Perhaps it's a poorly kept secret, but Phoenicians don't have to simply dream of a white Christmas — they can experience it. Plenty of places offer a chance to play or stroll in the snow, some real and trucked in from destinations statewide, some made on-site.
The Valley of the Sun is a bit spoiled with 60-degree winter seasons, but for snowbirds longing for just a glimpse of life back home or kiddos who can't sit still for a two-hour car ride up north to build snowmen, here are 10 snowy destinations within the metro Phoenix area. From shopping malls to the Science Center and an island in the middle of the desert, there's no shortage of places to see flakes fall.
Christmas at The Princess
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort offers a packed holiday calendar through Sunday, January 1, at its North Scottsdale location — where it started looking a lot like Christmas during the seventh annual tree lighting ceremony on Tuesday, November 22. Light snowfall sets the scene as the resort's Fragrance Garden transforms into the Nativity Garden, complete with a 10-minute, 88-foot light and music show narrating the Christmas origin story. The grounds have everything covered; from an animated light show to a petting zoo and character appearances plus an ice skating rink and Christmas carousel, there's bound to be something for even a holiday Scrooge.
Event hours vary through Sunday, January 1, at 7575 East Princess Drive. Admission is $35 for non-hotel guests (includes self-parking; $55 for valet parking). Light shows are complimentary, while rides on the Princess Express Train and/or the Christmas Carousel are part of a $10 ride/attraction wristband package. Sessions on the desert ice skating rink are $20 per person, and skate rental is available for $5. Limited tickets available for Breakfast with Santa and Holiday Brunches. Visit scottsdaleprincess.com for a complete list of seasonal events, or call 480-585-4848.
CitySkate at CityScape
It may not be Rockefeller Center, but downtown Phoenix is getting its own outdoor ice skating rink for the seventh year in a row. CitySkate Holiday Ice Rink returned Thanksgiving weekend with a jam-packed grand opening celebration, complete with a lighting ceremony for the rink’s 36-foot tree, art installations care of Artlink Phoenix and local artists, and a hot chocolate bar. The rink remains open through Sunday, January 8, and unlike last year, skate time will be broken up into different sessions per day with varying hours as follow: Open 5 to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, and 3 to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Open Christmas Eve until 6 p.m. and Christmas Day from 5 to 11 p.m.
The ice rink is located on Central Avenue, which will remain closed off between Washington and Jefferson streets while CitySkate is open. Weekend general admission is $15 and includes skate rental. Express skating passes are available for $25, online only. Free to watch the tree lighting, play in the snowfall, and partake in festivities. Visit phxicerink.com or call 602-550-9561 for skating info.
Snow Much Fun Day at The Children's Museum
Bundle up the kiddos and head to the Children's Museum of Phoenix on Saturday, December 10, for "Snow Much Fun Day." The day's activities begin at 9 a.m. and last until the snow melts — all 20 tons of it. Snow play and activities, like snowball fights, snow-angel-making, and fort-building, are free with purchase of museum admission. Plus, Santa Claus visits throughout the day, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Museum-goers can also enjoy gingerbread house workshops from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays (December 3 and 10 — closed December 24); RSVP required. And little ones can have Breakfast with St. Nick on Saturdays December 3 and 10, from 8 to 9 a.m. Visit the museum at 215 North Seventh Street in downtown Phoenix. Nonmember tickets are $11; members and their children are free. There is an additional cost for Breakfast with Santa. Visit childrensmuseumofphoenix.org for event information.
Winter Wonderland Express at Enchanted Island
All aboard this annual holiday train when the Christmas caboose rolls along its Encanto Park track to a snow-filled Enchanted Island destination. The island will feature an Instagram-ready human-sized snow globe to pose with, sled-riding, and even a "Sled Train Ride" pulled over the snow-covered grounds by an ATV. Plus, since it's so close to Christmas, little ones can visit with Santa Claus and share their wish lists at the North Pole — complete with free hot cocoa and candy canes.
The Winter Wonderland Express features 25 tons of snow and runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, December 17, and Sunday, December 18, at Enchanted Island Amusement Park at Encanto Park, 1202 West Encanto Boulevard. Train rides cost five tickets (unlimited ride wristbands are available). Tickets are $1.25 per ride or $20 for 20 tickets; other discounts available. Santa comes down from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Both days and visits are free; the light show runs from 4:30 to 7 p.m. each day. Call 602-254-1200 or visit enchantedisland.com/special-events for details.
Snow Week at Arizona Science Center
By now, one should know that snow isn't a sparkly phenomenon, but rather an atmospheric occurrence. For those interested in learning more — and for others who just want to play in it — the Arizona Science Center offers Snow Week, an opportunity to learn the science behind snow and how to make the perfect snowball. (Sort of.) The seven-day event takes over Heritage and Science Park, blanketing the green grass with nearly 60 tons of ice and snow. Enjoy daily demos, sculptures, and gingerbread houses. The fun continues inside the Center with the featured exhibition "Alien Worlds and Androids," featuring life-size replicas of Iron Man, C-3PO and R2D2, and a replica T-800 from The Terminator series. (Nonmember admission cost is $19 for children and $24 for adults, and includes entrance to the general museum.)
Bundle up and head to Heritage and Science Park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily starting Monday, December 26, through Sunday, January 1, at Arizona Science Center, 600 East Washington Street. Snow play is free, museum admission is $18 with discounts available for members, children, and seniors. Call 602-716-2000 or visit azscience.org for more information and specific Snow Week details available closer to the event.
ZooLights and Noon Year's Eve at Phoenix Zoo
The Phoenix Zoo's ZooLights has become a holiday tradition for snowbirds and year-round Phoenicians alike. More than 300,000 visitors attend the winter event each year, which boasts hundreds of displays made of LED lights and new 3-D experiences. This year’s event also features a Polar Slide, open daily through Monday, January 16, and during ZooLights, where daredevils can enjoy a 200-foot snow tube ride. But the real flaky fun is saved for Saturday, December 31, though, when Noon Year's Eve takes over the grounds. From 9 a.m. to noon, grown-ups and little ones can throw snowballs and play in the flakes before toasting to 2016 with cider at 12 p.m. (Activities are included with admission into the zoo.)
ZooLights is on display from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. nightly through Sunday, January 8, at the Phoenix Zoo, 455 North Galvin Parkway. General admission is $19.95; member discounts are available. ZooLights tickets run $14.95 to $24.95. Call 602-286-3800 or visit phoenixzoo.org for tickets.
Your Neighborhood Outdoor Mall
Retail destinations Tempe Marketplace, Desert Ridge Marketplace, and Westgate each feature a similar snow experience during the shopping days of December. Snowfall takes place nightly along with other winter-centric events.
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In the North Phoenix-North Scottsdale area, Desert Ridge Marketplace (between Deer Valley Road and Tatum Boulevard near the Loop 101) offers an eight-minute holiday snowfall beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday, November 21, and ending Saturday, December 31, near the AMC Fountain and Fireplace. Snowfall is at 7 and 8 p.m. except for Christmas Eve, when fluffy flakes descend every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. — a beautiful setting to do some last-minute holiday shopping. Other holiday events include Wednesday night story time and a coat drive. And though the regular snowfall stops at the end of December, kids of all ages will have one last chance to build snowmen and show off that throwing arm during Snow Day with Funergy from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, January 14, in the Sandbar parking lot, 21001 North Tatum Boulevard. Head to shopdesertridge.com/holiday for a complete calendar of events.
Glendale residents can enjoy some “Fa La La La … Fun” at Westgate Entertainment District, near the Loop 101 and Glendale Avenue. The first snowfall is at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 22, followed by a Kris Kringle photo op from 7 to 9 p.m., tree lighting, and the opening of Skate Westgate from 7 p.m. through midnight. Nightly snowfalls continue at 7 and 8 p.m. through New Year’s Eve, Saturday, December 31. (No snow on Christmas.) Holiday-themed events include free carriage rides, Skate Westgate (admission prices and hours of operation vary) through Sunday, January 8, and a menorah lighting with Chabad of the West Valley at 5 p.m. in Fountain Park on Wednesday, December 28. For a guide to winter activities, see westgateaz.com/holiday.
At Tempe Marketplace, off McClintock Drive and Rio Salado Parkway, snow will "fall" at 7 and 8 p.m. every night (except for Christmas) near the stage through New Year's Eve, Saturday, December 31. Other snow-centric events include the Santa Soiree on Saturday, December 10, an hourly snowfall on Saturday, December 24, and live music and skating performances. For full list of dates and details, visit tempemarketplace.com/holiday.