Mesa, Arizona is one of those small desert towns with a big community feel. Perched between neighboring cities Phoenix and Scottsdale, the Maricopa County destination is often overlooked by its bigger city counterparts – but there’s a lot to discover in this charming Arizona outpost. While the population sits at around 500,000, Mesa is more densely populated than other more well-known cities such as Minneapolis, St. Louis, and even Miami. This means that despite its compact size, there are endless activities and handfuls of fun experiences to be found in the small desert town.
Here’s exactly how to spend an unforgettable long weekend getaway in the desert. From relaxing wine tastings to wild white-water rafting, there’s something for everyone in Mesa.
Where to Stay:
For an unforgettable stay, check into The Phoenician, a luxury retreat and golf course nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain. The jaw-dropping desert resort is the result of an extensive renovation that began when the property opened in October 1988. Today, the colossal luxury resort includes 450 spacious guest rooms (including two exquisite presidential suites) and 107 elegant casitas. Don’t miss the resort’s many dining options which include a gourmet breakfast bar that overlooks one of the property’s three pools. The Phoenician Spa is also worth a visit.
For a unique (and just as lavish) desert escape, book a glamping retreat at the Cozy Peach at Schnepf Farms. This cheeky property hosts guests in renovated airstream trailers on the family-owned farm.The farm resort currently has nine fully renovated airstreams, each of which includes its own fenced-in lawn and patio, a flat-screen TV with Netflix available, bicycle rentals, and farm-to-trailer room service. Unwind on the patio with a glass of wine or grab a bike and cycle your way through the peach trees.
Where to Eat:
For unparalleled mountain views, book a dinner with Cloth & Flame. This concept dining experience whisks guests from the city and into the vast Arizonian desert for an evening not soon to be forgotten. The team behind Cloth & Flame creates temporary venues and culinary experiences in the wilderness while serving multi-course farm-to-table meals for groups of 12 to upwards of 300. Share welcome cocktails, wine and stories with your neighbors and new friends, while passing carefully prepared gourmet plates around the table.
At Postino East Wine Café guests can expect to forego the stuffiness or pretentiousness that can sometimes come along with a well-stocked wine bar in favor of a warm, friendly urban space for catching up with friends and relaxing with a good glass of wine. Postino offers thirty-six unique, approachable wines and decadent, farm-to-table snacks like paninis and salads or the unique bruschetta board. The 2,500 square feet of indoor-outdoor seating, plus a full bar, was made with a welcoming atmosphere in mind and is thus loved by locals and visitors alike.
Queen Creek Olive Mill is a gorgeous gourmet market and restaurant where homemade olive oil reigns supreme. Check out the restaurant inside the Mill, where you can watch the olive oil being pressed right in front of your eyes or grab a seat at one of the picturesque outdoor dining tables. Be sure to try the antipasto board and a beloved wood oven pizza (all of which boast locally sourced ingredients and estate olive oil).
What to Do:
Mesa has a surprising surplus of great vintage shopping along a concentrated strip of its downtown Main Street. Head to Buckhorn Vintage for handfuls of mid century furniture and unique trinkets. For something that’ll fit more easily into your carry-on, wander down the street and into Atomic Age Modern. Here, you’ll sort through the racks of carefully curated vintage garments that can range from the sixties all the way up to present day. Be sure to try your hand at one of their many retro arcade game cabinets while you’re at it.
Despite being in the middle of the desert, Mesa offers a range of spectacular water experiences, with white water rafting being one of the most memorable. Experience unforgettable rafting with Mild to Wild Adventures in the Upper Salt River Canyon. Here you’ll paddle through a jaw dropping 2000-foot deep canyon while cruising through rapids and dropping at over 20 feet per mile. The refreshing day trip is packed with Sonoran Desert scenery, refreshing waves, and an outdoor grilled steak (or veggie burger) lunch at a riverside camp.
After all that wining and dining, skip the gym and sign up for a guided ‘plogging’ tour. The popular Swedish workout fad of collecting trash while jogging has recently found a happy home in the Sonoran Desert. Nicole Corey of Natural Restorations takes locals and visitors out for a morning of physical activity along the Lower Salt River and the neighboring desert pathways (visitors can choose between paddle boarding or jogging) to experience unforgettable Southwest views while picking up trash along the way.