Story and photos by Niki D’Andrea
Lake Havasu City has all the elements for fun
Lake Havasu City, aka “Arizona’s Playground,” is well-known for a few things. Firstly, it’s home to London Bridge, relocated to the city piecemeal from England in 1968, reconstructed over the course of three years, and inaugurated in 1971.
The city also sits along a stretch of what we’ll call the Arizona Riviera, making it a boating mecca beach town in the middle of the cactus-dappled desert. Everything from car shows to music festivals regularly take place along the shores of Lake Havasu, and the city’s sprawling parks and hiking trails see plenty of action, especially October through April, when the weather turns balmy and breezy and sweltering summer temperatures start to subside.
Outdoor recreation is abundant, and few things are better after a hike on a hot day than a cold craft beer. Luckily, Lake Havasu City’s also known for its budding brewery scene.
Beer Town, AZ
The oldest brewery in town, Barley Brothers Restaurant & Brewery (barleybrothers.com), opened in 1997 and is located on the south side of London Bridge. Their award-winning brews skew malty (sometimes you can smell the malts roasting when you walk in the restaurant) and aren’t available anywhere outside the brewery, so getting a growler or two to go is a good idea. Barley Brothers is especially known for its Tripleberry Wheat beer, made with cranberries, raspberries and blueberries; it’s smooth and fruity, but not overly sweet. The food menu boasts big burgers with interesting variations (one topped with Maine lobster, another with peanut butter and jalapeño jelly); pizzas and hefty, gooey calzones; sandwiches and pastas. Dining here often comes with a great view of the water under London Bridge. The restaurant also overlooks a lovely waterfront garden with green foliage, stone fountains and a shaded ramada.
Mudshark Brewing Company (mudsharkbeer.com) is one of the best-known beer brands based in Lake Havasu City, with distribution throughout the Southwest and a Full Moon wheat beer that tastes like a more banana-forward Blue Moon. Mudshark’s Pumpkin Spice Ale – served with brown sugar around the rim of the glass in the restaurant – is hands down the best seasonal beer in town. Pizzas and pastas here rock, too.
Some of the best brews and food in Arizona, let alone in Lake Havasu City, are found at College Street Brewhouse & Pub (collegestreetbrewhouseandpub.com). Known for their Big Blue Van blueberry wheat beer, College Street also excels in stouts and IPAs. Food menu highlights include delectable, crab-stuffed avocados and the cheesiest, richest mac and cheese on earth.
The newest brewery in town is an outpost of Redlands, California-based Hangar 24 Craft Brewery (hangar24brewery.com). Located in a converted airplane hangar at the Lake Havasu City Municipal Airport, Hangar 24 is so popular with locals that it requires a big overflow lot for additional parking. The long, communal-style tables facilitate socialization with strangers, and the blue biplane hanging from the ceiling adds to the aviation vibe. The brewery’s annual Airfest draws people from all over the region.
Hangar 24 Airfest
Music, jets and beer, oh my! On Saturday, October 27, Hangar 24 Brewery & Grill will host its second annual Airfest at Lake Havasu City Municipal Airport. Beer pouring stations featuring craft brews from more than 30 local and regional brewers will proliferate throughout the property, and a wide variety of food vendors will be on hand to help attendees soak up the suds. The family-friendly festival includes a new Kids Zone and live music from Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band Red Not Chili Peppers and local favorites Kevin Jaxon and the Midnight Sun.
The main entertainment will be the big air show, which will feature an aviation performance by Arizona’s own Jon Melby in the Hangar 24 Muscle Bi-Plane, an A-10 Warthog from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, the “Sentimental Journey” B-17 bomber, and an upside-down helicopter routine by Red Bull Flying Bulls.
General admission tickets for Hangar 24 Airfest cost $12 before October 21 and $18 after. Military with active ID can purchase a general admission ticket for $9. For more information, visit hangar24airfest.com.
Hangin’ Over Havasu
Lake Havasu City is a flight-fervent city, with a busy municipal airport and active aviation adventure businesses. The best way to see Lake Havasu City is from the air, and for people who have already flown over the city in a private plane, flying in a weight shift-controlled amphibious aircraft provides a new kind of kick and fresh perspective.
Hangin’ Over Havasu (hanginoverhavasu.com), located next to Hangar 24 at the airport, offers a truly unique adventure – a 30-minute or 60-minute flight lesson in an Airtime Aircraft Cygnet 3. The amphibious, ultralight trike fits one pilot and one student (children must weigh a minimum of 75 pounds) and takes passengers over such Lake Havasu City landmarks as the London Bridge and SARA (Special Activites and Recreation Area) Park, an 1,100-acre park packed with hiking trails. There’s even a picnic table atop one of the summits, which Hangin’ Over Havasu owner and pilot Joe Lorenzen will fly over for a great photo op (yes, cameras are allowed, but must be secured in a lanyard).
Reaching elevations of anywhere from 500 to 2,000 feet, the amphibious aircrafts glide with grace over the lake and above some of the mountain peaks. The cool air over the water gives way to a noticeably warmer wind once you fly over the desert. Through headsets in helmets, Lorenzen communicates with his student and other pilots, schooling them in the basic aircraft functions and sometimes even letting them take the controls for a minute. He’ll sometimes also do a touch-and-go – landing on the surface of the water for a split second and gliding swiftly across its surface.
Back on the ground, participants get a certificate commemorating their lesson, and a recommendation to take more lessons and eventually get certified to fly an Airtime Aircraft Cygnet 3 on their own.
London Bridge and Lakeside Fun
The London Bridge brims with boats, businesses, shops, restaurants and lodging. On the south side of the bridge is a bevy of restaurants, including Barley Bros., Shugrue’s, and a great breakfast spot called Makai Café. The bustling eatery serves superb omelets, rich biscuits and gravy, and robust coffee. It’s a great starting point for a day of sightseeing and shopping in the English Village on the other side of the bridge.
English Village is a fun tourist stop with a water fountain at its gated entrance, some retro red British telephone booths (sans phones; they’re for decoration and photo ops only), and everything from candle shops to clothing boutiques. There are also a handful of floating cabanas on the water that are available to rent, and a few boat tour companies that can take passengers to places like Grass Island, Copper Canyon and on a tour of Lake Havasu’s lighthouses – fully functional miniature replicas of notable lighthouses from around the world. For more options and details, visit golakehavasu.com.