Snow never quite makes its way to Tempe, Arizona. Holiday cactuses help mark the season in the desert instead of towering evergreens. But when it comes to holiday events in Tempe, the season is just as magical. Embracing tradition and Arizona’s unique melting pot of cultures, they don’t miss a beat on the holiday season.
Las Noches de las Luminarias
Dates: month of December
Location: Desert Botanical Garden
Each year this Southwest holiday tradition takes over the Desert Botanical Garden, but some years are more elaborate than others. In 2018/2019 the Klip Collective took over the garden, creating Electric Desert | A Light and Sound Experience for 29 nights of holiday magic. Every evening, more than 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags, thousands of white twinkle lights and the pulse of Electric Desert lure visitors into the garden that many are used to only seeing during the day. There are seven site specific locations throughout the garden, using lights and original music, and relating directly back to the desert environment within the garden.
Illumination, Symphony of Light
Dates: mid-November to New Year’s Eve
Location: Tempe Diablo Stadium, 2200 W. Alameda Dr., Tempe, AZ 85282
Tempe can officially boast the country’s largest drive-through animated holiday light show experience. This is where millions of colors come to life to the sounds of your favorite holiday songs, creating a symphony for the senses. This is really a unique experience for the whole family.
Downtown Tempe Holiday Events
Downtown Tempe, the central shopping and restaurant hub of this college town, is is where the holidays spring to life. Mill Avenue’s trees are bedecked in lights through the New Year to get everyone in the holiday spirit. Stroll the streets, eating at one of the many restaurants and enjoy a few holiday shopping sales and cocktails to entice you in the door.
Fantasy of Lights Opening Night Parade
Dates: Day after Thanksgiving (check date each year, as it may change)
Location: Downtown Tempe
The annual Fantasy of Lights parade is when you know the holidays have officially kicked off in Tempe, Arizona. Thousands gather as the Christmas tree is lit and to make sure Santa knows exactly what is on their lists. 6th Street Market vendors take over Centerpoint Plaza with hundreds of hand-crafted items that are perfect for everyone on your list… especially mom. Don’t forget about mom!
Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade
Date: Early December
Location: Tempe Town Lake, 80 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, AZ 85281
Tempe Town Lake fills up with as many as 50 boats bedazzled in holiday lights followed by a fireworks show. Food trucks, face painters and selfies with Santa are available. Definitely a must for families!
6th Street Market
Dates: Sundays through April 2018 | 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Location: 6th Street Park, 6th Street and Mill Ave.
A weekly event that really shines during the holidays. It is the perfect blend of local arts and live music bringing the community together right in Downtown Tempe at 6th Street Park surrounding City Hall. Food in Root joined 6th Street Market to bring in local Arizona food producers. Now you can do your food and gift shopping all in one spot! Free parking is available at the City Hall Garage or at the meters downtown.
Location: 2000 E Rio Salado Pkwy, Tempe, AZ 85281 | (480) 966-9338
Tempe Marketplace, an outdoor shopping and entertainment area, brings live music on weekends throughout the year, but offers up a few bits of holiday fun for the whole family.
The annual holiday tree lighting happens the day before thanksgiving and there is free ice skating on Black Friday weekend for kids 5 and older. Skates are provided. You just have to bring those cozy socks. Most impressive – there is a nightly snowfall at 7pm and 8pm throughout November and December to really get you in the winter holiday spirit.
Phoenix Zoo Lights
Dates: mid-November to Mid-January
Location: 455 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008
We love animals and lights, so when you put the two together at one of the nation’s largest non-profit zoos, we need to check it out. The Phoenix Zoo opens it’s gates at night to show off millions of lights, a three-story Christmas tree, nightly snowfall at 7pm, a Santa meet-and-greet and a lakeside music-in-motion show. I guess it really can snow in the desert. Who knew!
Get Your Musical on at ASU Gammage
Location: 1200 S Forest Ave, Tempe, AZ 85281
We love a good musical, and if you live in the Phoenix area, you know that the ASU Gammage in Tempe, AZ is the only place to see the big Broadway shows that come through town. Hamilton has already popped through, and Dear Evan Hansen, Wicked and Rent are making an appearance this year as well. Holiday shows include K-Love Christmas and Mannheim Steamroller Christmas. So, if you want to impress your date this year, grab a drink at House of Tricks before a show. I don’t know about you, but we are still singing “My Shot!”
Need a bit more of the theatrical arts this holiday season? Tempe Center for the Arts (700 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, AZ 85281) always has a holiday play or performance happening. Collaborations have included A Christmas Carol, a co-presentation with Scottsdale Musical Theater Company and A Very Jerry Christmas, featuring saxophonist Jerry Donato and pianist Nicole Pesce.
Dates: November and December (call for specific dates)
Location: 95 W. 4th St., Tempe, AZ 85281
When you are looking for that truly special holiday afternoon out with your kids, girlfriends or grandma, take them to Hackett House for a holiday tea. Each year offers a few themes to choose from, including Chocolate Happy Hour and Holiday Boutique, Nutcracker tea (costumed dancers show up!) and traditional holiday tea. Personally, this is exactly what I need when life gets a little too crazy.
Photos courtesy of Downtown Tempe Authority, Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo.