There are many things to do in Gilbert, AZ, a friendly community just outside of Phoenix. The town’s agricultural roots have parlayed nicely into a growing and vibrant food scene. Gilbert’s outdoor activities and growing downtown are attracting a lot of visitors looking for a more laid back and family-friendly (and affordable!) home base outside of Phoenix and Scottsdale.
Being from Chicago, many folks I know eventually make an escape (i.e. they move) to warmer climes like the state of Arizona. We all know the area around Phoenix – with popular getaway destinations like Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa. But a newcomer (new to me, but not necessarily to the locals) to the area, Gilbert, is making a name for itself and attracting visitors thanks to its laid back, family-friendly vibe.
I recently had a chance to visit Gilbert and loved the emerging and cute downtown area chock a block with cafes, trendy restaurants, and fun bars.
Gilbert, AZ is a community (and still actually designated a town not a city) with agricultural roots that remain strong and take a front row seat in the local food scene. Voted Phoenix’s Coolest Suburb in 2016, Gilbert has unique attractions not found anywhere else in the valley. From new, award-winning breweries to a thriving “agritainment” community, Gilbert’s food scene is a truly unique experience for visitors.
Here are some neat, and unexpected things to do in Gilbert, AZ:
Agritopia in Gilbert
The Farm at Agritopia is an 11-acre USDA Certified Organic urban farm. More than 100 crops are grown here including olives, oranges, dates, veggies, as well as honey produced from honeybees. You can walk around the pathways to see the farm in action. Agritopia offers u-pick throughout the growing season and a farmers market open every day. Plus, much of the produce grown here ends up on the plates at the restaurants located on the property like Joe’s Farm Grill making it more like table in the farm rather than farm-to-table.
Originally started as a hay farm in 1927 when Gilbert was known as the “Hay capital of the world,” the farm was purchased in the 1960s by a young farmer, Jim Johnston and his wife Virginia. In order to preserve the land, the family created a community where the farm could remain at the heart of everything.
Working with land planners, builders and the town of Gilbert, the community of Agritopia was created to not only preserve the farm in a new urban setting, but to create a village atmosphere with commerce and a vibrant neighborhood surrounding the farm. There are more than 450 homes here on 160 acres with special features like community pools, parks, a tennis court and monthly parties. It’s either really cool or more like the town of Stepford!
Right alongside the farm, Barnone is a modern maker-space and the home to skilled, local craftsmen ranging from woodworkers to florists to experimental winemakers.
Made from a converted 1950s Quonset hut (a semi-circulcar steel pre-fab structure), which used to serve as the barn for the farm at Agritopia, the space now houses an artisan marketplace, studios, and places to eat.
Also, on the grounds of the farm, are a couple of eating and drinking establishments.
At Garage-East, fruit grown nearby in Willcox and Elgin is turned into not only traditional grape wine, but also other base fruits to create some experimental (and quite tasty!) wines. Opened by a former battalion chief for the Gilbert Fire and Rescue Department, they make some wines right on site, allowing you to try some straight out of the barrel during different stages of fermentation.
One of my favorites was the “breakfast wine” in a can, a blend of white wine and seasonal local fruit with a bit of carbonation. The perfect fun beverage for a picnic in the park or outdoor concert! You can nosh on a lovely meat and cheese board or order food from the neighboring eateries while sampling the wines
Also known as the Heritage District, some of the best new food in metro Phoenix can be found in downtown Gilbert, under the eponymous water tower along Gilbert Road. In fact, twenty-six restaurants have been added in just the last five years! From local favorites, farm-to-table spots, and sprawling outdoor patio seating, the corridor feels like a real entertainment district. Some popular spots include Joe’s BBQ, Nico’s Heirloom Kitchen, Postino East, and the Farmhouse restaurant.
For a fun breakfast or brunch, duck into Snooze. Capturing the trendy vibe of the districts food scene, Snooze offers a creative twist on favorite breakfast classics and some more inventive quinoa bowls and my choice: the bibimbap in a fun and vibrant atmosphere.
Liberty Market is a local’s favorite. It literally began as a small supermarket with its historic building and name dating back to 1935. With a deep connection to local farmers and suppliers, the chefs cook up creative yet approachable cuisine in a unique, informal atmosphere. Don’t be taken aback by slightly odd juxtaposition of counter service in a nicer restaurant, the food is very good!
Just down the street you can stop for a local coffee at Bergies and then hang awhile on their tree-shaded patio.
Head down the stairs (if you can find them!) and back in time to the White Rabbit, a new speakeasy in downtown Gilbert. No detail was overlooked here. The space is gorgeous and transports you back to the 1920s. Don’t miss the bathrooms.
Also right in the downtown is the Hale Centre Theatre, 365-seat theater in the round for family-friendly stage shows. And every spring and fall, you can catch a free concert under the water tower at the Downtown Concert Series.
See my video of Gilbert here
Love visiting craft breweries when you travel? Gilbert has a growing scene.
AZ Wilderness Brewing Co, was Gilbert’s first craft brewery. The brewers have a passion for Arizona’s agricultural community and have woven Arizona wild-grown and farm-grown products into their craft beer. You can order a flight of five 3-ounce pours and see what tickles your tastebuds.
12 West Brewing Co., offers a dozen beers at a time, also incorporating local ingredients like the blood-oranges grown right next door at the Farm at Agritopia.
Other local breweries to check out include OHSO Brewery in downtown Gilbert, Desert Monks Brewing, and Flying Basset Brewing.
Outdoors in Gilbert at the Riparian Preserve
With such great weather, it’s great to get outdoors. There are tons of places all around the Gilbert area for beautiful day hikes and camping. If you’re looking for something easier with the family for just a few hours, check out the Riparian Preserve.
Created as an innovative and unique ways to combine water resource development with wildlife habitat, educational and recreational opportunities, the Riparian Preserve features an urban fishing lake, over 4.5 miles of trails, and wildlife and bird watching (299 species of birds have been sighted). There’s even a dinosaur dig site for future paleontologists. I really enjoyed this peaceful spot. It’s a great place to take pleasure in a quiet stroll and be in the moment with nature.
Playball! Spring Training near Gilbert
Head to Gilbert and the surrounding area each spring for the Cactus League Spring Training.
Every year, I see Chicagoans all around me flying to Mesa to watch some Cubs spring training. The aptly named Cactus League gets going every February through the end of March with 15 major league teams playing more than 200 games across Greater Phoenix.
The area now has the greatest concentration of professional baseball facilities found anywhere in the United States.
For baseball lovers, it doesn’t get much better than this: sunny weather, affordable tickets and unparalleled proximity to the best players in the game. There are ten different ballparks here including a mini-Wrigley Field called Sloan Park in Mesa, set right inside the local streets of Clark, Sheffield and Waveland of course.
We were lucky to catch the Cubs take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the first Major League Baseball Spring Training facility to be built on Indian land in the nation. The complex is spread over 140 acres of scenic landscape that has stellar views of Camelback Mountain, the McDowell Mountains, Four Peaks, Red Mountain, and the Superstition Mountains. The stadium design immerses fans in the all-American pastime, while still using Native American influence and regional architecture.
The facility was new and full of great food and a fun lawn seating area in the outfield where you can bring a blanket and have basically a picnic at the ballpark.
Goat Yoga in Gilbert
OMG. I have wanted to try goat yoga for at least a year now. Can I reveal that this one possibly the main reason I traveled across the country? I mean I know there’s goat yoga in other cities, but it was a huge selling point for me to come here for a visit! Doing a yoga class. Sure. Hanging out with goats, while I hold warrior two pose? Hell, yes! Honestly, it’s all about the goats. The yoga is just extra.
Arizona Goat Yoga has several classes a week for $15 ahead of time (or $20 as a drop-in).
There are different class themes like Hawaiian baby goat yoga (goats are wearing leis and Hawaiian shirts!) and fairy tale baby goat yoga (goats are dressed like your fave fairy tale characters!).
They bring out several goats and baby goats (squeeee!). Let’s just say that this was not the most intense (or relaxing!) yoga class I’ve ever done…not because of the goats, but due to all the squealing and shrieking participants around me.
Be warned though…the class is done out in a field and yes, these goats might have to relieve themselves. But it’s fine! As they say on their site:
All of our classes are held outside in a beautiful grassy field, so any poo becomes part of the Earth. Goats poo little tiny pellets, with no smell, and full of minerals, and makes incredible manure for your gardens. We give it away for free… so if you are interested, bring a bag and take as much as you want! Goats don’t usually poo on you, so if they do, brush it off and consider yourself lucky!
The helpers have treats and constantly are temping the goats to jump from back to back of each participant. If you are looking for a calming, zen time to really do some hard-core yoga, this was not it. But if you want to grin for an hour and spend a little time hugging and loving on some adorable goats, do it!
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Disclosure: I was hosted by Discover Gilbert. As always, all my writing and opinions are my own.