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Getaway to Mesa for Food and Fun


By Carolyn Burns Bass

Before the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s chose it for their spring training bases, before upscale shopping centers and uber-hip dining came to town, Mesa, Arizona was a satellite of big sister Phoenix. Mesa was known for the farms, orchards and ranches that supplied much of the area’s meat, dairy and produce. No longer a satellite, Mesa is now Arizona’s third-largest city and worth a visit on its own terms.

With the recent opening of the Riverview Park complex and the posh Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West, Mesa ups its destination profile. The Riverview Park complex includes 170 acres of sports facilities, recreation for all ages, cultural and public event space, and a small lake circled with a walking trail. Mesa Riverview, a 250‐acre shopping and entertainment complex featuring more than 1.3 million square feet of retail space, dance clubs, bars and nightlife, is right across the street from the Sheraton Mesa and Riverview Park.

The Sheraton Mesa offers spacious rooms with elegant bathing and service amenities, plus the addition of microwaves and mini-refrigerators in every room. Those upgrading to club level have 24/7 access to the club lounge for breakfast, all-day hors d’oeuvres and beverages, private meeting spaces, and free wi-fi. The lobby boasts a 10,000-square‐foot lounge with a separate bar, plus several intimate seating areas.

Sheraton Mesa has three dining options, including the swanky Legends Steak. Here you’ll find classic selections of beef, pork, chicken, lamb and seafood served with contemporary flair by executive chef Cameron Bolender. Legends Steak is a hotel restaurant that treats guests to a dining experience worth staying in for. If you’re a beef eater, try the 14-ounce New York Strip, which comes with your choice of two sides.

The Sheraton Mesa property designers got it right with more than an acre of poolside recreation, including two swimming pools, two hot tubs and two wading pools. It’s the kind of place where you want to grab a good book, throw out a towel and order a margarita for a wintertime sun-spree. Those coming to town for baseball spring training will love the hotel’s proximity to Wrigleyville West and Sloan Park where the Chicago Cubs train. Many of the hotel rooms have views overlooking the practice fields or Sloan Park.

The Chicago Cubs have held spring training on and off in Mesa for more than 60 years. When the Cubs were offered a new place in Florida a few years ago, the people of Mesa circled their wagons and showed the team how much they care. Mesa hired a tip-top sports architecture group to design a new state-of-the-art baseball complex, Wrigleyville West. The complex provides the Cubs with expansive offices, a gym, 4 practice fields and the 15,000-seat Sloan Park stadium. Within two years the complex was complete and the Cubs moved in for their 2014 spring training. Mesa then turned around and poured money and talent into renovations of the existing Hohokam Field, drawing back the Oakland A’s who opened the field in 1977.

You’ll find tributes to Mesa’s agricultural heritage in fresh food pathways throughout the area, from innovative urban gardens, to wineries, to farmer’s markets, to mom and pop fruit and vegetable stands. Many of these sites offer tours and tastings, often with dining opportunities to showcase their finest.

Let’s begin with TQLA (tequila) Southwest Kitchen and Agave Bar. As the name implies, tequila is king here. TQLA employs a certified tequilier and keeps their aged tequilas in a special light and temperature-controlled room. In addition to four premium tequilas from a tap hyper-cooled to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, TQLA creates seasonal tequila infusions and offers flights of different tequilas. They offer a wide variety of Mexican and Southwestern cuisine to go with the tequila.

If you’re exploring the foodways of Mesa, you’ll want to cross a few town borders. Just to the south of Mesa is the charming town of Gilbert, once known as “the hay capital of the world.” Here you’ll find Joe’s Farm Grill, a diner that has been featured on several popular food shows. Once a farmhouse where the owner grew up, the diner now offers speedy selections of locally sourced foods such as burgers, pizza, salads and ribs. If you’re a fry fan, be sure to try either the garlic fries tossed in olive oil, Pecorino Romano and herbs, or the baked potato fries smothered in bacon bits, cheese, sour cream and chives. Sandwich offerings are tempting, but the burgers can’t be beat. Joe’s Farm Grill is adjacent to Agritopia, an innovative urban farming neighborhood built around a community garden.

A little further south you’ll come to Queen Creek, where you’ll find two more fascinating foodie destinations. Hayden Flour Mill has preserved the seed and grows several heirloom varieties of wheat and processes them in its onsite grain mill. You can buy minimally processed, organic heirloom flour in the small store at the mill, or you select from among the varieties of crackers and pastas made from the same heirloom grains.

You’re in for a treat only a few miles away at Queen Creek Olive Mill. This family-owned and operated business consists of an olive grove and mill where olives are pressed into the highest quality extra-virgin olive oil, as well as a gourmet food and wine store with a superb restaurant reminiscent of Tuscany. An “Olive Oil 101” tour is offered several times a day, seven days a week for $5. Those wanting a more immersive olive oil experience can schedule a private or group tasting session that explains how olives are selected, pressed, and categorized by color, flavor and consistency. If you’re into olive oil, this is a must-see stop when visiting the greater Phoenix area.

Mesa hits a home run when it comes to outdoor activities, too. Championship golf, tennis, hiking, biking, hot air ballooning, and a myriad of other activities can be found throughout Mesa and her sister communities all year long. And if that’s not enough, there’s always spring training with the Cubs or the A’s in their new, fan-friendly digs.


For more information about Mesa and the surrounding areas, take a look at Visit Mesa.

Carolyn Burns Bass is a California native who moved to Hillsborough, North Carolina to experience the seasons. She writes for a variety of travel publications, is the LA Luxury Travel Examiner and blogs for The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @CarolyBurnsBass or visit her website at to read more of her work.



Sometimes all it takes to truly appreciate where we live is to stay at one of our local luxury hotels—to enjoy a vacation close to home. One of the best stays in Orange County is at the newly transformed Island Hotel Newport Beach.

The urban and coastal hotel recently finished an impressive vibrant and chic new look with modern conveniences, personalized services, and an engaging social scene with entertainment, craft cocktails and one of the best restaurants in SoCal—the new Oak Grill.

Whether you decide to stay, or refer a friend from out of town, you will love the new amenities, conveniences and personalized services.

All guest rooms and suites feature vibrant pops of color – ocean-inspired aqua, brilliant sunset orange, coral, lilac and sage – reflecting the coastal lifestyle and offer breathtaking ocean/coastal and canyon views. There’s also a new text concierge program; free wi-fi; customizable mini bars; and Keurig coffee makers available in all rooms.

The 24-hour Market Place off the main lobby is perfect for affordable fresh foods to go, healthy snacks and specialty items such as delicious pastries handmade by pastry chef Andy de la Crus, gourmet coffees and more.

We cannot get enough of the private Island Club room--just a $35 a night upcharge--where you can escape and enjoy sweeping panoramic ocean views from the 20th floor and take advantage of continental-style breakfast and light evening snacks; beer and wine during the “Wine Down” hour; curbside check-in; complimentary access to the Spa’s relaxation lounge and eucalyptus steam room; and complimentary dry-cleaning for up to four pieces of clothing per day. It’s just a great room to relax, watch TV, read a book, or enjoy drinks and snacks with friends.

Orange County is filled with great dining choices in the area, but it’s hard to beat the new Oak Grill – an airy, light-filled new restaurant featuring Chef Marc Johnson’s contemporary California menu.

Chef Johnson is an award-winning chef and recently received awards for his Togarashi-Crusted Ahi with grilled bok choy, royal trumpet mushrooms and citrus ponzu; and his Foie Gras Terrine with pickled kumquats, strawberries, toasted brioche and bourbon maple syrup. Favorites from the menu include one of the best chicken dishes we’ve ever tasted—the Jidori Chicken with California succotash and thyme chimichurri; the Braised Short Ribs with Anson Mills corn grits, Portobello mushrooms and Bordelaise sauce; and the watermelon and beet salad with fried okra, chevre and petite watercress. Oak Grill serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

Aqua Lounge is a hot new bar and lounge featuring an interactive mixology format with craft cocktails and an expertly curated wine and beer list, as well as a rotating program of regionally known resident DJs spinning a blend of current and international music Thursday through Saturday.

You can always relax at the updated resort-style pool area with a redesigned contemporary poolside bar, private cabanas and plush modern furnishings. Or book a spa treatment at the luxurious Spa that offers an entire menu of massages, soothing facial treatments or ultra-regenerative signature body rituals. You can enjoy services a la carte, or take advantage of all-inclusive Spa Packages tailored to your needs. There’s also a fitness center with new Matrix equipment and easy access to the pool area; and remodeled event space including the largest ballroom in Newport Beach and an indoor/outdoor Cabana Room with glass panels opening to a private, heated terrace.

For reservations and more information, contact Island Hotel Newport Beach, toll-free, at 866.554.4620; or visit IslandHotel.

690 Newport Center Dr, Newport Beach.

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