We're Going To Mesa - With History, Deserts & A Whole Lot Of Fun, Mesa Is a Natural Family Hot Spot
Published: Nov 25, 2011
By Josephine Matyas
In an ideal world, the family that travels together is open to a world of adventure, shared experiences, happy memories and lifelong bonding. In the real world of family travel, things present more of a challenge (think: cranky toddlers, dining disasters and a lack of appropriate activities). But some destinations are a better, more natural fit for family travel â and Mesa is definitely one of those special spots.
Named one of the most family-friendly communities in the United States by KaBOOM! (a national non-profit dedicated to fostering play for children), Mesa is chock-full of unique, different and playful ways to keeps kids entertained and engaged on vacation. And the family market is a much sought-after sector: adults with kids in tow make up almost one-third of adult leisure travellers, taking an average of almost five family trips each year.
Where Exactly Is Mesa?
Juts minutes from Phoenix airport, Mesa has been dubbed âthe nationâs largest suburbâ; a city known for its low key and laid back lifestyle. The third largest city in the state, Mesa joined with neighbouring Chandler, Tempe and Apache Junction to promote themselves as Sunny Arizonaâ¦and itâs a tagline that hits the mark! Mesaâs unbeatable year-round weather and beauty of the surrounding landscape are a hit with Canadian travellers â including families that will find countless attractions, shopping stops and great eats at kid-friendly restaurants.
Head For The Outdoors
Itâs hard not to head outdoors â something that is a welcome change for housebound-weary parents. Mesaâs landscape combines the best of the magical Sonoran Desert (a high desert of springtime blooms, towering cacti and desert critters) with the surrounding Tonto National Forest, the fifth largest and one of the most-visited âurbanâ forests in the country. Together, the desert and the forest make one fantastic outdoor playground for nature lovers and outdoors sports enthusiasts.
Locals love Usery Mountain Regional Parkâs 50-kilometres of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding â and theyâre happy to share them with visitors. Desert programming at the parkâs new Nature Center introduces kids to the unique high desert ecosystem. Budding naturalists canât help but be entranced by stargazing sessions, scorpion hunts, full-moon hikes and hide-and-seek walks.
The special Childrenâs Garden at Boyce Thompson Arboretum offers a hands-on, desert experience to challenge and strengthen the senses through four interactive stations â Texture, Color, Sound and Scent. Kids can learn how rainbows are formed, feel their way through a dark cave and learn to identify the sounds of desert creatures.
For a cliffhanger of a road trip, the narrow, steep Apache Trail winds for 70 kilometres from Apache Junction, past the quirky Old West stagecoach stop of Tortilla Flat (population: six) to the Roosevelt Dam. Parents can leave the white-knuckle drive to the pros at Apache Trail Tours and join a jeep tour along this road that has been lauded as one of Americaâs most scenic drives.
Parks & Family Attractions
If the day is a scorcher, best head to Golfland Sunsplash, Mesaâs premier waterpark with waterslides, a wave pool, toddlerâs pool and family-friendly games like laser tag, miniature golf and bumper boats. Open year round, Wednesday nights offer special family rates with one-price unlimited mini golf, laser tag and video games.
Thereâs a reason Mesa was named one of the nationâs most playful cities, and it includes the cityâs play centres with games from traditional to high-tech. Amazing Jakeâs Food & Fun is an indoor amusement park (a perfect rainy day activity) with go-carts, laser tag, mini-golf, rock climbing, bumper cars, bowling and a mini roller coaster. Stratum Laser Tag â the worldâs largest technotainment arena â features state of the art sound, lights and technology in a massive 15-level arena of ramps, towers and bridges.
Mesaâs temperate climate means itâs growing season year-round, so visits to family farms and producers are a great way to pass a day and help kids to reconnect with the source of their favourite foods. One of Mesaâs original citrus growers â Orange Patch â offers special tours, and fresh, sun-ripened oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit in springtime. In the winter months, the 44 hectares of citrus groves are filled with fragrant blossoms.
And that most family-friendly of all food groups â ice cream â takes centre stage at Udder Delights Ice Cream, a part of Superstition Farm. In addition to the ice cream bar (which includes a wacky selection of flavours from cotton candy to Key lime pie), this working dairy farm has a petting zoo where kids get to touch the wings, hooves and paws of their favourite farm animals.
Along the famous Apache Trail, the Goldfield Ghost Town sits on an original 1880s prospecting site, but these days itâs all about retelling the rich history of the days of the Gold Rush. The Old West setting is fun for kids to pan for gold, watch a staged gunfight and go below the surface on an underground mine tour.
Banish the thought of boring museums with dusty display cases. Mesaâs museums are filled with interactive displays to draw kids into the world of natural history, the arts and modern day technology.
Inside the Arizona Museum of Natural History kids can walk among the giant skeletons in Dinosaur Hall, experience a flash flood crashing down a three-storey mountain, learn about deep space through pictures from the Hubble Telescope and dabble hands-on at the Exploration Station. The museum hosts A Night at the Museum events with themed activities, a movie and snacktime.
The Arizona Museum for Youth aims to educate children on the principles and techniques of art. Upcoming exhibitions include the art of Warner Brotherâs cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, and a look at all things that fly.
Older kids may find the astronomy nights at the Mesa Planetarium very cool. Arizona is known for some of the worldâs best night sky viewing â on the first Friday of each month the planetarium hosts complimentary, guided telescope viewing.
Mesa and its neighbouring communities are well known for their expansive lifestyle shopping centres, funky shops and upscale boutiques. There are even a few unique shopping stops for tweens and young kids with a little allowance to spend.
Girly Girlz, at the Dana Park Village Square, has shelves lined with thousands and thousands of girly items, funky room dÃ©cor, slumber party must-haves and glitzy accessories.
Mrs. Potts Tea Party, in downtown Mesa, is home to customized, leisurely tea parties done with traditional flair. Girls can choose from over 250 dresses, 80 hats and 100 hairpieces to dress up for party time.
The shopping is a little more eclectic at the colourful Mesa Market Place Swap Meet â two kilometres of covered shopping lanes with 1,600 booths hawking everything from vintage games to the original Red Dirt Shirts from Sedona (featured on the Discovery Channelâs Dirty Jobs).
Being named one of the countryâs most play-friendly cities means that Mesa has an eye to the refuelling needed to keep kids in a happy mood. A wide variety of restaurants cater to toddlers, tweens and teens, often adding a dash of entertainment to the mix!
For music and a meal, the 6,000 pipes, xylophones, glockenspiels and countless traps of the 1927 Wurlitzer organ at the Organ Stop Pizza make the restaurant a favourite of kids, parents and grandparents (in addition to the awesome organ, thereâs a build-your-own pizza menu)
Just outside Mesa, the Rockinâ R Ranch pioneer homestead serves up barbecue beef and chicken dinners, alongside staged gunfights, wagon rides, gold panning and western stage shows.
The line-up this winter at the Broadway Palmâs Childrenâs Theatre includes classics like The Nutcracker and School House Rock Live! It can be a âdinner and theatreâ outing for kids at the theatreâs luncheon buffet of sliders, corndogs, macaroni and cheese, pizza and chicken fingers.
The kids may already know all about Sweet Cakes CafÃ©, featured on TLCâs Best Food Ever. The bakery is known for its scratch-made, plate-size cookies in flavours like chocolate chip,, peanut butter M&M and Snickerdoodle.
â¢ The pocketsize Sunny Arizona Family Guide is available online at www.VisitSunnyAZ.com or by calling 800-283-6734.
â¢ Every year, Canadians staying in Arizona celebrate their home country at the family-friendly Great Canadian Picnic. Itâs on February 4, 2012 at the South Mountain Park Preserve â and there will be tons of family-oriented games.
â¢ Golf is still front and centre in this part of Arizona â thanks to year-round playing conditions. Many courses and resorts offer specials specifically for Canadians and services to help teach and groom young golfers. www.arizonaguide.com
â¢ WestJet offers daily non-stop service from Calgary and has launched seasonal service to Phoenix from Kelowna and Victoria.
â¢ US Airways flies non-stop service from Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto to Phoenix.
â¢ Air Canada has non-stop service from Toronto to Phoenix
â¢ Allegiant Air flies from border towns Bellingham, WA, Great Falls, MT and Grand Forks and Fargo, ND to Mesa.
For more information, visit www.visitmesa.com