Located in the eastern part of the Phoenix metropolitan area, the charming city of Mesa, Arizona is often overlooked. However, Mesa’s location next to the Tonto National Forest means it boasts easy access to plenty of parks and fascinating points of interest. So settle into your Mesa vacation rental, then map out these great hidden gems for a truly unique experience.

1. Mesa Community College Rose Garden

Located just west of downtown Mesa, not far from Tempe and Scottsdale, is the Mesa Community College Rose Garden. This garden was started to beautify the area, but now it’s a destination (even if unknown to the majority of people) in and of itself. There are 9,000 rose bushes in 350 different varieties and multitudes of shades and colors. While the rose garden is free and open to the public, you can learn a bit more on one of the guided tours which you can book by calling in. There’s also an annual tour hosted by the Mesa-East Valley Rose Society that takes place in early spring. In order to catch the roses in bloom, visit from March to May, June, or November through December.

2. unPhogettable

You might not think of unbelievable Vietnamese cuisine when you picture Mesa, but you should thanks to unPhogettable, a restaurant featuring the popular pho soup. Not only does it boast MSG-free food, it also offers a range of noodle-based soups and dishes, rice-based salads, and vegetarian selections. Pho tai and bun rieu are both popular dishes. The former is a pho soup topped with beef, and the latter a noodle and crab dish. Located is western Mesa between residential neighborhoods, the restaurant is nearby several vacation rentals for easy access.

3. Red Mountain Park

On the east side of Mesa lies the Red Mountain Park. While not the biggest or most popular park in the city or the Phoenix metro area, it has a lake and plenty of hiking, a hidden Mesa oasis. Take a walk with the kids through the native scrub, grasses, and cacti, a way to get up close with the natural desert flora. Bring your fishing poles along, and go fishing in the lake. There are trout, catfish, sunfish, and largemouth bass, all of which are safe to eat. After relaxing at the lake, get your blood pumping with a game of disc golf.

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4. Salt River Tubing

If you travel northeast just out of the Mesa city limits to Usery Mountain Regional Park, you’ll find the best kept local secret: Salt River Tubing. The Salt River flows wide and deep through the park before thinning out as it reaches the metropolitan area. Tubing is a good way to cool off, have some family fun, and enjoy nature. You can even rent a tube for a cooler containing snacks and drinks. The tubing season begins in April and typically goes to October. There are height and age requirements for children (8 years old and 4 feet tall).

5. Pete’s Fish & Chips

Pete’s Fish & Chips is a local institution family owned and operated since 1947. The local chain has eight locations in the Phoenix metropolitan area with one in downtown Mesa. This cash-only eatery serves classic fish and chips, shrimp, crabettes, and scallops along with burgers, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs on the kid’s menu. Stop by, get some patio seating, and relax with the locals. Afterwards, stop by the Temple Historic District and Pioneer Park nearby.

6. Organ Stop Pizza

Another local favorite that tourists don’t even know exists is Organ Stop Pizza is southeastern Mesa. While the pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, and appetizers are pretty good Italian-American fare, the real draw is the huge Wurlitzer pipe organ that’s literally the center of attention (the family-style dining tables are arranged around it). In fact, it’s the biggest Wurlitzer pipe organ in the world, making a visit just to see it well-worth it, let alone the great food and entertaining music.

7. Queen Creek Olive Mill

While Queen Creek Olive Mill is technically located in Queen Creek, not Mesa, it’s within the Phoenix metro area and just a few minutes southeast of Mesa. Plus, its olive mill is one of those off-the-beaten-path places that few people know about, making it worth the drive. Start off with a 45-minute tour through the gnarled olive trees, olive presses, tasting rooms, and marketplace. There’s even an olive spa, thanks to all the health benefits of olive oil. Afterwards, dine at the in-house restaurant featuring Italian-inspired food from pastas to pizzas. The kalamata sandwich is a Queen Creek Olive Mill special with olives grown on site and paired with Italian meats, roasted tomatoes, provolone cheese, and herb crema all on ciabattina bread.

8. Usery Mountain Park

Usery Mountain Park abuts Mesa on the northeastern side, not the first choice of natural exploration with South Mountain Park and Phoenix Mountains Preserve close by. However, this overlooked park has a nature center, hiking, and regular park events. For instance, go on a super saguaro walk with the kids where you can view the giant cacti. Embark on the night safari or take up archery for an afternoon. The park’s open all-year round, although nature center hours change depending on the time of year.

9. Superstition Mountain Museum

Superstition Mountain Museum is located just east of Mesa in Apache Junction, a few minutes from Mesa’s downtown area. It’s also just next door to Usery Mountain Park, so you can hit both locations at the same time. The Superstition Mountain Museum is a collection of old Western movie sets that were used during on-site filming and local artifacts, all of which harken back to America’s Old West. The area includes the museum, an Elvis chapel, and the Spiritual Gardens, a great place that blends history with nature that the entire family can explore.

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