The Accessible Traveler’s Guide to Mesa

As the first-ever Autism Certified City, Mesa leads the way in helping to create accessible and inclusive spaces for visitors and locals alike.

In 2021, Visit Mesa launched the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program, an initiative to help visitors self-identify as having a disability (one that’s not immediately obvious to others) that might require a little extra assistance. The program dovetails with Mesa’s 2019 distinction as an Autism Certified City — the first in the nation — which encourages local businesses to participate in specialized autism training so they can better recognize Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and serve the needs of ASD travelers.

Visit Mesa offers a robust set of resources for ASD visitors, from a mobile passport to autism-friendly itineraries, but for a true insider’s perspective, we spoke with Arizona resident Kisha Gulley.

Gulley is the content creator behind The Kisha Project, a blog that began as an outlet to manage postpartum depression and has since evolved into a go-to source for families of children with autism. As a mother of two children on the Autism Spectrum, Gulley knows first-hand where to go and what to do to ensure her family has a pleasant experience.

“I started my platform because a lot of questions I wanted answers to, I couldn’t find,” Gulley says. “I try to connect people to whatever resources they need, and to share what our experiences as a neurodiverse family have been. I’m not a doctor. When people come to me with questions, they’re getting real-life information.”

Read on for Gulley’s local-travel insights and follow her family’s adventures on Instagram: @panamakish.

The Accessible Traveler’s Guide to Mesa
Kisha Gulley and her family. Credit: Kisha Gulley.

Accessible Travel: Things to Do in Mesa and Greater Phoenix

The Accessible Traveler’s Guide to Mesa
i.d.e.a. Museum, Mesa.

“There are so many good experiences, it just depends on what your child/travel companion is able to handle,” says Gulley. “Every person is different. I have kids (ages four and seven) with completely different sensory needs. It can be tricky to find something that works for the whole family. We like being outdoors because it gives us freedom to do our thing without being restricted to a building. Riverview Park is great." Other attractions Gulley recommends:

  • Arizona Museum of Natural History
  • Chuck E. Cheese - The first Sunday of the month, stores open two hours early for sensory-friendly play, which includes staff who are specially trained in ASD and special needs.
  • Harkins Theatres - The Arizona-based movie theater chain offers sensory-friendly screenings one Saturday a month. “This is perfect for our family because everyone is there for the same reason as us,” Gulley says. “Plus, our kids love movies!”
  • i.d.e.a. Museum

Accessible Travel: Where to Stay in Mesa and Greater Phoenix

The Accessible Traveler’s Guide to Mesa
Doubletree Hotel, Mesa. Credit: Visit Mesa.

“We love a good staycation,” laughs Gulley. Her family has a few favorites when it comes to lodging in the Phoenix metro area, including The Wigwam in Litchfield Park and the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Scottsdale Resort.

“We feel comfortable at the Holiday Inn because they have what we need: food on-site or nearby, stuff to do, spacious rooms and pools perfect for families,” explains Gulley. Gulley also recommends the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, thanks to the accommodating and family-friendly staff.

More Accessible Travel Tips

Gulley’s husband is a pilot with American Airlines and he recently participated in the company’s ‘It’s Cool to Fly’ program, which offers families traveling with children with ASD the opportunity to take a test flight, but on the ground.

Kisha Gulley explains: “It’s a mock experience where families can simulate a trip… walk kids through security, do the boarding process, fasten seat belts. My husband makes the pilot announcements. It’s something we’re really proud to be part of because my husband knows first-hand what it’s like for a neurodiverse family to travel; it’s special for him to be able to give back in this way.”

In addition to signing up for this free event (check for upcoming It’s Cool to Fly events at an airport near you), Gulley suggests calling the airlines ahead of your trip to let them know you’ll be traveling with a child or companion with special needs. Other travel tips from Gulley:

  • Most stadiums and large-scale venues have sensory rooms where people with ASD can enjoy a game or performance in a sensory-friendly space. Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix offers a sensory room, plus sensory bags for check-out, which are stocked with noise reducing headphones, fidget tools and verbal cue cards. State Farm Stadium in Glendale has a sensory room with sensory-active wall displays, low lighting, beanbag chairs and sensory toys.
  • Visit Mesa includes a page on their website with sensory information cards that rates places on a sensory scale of 1-10. “I find this helpful because if it’s somewhere we’ve never been before, having this information helps me be better prepared for my kids,” explains Gulley.



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About the Author

Jessica Dunham

Jessica Dunham is a travel, food and fitness writer whose work has been published in PHOENIX Magazine, Runner's World, Phoenix New Times, Valley Guide, Phoenix Travel Guide, Modern Luxury Scottsdale and more. She is passionate about all things Arizona, especially spontaneous Saturday daytrips around the state. She can be reached at

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