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Inside the Ride

Discovering Mesa


Over the past 15 years, with most of those working at a local television news program, I learned quite a bit about what the Valley of the Sun has to offer. Despite being armed with the power of knowledge, I rarely ventured outside of my neighborhood bubble.

Now that my career has taken me to Valley Metro, I’m learning how transit connects people to places and the variety of destinations that are available to anyone. One of those places is central Mesa. Take a ride on Valley Metro Rail to find those new discoveries.

Mesa is the third largest city in Arizona with a population of nearly half a million. Yet, I found myself wondering, what does downtown Mesa have to offer me? I decided it’s time to discover Mesa.

“Every time someone comes to Mesa, they say, ‘I had no idea’,” Mesa Arts Center Executive Director Cindy Ornstein told me.

Mesa Arts CenterMesa Arts Center, located across from Mesa City Hall, is a gem for all ages to explore with a magnificent contemporary campus and long list of world class performances.

It’s true. I had no idea what to expect when I traveled along Main Street to Mesa Drive.

“What makes Mesa special are a lot of mom and pop businesses that bring a certain independent character to Main Street,” said Ornstein.

You can explore unique stores along Main Street like Lulubell Toy Bodega. It’s a one-of-a-kind store filled with custom, designer toys from all over the world that embraces international toy fanatics.

“Most people notice that it’s a true Main Street-type atmosphere supported by business owners who are passionate about their hometown,” said co-owner Amy Del Castillo.

Edge BoutiqueAnother one of those local shop owners is Miranda Sevilla of Edge Boutique who says there are a variety of shops here that you can’t find anywhere else in the Valley. Her shop is filled with adorable accessories and cute clothing that appeals to my built-in shopping compass.

Of course, the way to capture my heart is through fantastic food. From pizza to empanadas and Mediterranean to Mexican, Main Street is filled with mouth-watering offerings with a side of hometown character.

“There is a sense of community where people can come to relax and enjoy themselves,” said Emilie Nikolich of Queen’s Pizzeria. “Someone said it’s like Cheers. You’ll surely see someone you know.”

It’s that hometown feel that’s kept Sweet Cakes Café creating homemade salads and sandwiches and delectable desserts like five-layer brownies, pumpkin bars and sugar cookies in downtown Mesa since 2004.

“I love downtown Mesa,” said owner Kellie Huntington. “We want people to experience homemade, quality items.”

Sweet Cakes Cafe

Beyond food and drink, affordable family fun awaits with parks, museums and attractions in the area. I’m looking forward to taking my son to the i.d.e.a. Museum. It’s a cute and colorful spot that allows families to spend quality time together with interactive displays and exhibits.

“We’re excited about light rail because we’re here for the community,” said Sunnee O’Rork, i.d.e.a. Museum’s Executive Director. “Many families may not have two cars so light rail makes us more accessible.”

It’s that accessibility that will connect riders to education, history and community.

“There is a tremendous spirit of community and people pulling together to elevate the feeling of vibrancy and community engagement in downtown Mesa,” said Ornstein.

i.d.e.a. Museum

Downtown Mesa comes alive throughout the year. Every second Friday of the month, galleries and businesses join together for an evening of art, dining, shopping and entertainment. During the holidays, you can experience a stunning display of colorful lights at the Mesa Arizona Temple Gardens. And, at Easter, people travel from around the world to witness the Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant.

History and heritage merge with the future in downtown Mesa. I didn’t realize how many educational institutions are located there. Benedictine University, Mesa Community College, Northern Arizona University’s Mesa Campus, Upper Iowa University - Mesa and Wilkes University are cultivating the next generation of professionals. Light rail will help connect those students to their school of choice for education and opportunity.

“Light rail will start to move the city in a new direction by being more progressive and connecting our communities,” said O’Rork.

City and development officials are planning a series of projects to build upon the downtown’s look and feel. They include implementing sidewalk and streetscape beautification, installing way-finding projects like creative signage to highlight downtown attractions, creating a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere by making over alleyways and infusing other unique elements with place-making projects.

While holding on to its rich history, the city of Mesa is moving forward as a progressive community. After visiting downtown Mesa, it’s safe to say that my geographical bubble has burst – in a good way!

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