Venture half an hour east of Arizona’s capital, and you’re in Gilbert, America’s “most populous town” — and it’s 100% free of skyscrapers, blazing city lights, and suits pounding the pavement. There’s over 300 days of sunshine a year, a community-driven atmosphere welcoming of all ages, and tons of things to do at a slower, friendlier pace.
If you’re traveling with the kids, here are seven reasons to consider Gilbert, AZ for your next vacation.
1. It’s the goat yoga capital of the world.
Seriously. Goat Yoga Arizona owners Sarah Williams and April Gould trademarked “Goat Yoga,” recently setting a Guinness World Record for the largest goat yoga class ever (350+ yogis, 84 goats). The pair are famous local faces — you might recognize them, too, since they’ve appeared on American Ninja Warrior and The Amazing Race as #TeamGoatYoga.
They lead several classes a week together at Welcome Home Ranch in Gilbert, where alpacas add some diversity to their bleating counterparts. All ages are welcome, and the animals are good with children. Bring your kids to a baby goat yoga-focused class, where your own brood can hold one of the little guys before getting into child’s pose.
2. The Heritage District is code for splash pad territory.
Yes, this is Arizona — the weather can tend toward the warm end of the spectrum. But there’s always a tried-and-true way to cool down when you’re in the Downtown Gilbert Heritage District: the splash pad.
To find it, head to Water Tower Plaza. The 230-foot water tower that dates back to 1927 is one of Gilbert’s most iconic sights — let it serve as both your compass and as a place to wind down. While the kids splash around, check out the water wall and spinning granite ball, some of the best public art in town.
Some 30 local restaurants are scattered throughout the district, so you could easily walk to dinner from here — splashing goes well with ice cream, by the way. And in the fall and spring, free concerts near the splash pad keep Thursday nights thrumming.
3. Food here doesn’t come from grocery stores…
The food folks in Gilbert like to eat comes from actual people working the actual earth. Weird, huh? It can be a hard concept for modern adults to grasp, much less modern kids. Take them — and yourself — to The Farm at Agritopia, an 11-acre, hands-on, certified organic farm. They hold tours (every third Wednesday of the month, September – June), farmer talks, special events like peach picking, markets, and there’s an onsite farm store stocked with fresh produce.
Then there’s the Gilbert Farmers Market, right by the water tower, which takes place every Saturday morning. It’s a blast for kids — there’s face painting, kid-friendly vendors (think homespun cotton candy), live music, and prepared food options galore.
4. …but it can come from trucks.
You won’t find an abundance of fast food chains around downtown. Instead, locally based restaurants rule, and most source ingredients from Gilbert farms. The homegrown adult beverage scene isn’t lost on Gilbert, either — breweries like OHSO Brewery + Distillery and Arizona Wilderness Brewing definitely deserve a stop.
Even more foodie-worthy choices are to be had around town in food truck form. Hit up the Gilbert Feastival, a food truck corral that hums to live music every Friday night. Artisan booths also pop up, so be on the lookout for handcrafted souvenirs.
Tip: Speaking of souvenirs, if you’re in Gilbert October through March, the free Gilbert Art Walk on the first and third Saturdays of the month is a prime way to score a unique memento. September through April, there’s also the Made with Love Market in the Heritage Marketplace, an “artist’s market” full of hand-crafted goodies.
5. You can walk next to wildlife…
At the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch — a gorgeous 110-acre nature preserve home to some of Arizona’s coolest creatures — the kids can practice their quiet game to catch a glimpse of wildlife. The immersive trails cover almost five miles and are fairly flat and easy to navigate, even if you’re pushing a stroller.
As you follow the boardwalks and trails, count the critters that cross your path — rabbits are running around everywhere, there are literally hundreds of species of birds to spot, and turtle crossings are a not-uncommon cause of trail jams. End the day at one of the preserve’s lake lookouts, or ditch the hotel for a night and camp out onsite.
Weekend visitors get a bonus: On Friday and Saturday nights, the state-of-the-art astronomy observatory is open to the public (weather permitting). You can also up the educational stakes with a visit to the ethnobotanical garden or the paleontology dig site — this is much more than your average nature park!
6. …and ride an open-air train.
Trains like this may bring to mind a bygone age, but the whoosh of an open-air ride down the tracks is timeless. At Freestone Park, home to the Freestone Railroad, the three-quarter-mile rail journey slides slowly past two duck- and fish-filled lakes and around the edges of the park. Get there early and score a covered coach if it’s a hot day.
Afterward, hop off the train and onto a waterless Wave Runner, ride the antique carousel, and take a cruise on the mini Ferris wheel. There’s plenty of green space to explore, and evenings usually mean softball games, skate park action, or joining in on the basketball and tennis courts.
7. The kids can…do everything.
It’s not like back in the day when, if you wanted to go to an arcade, play laser tag, bowl, mini-golf, or shoot some pool, you had to schedule out a whole weekend and drive around town (or around the state!). Now you just make a beeline for Main Event. Mondays are all-you-can-play for $10.95, Tuesdays kids eat free, and just signing up on their website gets you 30 free minutes in the arcade. Did we mention gravity ropes?
Or, if you’re looking for something you and the kids can do together — not that adults can’t get in on a little laser tag! — head to Topgolf. High-tech driving ranges and virtual courses will get you working on your game, and you can break it up with drinks on the rooftop terrace or a full meal at the restaurant. The $4 mimosas will make it less painful when your kiddo eagles your bogey.