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 is a bit spoiled with 60- to 80-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 eight snowy destinations in the metro Phoenix area. From your neighborhood outdoor shopping mall to the Arizona 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, December 31, at its North Scottsdale location – where it started looking a lot like Christmas during the eighth annual tree lighting ceremony on Wednesday, 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 the Copper Canyon Christmas Village Light Show to the Build-A-Bear Workshop to something called S’mores Land.
Event hours vary through December 31, at 7575 East Princess Drive. Admission is $20 per person for those ride-sharing or walking in, $55 for self-parking, and $85 for valet service (general admission includes up to six attraction wristbands per vehicle, and cash is not accepted – FYI). Visit the Scottsdale Princess website 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 eighth year in a row. CitySkate returned Thanksgiving weekend with a jam-packed grand opening celebration, while the remainder of the season includes Santa visits, movie nights, a hot cocoa stand, and more. Hours are 5:30 to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 3 to 11 p.m. Friday to Sunday from November 24 to December 17. Hours are 3 to 11 p.m. daily from December 18 to Sunday, January 7, when the rink closes for the season.
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 $30, online only. Free to watch the tree lighting, play in the snowfall, and partake in festivities. Visit the CitySkate website or call 602-550-9561 for more 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 16, and Sunday, December 17, 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 $22.50 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 the Enchanted Island Amusement Park website 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 75 tons of ice and snow. Enjoy daily demos, sculptures, and gingerbread houses. The fun continues inside the Center with the featured "Pompeii: The Exhibition" – featuring over 200 artifacts from the Roman city of Pompeii that was covered by the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D.
Bundle up and head to Heritage and Science Park from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily starting Tuesday, December 26, through Sunday, December 31, 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 the Arizona Science Center website for more information.
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 additional attractions like Stingray Bay, Carousel and Camel Rides, Dinosaurs in the Desert, and nightly snowfall at 7:30 p.m. But the real flaky fun is saved for Sunday, December 31, though, when Noon Year's Eve takes over the grounds – along with 30 tons of snow. From 9 a.m. to noon, grown-ups and little ones can throw snowballs and play in the flakes before toasting to 2018 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 14, at the Phoenix Zoo, 455 North Galvin Parkway. General admission is $24.95; member discounts are available. ZooLights tickets run $14.95 to $23.95. Call 602-286-3800 or visit the Phoenix Zoo website for tickets.
Desert Ridge Marketplace
In the North Phoenix-North Scottsdale area, Desert Ridge Marketplace (between Deer Valley Road and Tatum Boulevard near the Loop 101) offers holiday snowfall beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday, November 20, and ending Saturday, December 31, on the AMC Lawn. 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. Head to the Desert Ridge Marketplace holiday page for a complete calendar of events.
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Westgate Entertainment District
Glendale residents can enjoy some festive fun at Westgate Entertainment District, near the Loop 101 and Glendale Avenue. The first snowfall is at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 21, followed by a Kris Kringle photo op from 7 to 9 p.m., tree lighting, and the opening of Skate Westgate from 7 to 10:45 p.m. Nightly snowfalls continue at 7 and 8 p.m. through New Year’s Eve, Sunday, 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 7, and a menorah lighting with Chabad of the West Valley at 5 p.m. in Fountain Park on Sunday, December 17. For a guide to winter activities, see the Westgate holiday page.
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 District Stage through New Year's Eve, Sunday, December 31. It will also snow every hour from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Other snow-centric events include the Salvation Army Angel Tree on display till December 20, and live music and other performances. For full list of dates and details, visit the Tempe Marketplace holiday page.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version, which first appeared in November 2015.