15 Best Day Trips from Mesa, AZ

Written by Sofia Jones
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

As an enthusiastic traveler of Mesa, I can proudly say that it’s a remarkable city nestled within the vibrant Phoenix metropolitan area. Known as the third largest city in Arizona, Mesa offers a unique blend of rich history and serene surroundings that make it an ideal destination for both residents and visitors.

One of the notable aspects of Mesa is its deep connection to the Mormon religion. The city serves as a core region for the Mormon community, offering an intriguing opportunity to delve into the religion’s roots and its significant impact on the state of Arizona. Exploring the Mormon heritage in Mesa provides a fascinating insight into the religious and cultural fabric of the region.

Beyond its religious significance, Mesa boasts a plethora of captivating museums and art spaces that are bound to pique the curiosity of any enthusiast. Whether you’re interested in history, art, or science, Mesa has something to offer. From interactive museums that bring the past to life to art galleries showcasing local talent, there is no shortage of enriching experiences waiting to be discovered.

What sets Mesa apart is its unique balance between proximity to the bustling city of Phoenix and the tranquility of a quieter area. While enjoying the calm atmosphere of Mesa, visitors have the added convenience of being just a stone’s throw away from the vibrant energy of Phoenix. This makes Mesa an excellent base for day trips, allowing you to explore a multitude of captivating destinations within a few hours’ drive.

To make the most of your time in Mesa, I’ve compiled a list of the 15 best day trips that you can embark on from this remarkable city. Each excursion promises unique experiences and unforgettable memories, allowing you to explore the diverse wonders that Arizona has to offer.

1. Phoenix

Phoenix, ArizonaSource: Tim Roberts Photography / shutterstock

Having explored the vibrant city of Mesa firsthand, I can attest to its unique charm and its close proximity to the bustling capital of Arizona, Phoenix. As the largest metropolitan area in the American Southwest, Mesa serves as a true embodiment of Southwestern culture, offering visitors a rich and immersive experience.

Nestled in the heart of the breathtaking Sonoran Desert, Phoenix presents a myriad of enticing attractions. From eclectic restaurants serving delectable cuisine to an abundance of shops showcasing Southwestern flair, the city has something to satisfy every palate and style. Strolling through the beautiful gardens, adorned with unique flora and fauna, one can truly appreciate the enchanting natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert.

Phoenix also boasts a wealth of world-class museums that showcase its rich history and cultural heritage. The Arizona Science Center, with its interactive exhibits and captivating displays, offers a fascinating exploration of scientific wonders. For those intrigued by Native American culture, the Heard Museum houses a remarkable collection of artifacts that provide insight into the traditions and artistry of indigenous peoples.

Art enthusiasts will find themselves immersed in Phoenix’s thriving arts and culture scene. Independent art galleries scattered throughout the city proudly showcase the works of talented local artists, inviting visitors to discover unique and thought-provoking creations. Additionally, the world-famous Carnival of Illusion presents a mesmerizing magic show that leaves audiences in awe.

2. Scottsdale

ScottsdaleSource: Tim Roberts Photography / shutterstock

Having spent ample time in Scottsdale, I can confidently say that it’s a shopping haven located just north of Mesa and Phoenix. If you’re looking for an unparalleled retail experience, Scottsdale is the place to be. With a vast array of high-end shops, boutiques, and outlets, this city caters to even the most discerning shoppers. A visit to the renowned Fashion Square Mall is an absolute must. Boasting its status as one of the largest malls in the United States, it offers an extensive selection of top-tier brands and an unmatched shopping experience.

However, Scottsdale isn’t just about shopping. Its vibrant Downtown area is a hub of trendy bars and unique restaurants, where you can indulge in delectable cuisine and unwind with a refreshing drink. The lively atmosphere adds to the charm of the city, making it an ideal destination for a night out or a leisurely stroll through its captivating streets.

One of the hidden gems in Scottsdale is the picturesque canal system that traverses the city. Known as the Canals, this beautiful desert oasis provides a serene setting for joggers and dog walkers alike. As you explore the Canals, you’ll be greeted by a relaxed and inviting ambiance, with joggers gracefully passing by and four-legged companions happily accompanying their owners. Along the way, you’ll find numerous picnic spots where you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenic surroundings.

Scottsdale’s Canals offer a tranquil escape from the bustling city and provide a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of the desert landscape. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful stroll, a jog to kickstart your day, or a leisurely outing with your furry friend, the Canals of Scottsdale are a haven of tranquility.

3. Grand Canyon

Grand CanyonSource: sumikophoto / shutterstock
Grand Canyon

I had the incredible opportunity to witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the Grand Canyon firsthand, and I must say, it truly lives up to its reputation as one of the most famous attractions in the country. The sheer magnitude and natural splendor of this geological wonder have the power to move even the strongest of souls.

The Grand Canyon’s formation, resulting from a meteorite collision thousands of years ago, has created a mesmerizing landscape filled with a vast network of caves and caverns, waiting to be explored. As a hiker’s paradise, the area boasts numerous trails that wind their way through the majestic surroundings, offering breathtaking views at every turn.

If you’re looking for a unique adventure, you can embark on a thrilling river ride through the heart of the canyon or partake in exhilarating activities like canyoning and abseiling. The Grand Canyon is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, providing an array of opportunities to immerse yourself in the natural wonders of the area.

To cater to the influx of visitors, the Grand Canyon boasts excellent tourist infrastructure, ensuring that you have access to amenities and services during your visit. You’ll find a variety of restaurants where you can indulge in delicious meals, as well as visitor centers that offer valuable information about the history, geology, and ecology of this magnificent site.

4. Tempe

TempeSource: Tim Roberts Photography / shutterstock

Tempe, the vibrant home of Arizona State University, offers a modern and youthful atmosphere that is hard to resist. Exploring this city is like diving into a melting pot of diverse cultures, making it an excellent destination to experience the rich tapestry of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. As you stroll along the main streets, you’ll be delighted by a plethora of fantastic bars, restaurants, and cafés that cater to every taste.

Immerse yourself in Tempe’s cultural scene by visiting its captivating museums. One standout is the Geology Museum, where you can delve into the fascinating world of unique rock formations that characterize the mesmerizing American Southwest. Prepare to be amazed by the geological wonders that have shaped this region.

For a tranquil escape, head over to the Tempe Lake area, a perfect spot to unwind and soak up the local ambiance. As you relax by the water, you’ll have the opportunity to absorb the vibrant culture that thrives in this lively city. Tempe effortlessly combines natural beauty with a bustling atmosphere, providing a delightful setting to enjoy a leisurely day.

5. Sedona

Bell Rock, SedonaSource: Paul B. Moore / shutterstock
Bell Rock, Sedona

Sedona, nestled in a region like no other in the United States, offers a truly captivating experience. Here, you’ll discover a fascinating blend of natural beauty and Native American heritage. The iconic Red Rocks of Sedona stand as majestic sentinels, drawing visitors from around the globe to witness the awe-inspiring rock formations nestled within the heart of the desert.

As you explore the area, you’ll encounter the remnants of the Sinaguan Native American civilization. Along the roadsides, these ancient ruins provide a mesmerizing glimpse into the rich tapestry of cultures that flourished in North America long before the arrival of European settlers. It’s a chance to delve into the history and connect with the land’s ancestral roots.

In addition to its breathtaking landscapes and historical sites, Sedona boasts a vibrant arts and crafts scene. The town is dotted with galleries and shops, offering a diverse array of Native American handicrafts and artworks. From intricately woven baskets to beautifully crafted pottery, these pieces showcase the skill and creativity of the indigenous peoples who call this land home.

6. Tombstone

Tombstone, ArizonaSource: CrackerClips Stock Media / shutterstock

When you step into Tombstone, you’re stepping into the heart of the Wild West. This notorious village, nestled in the rugged American Southwest, offers a thrilling journey back in time to the cowboy era.

As you wander the streets, you’ll encounter saloons, cowboy actors, and the iconic old courthouse, all meticulously preserved to recreate the atmosphere of a bygone era. It’s a paradise for Western movie enthusiasts and history buffs alike, allowing you to immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of American history.

But the adventure doesn’t end there. Tombstone goes the extra mile to transport you to the days of yore with exciting shoot-em-up performances right within the town. Witness the gunfights and duels that defined the Wild West, adding a touch of adrenaline to your visit.

Just beyond the town’s borders lies the Tombstone graveyard, where the stories of real cowboys and Wild West residents are etched in stone. Explore the final resting places of these legendary figures, unravel their tales, and gain deeper insights into the town’s captivating history.

7. San Xavier del Bac

San Xavier del BacSource: wikimedia
San Xavier del Bac

When you step into San Xavier del Bac, you’re stepping into a cherished piece of North American history. This remarkable church, originally established as a Catholic mission in 1692, has evolved into a revered National Monument that offers profound insights into the region’s rich cultural heritage.

As you approach the church, its exterior stands as a testament to the beauty of Spanish Colonial Architecture. The intricate details and craftsmanship showcased on its façade will leave you in awe. Stepping inside, you’ll be greeted by a grandeur that is truly awe-inspiring. Ornate carvings and captivating paintings adorn the interior, making it one of the most impressive churches in the entire United States.

San Xavier del Bac holds a special place in Arizona’s history, as it stands as the longest-lasting European building in the state. Guided tours provide a fascinating journey into the lives and work of the Catholic missionaries who played a pivotal role in shaping the region’s religious and cultural landscape.

A visit to San Xavier del Bac is not just a chance to admire stunning architecture, but also an opportunity to delve into the stories and legacies of the missionaries who devoted their lives to this mission. This site is a testament to the enduring presence of faith and the enduring beauty of their artistry.

8. Apache

Goldfield Ghost Town, ArizonaSource: Nick Fox / shutterstock
Goldfield Ghost Town

Embarking on the Apache Trail is like stepping back in time, immersing yourself in the captivating blend of Wild West culture and the rich Native American heritage that defines the American Southwest. As you make your way towards Tucson, this scenic route offers an incredible glimpse into the past.

A must-visit along the Apache Trail is Goldfield, a ghost town that was once a bustling center of cowboy culture. Here, you can truly experience the essence of the Wild West, away from the touristy crowds. The town retains its authenticity, with every building preserved just as it was in its heyday. Roaming the streets of Goldfield, you can almost feel the spirit of the cowboys and pioneers who once called this place home.

For a deeper understanding of the region’s Native American heritage, venture to Superstition Mountain. Here, you can delve into the fascinating history of the Apache people who inhabited the area. Explore the surrounding wilderness, marvel at the unique geological formations, and soak in the awe-inspiring landscapes that have shaped the Apache way of life for generations.

9. Tucson

Tucson, ArizonaSource: Chris Rubino / shutterstock

When it comes to exploring the wonders of Arizona, Tucson stands out as a vibrant city that offers both urban allure and breathtaking natural beauty. As the second largest city in the state, it serves as a bustling business hub in the American Southwest. However, what truly sets Tucson apart is its remarkable surroundings, renowned for their stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife.

One of the advantages of Tucson’s location is its higher elevation, which provides respite from the scorching heat that characterizes much of Arizona. Escaping to Tucson offers a refreshing change of climate, making it an ideal destination for a day trip. The city is embraced by canyons and national parks, creating a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, and photographers. From winding trails that lead to hidden gems to majestic vistas that leave you in awe, Tucson offers an array of natural wonders waiting to be explored.

For movie buffs and fans of the Wild West, a visit to the Old Tucson Studios is an absolute must. Step onto the sets where iconic Western movies were brought to life and immerse yourself in the history and magic of Arizona’s film industry. Learn about the behind-the-scenes process, marvel at the authentic details, and gain a deeper appreciation for the cinematic legacy that thrived in the state.

10. Tonto National Forest

Tonto National ForestSource: Jo Ann Snover / shutterstock
Tonto National Forest

When it comes to immersing yourself in the wonders of nature, Tonto National Forest stands tall as a captivating destination. As the fifth largest National Forest in the United States, it boasts an incredible diversity of ecosystems, ranging from desert landscapes to mountainous regions, with lush forests nestled in between.

Exploring Tonto National Forest offers a fascinating journey through a tapestry of natural beauty. Lakes punctuate the forest, their shores adorned with sandy beaches that serve as a striking contrast to the adjacent desert scenery. Venturing just outside the forest, you can marvel at the native cacti that dot the landscape, a testament to the resilience of desert flora. As you delve deeper into the forest, keep an eye out for the rare and fascinating wildlife that call this place home, but be mindful of the potential presence of bears, an awe-inspiring yet wild aspect of the forest’s ecosystem.

Hiking enthusiasts will find themselves in paradise amidst the numerous trails that wind their way through Tonto National Forest. Whether you seek a leisurely stroll through tranquil groves or an exhilarating trek up rugged mountain paths, there is a trail suited to every level of experience and fitness. For those yearning to explore the pristine waters, the forest offers ample spots to launch canoes and kayaks, providing an opportunity to glide across the serene lakes and immerse oneself in the tranquil beauty of the surroundings.

11. Mexicali

Mexicali, MexicoSource: esfera / shutterstock

Crossing the border into Mexicali, Mexico, I found myself immersed in a captivating blend of Mexican and American cultures, a result of its close proximity to its neighboring city in the US, Calexico.

Mexicali is a popular destination for day-trippers seeking a taste of Mexican culture. As one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico, it offers a diverse range of activities to cater to different interests and preferences.

Exploring Mexicali unveils a tapestry of experiences. Museums celebrating the vibrant Chinese communities in Mexico offer a fascinating glimpse into their rich heritage. For nature enthusiasts, the city presents opportunities for invigorating hikes and peaceful fishing along the picturesque riverbanks. As I wandered the streets, the tantalizing aroma of Mexican cuisine wafts through the air, enticing me to indulge in the flavors and spices that make this region’s gastronomy renowned.

The flourishing tourism industry in Mexicali has paved the way for the rise of exceptional Mexican restaurants. From traditional family-run eateries to trendy culinary hotspots, the city boasts a vibrant dining scene that showcases the rich tapestry of Mexican flavors and culinary traditions.

12. Las Vegas

Las VegasSource: Nido Huebl / shutterstock
Las Vegas

Step into the iconic cityscape of Las Vegas, where the excitement and allure of this renowned destination in the American Southwest beckons. Here, the possibilities are endless as I immersed myself in a world of dazzling lights, thrilling casinos, and a vibrant party atmosphere.

Las Vegas is synonymous with gambling, and I found myself drawn to the world-class casinos that line the famous Las Vegas Strip. The air is filled with anticipation as I try my luck at the gaming tables, captivated by the electric energy that permeates the city.

As I strolled along the Strip, I was amazed by the striking replicas of renowned monuments from around the world. From the majestic Great Pyramids to the elegant Eiffel Tower and the iconic Statue of Liberty, these architectural marvels transport me to different corners of the globe, all within the confines of this vibrant city.

Beyond the casinos and grand structures, Las Vegas offers a plethora of entertainment options to cater to every taste. Live performances by world-class artists, dazzling shows, and enchanting productions fill the stages of the city’s renowned theaters. The culinary scene is a delightful fusion of international flavors, with a wide array of restaurants offering tantalizing dishes from around the globe. For those seeking a break from the traditional Vegas experience, quirky museums and unique attractions provide a fascinating escape from the bustling energy of the city.

13. Flagstaff

FlagstaffSource: Ruslan Kalnitsky / shutterstock

If you’re seeking an escape to embrace the natural wonders of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff stands as a captivating destination. Nestled amidst a majestic landscape, this city offers a refreshing respite from the scorching temperatures of the southern region and reveals a different side of the state’s diverse beauty.

Flagstaff boasts a cooler climate and experiences more rainfall, creating an atmosphere that feels remarkably pleasant. As I explored the surroundings, I was enthralled by the encompassing ponderosa pine forest that blankets the landscape. This unique forest coverage adds a distinct charm to the state and beckons avid hikers like myself to embark on unforgettable adventures.

The nearby mountain range provides a captivating backdrop for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike. I was captivated by the breathtaking vistas that unfold before me, as the peaks and valleys of this rugged terrain offer a visual feast for the eyes. Each season brings its own allure, but in winter, Flagstaff becomes an exceptional rarity within the desert landscape of the Southwest. The snow-capped slopes transform the area into a winter wonderland, where opportunities for skiing and ice skating await, promising exhilarating experiences against the backdrop of the arid Southwest.

14. Prescott

Prescott, ArizonaSource: Tim Roberts Photography / shutterstock
Prescott, Arizona

When it comes to immersing myself in the rich tapestry of American history, Prescott emerges as a captivating town that transports me to another era. With each step I took along its storied streets, I can’t help but feel as if I was a part of the historical moments that shaped this remarkable place.

Prescott boasts a collection of saloons that exude the essence of the Wild West, complete with their rustic charm and offerings of potent whiskey. As I entered these establishments, the lively atmosphere and thick accents of locals transport me back in time, evoking the spirit of the era and allowing me to experience the Wild West firsthand.

Exploring the literary heritage of Prescott is another delight. The town is dotted with numerous bookshops that offer a glimpse into its literary history. I found myself immersed in captivating narratives, discovering tales of adventure, love, and courage that were penned within the very heart of this enchanting town. To deepen my understanding of the area’s history, I obtain a local guidebook called Historic Prescott, which serves as a valuable companion on my explorations. Its pages unfold the stories of yesteryears, providing a wealth of knowledge about the town’s past as I wander through its historic streets.

15. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National MonumentSource: Anton Foltin / shutterstock
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

As I ventured into the mesmerizing realm of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I was greeted by an unparalleled display of natural beauty and remarkable biological diversity. This extraordinary site has earned its rightful place as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve, showcasing a distinct collection of flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth.

The sight of the iconic organ pipe cacti immediately captures my attention, their majestic forms standing tall against the desert backdrop. As a nature enthusiast and avid photographer, I found myself captivated by their unique shapes and textures, eager to capture their beauty through my lens. The sprawling landscape is adorned with a magnificent gorge that adds a touch of drama and grandeur to the surroundings, creating an awe-inspiring vista that leaves me breathless.

Exploring this national monument offers a wealth of opportunities to immerse myself in its wonders. Hiking trails beckon me to venture deeper into the wilderness, allowing me to intimately connect with the untouched splendor of the region. To further enhance my experience, I opt for ranger-guided excursions, where knowledgeable guides unravel the secrets of this remarkable ecosystem, sharing their insights and enriching my understanding of the area’s unique biodiversity.

15 Best Day Trips from Mesa, AZ:

  • Phoenix
  • Scottsdale
  • Grand Canyon
  • Tempe
  • Sedona
  • Tombstone
  • San Xavier del Bac
  • Apache
  • Tucson
  • Tonto National Forest
  • Mexicali
  • Las Vegas
  • Flagstaff
  • Prescott
  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument