Just outside Phoenix, Arizona you will find the 76-square-mile town of Gilbert, Arizona. Known as one of the safest cities in the country, this burgeoning foodie town is fast making a name for itself with an unexpected cutting-edge cuisine scene.
This trip was taken before the pandemic spread of the coronavirus and the urgent need for social distancing. In these profoundly challenging times, we continue to bring you travel features in the hope you find new places to love (or stay connected to the places you already love) through our stories and photographs.
Gilbert began as an agricultural community when people started moving there to grow crops like alfalfa, hay and cotton. During World War I, it proudly claimed the title of Hay Shipping Capital of the World. The town, named after Bobby Gilbert who sold his land so the railroad could be built on it, was incorporated in 1920. By the mid 1970s, grocery stores and fast food restaurants started popping up as people increasingly began discovering the area.
Today, this is a great spot for a weekend getaway.
The Gilbert Historical Museum can give a deep dive into the fast growth as well as all the history of the town. A former elementary school, the building is the oldest building still standing in Gilbert, built in 1913.
Liberty Market is the original Main Street supermarket from the 1920s. About ten years ago it was turned into a café, but kept the original grocery concept. It now serves as a community meeting place. It was one of the three restaurants when downtown Gilbert started to develop; downtown now has about thirty restaurants. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and using locally sourced products, I suggest trying their Vietnamese coffee or one of their huge cinnamon rolls.
Agritopia is an area of redeveloped land in Gilbert. It was originally land owned by a couple that their son repurposed into a restaurant. The first homeowner built a house on the land in 2003 as Agritopia aimed to find beauty, education and production on the land. There are 11 acres of farmland where row crops like root vegetables, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and peppers are grown as well as a community garden and 452 homes. This haven also an orchard with peach trees, citrus trees and beehives. Every Wednesday October through June is farm night with a farmers market where people can shop or pick up their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce and more.
Barnone is an old grain barn made from repurposed World War II planes at Agritopia. Set up as a maker’s space with twelve craftsmen, you can find things like paper products at Prickly Pear Paper and wood-burned decor at Lettercraft. Or, stop for a meal at The Uprooted Kitchen, a plant-based restaurant serving in-season vegetables. Started as a food truck using lots of the Gilbert’s farmer market vendors as suppliers, they moved into Barnone in 2016 where they could be even closer to the products they use. They offer a completely plant-based menu, making 95% of things in-house including sauces and dressings.
If you are interested in trying Arizona wine, you’re in the right place. Garage East serves wine from Dos Cabezos, an Arizona winemaker. “We want people to come in and feel like they’re in a backyard. We want people to come in and let the wine be a complement,” says owner Brian Ruffentine.
Gilbert’s climate allows for a lot of outdoor activities – including Arizona Goat Yoga, the women who started the nationwide goat yoga trend. Using about 35 vegan Nigerian mini goats each weighing about twenty pounds, you can stretch with a little goat friend on your back or help you get into a downward dog on their three acres. Arizona Goat Yogas has expanded to add cow cuddling once a month, bringing a cow for you to snuggle. Alpacas Napoleon and Kip were recently added for you to meditate with. The center is now autism certified and can conduct classes of up to 150 people per class.
If you want to spend time exploring nature, The Riparian Preserve is the place to be. The 110-acre preserve has been open in Gilbert for over 20 years and has 80 acres dedicated to recharge basins. Riparian is vegetation along rivers and streams that depends on water to survive, making it distinct from surrounding vegetation. It is the single most important habitat in Arizona. The preserve uses treated wastewater to recharge the reserve and provide riparian wetlands habitat for wildlife. There are over 300 recognized species of birds here. While they do have regulated community fishing, they offer catch and release for bass and bluegill. They also have an observatory open Friday and Saturday nights for skywatching or for special star parties.
If you need a cool treat, grab a snack at Topo which is on the same property and owned by the same person as Joe’s Real BBQ. The small stand offers burritos, elote and soft serve ice cream. For a special Arizona treat, try the Prickly Pear soft serve.
The Hale Centre Theatre broke ground in 2003 and started renovations in 2018. It offers musicals and comedies all year long with Monday through Saturday shows. With a 375-person occupancy, they bring big hits and favorite shows to the town with mostly local actors.
You can find nightlife at bars and restaurants with dancing and local brews, like Arizona Wilderness Brewing, the first brewery in Gilbert. My favorite night spot, however, is the speakeasy The White Rabbit. Opened in 2018, they specialize in speakeasy cocktails as well bartenders making one of a kind drinks focused on your specific taste. Themed around Dr. O’Hare who was selling medicinal alcohol during Prohibition, the décor is reminiscent of that period, including the Heritage room made of photos sourced from the area. They have live music often and tiki nights every other Wednesday. The only trick is finding it… and figuring out the secret password.
The pace of Gilbert with it’s small town feel in the middle of the desert, is a great place to have a getaway. Explore nature, try a local beer or handcrafted cocktail, and learn why Gilbert has grown so much in the past few decades.
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Cover photo Kayla Elliott
Kayla Elliott is a Texas native who now resides in Austin. She loves to travel, write haikus, and eat TexMex. You can see her adventures and the occasional dog picture on Instagram at kaylove74.