Mesa, Arizona is located directly to the west of Phoenix, the largest city and capital of Arizona, and makes up part of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. Sitting alongside Salt River, Mesa is about equidistant from the borders of California, New Mexico and Mexico.
Mesa has a thriving tourist industry suitable for both those wishing to enjoy the unique nature of the Sonoran Desert and visitors who want to steep themselves in the culture and history of the region.
In this article, we’re going to learn a bit about the people and history of Mesa, the places that you can see when visiting in the city, and what kinds of places you can stay in.
Who Are the People of Mesa?
Mesa has a population of just over half a million people, and it’s a bit of a student town, with more than 40 000 individuals enrolled in the network of colleges and universities in the city. The culture of Mesa is made up of its many historical parts, including influences from both Old America and Mexico to make that unique Southwestern blend.
What is the History of Mesa?
The earliest remaining settlement in Mesa was a Mormon colony founded by Daniel Webster Jones and Henry Clay Rogers. They arrived in the area in March 1877. The settlement was renamed Lehi, after a prophet in the Book of Mormon, in 1883, and this name still stands for the part of Mesa where the settlement was located.
Over the next two years, further groups of settlers arrived. The first group built their settlement up on the mesa, the flat hill, which would eventually give the city its name. The second group settled further to the west in a settlement they named Alma. The name still exists in Alma School Road and the Alma Ward Meeting House.
Mesa first became a city in 1883, then with a population of only 300 people. By the time air conditioning was becoming commonplace, Mesa had passed 10 000 people in population, with growth continuing rapidly, especially in the middle part of the 20th century.
What is Mesa Known For?
Mesa, like most cities in the American Southwest, is often associated with cowboys and the Old West. In a more modern sense, Mesa is associated with the aerospace industry, and Boeing continues to employ almost a whole percent of the population of the city.
Where Should a Visitor to Mesa Go?
Mesa has a lot to offer to tourists, from natural features to urban hubs. Let’s look at some of the places you can visit during your stay in Mesa.
Lakes and Rivers
Water activities aren’t the first thing that most people think of when visiting a desert, but with the city sitting alongside the Salt River and a collection of lakes around, you can balance out the hot sun with a dip in the water to cool off.
Some of the sites, like the Salt River, require a permit for fishing, but that’s not uniform across all of them. The lakes – Apache, Canyon, Roosevelt and Saguaro – and the river have a range of activities that visitors can partake in, including but not limited to boating, camping, jet skiing and kayaking.
There are a number of hiking trails to visit in the Sonoran Desert around Mesa as well as in parks within the city. If you visit during spring, you can witness the blooming of the native wildflowers in all their vibrant beauty. Just remember that picking these wildflowers is illegal.
For something a little more wild, the Tonto National Forest is a stone’s throw away, just beyond the limits of Mesa, and with almost 6 million visitors per year, you’ll find a lot to do. You can hike up the trails or just enjoy the many boulder-shaded rest stops and take the natural scenery in.
In a nod to its importance to the aerospace industry, the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum is located in Mesa. If aviation is not one of your interests, don’t worry, because the city has many more museums to offer. The Arizona Museum of Natural History will satisfy the paleontologist in you, while the i.d.e.a. Museums will get your little ones inspired with its activities.
Shopping and Eating
If you’re a downtown kind of person, the scenic Main Street in Mesa can offer you all sorts of small stores to get that new item to remember your trip by or grab a drink and a bite to eat. The road is also dotted with a massive collection of art exhibits, indicative of the city’s culture.
If you want to wander a little further, Mesa is famous for its marketplace, which can host up to 1 600 booths. Alternatively, for a more modern approach, you can visit the many grand retail parks to bring all your shopping and dining needs together, including the titanic Mesa Riverview, the classy Village Square at Dana Park, and the family-friendly Superstition Springs Center.
Where Can a Visitor Stay in Mesa?
Accommodations in Mesa are as diverse as the city’s people, culture and activities. If you’re after something a little low key, you can stay in any of the guest ranches situated along the lakes, or if you really want to rough it, you can camp there instead.
If you’re after something a bit more modern, plenty of the big hotel and motel chains have locations within Mesa, whether you want to be in the quieter parts or right on Main Street. Or if you want to experience the city like a native, you’ll even find entire houses in the suburbs available to stay in on a per night basis.
We’ve learned that Mesa isn’t just a town in a dusty desert, but instead a diverse city, vibrant in both its nature and its people, with attractions and activities to suit just about any visitor. The city will also cater to tourists in offering all types of accommodation to suit any need, so there’s truly a stay for everyone.