Downtown Mesa

June 23, 2023
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Perfect for: Artsy types, introverts and thinkers with an eye on the future

Past & Present

Like other East Valley cities developed along the Salt River, Mesa’s origins owe much to the Roosevelt Dam, constructed from 1906 to 1911. The dam helped control the river, which watered these cities’ farms but also created devastating seasonal floods. Once managed, the river morphed into a source of prosperity for Mesa, and its downtown thrived into the 1920s. The city experienced the hardships of the Depression, but bounced back after World War II. The ubiquitous malls of the 1960s and 1970s subsequently sucked much of the life from Mesa’s Main Street, but it’s enjoying a renaissance, recharged by a new generation of restaurateurs, artists and developmental visionaries.

One Day in Mesa

First: Cultural action. Don’t visit Mesa without setting foot in one of its impressive museums. See “3 Things to Do” for our suggestions.
Next: Lunch at Worth Takeaway (right). Quite possibly the Valley’s best artisan sandwich shop, and a perennial Best of the Valley pick.
Then: Cider and beer sipping. Downtown Mesa lays claim to the state’s first cidery, Cider Corps ( Sample the excellently made ciders, then cross Main Street to Chupacabra Taproom ( for a curated lineup of beers from around the country.
Finally: Live music at The Nile. If we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, The Nile (pictured below) will be closed – head back to Chupacabra to conclude your night. But if the Nile is open, GO. This historic venue from the 1920s is worn and weathered in all the right places.

Photo by Danny Upshaw
Photo by Danny Upshaw
3 Things to Do

1. Arizona Museum of Natural History: Wander exhibits that span a range of natural history topics like dinosaurs, the cosmos, native cultures and more.
2. I.D.E.A. Museum: This kid-friendly museum inspires creative play and imaginative thinking.
3. Mesa Arts Center: One of the premier arts and cultural hubs of the Southwest, this center features an art museum and a robust calendar of live performances from national and international acts.

Bet You Didn’t Know

Rumor has it spirits roam downtown Mesa. Stop by My Darling Dragon ( to chat with owner Meela Meadows, the town psychic who’s been known to sight an apparition or two.

Parking Tips
The light rail conveniently runs through downtown, should you choose to ditch the car. Public garages are free every day after 5 p.m. and all day on weekends. Free lot parking is widely available; download a parking map from

Future Mesa
Arizona State University plans to open its new East Valley campus in downtown Mesa in fall 2021, bringing with it the hallmarks of a college town – new restaurants, more nightlife, beefed-up public transportation and a younger demographic. The campus will house the ASU Creative Futures Laboratory for degree programs related to gaming, media arts, film, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.   

2020 Population: 552,000
2050 Population: 680,000 (est.)
source: MAG

Get Your Bearings
Downtown Mesa informally encompasses a four- sqaure -block area extending south from University Drive and east from Country Club.

3 Questions with Vic Linoff

The president of the nonprofit advocacy group Mesa Preservation Foundation ( shares what he thinks Mesa does better than other cities and the one thing a visitor to downtown should do.

How do you see your role in the community?

It’s up to those of us who have been here for some period of time to help people see that there is a precious history worth saving. It was an enormous challenge to settle this area, and yet people found a way to survive. Out of respect to them, it’s important to preserve what they built.

What does downtown Mesa do best?

Mesa seems to be more deliberate than other cities and is slower to act. That creates a challenge, but also by being one of the last to develop its city center, we can take lessons from the experiences that other cities have had.

What should every visitor to Mesa do?

Go to the Mesa Arts Center. It represents the true heart of downtown and the heart of a great city.

Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Gabrielle Hofer
Photo by Danny Upshaw; models: Giuliana Pica and Nicholas Polando
Photo by Danny Upshaw; models: Giuliana Pica and Nicholas Polando

Fun Fact!
Chandler man Nicholas Polando co-founded State Forty Eight clothing line in 2013.