In collaboration with @VisitMesa Tourism. Our travel dates: November 16 - 19, 2022
Location: Mesa is located in Maricopa County, Arizona, and is part of the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale Metropolitan Area.
When to go: Mesa is excellent year-round, though fall and winter are great for cooler weather for outdoor activities.
Weather: Summer highs between 92-105°F, lows 60-77°F. Winter highs between 66-87°F, lows 39-57°F
Closest airport: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX).
Getting around: Renting a car is the most practical. However, if you are interested in hiring a driver for your trip, Boss Transportations is a great resource.
I was beyond excited to be invited out to Mesa, Arizona, to experience this unique city’s food, adventure, and culture and its outer limits.
I have spent a good deal of time road-tripping around Arizona. Still, Mesa was somewhere that I was interested in learning more about and seeing what makes the area a destination that so many people love.
We had 4-adventure-packed days of fun planned by the people who know Mesa best. Here’s what we got into and how you can plan your trip to Visit Mesa!
Day 1: Flights, Bites, and Bonfire Nights
It only took me a few hours to get from Pittsburgh to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). I grabbed my bags and finally met four girls I had only known from Instagram – Emily Hamilton, Nikki Tomlin, Vanessa Temblador, and Sarah Fay.
With those post-flight munchies underway – we met our driver Tai from Boss Transportation and hit the road to find some of the best roadside BBQ in Arizona.
Where to Eat - Lunch at Jalapeno Bucks
Wow – this place did not disappoint.
Jalapeno Bucks is the perfect place to stop after leaving the airport on your way to Mesa. It’s a quick exit off the main road and about halfway to your destination.
Now when I think of Arizona BBQ, I think of big, sloppy (in the best way), and juicy – and that’s precisely what we got. This Southwest outdoor diner has food for everyone and will probably leave you with many extras to take home with you. So grab some homemade ‘secret recipe’ sauces, the best burritos in the West, fresh salsas, and lemonade, and try their PB&J Brisket.
Where to Stay - Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch
The first thing we did when we got into Mesa was drop off our bags at the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch, where we would be staying, and settled into our private cottages. Hello beautiful! The scenery surrounding Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch may be some of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever seen in Arizona. The glowing mountains, the calm river, everything was saying ‘Welcome to Arizona’ .
The property is ~40 minutes from the Phoenix International Airport and within 30 minutes or less of everything in Mesa and its city limits, including the incredible Tonto National Forest.
After unloading and receiving a welcoming tour from the staff, we put on our favorite workout sets and headed down towards the banks of the Salt River to enjoy an hour of relaxing yoga with Donna from Yoga Party Live. The perfect way to detox after a morning of travel and an intentional meditation as we prepare for what was sure to be an incredible and busy trip.
Where to See Wild Horses
If you are visiting Mesa, you must leave time for is a chance to see the wild mustangs graze among the banks of the Salt River.
After yoga, we packed into our car and drove about 15 minutes to Coon Bluff and walked down to the shoreline. There are a few places where these wild horses are known to be, and they aren’t always there, but currently Coon Bluff is your best bet, and they usually come out to feed in the morning and right before sunset. (To see more wild horse-known locations, visit my map of Arizona).
Finish the night off as we did with some wine that you can purchase from the ranch, and s’mores next to the community bon fire. And if you don’t know how to make a bonfire, just ask at the front desk.
Ride - Morning Horseback Riding at Saguaro Lake Ranch Stables
The second day of our trip started in the most incredible way, with a little “Old West” horseback riding through some of the best riding trails in all of Arizona – and we didn’t even have to leave our ranch to get there! Steps away from the bungalow are the Saguaro Ranch Stables.
This ride might go down for me as one of my favorite outdoor experiences – maybe ever.
We were each given our horses and a quick 30-second riding tutorial, and away we went. The trail rides through the Sonoran Desert in the majestic Goldfield Mountains along saguaro cactus-studded ridges, across and along the Lower Salt River, into dry arroyos, and up the creosote-covered hills that overlook Saguaro Lake. THIS PLACE WAS MAGIC.
Exploring The Apache Trail & The Superstition Mountains
The next stop on our adventure was up to the Superstition Mountains and the Apache Trail, one of the most popular day trips for anyone visiting Mesa. We were all set to see the historic area from a new perspective – from the middle of Canyon lake on a 90-minute “nature cruise” was not only educational, but we also got to see goats hanging out on the mountains.
It’s a good idea to book your Dolly Steamboat cruise in advance, but if you do choose to make it a spontaneous last minute decision – the boat is plenty big for everyone!
On this scenic drive through the Old West, you can also visit the Superstition Mountain Museum with the famous Elvis Presley Chapel, walk through an old ghost town, and eat at Tortilla Flat Saloon. If you are visiting the saloon, I would highly suggest ordering a prickly pear beer or lemonade, and thank me later.
🥾 Hiking In The Superstition Mountains
The Superstition Wilderness is also one of Arizona’s best hiking spots, with plenty of trails for all levels. Unfortunately, we only had time on this trip to do one hike. Still, if you have some extra time in Arizona, I highly recommend hiking through the Superstition Wilderness area. Here are some hikes that you can add to your bucket list!
Trail: Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail
Length: 5.5 mi
Elevation gain: 2,641 ft
Route type: Out & back
Trail: Fremont Saddle via Peralta Canyon Trail
Length: 4.6 mi
Elevation gain: 1,341 ft
Route type: Out & back
Trail: Battleship Mountain
Length: 12.5 mi
Elevation gain: 1,909 ft
Route type: Out & back
For more incredible hiking trails in the area, make sure to check out my downloadable Google Map of Arizona!
🍷 Explore The Town Of Gilbert
We made reservations for a super trendy restaurant in the heart of Gilbert, Arizona, Postino East Wine Cafe, for dinner.
Here’s what you can expect – thirty-six unique, approachable wines; simple, delicious food prepared with local ingredients such as bruschetta, paninis, salads and soups; and a warm, friendly culture that brings people together! Because we had a larger party, we went a little ham and took advantage of trying all of the possible bruschettas. I must admit, they were all DELICIOUS. And the wine just tied everything together.
If that doesn’t sound like you’re thing, or you’re looking for a more laid-back vibe, there are plenty of options in Gilbert for everyone. Or, at least, take a walk through town. At night, the lights make the town feel electric!
Rafting Down the Salt River
We woke up at the Saguaro Lake Ranch to find it was pretty chilly outside, which was a little surprise waking up in Arizona. It was a good reminder always to pack your layers, but we didn’t let a little chilly weather stop us from the fun activity we had planned.
Did you know that REI had group tours?
If you’re visiting Mesa, Arizona, and looking for a fun activity for you and your friends, check out REI’s group rafting tours! Rafting down the Salt River is a great way to experience the desert from a different perspective. Class 1 rafting is easy and family-friendly. REI’s flatwater rafting tours float through the Sonoran Desert on the Lower Salt River. Get to know the area while a guide steers the boat as they teach you about the river ecosystem you are floating through. Plus, you even have a chance to see wild horses! How cool is that?
Lucky for us, the wildlife came out to play during our float. And while we didn’t jump in for a swim on a hot day, you’re more than welcome!
UTVing Through The Sonoran Desert
We had an adventure-packed day planned for today, so after finishing our rafting tour, we grabbed some lunch at What’s Crackin’ Café, and headed over to Stellar Adventures for a bit of UTVing through the Sonoran Desert. Everyone was siked to be sightseeing through Arizona in this incredibly unique way. Once we geared up with your fancy hair wraps, helmets, and protective equipment, we got settled in our UTVs, and just like that, we were off. The ride was exhilarating, and even though the tour was guided, we felt like we were in control of our journey.
If you are someone who craves adventure, then this experience is for you! And I would 100% book the last tour of the day because if you are lucky enough to be out in the desert as the sun starts to set (like we were), you’re in for a treat!
Dinner & Drinks In Downtown Mesa
It was our last night in Mesa, so of course, we had to see downtown! Main Street is a whole scene on weekend nights, with live music bursting out of the breweries and tasting rooms, tons of late-night restaurants, and many incredible vibrant murals, all commissioned by local artists!
Our first stop was at Cider Corps, where we could order fantastic flatbreads while sipping on cider flights. For a Thursday night, this place was bumping. The space was packed with people just laughing and enjoying their night out.
Other options recommended to us, but we didn’t have time to stop, were Chupacabra Tap Room, ORO Brewing, and 12 West Brewery. All these places sounded (and looked) amazing, but we had to go home and change because it was our last night, so of course, we had to make time for some good ol’ fashion line dancing at Denim & Diamonds.
Departing Hike - The Wind Cave Trail
It was our last day in Mesa, and I didn’t want to go home. I couldn’t believe how quickly time passed and how much more I still wanted to see and do.
We had a fabulous hot air balloon adventure with breakfast planned with Hot Air Expeditions, but the weather did not play out in our favor. Unfortunately, the winds were forecasted to be strong, so we had to put our dreams on hold, and instead, we found this incredible (and popular) trail, called the wind cave trail, that we could do instead. While we were bummed about the hot air balloon, we were excited to explore Mesa on foot and see some of the peaks that overlooked the city.
The wind cave trail is a scenic and challenging trail in the Usery Mountain Regional Park. The beginning is relatively flat, with subtle switchbacks until you reach the top of what looks like a flat cave.
You will need to purchase a day or annual pass to enter the Usery Mountains, but you can get it ahead of time or right at the entrance.
It was finally time to say goodbye to Mesa, Arizona, and the new friends I’d made on this trip. While I can’t imagine spending my time here any other way – I can’t wait to come back and see more of Mesa!
To find pins to all of the locations we visited and other great hikes and gems around Mesa – check out my map of Arizona!
PrettylilArizona - Downloadable Google Map
What You'll Find Inside
PrettylilArizona is my downloadable Google map of the most incredible places to visit around the beautiful state of Arizona!
Let’s be honest; no one has the time to spend reading blog after blog and scrolling through Instagram to land in these locations. Skip the scrolling and start living. Once you download my PrettylilArizona map or any other Google Maps, you’ll add the freedom to get in your car and go.
Get access to some of the best that Sedona has to offer, and discover a waterfall that literally looks like it’s raining chocolate. Explore my favorite photography spots, and escape to the places you never even knew existed – right at your fingertips. Travel through all three of Arizona’s National Parks with pre-pinned campgrounds, trails, and more.
I’ve spent countless hours researching and tracking all my stops around Arizona. I’ve vetted the best destinations and most instagrammable photo options for you to take with you on your travels. These are the maps that I use for all of my road trip planning.