Gilbert's relatively short history is rooted in agriculture, and even with nearly 250,000 residents that make it the fifth-largest municipality in Arizona, it still maintains its small-town feel. It's just one of the many reasons it is frequently listed as one of the top U.S. cities to live in. The farm town charm is easy to spot with a large water tower overlooking downtown, communities that boast names like Agritopia, and famed farm-side restaurants like Joe's Farm Grill. Fortunately, there's plenty of ways to enjoy the town with its sunny, grass-filled parks, family-friendly eateries, and relics of its farming history.
Go Bird Watching at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
The Riparian Preserve is a can’t-miss attraction for wildlife lovers, complete with three campsites, seven ponds, and Water Ranch Lake, a recreational fishing lake stocked with trout, catfish, bass, and sunfish. It also has plenty of park space for a family-friendly day out with ramadas, a simulated dinosaur fossil dig pit, and a children’s play area. However, the stars of the Riparian Preserve are the hundreds of species of birds, including ducks, doves, owls, quail, and mockingbirds, to name a few.
See a Play at Hale Centre Theatre
The Hale Centre Theatre is part of the longest continuously running, privately owned and operated theatre companies in America, as one of five theatres that’s owned by members of the Hale family. David Hale Dietlein opened the theatre in 2003, bringing a piece of the Hale theatre legacy to Arizona. Its serves as a family-focused destination for time-honored plays including classics like “The 39 Steps” and “Daddy Long Legs” as well as festive favorites such as “A Christmas Carol,” with single tickets starting at $22.
Learn the Town's Unique History at the Gilbert Historical Museum
This unique museum was converted from Gilbert's first school, which precedes the town's founding, having opened in 1913! It is the oldest building in the town, and the only Gilbert building included on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum opened its doors in 1985 and is led by the Gilbert Historical Society. It contains several exhibits, including a model train exhibit commemorating the impact the railroad had on the town's history, a military exhibit honoring Gilbert's military members, and a farming exhibit that explores Gilbert's rich history in alfalfa, cotton, and dairy farming. The museum also hosts events and provides programming to develop the town's culture. Admission for adults is $6, with reduced rates for seniors and children 12 years and under.
Pick Farm-Fresh Produce at the Gilbert Farmers Market
The Gilberts Farmers Market is one of the best-attended farmers markets in the East Valley and has been a part of the town’s vibrant farming culture for a decade. The market, which takes place Saturday mornings beneath the iconic water tower, welcomes more than 100 vendors each week during the busy season. It offers local, organic produce, farm-fresh eggs, meat, cheeses, sauces, and more. Visitors can also look forward to various food trucks and entertainment to enjoy while perusing the market.
Grab a Burger from Joe's Farm Grill
Joe's Farm Grill, led by famed Gilbert restaurateur, Joe Johnston, is a must-try restaurant for Gilbert visitors. While it's always been popular among locals, it skyrocketed to fame after appearing on Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" in 2008. The restaurant was Johnston's childhood home built in the 1960s and still retains its vintage atmosphere with plenty of seating outside near the farm. The grill's menu centers around simple American dishes like burgers, fries, pan pizzas, and barbecue done exceptionally well.
Peek Into Space at the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory
The observatory was opened nearly 15 years ago as part of the Gilbert Rotary Club’s celebration of Rotary International’s 100-year anniversary. It offers access to the observatory’s standout telescope: a 16-inch diameter, computer-controlled scope. Guests are welcome to peek into space each Friday and Saturday evening when the weather permits. On the second Friday of each month, visitors also have access to use a variety of other telescopes. Admittance to the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory is free, but a donation of $5 is appreciated.
Shop for Antiques at Merchant Square
Gilbert is home to the Merchant Square Antique Marketplace, Phoenix metro area’s largest boutique for antique goods. Boasting 58,000 square feet of space, the market is home to 250 merchants selling all kinds of vintage items such as books, home décor, furniture, dolls, and clothing. Additionally, shoppers can peruse the outdoor market consisting of 50 booths filled with antique metal and industrial items, or stop by the Highland Yard Warehouse offering home and garden decorations four days a month. The market is also home to the American Way Market Café, which serves up smoked meats and baked goods in a 1950s setting.
Take a Train Ride at Freestone Park
Freestone Park was Gilbert’s first major park, established more than 30 years ago. Today, it’s complete with two lakes, batting cages, volleyball courts, basketball courts, an amphitheater, skate park, and several playgrounds. The main attraction of the park is the Freestone Railroad that’s home to the 1930s-era miniature train, an antique carousel, Ferris wheel, and a wave runner ride. Admission to the park is free, but rides cost $2.25 each. Ticket books, all-day ride bands, and yearlong passes are also available.
Walk Through Downtown Gilbert
Downtown Gilbert, known as the Heritage District, has become one of the Phoenix metro area’s most energetic downtowns. A stroll through the small-town streets provides a look at community art, local businesses, and of course, a great view of the water tower. During a visit to the Heritage District, visitors can shop boutiques like Prickly Pear Paper and Made with Love Market and dine at one of 30 landmark Arizona restaurants, including Liberty Market, Joyride Taco House, Postino, and Zinburger.