Discover Rugged & Western Central Arizona

Explore the Region's Recreation, History, Culture & Attractions

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Geographically speaking, Arizona is somewhat more diverse than many outside the state realize — and that includes right here in Central Arizona.

It’s easy to think of panoramic views of desert sunsets over rugged red canyons and river valleys … and you’ll certainly find plenty of that. But there are also grasslands, and pine-forested mountains overlooking deep lakes. Collectively, it’s all an amazing backdrop for year-round outdoor recreation, whether in town or at area state parks and national forests.

But beyond those outdoor adventures, Central Arizona (and South-Central Arizona) – the regions United Country Real Estate | AZ Ranch, Land & Homes serves – offer a world of other attractions and things to do. Residents preserve their local history through engaging historic downtown areas, museums and other sites. Western horse culture reigns supreme, while charming small towns offer locally-made libations and tasty eats, and resort-style communities feature great golf and club amenities.

From annual events and festivals, to music and theatre venues and a whole lot more, there’s something for everyone in Central Arizona. For the purpose of this article, let’s skip the heart of the big-name cities such as Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson. Instead, we’ll focus on the surrounding lesser-known locations (along with Mesa and Glendale, which are well-known and more populous, but still included here) that best represent the market we serve. What makes them so appealing to residents and visitors alike? Read on.

Pinal County

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Florence

The county seat of Pinal County, Florence is one of the oldest towns here and its downtown area is a National Historic District. Take a Historic Florence Walking Tour and be sure to check out the many enticing shops. Stop by the Florence Fudge Shop & Café for an excellent lunch or the Station Coffee House for an iced lavender latte. The award-winning Your Behind BBQ is a must-visit spot, as is the Windmill Winery, which offers signature wines and hosts quite a few weddings and fun live events.

Casa de Baca Studios has some very nice photography and art pieces for art lovers, while history buffs will want to visit McFarland State Historic Park and the Pinal County Historical Museum. Florence’s events shine with the annual Country Thunder music festival, 3rd Friday events, holiday gatherings on Main Street and more. Embrace western culture at one of Charles Whitlow Rodeo Grounds’ various events. For outdoor recreation, the Poston Butte Golf Club is a top choice, along with off-roading near Box Canyon and other spots for hiking, fishing and more.

Casa Grande

Halfway between Phoenix and Tucson is Casa Grande, a place with a historical downtown area not unlike Florence. The small town is easy to navigate and has all the modern amenities one could need. Grab a meal at one of Casa Grande’s local restaurants then visit the unique Neon Sign Park. Explore rich historical heritage at the Museum of Casa Grande and see the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (the latter is actually in Coolidge, but worth a 30-minute or so drive out). The Pinal County Fairgrounds in Casa Grande hosts the namesake fair in March and other events all year. The city has a golf course, 19 parks, 17 miles of trails, and several sports facilities for active lifestyles.

Eloy

Floating through the Sonoran Desert skies is what some think of Eloy, known as the “Sky Diving Capital of Arizona.” Outdoor adventures such as hiking, camping and wildlife viewing at Picacho State Park are also popular. Robson Ranch is a top spot for golf enthusiasts … but another kind of ranch in town has gained national notoriety for its animals, attractions and family fun. Finally, make sure to check out the Fiestas Patrias in September, with a parade, pageant and other activities honoring Eloy’s Hispanic heritage.

Apache Junction

East of Phoenix, Apache Junction is a suburban desert community that definitely has an identity built around the city’s top (and related) sites. Lost Dutchman State Park is located at the base of the Superstition Mountains and has trails leading into the mountain wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Camping, mountain biking and hiking are typical here. Dive deep into the area’s history at the Superstition Mountain Museum, or tour the Goldfield Ghost Town, the “gateway” to the mountains. The related Lost Dutchman Days event each February features a parade, carnival, marathon and rodeo. And that’s just one among others including the Festival of the Superstitions, the Superstition Blues & Brews Festival and the Superstition Open Golf Tournament.

Maricopa County

Queen Creek

At the foothills of the San Tan Mountains you’ll find Queen Creek, a city not incorporated until 1989 but certainly “on the map” so to speak long before. The city has some fantastic parks, including the popular Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre for all horse-related shows and competitions, and San Tan Mountain Regional Park for trail riding, hiking and picnicking. Farming and ranching have long been part of Queen Creek’s identity and places such as Schnepf Farms have UPICK programs, a café, glamping on site, and special events during the year. Queen Creek has quite a few community events as well, including Spring into QC, Founder’s Day and others. For live theatre and music, the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center is the place to be.

Mesa

Arizona’s third-largest city (and the largest on our list), Mesa is quite lively. Both the Oakland Athletics and the Chicago Cubs hold their Cactus League MLB Spring Training in the city. Once a month, you can check out local vendors and live music at Sunset Market, but any time of year is ideal to browse the shops and try the restaurants downtown. While there, you’ll notice Mesa’s vibrant arts scene, which includes a plethora of public installations and murals. And definitely visit the Mesa Arts Center for the best in arts and entertainment programs.

For historical discoveries, the Arizona Museum of Natural History and the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona Museum always offer fun and educational outings. As for recreation, Golfland Sunsplash is a family-friendly destination park for beating the summer heat, while Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake – both in the Tonto National Forest – are great for fishing and boating. Or, head to the Salt River for tubing.

Surprise

Surprise may be a lot smaller than Mesa, but the two have some things in common, including an emphasis on arts and culture and MLB Spring Training. There are many ways to stay active outdoors in and around Surprise, especially if you’re an avid golfer. A good spot just 15 minutes from Surprise in Waddle is White Tank Mountain Regional Park, which offers some 30,000 acres of rugged rocks and trails. When it comes to dining, the town is bigger on local eats than it is on larger chains and claims it has restaurants for every mood. Hit Uptown Alley in Surprise for bowling and games or head to Axescape for axe throwing and escape rooms.

Glendale

Glendale is culturally and economically diverse, and offers all the amenities of a typical larger Arizona city. There are some top spots for outdoor recreation, including Sahuaro Ranch Park, Glendale Heroes Regional Park and Thunderbird Conservation Park. Arlington State Wildlife Area just outside Glendale on the Gila River is ideal for duck hunting.

The shopping and dining options in Glendale are seemingly endless and made for all budgets. For a more small-town, quaint vibe, head to Historic Downtown Glendale. Arrowhead Towne Center is more like a traditional indoor mall for West Valley shopping, while the Westgate Entertainment District includes live events as well as shops and restaurants. Adjacent to the district is State Farm Stadium where the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals play. Adults can try their luck at the Desert Diamond Casino, while kids will surely want to visit Mattel Adventure Park set to open in late 2024. Finally, Glendale’s LiVE! concert series from the fall through early spring is always a hit.

Gila County

Payson

Sometimes called “The Heart of Arizona” for its near direct-center location in the state, Payson has some things you won’t find in Pinal or Maricopa counties. One is a whole lot of pine forest. There’s the impressive Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, and the Green Valley Lakes, Willow Springs Lake and Woods Canyon Lake all in or near Payson and known for trout fishing, camping and summer vacations. Game Management Unit Mesa – Region VI is for hunters seeking Central Arizona spots. GMU 22 is the unit that includes Payson and has Bighorn Sheep, Elk, deer, turkey and other species. Payson’s Green Valley Park is where you’ll find annual events like the Summer Concert Series, Fiddle & Food Truck Festival and Movies in the Park. Last but not least, the “"World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo” is also here with a variety of regular events.

Sources:
FlorenceAz.gov
DiscoverFlorence.com
VisitArizona.com
Pinal.gov
Explore.Pinal.gov
EloyAz.gov
AjChamber.com
Cca.CasaGrandeChamber.org
CasaGrandeAz.gov
QueenCreekAz.gov
VisitQueenCreekAz.com
MaricopaCountyParks.net
DowntownMesa.com
ExploreSurprise.com
GlendaleAz.com
VisitDowntownGlendale.com