Visiting Phoenix in winter is one of the best ways to experience the chilly weather in Arizona.
The capital city of the Grand Canyon State beckons travelers during winter due to its pleasant temperatures unlike many cities in the USA that get blanketed in thick snow and storms.
Phoenix in winter is the high season in the Valley of the Sun perfect for enjoying outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, exploring the many fantastic things to do, and of course, revelling in the holiday spirits.
Read on to find out the best things to do in Phoenix in winter.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE PLANNING A TRIP TO PHOENIX IN WINTER
Compared to other parts of Arizona, the temperatures in Phoenix in winter are very mild, with mostly pleasant days.
However, you can expect sunny days in between, even in December, January and February. The early morning and nights are far cooler.
So if you plan a lot of time outdoors(which you should), stay hydrated, apply sunscreen, and wear a hat and sunglasses.
During winter in Phoenix, the temperature doesn’t vary too much during the months of December through to February.
December is my favourite month to explore Phoenix in winter, mainly because of the festivities which bring in so many fantastic things to do.
The coolest month is usually January and the rainiest month, and by the end of February, temperatures start rising kicking off spring.
The winter temperatures in Phoenix are not the same as that of Arizona in winter elsewhere, especially if you are heading north, make sure to carry winter gear.
On your winter hikes in Phoenix, be watchful of the wildlife, especially rattlesnakes found in abundance in Arizona.
Although winter is the hibernation period and your chances of encountering them are low, it is still possible to find them in bushes and near rocks. So be mindful of your steps and do not wander off the trail.
If you do encounter one when hiking in Phoenix in winter, make way for it and walk away.
THINGS TO DO IN PHOENIX IN WINTER
EXPLORE DESERT BOTANICAL GARDENS
One of the top things to do in Phoenix in winter is to visit the incredible Desert Botanical Gardens in Papago Park.
This 140-acre (57-hectare) botanical garden is home to many walking trails that will take you through a stunning collection of exquisite desert flora and fauna.
Every holiday season in December, the venue hosts Las Noches de la Luminarias, a Southwestern-inspired tradition, creating a desert wonderland.
Stroll in the garden amidst thousands of stunning luminarias and twinkling holiday lights lighting the paths, basking in the glow of lights.
Plus, musical performances, entertainment and holiday delights line the Garden’s iconic trails.
You can also see sculptures adorning the landscapes, created by talented artists.
You can build an enchanted winter village at Webster Auditorium.
You can purchase tickets online through their website.
SPEND CHRISTMAS IN PHOENIX
Phoenix is a city that knows how to celebrate, and the Christmas holiday is one of the best things to do in Phoenix in winter.
From holiday lights to plenty of events catering to families and couples, and many games, delicious food and shopping Christmas in Phoenix has something in store for everyone.
Head to Phoenix on New Year’s Eve to find annual events like galas and the famous Roosevelt Row Flannel Ball, with live music, food trucks, games, and lots of beer flowing.
Read this guide if you wonder what to do in Phoenix during Christmas.
VISIT PHOENIX ZOO
ZooLights is one of the biggest holiday light displays in the Southwest.
And your Phoenix in winter trip is incomplete without witnessing this spectacular event.
Approximately two-and-a-half million twinkling lights turn Phoenix Zoo into a magical winter wonderland.
Enjoy hot chocolate, apple cider, and munch on holiday snacks available at kiosks throughout the zoo amidst revelling in the festivities.
A yearly tradition for the entire family, the ZooLights at Phoenix Zoo gets decked up with animal lanterns, and all sorts of quirky, creative displays.
Stroll through the park and head to listen to live music, and light show, and a nightly snowfall.
In addition to the lighting, there are many special events and activities planned every year catering to kids, from elves to Dinosaurs and more.
And the best part is you can enjoy ZooLights by walking or driving through, depending on the night, so check the calendar.
The Phoenix Zoo is still very much worth the visit besides December.
It is one of the fun things to do in Phoenix in winter with kids as the largest privately-owned zoo in the USA is home to dozens of animals, rich exhibits and collections to learn about the animal world.
You can purchase tickets on the day at the zoo or, you can buy them online in advance here.
ENJOY ICE SKATING
No matter how old you are, one of the most loved things about winter is Ice skating, especially when it is holiday time.
A big draw in Phoenix in winter is the many open areas for visitors, some of them among the best outdoor ice skating spots in Arizona.
CitySkate in Downtown is one of the most popular, real outdoor ice-skating and a favourite spot among both locals and tourists.
After Thanksgiving until mid-December/January, enjoy skating under the stars with your kids until midnight at the CityScape Center in Phoenix.
Each session lasts for 90 minutes, and entry starts at $20 per person(with various discounts available)
Avail $5 off if you bring your own skates. It gets crowded often so get here early.
Plus, if you are here during the weekend, you can meet Santa Claus in the afternoon.
Opening hours – 4 PM to 11:30 PM
HEAD TO ONE OF THE SKI RESORTS
You can extend your trip to Phoenix in winter by planning a weekend in one of the nearby skiing resorts.
Not only will you enjoy playing in the snow making snowmen and angels, but you can also indulge in skiing, snowshoeing, and more!
Most Arizona ski resorts offer areas designated for beginners and seasoned experts, overlooking stunning views of the snow-capped peaks.
Spend the evening by the bonfire after a day of outdoor fun roasting marshmallows and sipping hot chocolate.
Arizona Snowbowl is around 3 hours from Phoenix, while Sunrise Ski Area in the White Mountains is about 200 miles from the capital.
Check out more about these ski resorts in Arizona in my guide here.
DRIVE THROUGH THE WORLD OF ILLUMINATION
World of Illumination is the most prominent animated light show in the world, featuring nearly 2 million lights synchronized to holiday music.
If you only want to add watching one or two Christmas lights in Arizona on your holiday, this should be at the top of your list!
It is one of the fun things to do in Phoenix in winter for sure.
On this 25-minute drive-through event, you will pass through many fun attractions, themed characters and holiday lights including snowmen and snow angels as you drive through the tunnel.
Every year, you will witness different themes at different places, including Diablo Stadium, Desert Diamond Casino in Glendale, and the theme parks in the Phoenix metro area.
Wrap your cosy blankets, grab your hot chocolate and roll the windows to soak in this holiday’s spectacle.
ATTEND LIGHTS OF THE WORLD
One of the fun events that you should not miss to experience Phoenix Christmas is the Lights of the World, the largest light and lantern festival in North America.
Head to the Arizona State Fairgrounds downtown to take in the dazzling holiday light displays in this lantern festival.
Inspired by the traditional lantern festivals of China, the event, which runs through the early New Year, features more than 10 million dazzling lantern displays highlighting different cultures and civilizations worldwide.
After admiring this magnificent display, have fun playing carnival rides and games, and enjoy daily performances, including acrobatics and live music.
GET INTO THE HOLIDAY SPIRITS AT GLENDALE GLITTERS
If you want more Christmas holiday lights in AZ near Phoenix, head to Glendale for the famous Glendale Glitters Festival, just 20-minute drive away.
Glendale Glitters is known for its extravagant holiday block parties in the Southwest.
Glendale Glitters displays lights around Murphy Park in Historic downtown Glendale with a spectacular light display that will be illuminated each evening from 5 PM until 10 PM, as well as many festive and free holiday events.
Watch the annual Hometown Christmas Parade held usually on the first Saturday of December packed with hundreds of floats, lights, displays, and more.
Each Friday and Saturday in December, local acts will take to the stage for free holiday performances.
Bookworms like me should check out the fun LIBCON at the Velma Teague Library where you can meet comic book artists, cosplay groups, dozens of vendors, live performances, games, prizes and crafts for kids.
Enjoy a free night out with the family, and taste the local delicacies at the food trucks.
Spend the evening watching holiday classics and other movies.
Other celebrations include Winter Wonderland and Gingerbread Nights.
Every Friday and Saturday night until Christmas, the city features fun activities, concerts, food, and horse-drawn carriage rides.
WATCH WINTERHAVEN FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
Each year, during the winter holiday season, the Winterhaven neighbourhood is illuminated by its Festival of Lights.
This Tucson neighbourhood is known for this Christmas light display for over 60 years and it is one of the best places to enjoy Christmas holiday lights in Arizona this year!
With themes ranging from traditional Christmas lights to celebrations of Hanukkah, you can see the diverse, quirky themes on display.
CHECK OUT THE NORTH POLE EXPERIENCE
A Christmas Adventure of a Lifetime, the North Pole Experience is probably among the top Flagstaff Christmas events.
A short drive away, add this to your holiday itinerary when visiting Phoenix in winter, especially if you are with children.
Named Trolley Launch Station, it is located on Hotel Little America’s 500 acres of beautiful forest, decorated with more than a million Christmas lights, making it the perfect backdrop for this epic adventure.
Join your kids on a trolley ride through the magic portal to Santa’s massive workshop in the middle of the forest.
Once you arrive, you will attend a workshop with Santa!
Santa’s Workshop is a complete, hands-on experience for children and parents.
With the elves beside you, learn building toys and Santa’s Workshop secrets at this 8500-square-foot workshop.
Take a tour of Santa’s main factory floor, Santa’s Toy Hall of Fame, attend Elf University and visit with Mrs. Claus.
Head to Santa’s Bakery for hot cocoa, snowman soup and cookies.
Don’t forget Santa’s mailroom and his top-secret “Area 47” Sleigh Hangar, featuring his famous sleigh, mission control centre, radar systems, and more.
End this 2 hours long thrilling adventure with a private family visit with Santa himself.
Opening dates – November 12 – December 24
ADMIRE THE HOLIDAY LIGHTS AT THE RAILROAD PARK
One of my favourite Scottsdale Christmas events is the lighting at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
This park is known for its Wild West-themed playgrounds and a train museum.
Primarily set up for children, the annual Holiday Lights display offers a fun experience for families and railroad lovers.
The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Holiday Lights event features train rides through a wonderland of holiday lights and displays on the Paradise & Pacific Railroad to the North Pole.
It usually opens in December and includes a tree-lighting ceremony.
After soaking in the brilliant lights on the train ride, let your kids continue the fun on Christmas carousel rides on the Charros Carousel, playing on slides and climbing structures and the Old West-themed play area.
Santa will also be at the park on Friday nights in December, along with live music and other entertainment.
Check out the model railroad displays at the museum in the train park. Drink hot cocoa from Hartley’s General Store.
HOP ON THE POLAR EXPRESS
Based on the adventures of the classic children’s book The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, the Grand Canyon Railway will take you on a journey to the North Pole.
Whether you are into fairytales or not, this is one of the epic experiences worth adding to your itinerary in Phoenix in winter.
Only 40 minutes drive away, it is one of the best Flagstaff Christmas things to do, especially if you are with kids.
Every winter the Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express comes to life on a journey from the nighttime wilderness of Williams in Arizona, to the enchanted beauty of “the North Pole, Grand Canyon South Rim depot.
Here you will have Santa Claus and his reindeer waiting with a keepsake present.
Enjoy hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies while listening to this timeless story.
The ride lasts slightly over an hour, with the train leaving each night at 5:30 PM and 7:30 PM.
Tickets begin at $57 for adults and $38 for children if you book early, but worth getting on the trail for a unique family holiday spirit to enjoy a memorable winter holiday in the Grand Canyon.
TOTAL ROUND-TRIP TIME: Approximately 90 minutes.
MORE FUN THINGS TO DO IN PHOENIX IN WINTER
PICNIC AT THE LAKES
There are many fantastic lakes near Phoenix and if you feel like water sports on your trip to Phoenix in winter, you can head to a few of them.
Among the perks of exploring these lakes are fewer crowds than summer, excellent temperatures, and many activities to choose from, with many you can enjoy with kids.
Winter is also a great time for snow recreation, family tubing, and snow-skiing, although not all are open to visitors.
Canyon Lake is one of the four artificial lakes on the Salt River and the smallest among the Salt River reservoir lakes.
But I feel Canyon Lake is the most gorgeous of all and hence, one of my favourite lakes near Phoenix.
Located in the Superstition Wilderness of Tonto National Forest, Canyon Lake offers beautiful views of mountainous landscapes, especially its gorgeous deep blue waters, reflecting the surrounding red rock mountains, and desert cliffs, forming spectacular panoramas.
One of the most crowded lakes near Phoenix is Tempe Town Lake, one of the largest urban lakes spanning 224 acres.
Tempe Town Lake is a popular local spot for walking, jogging, and biking.
Tempe Town Lake has more than a 2-mile-long lake where you can enjoy boating(including electric motors)
Although you cannot swim, jet ski or waterski, fishing and kayaking are popular in Tempe Town Lake.
Check before you plan a trip to any of these lakes near Phoenix no matter the time of the year for permitted activities, camping availabilities, weather, and road closures.
Hikers will have a fantastic time while visiting Phoenix in winter as there are plenty of trails, ranging from easy to challenging ones, treating you with splendid panoramas of the city and beyond.
The most popular hike in Phoenix loved by beginners and families is the trails to Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak.
If you want to venture further, head to South Mountain or north to Pinnacle Peak.
If you want an adventurous trail, hike Superstition Mountain, a gorgeous mountain range formed by aeons of intense volcanic eruptions.
Located an hour east of Phoenix, you can access many trails at The Lost Dutchman State Park.
Note that these trails can get extremely busy and securing parking can be a hassle during weekends and holidays.
There are also many guided hiking tours if you want a local expert to lead you through the beautiful wilderness like this one and this tour.
VIEW PHOENIX FROM A HOT-AIR BALLOON
Alternatively, if you want to see the stunning views of Phoenix from above without breaking a sweat hiking or biking, one of the best things to do in Phoenix in winter is book a hot-air balloon trip.
If you are fond of watching the sunrise or sunset, check out this epic hot air balloon half-day adventure, where you will fly in a first-class hot air balloon with experienced pilots witnessing spectacular bird views of Phoenix and the Valley in winter.
GO ON A HOLIDAY SHOPPING SPREE
Holidays are synonymous with shopping until you drop, right? So it is no different when you are visiting Phoenix in winter.
Thanks to plenty of fantastic outdoor malls in the Phoenix area, including Kierland, Desert Ridge, and Biltmore Fashion Park, you can enjoy the pleasant weather while eyeing the best holiday deals.
The Biltmore Fashion Park is the place to go if you want to splurge. This upscale shopping area is set amidst well-manicured landscaped flower beds.
The most easily accessible is the Arizona Center since this shopping mall is located in the heart of the city centre of Phoenix for people watching, relaxing, and eating besides shopping.
Desert Ridge Marketplace offers huge spaces and houses big brands and many popular restaurants.
WATCH EPIC SUNSET AND SUNRISE
The sunset in Phoenix in winter is gorgeous, and there are many viewpoints to enjoy the vibrant hues of orange, yellow, red and golden.
If you are a morning person, I highly recommend viewing the beautiful Phoenix sunrise as the crowds are fewer, parking is easy to secure, and of course, the views are stunning.
If you want to go on a guided hike, check out these sunrise or sunset hikes.
PLAN THESE DAY TRIPS OR WEEKEND GETAWAYS
If you’re planning on spending a bit of time in the Phoenix area, there are plenty of fantastic weekend trips from Phoenix you can plan.
Nature lovers can spend a day or two at the stunning Saguaro National Park.
Or head to Sedona, or if you feel like enjoying lots of snow, drive to the White Mountains for a quiet weekend in small towns like Payson or Greer nearby.
Head to Flagstaff for plenty of snow and winter whiteland if you do not mind driving.
Note that you will need your winter attire and gear if you are heading to Sedona, Flagstaff or further north as the temperatures are different than in pleasant Phoenix.
ENJOY GOLFING IN PHOENIX
Phoenix is the perfect place to go golfing in the winter, thanks to the warm and sunny weather and so many fantastic golf courses to choose from.
Troon North Golf Club is known for its spectacular golf venue featuring British Open-style courses while the Grayhawk Golf Club is home to two championship golf courses built by architect Tom Frazio.
Whether you are a pro or a hobby golfer, drop by these for a round of tee.
VISIT THE MUSEUMS
One of the year-round best things to do in Phoenix is its incredible museums and winter is no different from exploring at least a few of them.
If you have time only to visit one museum, check out the Musical Instrument Museum, ranked among the top museums in the United States.
The largest museum in the world dedicated to musical instruments, you can check out over 15,000 musical instruments from almost 200 countries!
Other unique museums worth visiting while exploring Phoenix in winter are the Heard Museum, dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art, known for exhibitions that showcase the beauty and vitality of traditional and contemporary art
The Hall of Flame Fire Museum, more than 50 years since its opening is dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibit of objects relating to the history of firefighting.
Art lovers will love Phoenix Art Museum, and if you are with kids, stop at the Science Museum.
RELAX AT THE JAPANESE FRIENDSHIP GARDEN
One of the best places to relax and escape the crowds is the Japanese Friendship Garden.
It offers the perfect break from the desert thanks to its gorgeous and tranquil ambience, spanning nearly 4 acres comprising stone footbridges and a tea house featuring traditional ceremonies.
It has a soothing 12-foot waterfall and a large Koi pond with around 300 fish.
Opening hours – 10 AM to 4 PM Tuesday through Sunday. Entry fees – $10.
WHERE TO STAY IN PHOENIX IN WINTER?
POPULAR HOTELS AND APARTMENTS
Hyatt Place Phoenix/Downtown – Hyatt Place Phoenix/Downtown features accommodation with a fitness centre, private parking, a shared lounge and a restaurant. It is one of the most popular hotels in Phoenix and given its location and excellent amenities, it is no surprise! Check out their rooms and the latest prices here.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites – Phoenix – Airport North, an IHG Hotel – Holiday Inn Express & Suites – Phoenix – Airport North, an IHG Hotel is another popular hotel loved by families and couples. It provides accommodation with an outdoor swimming pool, free private parking, a fitness centre and a shared lounge. Check prices and more here.
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Phoenix West/Tolleson – Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Phoenix West/Tolleson is a gorgeous 3-star hotel that features accommodation with free bikes, free private parking, a fitness centre and a shared lounge. Check the prices here.
Drury Inn & Suites Phoenix Happy Valley – Drury Inn & Suites Phoenix Happy Valley, near the international airport, is one of the most popular hotels loved by families and couples for its location and excellent amenities. They also offer deals regularly. Check prices and room details here.
LUXURY HOTELS AND APARTMENTS
Royal Palms Resort and Spa, part of Hyatt – Experience world-class service at Royal Palms Resort and Spa, part of Hyatt, between the prestigious area of Biltmore and Scottsdale city centre; the Royal Palms Resort & Spa, part of Hyatt is a beautiful hideaway resort. Check prices and deals here.
AC Hotel Phoenix Biltmore – AC Hotel Phoenix Biltmore offers excellent accommodation with an outdoor swimming pool, free private parking, a fitness centre and a shared lounge. Check prices and deals here.
Arizona Biltmore A Waldorf Astoria Resort – Situated on 39 acres of lush gardens, Arizona Biltmore A Waldorf Astoria Resort resort and spa offers a peaceful oasis, complete with exceptional on-site facilities, including 8 pools, along with first-class accommodations and amenities.
Each room offers a flat-screen cable TV and a private bathroom. Select rooms have a patio or balcony or a full kitchen. Check prices here.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Phoenix Downtown North – Featuring an atrium, an indoor pool and a restaurant, Embassy Suites by Hilton Phoenix Downtown North offers accommodation in the city centre of Phoenix. Check reviews, prices and best deals here.
JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa – Located in the centre of the Sonoran Desert, JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa boasts 2 golf courses, spacious seating areas, multiple swimming pools and waterslides. The Desert Ridge Resort also boasts a spa with a lap pool and a fitness centre. Check this guide here.
The Westin Phoenix Downtown – Located at Arizona State University’s downtown campus, this eco-friendly hotel is a 10-minute walk to the US Airways Center. It features on-site dining, an outdoor pool and a gym. Check the prices here.
PHOENIX IN WINTER MAP
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