Centered in the Sonoran Desert, the Scottsdale area of Arizona might not offer a white winter wonderland, but locals and visitors alike still have plenty of choices to celebrate the holidays. The perfect weather and desert scenery offer a gorgeous, if not traditional, backdrop to festive outdoor holiday events for all ages. Christmas lights on a giant saguaro add a unique twist to the season.
Starting in November and going through the New Year, you’ll find festive light displays in and around greater Scottsdale while enjoying balmy nights for outdoor holiday fun. During the daytime, the sunny days make up for the lack of snow and ice, making outdoor dining and exploration possible. But even those who would miss winter activities have something to look forward to. This time of the year, Scottsdale proves even ice skating in the desert is possible.
The following are only a few ways to celebrate the holiday season in and around greater Scottsdale.
1. Scottsdazzle Holiday Extravaganza
Old Town Scottsdale’s annual holiday celebration, Scottsdazzle, is a month-long celebration featuring festivals, concerts, unique events, and above all, gorgeous decor. The festivities start with a Sing-Along and Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Scottsdale Waterfront. Live music, public art installations, and holiday décor light up the night. Local food vendors offer hot cocoa, coffee, and seasonal treats, while small local specialty stores offer opportunities to do your Christmas shopping.
Celebrations continue through December 31 with activities for all ages. Children have opportunities to meet Santa while adults shop at the festive farmer’s market, enjoy some wine tasting offered by local wineries during the Wine Dazzle event, or enjoy the city’s finest works of art during the holiday-themed Gold Palette ArtWalk.
The event also caters to the crafters among us. Throughout the month, the Mercantile of Scottsdale offers five crafting events for those who prefer to make their own holiday keepsakes, and several floral workshops to create beautiful floral centerpieces and winter-themed arrangements.
2. Christmas At The Princess
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess offers visitors traditional ways to celebrate the season during the Christmas at the Princess event. The popular 6,000 square-foot ice skating rink, made with real ice, offers a traditional winter experience surrounded by giant saguaros and other plants of the desert.
Besides the rink, visitors can continue skating through the Alpine Skate Trail in the Village set up as a winter wonderland, also offering sledding opportunities off Snow Mountain, and opportunities to roast marshmallows around a campfire in a Christmas tree forest.
The Princess Express Train takes visitors through the Lagoon Lights, who also have opportunities to watch a video show projected against the resort’s facade, rent private fire pits of Winterland Igloos, and meet Santa and his elves. The focal point of this winter wonderland is the resort’s musical Christmas tree, with its lights dancing to 18 classic holiday songs.
3. Christmas Lights Segway Tours
A great way to enjoy Old Town Scottsdale dressed in holiday lights is through the annual Old Town Holiday Lights with Scottsdale Segway Tours. Riders enjoy holiday tunes and hot cocoa at the halfway point while cruising historic Old Town Scottsdale’s festive streets. The tour takes 1 hour and 45 minutes and rides through the Civic Center Park, the festive lit-up Historic Main Street, the Arts District, and the Scottsdale Waterfront.
4. Holiday Lights At Stillman McCormick Ranch
The McCormick Railroad Park offers another dazzling holiday lights display in Scottsdale. Primarily set up for children, the Holiday Lights display offers a fun experience for families and railroad enthusiasts of all ages. A train ride through colorful holiday lights and decor, visit of the model railroad displays will enchant, visits with Santa, hot cocoa along with other holiday fare are all part of the holiday festivities.
5. Holiday Lights At Salt River Fields
The Holiday Lights at Salt River Fields offers a unique drive-through experience on a 1.2 mile stretch of road filled with holiday lights and displays. While driving the light route, visitors can listen to holiday songs in their own car on a designated radio channel. Or, for a fairytale experience, visitors can rent beautiful open holiday carriages.
The road ends in Santa’s Village, culminating with the new Holiday Light Theater, a spectacle of dynamic, festive lights presented on a screen. Hot chocolate, beverages, and snacks, besides opportunities to buy unique handcrafted items from local vendors. Of course, Santa is also there to meet visitors at his village.
6. Las Noches De La Luminarias And Chihuly In The Desert
A quieter and much different light display enchants guests at the Desert Botanical Garden during Las Noches de la Luminarias event. A holiday tradition in the gardens since 1978, the event represents the Southwest and complements the beauty of the garden.
Adopted in the Southwest from an old Mexican Christmas tradition, the Luminarias transform the Desert Botanical Garden into a magical place, as thousands of hand-lit candles set in sand inside paper bags line its paths, giving it a soft glow and a romantic feel. Live music adds to the ambiance. As a special treat, this year guests can also see the Chihuly in the Desert art exhibition, showcasing Dale Chihuly’s famous large-scale glass installations set among the desert plants.
Next door, at the Phoenix Zoo, the Zoolights delight visitors with a brighter light show nightly throughout the season. Millions of lights, animal sculptures, and two Music-in-Light motion shows by the main lake are just a few of the highlights of the event celebrating its 30th anniversary. A three-story Christmas tree besides Santa and his elves completes the holiday theme.
Besides the traditional lights and events, this year visitors can also see a new display of illuminated mixed-media paintings of various endangered species. The special collection by artist Russell Ronat, known as Project Holocene, helps raise awareness of the importance of wildlife conservation, showcasing the beauty and fragility of many species under threat of extinction.
8. Holiday Performances And Concerts In Scottsdale
Through the season, the Scottsdale Performing for the Arts Center hosts festive holiday shows, including everything from theatrical comedy to mariachi, jazz, a ukulele performance, and classical music.
Speaking of classical music, I can’t imagine a holiday celebration without it. And we have opportunities to enjoy several concerts, even here, in the middle of the desert.
In downtown Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Philarmonic offers a holiday concert, performing classic Christmas songs, along with excerpts from a series of traditional pieces, like Anderson’s Christmas Festival, Handel’s Hallelujah, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
For a more traditional classical concert, the Phoenix Symphony plays Handel’s Messiah in a Scottsdale location, while at the Symphony Hall it presents its annual festive Holiday Pops chorus concert, featuring hymns and carols from a variety of faiths and traditions and classic secular songs.
9. The Nutcracker Ballet Performances
The holiday season can not be complete without one of The Nutcracker ballet performances, even here, in the desert. Tchaikovsky’s music and the fairytale story of Clara and her beloved Nutcracker became synonymous with Christmas over the years.
Two local ballet companies present different versions of this holiday classic for Scottsdale and Phoenix audiences yearly in December. Teamed with the Phoenix Symphony playing its scores, Ballet Arizona offers a grand show at the Symphony Hall. In a more intimate setting, the historic Orpheum Theater hosts a different version of the holiday classic, in the spectacular rendition of the Phoenix Ballet.
Holiday Shopping And Dining In Scottsdale
Every weekend through the Holiday Season, starting after Thanksgiving, the Scottsdale Quarter hosts live music and entertainment, including their Shop and Be Merry Holiday Market. These events feature live music by Arizona musicians, fine arts and crafts markets, and specialty food and drinks, besides children’s holiday activities.
The SHOPS Gainey Village hosts the Holiday Wine and Dine free event, with live music, festive horse and carriage rides, baked goods, coffee and hot chocolate, and complimentary wine tasting at several restaurants. Visits from the Cotton Candy Lady passing out festive treats and photos with Santa add to the holiday spirit.
One day only, on December 10, the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows hosts its annual outdoor Luminarias Holiday Market showcasing local vendors and Arizona-based goods and services. Luminarias line the market area, and live music offers a background for the shopping experience.
Visiting The Scottsdale Area During The Holidays
Visiting Scottsdale at this time of the year doesn’t have to be only about the holidays. When much of the country is cold, covered with ice and snow, here you’ll find sunshine and perfect temperatures for outdoor exploration.
And Scottsdale visitors have plenty of opportunities to enjoy this unique environment, since as much as 43 percent of the city’s land is dedicated as Open Spaces areas. The largest, McDowell Sonoran Preserve, comprises over 30,000 acres of untamed desert, with trails throughout for all levels of hikers. When you go hiking in the desert, remember to bring water, use sunscreen, and wear a hat even in the winter. Even though the temperatures are perfect, it is still dry and sunny. For accommodations, visitors have plenty of lodging choices, from the high-end luxury resorts to budget-friendly hotels, and everything in between. The city offers even more dining choices, catering to every taste and budget.