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Attractions of Mesa Arizona: Things to see and do anytime of year

The warm stillness of early morning encompasses the Sonoran Desert, as the sun casts golden rays across the landscape. Tiny birds flit from flowering and enticingly scented saguaro cactuses to thorny bushes, while chirping amidst this scenic and peaceful wilderness. It is here in the Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, Arizona, that visitors come to explore nature and seek out the areas engaging activities.

Mesa is located about 20 minutes east of Phoenix and is surrounded by splendid mountains, the Sonoran Desert, the Salt River, amazing resorts and a vast array of activities and intriguing sites. From stunning parks where visitors can practice yoga, to fabulous restaurants, fun attractions and unique shops, Mesa provides an alluring destination for travelers.

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Usery Mountain Regional Park

Encompassing 3,648 acres in the center of Mesa, Usery Mountain Regional Park is home to numerous varieties of fascinating plants and animals that visitors can observe by taking one of the many hiking trails on a self-guided adventure, or participating in ranger-guided hikes. The guided hikes are especially appealing as they range from fun full-moon hikes at night, to exploring all about Sonoran Desert plants, as well as a plethora of themed hikes for adults and kids that are scheduled throughout the year. Kids are especially thrilled with the reptile and butterfly hikes. Moreover, the Sonoran Desert is not a dry and barren desert, but is filled with flowering plants and cactuses that offer a strange and almost unearthly beauty, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, when the sun infuses the desert with golden light.

In addition to hiking at Usery Mountain, the park also offers bicycling, horseback riding, camping, archery and yoga. If you are interested in yoga, exceptional instructors offer top-level classes in a tranquil desert setting for all levels (under cover with open sides on extremely warm mornings or rain). The classes are held weekly and are attuned for strength, centering and vitality to help develop core strength. An early morning yoga class set in this beautiful and peaceful environment is a perfect way to gear up for your exploration of the desert. The sessions are invigorating and the stress just vanishes as the instructor guides you through yoga stretches, as birds chirp and the serenity of the desert add to your experience. For additional information, visit Usery Mountain Regional Park.

Kayaking on the Lower Salt River

Who would think to visit the desert for or fishing, boating, water-skiing, wake boarding, rafting and kayaking for that matter? You are in for an amazing adventure when you take a guided kayak trip on the Lower Salt River, located about 30 minutes from Mesa. The Lower Salt River is perfect for a kayak tour that is a leisurely float on cool, clear water.

Incredible views of lush, green foliage and trees line the banks of the river with numerous and brilliant birds, such as eagles that soar above, as well as Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Heron and King Fishers. As you gently paddle along, the vistas change and new landscapes appear around each bend.

Farther downstream, kayakers spot one of the most stunning views along the trip, wild horses that stand in the river feeding on green grasses that grow under water. This is definitely the time to bring out your water-resistant camera and take photos.

Tip: To maximize your experience, make sure you don't drink too much coffee or tea before your rafting or kayaking trip; you will be on the water for several hours. Do bring plenty of water, a hat, swimsuit, shorts, water-sport shoes, camera and lots of sunscreen.

Arizona Outback Adventures provide wonderful and relaxed two-hour guided kayak or rafting trips along the Lower Salt River. And, multi-day adventures are offered as well with hiking, biking and kayak tours. The company is professional, friendly and dedicated to providing their guests outstanding adventures on land or water.

Queen Creek Olive Mill

Mesa is great for outdoor adventures but there are a lot of fun sites and activities to experience indoors as well. In fact, one of the best parts of a vacation or trip is to find that special shop or product that you don't have at home. Located about 20-minutes from central Mesa is the town of Queen Creek and the Queen Creek Olive Mill.

The Queen Creek Olive Mill is a popular agritourism site and attracts about 26,000 visitors a year. Proprietor Perry Rea, owner and Master Blender of Queen Creek Olive Mill, has the distinction of growing and pressing his own superb olives into olive oils that will rock your world (their Lemon Olive Oil is divine). In addition, Rea's mill is the only working olive mill in Arizona. The mill's Marketplace proffers luscious, organic deli fare, excellent gourmet products, sparkling wines, (try the amazing Almond Sparkling Wine), beers (try the Kilt-Lifter) and wines from Arizona award-winners (try the Pillsbury WildChild Red), to small family wineries in Italy and Spain.

When you walk into the mill, the first thing you'll notice is the heavenly scent of fresh bakery goods and the rich aroma of olives filling the air. The second observation is how large the fantastic marketplace is with great olive oil products, wonderful gourmet foods, and imported Italian ceramics.

If you're interested in olives and their expeller process, take the mill's 30-minute 101 Tour. Visitors learn the history of the farm and mill, how their signature oils are made and the importance of sustainable farming; plus, a sampling of olives, olive oils and tapenades, yum. The tour is fun and provides an appreciation for quality extra virgin olive oils.

After the tour, scope out the mill's deli and try a marvelous slice of scrumptious pizza (try the amazing balsamic bacon-walnut honey and mascarpone) or peruse the Marketplace for unique products, such as their hand-made olive oil based soaps and moisturizers. If you are interested in special packages and tours, the mill offers several special VIP tours and event catering tours for groups.

Indulge Your Inner Artist at SunDust Gallery

When you're on holiday or visiting a new town, new experiences can add a special memory to your visit or even inspire you to start a new hobby. SunDust Gallery, located on West Main Street in Mesa, is an enticing art gallery with eye-catching art works to peruse and purchase. However, owner Ron Floyd offers a class called Bottles 'N Paint on Friday and Saturday nights, 7 to 9 p.m., year-round that is an absolute blast!

If you have never even painted a stick figure, you, your friends and significant other will have a great time painting with acrylic paints on a canvas with 15 to 25 other students to create your own masterpiece in two hours. Floyd teaches the class (and gallery artists as well) in a fun and informal setting with a theme for the evening, such as an Arizona desert sunset. Ninety percent of the folks that take the two-hour class are not even artists, but have a great time painting and take pleasure in a wonderful social evening. You can even bring your own bottle of wine or beer to drink, while you paint without any expectations, except that you enjoy yourself and create.

The class is easy and the social comradery between students often breaks out into laughter and big smiles. Floyd's Bottles 'N Paint class is so popular, it just won an award for "Best Girl's Night Out" in Arizona's East Valley Tribune for 2012. Not only will you have a great time, but also you'll be surprised that you can actually paint an artwork to be proud of and take it home. The SunDust Gallery charges $50.00 dollars for the class, but if you look for web coupons you will likely find a coupon for half price.

Indulge in a Spa Treatment

Everyone needs to take time out and pamper themselves; many individuals head to a day spa for just that occasion. Fuchsia Spa, located at Village Square at Dana Park Shopping Center on S. Val Vista Drive in Mesa, is the city's most popular spa. From pedicures and heavenly facials to massages and manicures, Fuchsia provides excellent services in a chic environment with tones of fuchsia and chocolate in the treatment rooms. Relax in your spa room to your favorite music on an iPod or bring your own. There is even a flat screen TV to catch up on chick flicks. Their prices are quite reasonable, the atmosphere fresh and hip and their services professional; you won't be disappointed. Try a French manicure and pedicure to accent your outfit while you play in the Arizona Sun.

Restaurant Dining

The important recommendations of any city are the restaurants and here are several in Mesa that, once you visit, will be at the top of your list. Postino's Wine Cafe in Mesa's historic downtown is the epicenter and pulse of the neighborhood. Its contemporary atmosphere features an indoor/outdoor bar and wrap-around patio, cooled with mist streams in warmer weather. It's a great place to chat it up and relax over a unique glass of wine (36 excellent varieties) and stellar but simple menu selections, such as burrata, bacon, arugula and tomatoes bruschetta or a wickedly good Panini called the Autostrada with Sopresatta, Italian ham, cappicola, mortadella, provolone and arugula and tomatoes with spicy pepper relish.

For a casual but cool setting, Liberty Market, located on N. Gilbert Road, is a must-visit while in Mesa. This urban bistro is Zagat-rated and a multiple award-winner that was originally a grocery store in the '30s. Their coffee beverages are delicious, their desserts are outstanding, and their wood-fired pizza will break your heart. Liberty also serves a fine selection of beer and wine. For dessert, try their incredible house-made bread pudding and red velvet cake; better make sure you order some to go, as you will get a craving for it and then they won't be open in the middle of the night. It may sound odd, but go and check out their uniquely themed bathrooms with sound tracks and visuals; you might be inspired to change your bathroom decor.

For breakfast, visit award-winning T.C. Eggington's Brunchery. The restaurant is hugely popular with locals and the atmosphere is on the Victorian-country side with a really friendly staff. The made-from-scratch family recipe menu items are mouth-watering, large potions served with everything from a large plate of Farmer's Market Ben E. Dict (an impressive eggs Benedict) to custard-dipped French toast. T.C.'s is breakfast with style and gourmet flair.

Hilton Phoenix-East Mesa

For accommodations, the Hilton Phoenix-East Mesa is a notable hotel with an atrium-style interior. It is close to Mesa's sites, activities and they offer reasonable rates. The rooms are stylish, the staff is great and more importantly, the beds are comfy.

Mesa, Arizona, has its own personality with communities that make it a unique and great place to visit. And, with Mesa's close proximity to Phoenix, visitors who want to explore this tremendous city are only 20-minutes away. In addition, a light rail that runs from Phoenix is now extending to Mesa for even easier accessibility. For additional information on Mesa's site, activities and attractions, visit

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An experienced travel photojournalist Patrice Raplee is also editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular guest on Travel radio talk shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure. Photos courtesy of Patrice Raplee.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: June 26th, 2013

Updated: August 7, 2016

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