Mountain peaks, lush farms and a unique art scene make Mesa a welcome reprieve from the bustle of nearby Phoenix. It is also the first Autism Certified City in the U.S., with hotel and attraction staff trained in low-sensory experiences to help make this city accessible to everyone.


Kayaking at the Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch. Photograph courtesy of Visit Mesa.

If you’re food lovers: The Cozy Peach at Schnepf Farms

Spend the night in one of the cool vintage trailers at The Cozy Peach at Schnepf Farms. Each trailer has been beautifully restored and features funky decor, a flatscreen TV, bathroom (some with bathtubs) and a private patio with firepit. After you settle in, grab your own produce from the farm’s U-pick areas.

If you’re looking for autism friendly options: Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West

The staff at the Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West— located within walking distance of Sloan Park (spring-training site of the Chicago Cubs)— are trained to take care of families with children on the spectrum, including placing them on lower and quieter floors, arranging respite care and catering to dietary requests.

If you’re an outdoor adventurer: Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch

Whether your thing is kayaking, tubing or horseback riding, the scenic Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch has you covered. This ranch is located on the banks of the Salt River, and offers 20 rustic cabins outfitted with oak furniture and Western art. On Saturdays, the ranch holds a cowboy cookout, complete with campfire s’mores.

If you’re a cultural connoisseur: Delta Hotels by Marriott Phoenix Mesa

Delta Hotels by Marriott Phoenix Mesa is located in the middle of downtown, making it the perfect base for exploring Mesa’s arts and culture scenes, including the Mesa Amphitheatre, a popular spot for outdoor concerts. The recently renovated hotel has a café and a restaurant, a fitness centre and a large outdoor pool.

Things to Do

Photograph courtesy of OdySea Aquarium.

If you’re food lovers: Fresh Foodie Trail

Take a self-guided tour of Mesa’s Fresh Foodie Trail. There are more than 10 agricultural experiences on the route, including pasta making at Hayden Flour Mills, olive oil tasting at Queen Creek Olive Mill and a tour of Superstition Farm. Along the way, you’ll also find local restaurants, craft breweries and farmers’ markets. 

If you’re looking for autism-friendly options: OdySea Aquarium

Make your way over to nearby Scottsdale and visit the giant, two-level OdySea Aquarium. This fun and educational spot houses more than 6,000 animals from 370 different species, and has 70 engaging and interactive exhibits. There is also a special quiet room where people can take a peaceful break. 

If you’re an outdoor adventurer: AZ Goat Yoga and Desert Paddleboards

Plogging, a Swedish craze that is a mash-up of jogging and picking up litter (yes, this is a thing) has made its way to the state. Hike and pick up trash along the Lower Salt River with guides from AZ Goat Yoga and Desert Paddleboards. They supply garbage bags, gloves and a goat—making the experiences a whole lot of fun. 

If you’re a cultural connoisseur: Mesa Arts Center

The biggest facility of its kind in Arizona, the Mesa Arts Center is always hopping thanks to its four theatres, contemporary art museum and 14 artist studios. The activities on offer range from live music performances and hilarious comedy shows, to workshops on glass-blowing and jewelry making.

Places to Eat

Barbecued brisket on a bun with peanut butter and jelly from Jalapeno Bucks. Photograph courtesy of Nicole Sunderland of Eatlivetraveldrink.

If you’re food lovers: Jalapeño Bucks

Nestled in a grove of citrus trees, Jalapeño Bucks is beloved for its delicious barbecued brisket on a bun, including one served with peanut butter and jelly. This roadside stand also serves what it calls New Wave Mexican Soul Food— think burritos stuffed with brisket, beans and cheese, and a variety of signature salsas. 

If you’re looking for autism friendly options: Jake’s Unlimited

Jake’s Unlimited is an indoor amusement park featuring bowling, arcade games, rides and a kid-friendly buffet (with gluten-free options) that is free with admission. Jake’s is a Certified Autism Center, which means it has its own sensory guide that helps determine the impact an activity might have on each sense. 

If you’re an outdoor adventurer: Cloth & Flame

Head to the scenic Superstition Mountains for a dining experience with Cloth & Flame. This company does pop-up dinners at outdoor locations around the state. Diners are treated to a meal under the stars at a beautiful long table. Booking ahead at is required and dinner dates vary. 

If you’re a cultural connoisseur: Rancho de Tia Rosa

Visit Rancho de Tia Rosa for its authentic Mexican cuisine and casual vibe. This family owned restaurant has an extensive menu that includes fresh takes on classic dishes, such as the sweet pork enchiladas served with butternut squash sauce and caramelized apples. Be sure to try the smoky bean dip.

[This story appears in the March 2020 edition of WestJet Magazine.]