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Mesa/Apache Junction

Discover why this pair of towns rank high among Arizona’s hottest attractions

Arizona’s wild side comes alive in two compelling cities located east of Phoenix. Mesa, sitting just 20 minutes from the capital city, is a booming town that serves up everything from Cactus League baseball to agritourism and ancient history. Apache Junction, next door to Mesa to the east, is a gateway to a slew of outdoor attractions and home to some of the region’s most famous lore.

If you’re seeking a place to visit in the Phoenix area, this pair of fantastic towns is hard to beat.

Can’t Miss in Mesa

Don’t make the mistake of muddling the city of Mesa in with the rest of the communities in the Greater Phoenix area. With a vibrant atmosphere and nearly half a million permanent year-round residents, this booming desert oasis has emerged as a distinct tourist destination in its own right, as well as the third-largest city in the state.

Located just 20 miles from Phoenix, the history of Mesa dates back more than 2,000 years to the industrious Hohokam Indians, who built an intricate canal system that transformed the arid landscape and is still in use today. Centuries later, visitors here find themselves at the heart of a bustling modern cityscape that’s home to big league baseball, world-class museums, championship golf courses, gourmet cuisine and a spate of top-shelf casinos.

Window shoppers, antique hunters, art aficionados and history buffs will find downtown Mesa particularly pleasant. A buffet of eclectic boutiques, cafes, galleries, studios and museums pack the city center, which is anchored by the Mesa Arts Center and the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. The Arts Center plays host to a full schedule of award-winning shows, exhibitions and presentations, while the Museum displays a range contemporary art throughout five ever-changing galleries.

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Mesa in the Mists of History

When it’s time to stretch your legs and explore the great outdoors, Mesa features an abundance of choice. The surrounding Sonoran Desert landscape and nearby Tonto National Forest present a world of scenic mountain trails, panoramic byways, freshwater lakes and gentle winding rivers to hike, bike, paddle or swim. Given the incredible geology of the area, backcountry horseback tours, hot air balloon rides and guided kayak expeditions are among the most popular outdoor activities.

Closer to town, the Rose Garden at Mesa Community College is a perfect place to wander and stroll. Home to more than 9,000 variously colored rose bushes, the Garden is the largest of its kind in the entire Southwest. Self-guided tours are available with the use of a mobile phone, but the best way to enjoy this blooming desert oasis is by tagging along on a professionally guided tour, which takes about an hour to complete.

Play Ball!

Sports fans will find themselves with front row seats to major league attractions and events as well.

For golfers, more than 40 premier courses sit within a half-hour drive of downtown Mesa. Award-winning layouts designed by some of the game’s best—including Robert Trend Jones, Jr. and Jack Nicklaus —range from rugged desert terrain to sweeping landscapes that are fit for a postcard. This is one of the country’s most renowned golfing destinations, and golfers of every skill and handicap level will find something to please them.

For baseball fans, Mesa is the spring training grounds of the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics. Every year in February and March, Cactus League games attract more than 1.6 million fans to the Valley of the Sun to watch Major League Baseball players (and MLB hopefuls) take the field at Hohokam Stadium and Sloan Park. Practices are busy and games are popular, so be sure to plan ahead for the latter and secure tickets early.

From its assortment of world-class shopping, dining and entertainment options, to its rich history and incredible collection of museums, Mesa is an ideal place for families.

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Apache Junction

It’s not hard to see what brings 35,000 visitors to Apache Junction annually between October and April. Located 1,750 feet above sea level and 35 miles directly east of Phoenix on U.S. Route 60, the town is a gateway to some of Arizona’s most exciting attractions, from the Tonto National Forest to 40-mile-long Apache Trail, once a stagecoach route through the region.

For many visitors, the standout attractions are the Superstition Mountains, which loom forebodingly in the east and top out at 5,059 feet high. Legend tells of a German miner named Jacob Waltz who discovered a motherlode of gold in the mountains, disclosing its existence in 1891 on his deathbed to a boarding house owner named Julia Thomas. Over the years, prospectors have searched the range for the so-called Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, but the exact location of the gold hasn’t been verified.

Visitors will enjoy much better luck when it comes to prospecting for recreation gold. In the northwest corner of town near the entrance to Lost Dutchman State Park lies Goldfield, which recreates the feel of an authentic ghost town. This rough-and-ready town struck gold in 1892 (believed to have been worth as much as three million dollars). Buoyed by the promise of eternal wealth, Goldfield became the state’s golden child, with a thriving community and infrastructure: general store, saloons, blacksmith, markets, brewers and a schoolhouse.

Nowadays, the fully restored town mines its wealth from its ghost town status. It’s an irresistible immersion into Wild West history. Top attractions include the Goldfield Museum, which is worth visiting for its stellar exhibit on the Lost Dutchman gold mine. Kids can pan for gold then take a ride on the Superstition Narrow Gauge Railroad—the only narrow gauge train operating in Arizona—before witnessing an Old West gunfight. Also in town, the Goldfield Livery Stables offer horseback riding and carriage rides.

Ready to head for the hills? Sign up for a jeep tour of the Apache Trail, which cuts through the stunning terrain of Lost Dutchman State Park.

For More Information

Visit Mesa

480-827-4700

www.visitmesa.com

 

Arizona Office of Tourism

866-275-5816

www.arizonaguide.com