Ellie Mae, and Homer who are so filled with personality.
After enjoying time at the winery visit the town of Florence which has a variety of historic buildings as well as a Greek monastery. The McFarland State Historic Park is located in downtown Florence and contains an original 1878 building constructed of adobe bricks. The local visitor center is here as well where you can pick up a map for a walking tour of the historic town.
4. Queen Creek Olive Mill, Queen Creek
The Queen Creek Olive Mill makes a fun and educational day trip from Mesa. It is the only working olive farm and mill in Arizona. The 100-acre farm is family owned and operated and has over 7,000 olive trees. Book an Olive Oil 101 Educational Tour to learn about how olive oil is made. You will also learn about its health benefits and how to properly taste it. The tour takes about 45 minutes. The tour finishes in the gourmet marketplace, and you can shop for Queen Creek Olive Oil as well as balsamic vinegars, olives, and other locally made products.
Owner Brenda Rea created the Olivespa brand after some of her children suffered eczema due to the dry Arizona climate. She learned that extra virgin olive oil was a good quality moisturizer with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-aging properties. It is also hypoallergenic, biodegradable, and non-toxic. Rea developed her own goods made from extra-virgin olive oil from the family farm. Family and friends loved the products, and in 2012 the Olivespa studio was created on site. The products are all available at the marketplace.
Plan to spend some time sitting under the olive trees, enjoying Italian-inspired food crafted from local and garden-sourced ingredients. The menu offers a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, and pizza as well as antipasto and cheese boards. They serve an awesome Sunday brunch, with one of the offerings being a pancake board that includes a dozen silver-dollar buttermilk pancakes with toppings and sides, including fresh bananas, strawberries, blueberries, maple syrup, honey mascarpone, fresh whipped cream, chocolate chips, and Nutella dipping cream. It is enough to share and such a fun dish.
While in Queen Creek, make sure to stop at the Hayden Flour Mills at Sossaman Farm. Heritage grains are grown on small Arizona farms and milled at the site. All flour is non-hybridized, minimally processed, and more nutritious. The Mill Store has a variety of products, including flours, pasta, and crackers made from Hayden Flour. It is well worth a stop.
5. Agritopia, Gilbert
Agritopia is a planned community village that preserves urban agriculture while integrating it into a well-designed neighborhood. While this is a community, there are lots of things to see and do while visiting. For your first stop, visit Barnone, which is a location for skilled craftsmen to make and sell their products. The artisans make food, wine, paper products, wood signs, and much more. One vendor with an interesting backstory is the Johnston Machine Co. Herbert L. Johnston helped invent the KitchenAid mixer. His great-grandson Joe Johnston is the founder of Barnone, and he is developing and testing prototypes for new cooking tools with Johnston Machine Co.
6. Jalapeno Bucks, Mesa
Situated in the middle of an orange grove is Jalapeno Bucks. It is technically in Mesa, but it feels a world away. The surrounding orange trees were planted in 1915 and are over 100 years old. Owners Duaine and Dianne Burden serve what they call Arizona barbeque from converted shipping containers. It is one of the most unique barbeque joints in the United States and has a local cult following. The place is always busy. The food is a hybrid of Mexican and barbeque, which actually goes together quite well. Think burritos and quesadillas made with barbeque meats.
Start with Duaine’s signature salsas — they are how he got the nickname Jalapeno Buck. The salsas are sold by the pint or quart, and you can order paper bags filled with house-fried corn tortilla chips. My group ordered a medium bag, and it was huge. The salsa is amazing, and I loved the mango salsa for its perfect mix of sweet and spicy in a chunky salsa. He also has a variety of house-made barbeque sauces that are so flavorful and unique.
The most amazing thing on the menu is the quarter- or half-pound PB & J Brisket sandwich. While it may not sound appetizing, somehow this mound of beef brisket slathered with peanut butter and grape jelly works. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is oh so gooey and delicious. Extra napkins are a must.
There are so many opportunities for day trips when visiting Mesa. These ideas just scratch the surface. With Scottsdale nearby, for instance, you can take a day trip without paying the costs of luxury lodging in this resort city.
Pro Tips: Many of the luxury resorts in Scottsdale have spas, and a great way to experience a resort is to book a treatment and then enjoy the opulent amenities. The Phoenician’s spa is the epitome of upscale luxury. Book a treatment and enjoy a preparatory hot-and-cold contrast hydrotherapy before your treatment, then follow it by relaxing in the lounge area or at the rooftop pool.