Winter travel in Arizona doesn’t really bring to mind a Norman Rockwell painting. There are no sleigh rides or white winters. Yet spending Christmas in Arizona can still be a beautiful thing! With a multicultural population, you can find festivities influenced by Arizona’s Spanish, Native American and cowboy cultures, creating unique holiday experiences. Here are 10 family friendly holiday events in Arizona you need to know about!
Christmas in Arizona
I have a confession to make: When I moved to Arizona, I had no idea that the state was diverse and rich with culture. Like many people, I saw Arizona as a dry, scorchingly hot desert landscape with cactus and tumbleweeds — and that’s about it. And as embarrassing to admit that it is, I kinda pictured the people the same way. In my defense, I was coming from Texas, which is known to have a big head about itself and I just expected all other states to pale in comparison.
Boy, was I wrong! I discovered that Arizona has much to offer, starting with the people and diversity of cultures. The Spanish, Native American and cowboy cultures combine to create a distinct Arizona vibe.
Bonus discovery for me: a winter here is perfect for a weather Goldilocks such as myself. It’s not too hot, and not too cold; it’s just right. And if you travel just a bit north of Phoenix you enter a different world of green, lush mountains that can even offer snow during the winter months.
Arizona continues to surprise me with her beauty and offerings, and during the holiday months, it shines. Here are 10 great ways to spend the holidays in Arizona.
10 Family Friendly Holiday Events in Arizona
1. Tallest Fresh-Cut Christmas Tree in America, Anthem
At 115 feet tall and 27 feet wide, the tallest fresh-cut Christmas tree in America, a white fir, is located at the Outlets at Anthem.
The tree, larger than the Rockefeller tree in New York City (by 25 feet) also has 3 miles of LED lights, and more than 25,000 ornaments and bows.
2. Glendale Glitters, Glendale
Glendale Glitters kicks off the holiday season with the Glendale Glitters Spectacular weekend in late November, with celebrations every weekend.
The largest free Christmas lights display in Arizona, Glendale Glitters has 1.5 million lights throughout the 16 blocks of historic downtown Glendale. The season culminates with the Glendale Glitter and Glow Festival on Jan. 12, 2019, with glowing air balloons lining the nighttime streets, bands, and other festivities. Admission and shuttle service are free. For more information, visit the Glendale AZ website.
3. ZooLights at Arizona Zoo, Phoenix
Starting in late November, the Phoenix Zoo is lit with colored flamingos, elephants, and giraffes for ZooLights. The breathtaking Christmas lights display features more than 700 lit sculptures.
Guests can visit ZooLights from 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm nightly. Tickets can be purchased online at phoenixzoo.org or by calling 602.914.4333 (Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.), or at the gate when you come to ZooLights.
4. Lake Havasu Boat Parade of Lights, Lake Havasu
In early December, more than 50 boats will parade on the Colorado River, between Thompson Bay and Windsor Beach, through the Bridgewater Channel for the annual Parade of Lights.
This year’s theme is “Bright Ideas.” The event is sponsored by the London Bridge Yacht Club, For more information on the Parade of Lights, visit the website.
5. Las Noches de las Luminaria at Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix
Throughout the Christmas season, the Desert Botanical Gardens glows with an 8,000 light nightly luminaria display, Las Noches de las Luminaria. While visiting the gardens, visitors will also be serenaded by Christmas carolers, hand-bell performers, Mariachi Pasión, and other performers each night. Hot cider is available, as are spiked beverages for adults.
6. North Pole Experience, Flagstaff
Make a visit to Santa’s workshop at the North Pole Experience in Flagstaff. Visitors tour Santa’s 8.500 square foot workshop, including Santa’s Toy Hall of Fame, Elf University, Santa’s Bakery, and more! Children even get a peek at Santa’s secret sleigh hanger, “Area 47.” Visit for the evening or arrange overnight lodging, including a private cabin or hotel room.
7. Polar Express, Williams
Each year, starting in November, the Grand Canyon Railway is transformed into the magical Polar Express train from Chris Van Allsburg’s book, The Polar Express. Children, young and young at heart, board the Polar Express in Williams for a delightful nighttime trip to the North Pole.
On the journey, travelers listen to the famous Van Allsburg story while enjoying hot cocoa and cookies. On the journey back, Santa walks through the train, giving every boy and girl a Christmas treat.
8. Show Low Shines, Show Low
Show Low, located in the White Mountains, an Arizona winter wonderful, is a great place to celebrate the holidays.
The Show Low Shines annual Christmas light parade takes place in early December. Floats are hosted by Show Low local businesses, as well as community groups and local families.
9. Tumbleweed Tree Lighting Ceremony & Parade of Lights, Chandler
A tree lighting tradition since 1957, the Tumbleweed Tree Lighting begins with 1,500-2,000 tumbleweeds decorated to form a 35-foot tall wire framed Christmas tree. Adorned with paint, 65 pounds of glitter (oh my word!), and approximately 1,200-holiday lights, the holiday season kicks into full swing each year for the city of Chandler with this tree lighting.
10. Tucson Regional Ballet’s ‘A Southwest Nutcracker,’ Tucson
It’s just what it sounds like! This original, full-length ballet tells the traditional holiday story of The Nutcracker set in 1800s Tucson. Complete with coyotes, cavalry, and rattlesnakes.
You can get tickets online for this performance, held at the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall.