Mesa gets a makeover

Arts, restaurants, and eclectic shops shake up the former retirement town

Once the sleepy suburb of Phoenix, Mesa was more noted for its early-bird specials than urban edge. But an emerging downtown shopping district and a stunning arts center have energized the community. Winter's balmy days are a lovely time to stroll through the streets; you might even get a whiff of orange blossoms in the old groves that still dot Mesa.

Getting there

Mesa is about 18 miles east of Phoenix via State 202 or U.S. 60. For more information, contact the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau  (800/283-6372).

Go

Mesa Arts Center. This month, head to the gallery to see Molten, an exhibit of illuminated glass and neon art. See Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Guy Clark, and Joe Ely in concert (Feb 6), or just wander the center's angular architecture and oasis-like landscaping. INFO: Closed Mon; gallery $3.50, performances from $32; 1 E. Main St.; Mesa Arts Center (480/644-6500).

Mesa Southwest Museum. Watch animated dinosaurs, walk through models of Native American dwellings, or learn about archaeology at this rambling facility dedicated to natural and cultural history. For a surefire crowd-pleaser, check out the gallery dedicated to Arizona's movie history. INFO: Closed Mon; $8; 53 N. Macdonald St.; Mesa Southwest Museum (480/644-2230).

Take the kids

Arizona Museum for Youth. Herd your little ones over to Mesa's hands-on art museum designed especially for the 12-and-under set. There's a gallery where kids are actually encouraged to touch―even color, cut, and paste―plus an art-themed playroom and a calendar full of classes. On the lineup this month is On a Roll: Art with Wheels, followed by an ocean-themed exhibit in mid-March. Closed Mon; $5; 35 N. Robson St.; Arizona Museum for Youth (480/644-2467).

Eat

Inside the Bungalow. Fuel up with a frozen Mexican-spiced mocha or a green-tea smoothie inside the funky Arts and Crafts-style coffeehouse. INFO: 48 N. Robson St.; 480/844-2353.

Rancho de Tia Rosa. Flower-flanked courtyards set the stage for salmon enchiladas with avocado sauce. INFO: $$; closed Sun-Mon; 3129 E. McKellips Rd.; 480/659-8787.

Shop

Domestic Bliss. Snap up bedding, antiques, and chandeliers, plus baby gifts and locally made jewelry at a 1915 downtown storefront. INFO: Closed Sun; 166 W. Main St.; 480/733-0552.

Bella Finé. Find pottery, florals, and tasseled throws at the Euro-inspired decor shop. INFO: Closed Sun; 166 W. Main St., Ste. 102; 480/668-8181.


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