Top 12 Things to Do in Mesa, Arizona

Last Updated on February 7, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Nestled against the scenic Superstition Mountains, Mesa offers plenty of sights and activities for visitors beyond its proximity to Phoenix. Historically, it began as a Mormon settlement which influences cuisine, architecture and cultural offerings today. Outdoorsy types find hiking and biking trails with cacti-dotted desert views, while foodies indulge in farm-fresh dining.

ActivityDescription
Stand Atop Apache MountainHike for panoramic views at Superstition Ridge.
Taste WineVisit America’s original commercial vineyard at Schnepf Farms.
See Baseball LegendsExperience Sloan Park, the Chicago Cubs’ Spring Training stadium.
Learn Cold War HistoryExplore the Commemorative Air Force Museum.
Hike Usery Mountain ParkEnjoy trails with spectacular scenery.
See Contemporary ArtVisit Mesa Arts Center for art and performances.
Play Vintage Arcade GamesEnjoy retro games at Blast from the Past.
Tour Taliesin West ArchitectureExplore Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home.
See 270-degree FilmsImmerse in marine life at OdySea Aquarium.
Explore Whimsical SculpturesDiscover modern art at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum.
Try Dutch Oven DishesSample authentic pioneer cuisine in Mesa.

Family-friendly museums showcase nostalgic toys, animation and airplanes to engage people of all ages. And baseball fans flock here for spring training glimpses of the Chicago Cubs plus downtown’s Smithsonian-affiliated baseball museum. This article details 12 of top things to see, sip, sample, explore and enjoy across artistic, athletic and historic attractions defining memorable Mesa encounters.

Stand Atop Apache Mountain at Superstition Ridge

Name and Location: Superstition Ridge Trail leads hikers up a rugged ridgeline to the summit of Apache Mountain within the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction and Mesa, Arizona.

History and Significance: Rising approximately 3,500 feet over the Sonoran Desert plains, Apache Mountain’s summit stands over 3,600 feet tall with unrivaled 360-degree views taking in iconic Superstition Mountain peaks, the sprawling metro Phoenix area, and native wildflower displays during spring blooms. The strenuous trail’s vastly rewarding payoff makes the journey’s challenge worthwhile.

What to Expect: Hiking Superstition Ridge involves climbing over 2,000 feet across 4 miles of steep, rock-lined trail with sheer drop offs, rewarding athletic outdoor lovers with unmatched panoramas atop Apache Mountain. Trip duration ranges 5-8 hours round-trip based on pacing. Rewarding sights include native saguaro cacti forests and regional vistas few witness.

Visitor Information: Year-round access, but heat dangers extreme May-September. Arrive early, bring 2 liters water per person minimum. Parking access via Peralta Trailhead off Hwy 60. Forest fee of $8 per vehicle. Experience advanced desert hiking before attempting as challenging conditioning required.

For panoramic views of the Sonoran desert and Four Peaks mountain range, hike high up Superstition Ridge within the sprawling Lost Dutchman State Park. Constructed by Arizona’s Civilian Conservation Corps, the short paved trail to Apache Mountain delivers sweeping vistas in all directions that seem to stretch forever on sunny days.

Pause to appreciate native desert flora like prickly pear cacti and ocotillo plants dotting craggy rust-hued slopes beneath your feet. Keep eyes peeled for lizards, roadrunners and hummingbirds too! Apache Mountain’s lofty elevation perspectives perfectly introduce Mesa’s majestic high desert landscape beaming with natural beauty.

Taste Wine at the First U.S. Commercial Vineyard

Name and Location: Alcantara Vineyards situated along the Salt River near Mesa claims distinction as the first commercially operated vineyard within the United States, dating back to the early Spanish colonial era starting in 1699.

History and Significance: Growing wine grapes over 300 years, Alcantara Vineyards occupies a site originally cultivated by padre Eusebio Kino. His Salt River Valley winemaking legacy ceased after mission destruction in the 1700s until resurrection in 2003 as Alcantara Vineyards. Today, its winery respects that history through Spanish varietal wines like Albariño, Tempranillo and Syrah.

What to Expect: Beyond its museum and chapel recounting wine’s early history near Mesa, Alcantara Vineyards crafts small-batch dry wines like its estate-grown Serrano Syrah and Salt River White. Knowledgeable staff conduct winery tours and tastings Fridays-Sundays within the unassuming farmstead location amid citrus groves lining the Salt River.

Visitor Information: Free self-guided vineyard walks daily, but guided wine tastings and vineyard tours offered only on weekends ($15 including tour, tasting, logo glass). Easy to access from US 60 at Power Road. Gates open at noon Fridays through Sundays only – arrive before 5 pm closing.

The fertile soil and arid climate around Mesa fueled America’s original commercial winery founded in the 1870s by vines transplanted from Europe by early Mormon settlers. Today, Schnepf Farms continues the 150-year winemaking legacy with a picturesque vineyard yielding delicious Tempranillo, Malvasia Bianca and more throughout the year.

Taste Arizona winemaking history for yourself at tastings and tours showing how grapes go from vine to bottle. Outdoor seating lets you linger sipping award-elixirs beside rows of vines and fleshy cactus pads. With specialty harvest festivals and seasonal events, Schnepf Farms honors oenophile origins where Arizona’s wine industry first took root.

See Baseball Legends at Sloan Park

Name and Location: Sloan Park stadium situated near Mesa’s Riverview district serves as the state-of-the-art spring training complex and player development facility for the Chicago Cubs MLB franchise.

History and Significance: Constructed in 2014, Sloan Park succeeded historic HoHoKam Stadium in hosting Chicago Cubs spring training baseball filled with player roster hopefuls, veterans, and legends taking shape each February/March. The massive facility lies close enough to Mesa’s city center for convenient game access. Seeing legends of Wrigley Field in this intimate suburban setting thrills fans.

What to Expect: Attending Sloan Park Cactus League action promises up-close access to observe Chicago Cubs mega-stars like catcher Willson Contreras or first baseman Anthony Rizzo tweaking techniques weeks before MLB’s regular season. Between innings fans find surprise player autograph opportunities easier than massive summer ballparks.

Visitor Information: Tickets start around $40 via Cubs.com for spring action late-February through March. The Cubs practice complex offers museum-quality memorabilia displays year-round. Easy access from US 60 with parking lots surrounding Sloan Park. Arrive early as lines queue.

As the lavish Spring Training stadium for the Chicago Cubs, Mesa’s Sloan Park treats fans to early glimpses of potential players taking to the field while veterans loosen up for upcoming season play. Open 360 days a year, the family-friendly ballpark buzzes when the Cubs practice February through March.

Fans fill the stands cheering on favorite athletes prepping for opening day. Year-round you can see trophies and celebrate Wrigleyville’s 2016 World Series win at onsite Cubs shops filled with spirited souvenirs. With guided tours, walk-up ticket availability during Spring Training and exciting baseball action, Sloan Park makes for an extra-special sporty attraction.

Learn Cold War History at Commemorative Air Force Museum

Name and Location: The Arizona wing of the Commemorative Air Force operates an aviation museum dedicated to exhibiting and flying vintage military aircraft at Falcon Field airport in Mesa.

History and Significance: Founded by WWII pilots in the 1950s aiming to acquire and preserve historic combat airplanes, the Commemorative Air Force museum has restored examples from multiple eras like the Cold War-era F-86 Sabrejet. Visitors gain educational perspective into 20th century conflicts via authentic aircraft and artifacts thanks to thousands of volunteer hours.

What to Expect: Walking the museum’s exhibits and Restoration Hangars reveals fascinating warbird aircraft ranging from the wwii B-17 Flying Fortress to 1950s fighter jets. Many airplanes remain operational, seen periodically at Air Show events. Signage and docents answer visitors’ aviation history questions surrounding the impressive collection.

Visitor Information: Open 9am-4pm daily except major holidays; $15 entry includes access to numerous other aviation exhibits on the Falcon Field campus like flight simulators. Free parking surrounding the Commemorative Air Force hangars. Arriving on a Wednesday offers the best odds of witnessing engine runups.

Aviation enthusiasts of all ages find exploring the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona Museum positively takes flight! The expansive hangars display military and civilian aircraft spanning WWII-era bombers to supersonic jets used through the Cold War’s conclusion. Get up-close to examine SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, the B-17 Flying Fortress and other winged icons that defined American air superiority when Soviet tensions ran high.

See what trained pilots use for navigation, communication and more in meticulously restored cockpits. Creative monthly programs like trivia nights and guest lecturers deepen your aviation insights after self-guided hangar tours. Expect runway views of vintage beauties taking off and landing beside jets welcoming visitors from the airfield outside too.

Hike Scenic Usery Mountain Park

Name and Location: Spanning over 3,600 acres of rugged Sonoran Desert terrain just beyond Mesa city limits, Usery Mountain Regional Park contains nearly 30 miles of diverse hiking trails.

History and Significance: Since opening for public recreation in 1985, Usery Mountain Regional Park has welcomed legions of outdoor enthusiasts seeking beautiful desert vistas, saguaro cacti forests and wildflower displays while accessing its network of hiking trails across the Usery and Pass Mountains. Birding opportunities abound as well.

What to Expect: Usery Park visitors can select hiking trails catering to all ability levels. Choose from challenging ridgeline climbs like the trailhead to iconic Wind Cave, leisurely nature walks like the QUEST Interpretive Trail, and moderate paths including the popular Pass Mountain Trail stretching nearly 5 miles roundtrip with elevation changes.

Visitor Information: Open daily sunrise to 10 pm, the park charges a $7 per vehicle entry free on weekends. Numerous hiking trailheads stem from the main parking lot. Restrooms and seasonal water fountains available. Visitors must bring all drinking water. Early arrival advised as crowds peak.

With over 29 miles of hiking and cycling paths boasting spectacular scenery, Usery Mountain Regional Park proves a treasured recreational asset near Mesa. Follow wide trails zigzagging Usery Pass mountain framed by rugged rock formations to arrive at iconic Wind Cave outlook.

Scramble over boulders to amazing unobstructed panoramas stretching from Four Peaks to iconic Superstition Mountains in the distance. Mountainsides bloom vibrantly across Usery’s 3,648 acres after spring rains, creating gorgeous foregrounds for photos. Ramble over the Pass Mountain Trail stretching 7.4 miles point-to-point or meander shorter paths ideal for sunset vista views too.

See Contemporary Art at Mesa Arts Center

Name and Location: The Mesa Arts Center complex spans over 200,000 square feet in downtown Mesa as the largest multidisciplinary arts center within Arizona.

History and Significance: Constructed in 2005 as part of Mesa’s strategy to energize its downtown district, the Mesa Arts Center campus transformed central Mesa into a thriving hub for performing and visual arts. Multiple museums and galleries spotlight contemporary creativity across mediums. The striking external architecture itself qualifies as art.

What to Expect: Visitors view rotating exhibits emphasizing contemporary art in the MCA Museum, ICAA Museum and other gallery spaces within Mesa Arts Center while admiring the futuristic exterior design incorporating Mesa’s landscape. Performances, festivals, arts classes and special events occur daily.

Visitor Information: The Mesa Arts Center remains open daily excluding some holidays. Entry is free to peruse public spaces, with varying ticket pricing for scheduled performances and events accessible via Center Street. Free and paid parking options surround the complex.

As Mesa’s dynamic hub for performing and visual arts, the architecturally-stunning Mesa Arts Center (MAC) offers inspiring artistic encounters for all interests. See free rotating exhibits within four airy contemporary galleries showcasing acclaimed painters, sculptors, mixed-media and more alongside unique gift selections at MAC’s Store.

Catch world music fusion bands, thought-provoking plays or energetic dance spectacles hosted at MAC’s theaters year-round too. Register kids for hands-on art, acting and music camp programs or take adult art classes nurturing individual creativity across mediums from clay throwing to digital design. With lovely grounds and a soaring glass-walled lobby, Mesa Arts Center provides a portal for connecting with premier regional creatives.

Play Vintage Arcade Games at Blast from the Past

Name and Location: Blast from the Past amusement center satisfies family nostalgic entertainment needs within Mesa’s Riverview Park at 525 N Mesa Drive along the Salt River.

History and Significance: Open since 2011, Blast from the Past delights visitors across generations by housing over 50 popular arcade and pinball machines from the 1970s onwards in prime working condition. Classics like Pac Man, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and pinball machines bring wholesome gameplay flashes from the past.

What to Expect: Unlimited free play access allows enjoying restored arcade and pinball machines to hearts’ content. Concessions like hot dogs, popcorn, candy and soda enhance the old-fashioned atmosphere. Ranging from skee ball to driving games and beyond, their machines inspire friendly competition across ages recapturing nostalgia.

Visitor Information: Open every evening at 5 pm except Sundays. Buy activity card for unlimited free play on all machines – $15 on weekdays, $20 Friday/Saturday nights. Located along Rio Salado Parkway beside Salt River. Birthday party hosting available.

For wholesome family fun, Blast from the Past amusement center delights with room after room filled with classic coin-operated games and quirky oddities. Test your might with grippers, engage in boxing machine duels and take a shot at air hockey against friends. Play pinball variations themed after The Addams Family or Star Wars films.

Ride mini mechanical bucking broncos andautomobilesfrom decades past in motion. Between turns mastering classic midway competition challenges, appreciate the venue’s strange assemblage of retro toys, antique barbershop poles, macabre medical equipment and other eclectic curios.An affordable route to nostalgic entertainment for all generations, Blast From the Past hits a home run!

See Flyable Aircraft at Commemorative Air Force Museum

Name and Location: The Arizona wing of the Commemorative Air Force at Falcon Field in northeast Mesa dedicates thousands of volunteer hours toward restoring and sustaining historic military aircraft spanning eras from WW2 through the Cold War’s dawn.

History and Significance: Founded by enthusiastic pilots in 1957 seeking to acquire, preserve and flying-condition vintage warplanes, the Arizona CAF wing has amassed an impressive air museum collection thanks to member skills keeping rare aircraft operational. Seeing these warbirds start engines and take wing during events remains an arresting experience.

What to Expect: The sights, sounds and history surrounding CAF Arizona’s flyable North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar transport, and other winged relics captivate audiences during monthly fly days and twice-yearly air show extravaganzas held at Falcon Field. These lovingly maintained warbirds represent aviation technology advances.

Visitor Information: Airshow event and fly day schedules posted at azcaf.org. Free admission and parking for visitors wishing to admire vintage warplanes arriving and departing across runways. Photography welcomed. CAF hangar tours available plus aviation souvenirs for purchase.

Aviation enthusiasts of all ages find exploring the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona Museum positively takes flight! The expansive hangars display military and civilian aircraft spanning WWII-era bombers to supersonic jets used through the Cold War’s conclusion. Get up-close to examine SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, the B-17 Flying Fortress and other winged icons that defined American air superiority when Soviet tensions ran high.

See what trained pilots use for navigation, communication and more in meticulously restored cockpits. Creative monthly programs like trivia nights and guest lecturers deepen your aviation insights after self-guided hangar tours. Expect runway views of vintage beauties taking off and landing beside jets welcoming visitors from the airfield outside too.

Tour Taliesin West Architecture

Name and Location: Taliesin West situated at the foothills of Arizona’s McDowell Mountains near Scottsdale and Mesa stands as the Southwest headquarters Frank Lloyd Wright used for architectural creativity between 1937 until his passing.

History and Significance: After establishing an architectural style honoring natural landscapes known as Organic Architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright constructed Taliesin West as his personal winter residence and studio where he also mentored apprentices. Gifted to a foundation upon his death, tours today spotlight Wright’s trademark design philosophies incorporating native features.

What to Expect: Visitors witness Wright’s talent for unifying indoor/outdoor spaces across Taliesin West via guided walking tours. Key sights include the architect’s private office, living quarters, drafting studio, cabaret theater, and the Wright-designed landscapes that thread it all together as an embodiment of organic architecture’s sublime peak by its celebrated pioneer.

Visitor Information: Various tour options available daily 9 am to 4 pm ranging $25-$80 covering different site aspects. Reservations required at TaliesinWest.org. Located along Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd in Scottsdale. Accessible large parking lot on site. Visitor center offers Wright souvenirs to commemorate.

As Frank Lloyd Wright’s gorgeous winter home and desert laboratory, Taliesin West represents an architectural tour-de-force where one of history’s most influential builders fused environment with ingenious structural designs. Gain insight into Frank Lloyd Wright’s legacy during Public Tour Options walking through the grounds, private living quarters, drafting studios and more at this UNESCO site.

Follow knowledgeable guides explaining how the structures embrace indoor/outdoor living that responds fluidly with surrounding topography and views. Marvel over cantilevered roofs mimicking nearby mountain ridges while Wright’s stunning Asian-inspired furnishings further Taliesin West’s harmonious orientation to nature as an unforgettable entity offering renewal.

See 270-degree Films at OdySea Aquarium

Name and Location: The OdySea Aquarium attraction complex located in northeastern Mesa at 9500 E Via de Ventura focuses its immersive entertainment offerings around engaging visitors with undersea life exhibitions.

History and Significance: Open since 2016 as the largest aquarium in Arizona, the OdySea Aquarium boasts over 2 million total gallons of aquatic exhibits spotlighting sharks, sea lions, otters, penguins and other favorites. Its signature Voyager 360-degree theater projects floor-to-ceiling underwater films for unrivaled immersive perspectives of marine discoveries.

**What to Expect:**prepare getting surrounded by sharks, rays, turtles and schools of fish while discovering sea life wonders. Shows like the 3D cinema dors the line between education and entertainment. OdySea also contains amusement park rides, bowling, restaurants and ample shopping spanning its commercial plaza footsteps from Mesa Gateway airport.

Visitor Information: Open daily from 9am with closing times between 6-9 pm by season. General admission runs $24.95 (ages 13-64), $21.95 (Seniors 65+), $17.95 (kids 3-12). Purchase 1-Day or annual passes online, with validated plaza parking. Planet Shark Show and Ocean 360 theater require combo tickets.

The visually-stunning OdySea Aquarium immerses visitors into imaginative environments showcasing more than 30,000 marine animals over three levels of aquatic adventures. Beyond massive tanks swirling with sharks, stingrays and colorful reef species, the aquarium’s 3D theater projects extra-sensory documentary-style films for experiencing the ocean’s wonders up-close.

Special 270-degree multi-projector visuals broadcast across suspended screens encompassing audiences in lifelike vistas. Feel transported into schools of silvery fish swarming ethereal shipwrecks! Come eye-to-eye with playful sea lions and gentle manatees filmed so clearly they seem living and breathing across the screens. These ultra-vivid short films at OdySea Aquarium guarantee gasps and awe moments unlike any standard multiplex.

Explore Whimsical Sculptures at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

Name and Location: The Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum occupies the northwest corner of the Mesa Arts Center complex in downtown Mesa, hosting regional and national artists’ works across mediums.

History and Significance: As a distinguished component within the Mesa Arts Center since 2005, the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum (MCA Museum) spotlights cutting-edge temporary exhibits and installations spanning painting, sculpture, video and performing art platforms. The collection routinely rotates every few months.

What to Expect: Artworks shift throughout the year within the MCA Museum’s pillar-lined main hall and ancillary gallery spaces. Exhibits often possess imaginative or socially-relevant themes realized through talents like sculpture, light, ceramics and graphical arts encouraging viewer interpretation on multiple levels. Expect creativity aplenty.

Visitor Information: Free general admission during regular hours 10 am through 5 pm Monday-Saturday (closed Sundays). Located downtown at One East Main Street. Validated parking available in adjacent garage. Photography perfectly fine. Installations alternate every 2-3 months revealed on the Mesa Arts Center events calendar.

Amid beautifully renovated historic architecture, Mesa Contemporary Arts boldly rethinks what comprises a museum by integrating six themed galleries of provocative modern art with hands-on creative community studios. Unusual installations might suspend rings of metallic fish overhead, tower stacked televisions into abstract sculptures or even resemble an egg-shaped tiny home to enter!

Many multimedia works fuse video, lightboxes and soundscapes for immersive effect. Don’t miss the phenomenally colorful exposed exterior on the building’s side alleyway livened up through a massive mural collage playfully uniting Mesa landmarks. MCAA’s non-traditional setting easily sparks contemplative conversations about individual perception through contemporary art’s lens while inviting your own interpretations.

Try Dutch Oven Dishes at authentic Mesa Restaurants

Name and Location: Throughout neighborhoods in and around Mesa, a number of cherished eateries like Dutch Bros Arizona, Ollie Vaughn’s, Bergies Coffee Roast House and La Canasta Bakery proudly serve recipes carrying over the region’s Dutch heritage in varied ways.

History and Significance: Mesa’s cultural lineage traces back to its 19th century founding by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints including Dutch migrants to the Salt River Valley. Today, menu specialties at some local restaurants continue touching upon old family recipes with Dutch influences still familiar to longtime residents.

What to Expect: Flavorful coffee drinks, hearty pancakes with sweet cream drizzles, aromatic baked goods and slow-cooked dinners offer reminders of Mesa’s heritage when visiting Dutch Bros, Ollie Vaughn’s historic diner, Bergies bakery-cafe or La Canasta family bakery hidden away from tourists. Checking menus reveals traditional dishes perfected across generations.

Visitor Information: See visitmesa.com/food for addresses guiding visitors towards eateries spotlighting Dutch cuisine touches – from puffy olliebollen donuts to ervensoep lamb stew in neighborhoods scattered throughout Mesa. Most locations open early through late afternoon daily. Cash often preferred for fastest service.

Thanks to Mormon settlers imparting culinary traditions in the 1800s, Mesa today delivers some of Arizona’s most authentic pioneer cuisine. Family-owned restaurants like Sweetcakes Cafe, Worth Takeaway and R&R BBQ source cherished recipes for Dutch oven favorites passed down generations while adding innovative flair. From flaky fruit pies bursting berry juice to slow-roasted pulled pork sandwiches dousing tangy housemade BBQ sauce, the hearty comfort food options feel homespun yet craveable. Don’t miss epic super-stacked cookies taller than toddlers too! Embracing strong Mormon roots through family dining legacies spanning decades, these locally-loved eateries prove Mesa takes its heritage ingredients seriously for lip-smacking flavors.

Conclusion

Beyond proximity to bustling Phoenix, Mesa delights visitors through natural desert beauty, historic architecture, well-preserved aircraft, hands-on children’s museums and the Chicago Cubs spring baseball. Hike ridges overlooking cactus gardens giving way to endless blue skies. Sip fruity wines descended from America’s first vines transplanted here.

Immerse into Polynesian habitats aboard submarines or admire sculpture symbolizing mankind’s creative reach across thought-provoking galleries. However you choose to encounter Mesa, embracing this western city’s dynamic combination of outdoor urbanity against scenic desert results in experiences inspiring, reviving and unforgettable.

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