Due to the endless sunny skies, cacti, and unseasonably warm temps, Arizona usually does not come to mind first when you think of holiday destinations. Despite the warm weather, Southern Arizona offers a variety of festive activities to enjoy all holiday season long. In fact, even traditional activities like ice skating are not off limits -the Phoenix area is home to 2 real ice rinks!
And if the holiday activities just do not feel the same to you without cold snowy weather, you can easily head up north just a few hours for pine trees, ski resorts, and the high likelihood of a White Christmas. Flagstaff, the hub of Northern Arizona, is just 2 hours north of Phoenix, yet sees over 100 inches of snow per year! With snow capped peaks, a ski resort & Nordic Center, and rustic cabin rentals, many Phoenix residents choose Flagstaff for their Christmas vacation destination.
Arizona offers a diverse variety of holiday fun, from a desert themed ice rink, to one of the largest Zoo Lights celebrations in the country, to a unique Tumbleweed tree unlike anything you have ever seen. The 10 holiday displays & events listed below are must-sees if you find yourself spending the holidays in Arizona!
1. Phoenix Zoo Lights
With 4 million lights, the Phoenix Zoo Lights celebration is the largest holiday light display in the state, and one of the biggest in the Southwest. Tourists come from all over the country to check out one of the grandest zoo lights festivals in the US. The Phoenix Zoo Lights festival includes, not only millions of colorful lights, but also a wonderful synchronized show, a special 4D holiday show, and even a special section devoted to Southwestern themed decor.
Seeing the cacti decorated with lights truly is a unique experience which sets this zoo event apart from others. This is one busy event, so be sure to plan your visit on a weekday to beat the crowds and hefty admission price (non-peak days are $12 vs $20).
2016 Dates & Times: Nov 21-Jan 13, 5:30-10:30PM
Address: 455 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008
Admission: $13 non-peak days, $20 peak days (check calendar). Save $2 when you order online. Check Groupon for special deals.
2. Little America Holiday Lights
The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff is home to an especially colorful light display consisting of a million LED lights, which makes it the largest holiday light event in Northern Arizona. The display is well organized and attractive with just about every pine tree along the short path adorned with pretty lights.
Be sure to bundle up as Flagstaff sees pretty brisk night temps this time of year, often dropping into the 20’s-30’s. And, it is not all that unusual to be walking amongst snow covered grounds! It’s all part of the fun! Grab a hot espresso or chocolate from a local roaster (Late for the Train is my favorite) and enjoy a quiet, crisp stroll with the scent of ponderosa pines adding a special holiday ambiance you will not find elsewhere in the state.
2016 Dates & Times: Nov 14-Jan 6, Dusk until 10pm
Address: 2515 E Butler Ave, Flagstaff, AZ 86004
3. Prescott Courthouse Lights
In “Arizona’s Christmas City,” you will be treated to a colorful display of almost 1 million lights spread across the beautiful tree-lined grounds of the historic Yavapai County Courthouse. The display is amongst the most gorgeous in the state and has been going strong for 64 years! Prescott is known for its’ quaint small town ambiance, with lovely Victorian architecture, and thus, offers a more traditional holiday setting than much of Southern Arizona.
Like Flagstaff, Prescott sees a 4 season climate with, at times, quite chilly winter weather. With a whole lineup of fun holiday activities, a small town charm, and even the slight chance of December snow, the feeling of Christmas is definitely in the air in Prescott. Prescott offers a number of holiday activities besides the courthouse lights – be sure to check out the full lineup of holiday activities in Prescott.
2018 Dates & Times: Parade on Dec 1st at 1pm, Tree lighting at 6pm
Address: 120 S Cortez St, Prescott, AZ 86303
4. Mesa LDS Temple Lights
The LDS Temple in Mesa is home to a quiet & attractive display, consisting of hundreds of thousands of colorful lights, plus nativity scenes. The addition of a few gorgeous illuminated palm trees gives the event a special desert charm. Unlike other Phoenix area events, this event is a bit more low-key, and thus, has the advantage of drawing less crowds, making it a perfect choice for a holiday date night.
2018 Dates & Times: Due to Temple reconstructions, lights are postponed until 2020. However, special Christmas concerts take place every Sunday at 7pm in December.
Address: 525 E. Main Street Mesa, AZ 85203