A stately courthouse draped in bright Christmas lights, a festive train headed toward the Grand Canyon (also known as the North Pole), a “Chocolate Walk” through a vintage Old Town. Although not actually locations for Hallmark Christmas movies, the Arizona towns where these holiday scenes play out certainly could be.
All that’s needed is some softly falling snow, a little jingle bell music, and a sweet story about unlikely couples coming together at Christmastime.
In fact, the desert state of Arizona and wintry Christmas movies might seem to be an unlikely match at first glance, but just like the movies that are so popular around the holidays, there’s plenty of Christmas magic to go around in these 5 small and mid-sized towns of the Grand Canyon State.
As Arizona’s official “Christmas City,” Prescott offers countless scenes that could double as locations for a holiday movie — from the picturesque Courthouse Plaza in the middle of town to the hugely popular musical showcase that takes place on the streets of downtown.
With a population of about 45,000, Prescott is more mid-sized city than small town, but during the holidays, the city located in north-central Arizona fully embraces the small-town atmosphere. The anchor of it all is the Courthouse Lighting that has taken place for decades on the grounds of the Yavapai County Courthouse. Now in its 67th year, the lighting occurs on the first Saturday of December.
The Prescott Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizers of the lighting ceremony, calls the event “the must-see event of the year.” As the sky darkens on the evening of the lighting, thousands gather on the courthouse plaza to attend a Christmas program and watch for the showstopper — the illumination of thousands of multi-colored lights strung on the courthouse walls and in the trees on the plaza.
The lit-up plaza creates a festive tableau in Prescott’s downtown (also home of the historic Whiskey Row), and the following weekend, dozens of musical acts take to the streets and shops for the annual Acker Night Musical Showcase, a Prescott tradition since 1988.
Typically occurring on the Friday following the courthouse lighting, Acker Night has long been a local favorite, drawing hordes of people out to listen to music, meet up with old friends, and toast the holidays in one of the town’s rustic saloons or restaurants.
Popular holiday meet-up spots include the historic Hassayampa Inn with its chic Peacock Room and cozy Glass Bar, the charming creek-side favorite El Gato Azul for tapas and sangria, the Prescott Brewing Company for delicious pub fare and local beers, and the Jersey Lilly Saloon, known to offer one of the best views of the courthouse splendor from its balcony.
Pro Tip: At an elevation of about a mile high, Prescott occasionally enjoys a white Christmas, and the early-December courthouse lighting has been known to get a dusting of snowflakes. Prescott native Ann Steward, who works in the city’s tourism department, recalls a few times through the years when falling snow has added to the magic of the event.
Just a two-hour drive from Arizona’s Christmas City is the mountain town of Flagstaff, which holds the equally delightful distinction of being Arizona’s Winter Wonderland. With the spectacular San Francisco Peaks as a backdrop, the northern Arizona community more than lives up to that designation.
Flagstaff averages about 100 inches of snow a year, making it Arizona’s snowiest city, and the annual Winter Wonderland & Tree Lighting sometimes benefits from a blanket of fresh snow. The event features music, luminaria bag decorating, and hot cocoa. For fun downtown dining, head to Charly’s Pub & Grill in the historic Weatherford Hotel, or for a huge selection of local beers, wings, and burgers, try the Lumberyard Tap Room & Grille.
At about 7,000 feet elevation, Flagstaff has a fun winter vibe that extends to the nearby Snowbowl Ski Resort, where Arizonans go to ski and snowboard. For a meal with superb mountain views, check out the resort’s Agassiz Restaurant & Bar at Snowbowl.
Pro Tip: Flagstaff is also home to the North Pole Experience, a Christmas extravaganza that originates at the Little America Hotel, picking guests up on a festive trolley and taking them to the enchanting Santa’s Workshop, complete with a toy factory, Mrs. Claus’ Bakery, Elf University, and Santa’s Sleigh Hanger.
As the main gateway town to the Grand Canyon National Park, Williams has a number of built-in advantages in the Christmas magic arena. Among them, the Grand Canyon Railway, a vintage train that transforms into the magical Polar Express during the holidays.
Now in its 21st year, the train that typically transports visitors to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon carries holiday revelers from “the nighttime wilderness of Williams, Arizona, to the enchanted beauty of “the North Pole,” where Santa Claus and his reindeer “are waiting with a keepsake present for every good boy and girl,” says the train’s website.
Christmas magic also occurs on the streets of historic downtown Williams with an annual parade and light parade, typically occurring the weekend of Thanksgiving.
For some Christmas cheer along the way, check out downtown Williams’ Historic Barrel + Bottle House, known for its selection of 16 craft beers on draft, burgers, and pulled pork sandwiches, or the Station 66 Italian Bistro for creative wood-fired pizzas and wine.
Pro Tip: The legendary El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon also goes all out decking its rustic halls for the holidays, making it a great stop on a winter trip to Williams and the Grand Canyon.
Combine the hospitality of a vintage Old Town with numerous opportunities to taste handcrafted chocolates, and you have the makings of Christmas magic worthy of a movie scene or two.
Now in its 28th year, the Old Town Chocolate Walk in downtown Cottonwood is a favorite for locals and visitors alike. Merchants, shops, tasting rooms, and restaurants all participate in the fun, offering event ticket holders tastes of handcrafted chocolates. The event is known as a place where friends and neighbors visit while meandering down Cottonwood’s quaint Main Street.
Pro Tip: The streets of Cottonwood are also the scene of a Christmas Parade that has been a community tradition for more than six decades.
By virtue of its glowing red rocks alone, Sedona could easily be the star of virtually any sort of movie. But the town known worldwide for its stunning scenery would be especially wonderful in a Christmas movie for a number of reasons, including the Festival of Lights that takes place annually at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village.
There, in the midst of the village’s charming Southwest mission atmosphere, 6,000 luminarias (paper-bag lanterns that traditionally have candles set in sand inside) come to life during the early-December festival. The soft lights glow along the curving sidewalks and beneath the graceful archways creating a romantic setting if ever there was one.
To warm up after a walk through the luminarias on a chilly December night, be sure to stop in at one of Tlaquepaque’s excellent restaurants, such as the Oak Creek Brewery, known for its local beers and gourmet burgers, or the Secret Garden Café known for its beautiful garden setting and offerings like beef sliders and shrimp puttanesca.
Tlaquepaque is famous for offering some of the best shopping in Sedona. So, if Christmas shopping is on your to-do list, check out shops like Adorn Collection for its home décor and wardrobe accents or Cucina Sedona for its offerings of colorful Southwest kitchen and table linens, pottery, glassware, and gourmet cookbooks.
Sedona also hosts a variety of other popular holiday events, such as the Christmas Tree Lighting at Tlaquepaque North and the Christmas in the Park on the beautiful grounds of the Sedona Heritage Museum.
- Prescott, Williams, Flagstaff, Sedona, and Cottonwood are all located within an hour or 2 of one another and would make for a wonderful holiday road trip. Travelers should be sure to check the weather reports before heading out, though, because snow in the higher elevations in Flagstaff and Prescott can make for treacherous driving conditions.
- Towns that could be (and are) the locations for Hallmark movies are located all over the U.S. and Canada. For some ideas, see 11 Colorado Towns That Feel Like You’re In A Hallmark Christmas Movie, or for a look at the town where many of the movies are actually filmed, check out 11 Reasons To Visit The Adorable Town Where Hallmark Christmas Movies Are Filmed.
- For a host of new Hallmark movies, see Countdown To Christmas: 15 Must-See Hallmark Christmas Movie Premieres.