Things to Do

Metro Phoenix’s Best Holiday Events and Attractions in 2021

World of Illumination in Tempe and Glendale offer drive-thru encounters with holiday lights.
World of Illumination in Tempe and Glendale offer drive-thru encounters with holiday lights. World of Illumination
It’s the most wonderful time of the year and there are plenty of things to do. We’re hip-deep in the holiday hullabaloo and you’ve got halls to deck, gifts to buy, parties to plans, and a million other ways to celebrate the season.

Meanwhile, there are tons of events happening across the metro Phoenix area to attend during the next few weeks, including holiday performances, attractions, and activities.

In order to help you simplify things and rule the Yule, we've scoped out the scene and put together a rundown of many of the Valley’s best holiday events. Just like Santa's list, it covers both the naughty and the nice, as well as places to check out all the pretty lights, and enjoy the spirit of the season.
click to enlarge Good times at CitySkate during the holiday season. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Good times at CitySkate during the holiday season.
Benjamin Leatherman

CitySkate at CityScape

After a two-year absence, this outdoor ice rink at CityScape, 50 West Jefferson Street, in downtown Phoenix returns. A portion of Central Avenue between Washington and Jefferson streets will be blocked off to create the attraction, which will operate daily. Hours are from 5 to 11 p.m. through December 16, and from 3 to 11 p.m. through January 5. General admission is $18 per person, $13 for seniors and children 8 and under, and free for 3 and under. Skate rentals must be purchased separately (though there’s a $2 discount if you bring your own skates. Additional details are available here.

Murphy Park Lights in Downtown Glendale

Formerly known as Glendale Glitters, this ongoing event will light up Murphy Park, 5850 West Glendale Avenue, as well as the historic Catlin Court area and the rest of its downtown area with more than 1.5 million lights decorating the trees, buildings, and other structures within a 16-block radius. A 30-foot-tall tree and a 20-foot-tall snowman are also set up for public viewing. The lights will shimmer, sparkle, and shine through January 9.

Christmas at the Princess at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

This posh Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, 7575 East Princess Drive, becomes a Yuletide wonderland with a variety of activities and attractions, like a Ferris wheel, enormous holiday tree, an outdoor ice rink, and more than 6 million LED lights. There will also be various other rides, the chance to make s’mores, get a picture with Santa Claus, and an Enchanted Plaza with vibrant light shows. The experience runs nightly through January 2. Costs vary per activity and attraction.
click to enlarge You might have a similar reaction. - WORLD OF ILLUMINATION
You might have a similar reaction.
World of Illumination

World of Illumination

This “drive-thru animated lights show,” which features dazzling illuminated scenes and figures that are set to a playlist of seasonal music, will be offered at Tempe's Diablo Stadium, 2200 West Alameda Drive, and Westgate Entertainment District, 6751 North Sunset Boulevard in Glendale. Hours are from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly. Admission must be purchased in advance and is $29 per car Monday through Thursday and $39 on holidays and from Friday to Sunday.

Skate Westgate

If you're up for adventure and down to strap on a pair of ice skates, an outdoor rink will be available within Fountain Park at Westgate Entertainment District, 6751 North Sunset Boulevard in Glendale. Participants of every skill level are welcome and skate rental is included. It costs $19 for children and adults, $15 for toddlers and military, or $120 for a season-long pass. Sessions last 45 minutes and start on the hour from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Nutcracker at Phoenix Symphony Hall

Catching a performance of this world-famous ballet has been a holiday tradition since, well, forever. Ballet Arizona will kick off its annual staging of the show, which is choreographed by its artistic director Ib Andersen, at Symphony Hall, 75 West Second Street, on Friday, December 10, and offer performances through Christmas Eve. As always, the Phoenix Symphony will perform Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s memorable score. Showtimes vary and tickets are $39 to $146 through the Ballet Arizona website.
click to enlarge When animals meet holiday lights. - PHOENIX ZOO
When animals meet holiday lights.
Phoenix Zoo

ZooLights at Phoenix Zoo

The Zoo’s annual holiday lights spectacle – which sees the property drenched in countless glowing bulbs and displays – will be offered as a walk-thru or drive-thru experience during this year’s edition, which runs nightly through January 15. A few new elements will also honor the event’s 30th anniversary, including a series of large-scale illuminated paintings by artist Russell Ronat highlighting various endangered species. A carousel and camel rides will also be available. Hours are 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Admission is $20 for adults and free for kids 2 and under. Visit the Zoo’s website for the schedule and tickets.

Las Noches de las Luminarias at Desert Botanical Garden

Evenings will become enchanted at the Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 North Galvin Parkway, as the luminous glow of approximately 8,000 individual luminarias and countless strings of twinkle lights lining its paths accentuate the already striking scenery, as well as the intricately exotic glasswork of Dale Chihuly. Various carolers and musicians will also perform throughout the garden on select dates through December 31 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. General admission is $49.95 for adults, $18.95 for kids 3 to 12, and free for children 3 and younger.

Nightly Snowfall at Desert Ridge Marketplace

You won’t have to travel to colder climes to experience snow, as Desert Ridge Marketplace, 21001 North Tatum Boulevard, will unleash twice-nightly flurries on visitors at 7 and 8 p.m. in the area near AMC Theatres through December 31. Stop by on Christmas Eve for hourly snowfalls from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Million Dollar Quartet Christmas

The Phoenix Theatre Company will stage this musical – which depicts a recording session at the famed studios of Sun Records featuring Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley – throughout the holiday season. Performances take place multiple times a week through January 2. Showtimes vary. Tickets start at $44 per person.

Winter Wonderland Ice Rink

Downtown Mesa’s City Plaza, 20 East Main Street, will host a 6,000-square-foot outdoor rink for anyone interested in spending an evening gliding (or stumbling) along the ice. One-hour sessions will take place from 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday, and noon to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through January 2 (except December 25). Admission is $10 per person and includes skate rental. Participants are encouraged to register online in advance.

Sugarland

If you weren’t able to check out the lights and decorations of this sweet display at Dr. A.J. Chandler Park West, 3 South Arizona Avenue in Chandler, last year, it’s returning for 2021. All of its festive amenities – including super-sized sculptures of candy canes, gumdrops, lollipops, and even a spilled cup of hot chocolate – will once again be offered. The “Canal of Lights” along Commonwealth Avenue, which features more than strings of lights set to holiday tunes, will also operate from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly through January 2. Both attractions are free.

Holiday Lights at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

Thousands upon thousands of colored bulbs aren't the only things that glow brightly at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, 7301 East Indian Bend Road in Scottsdale. An array of illuminated displays and characters decorate the park and the miniature trains of the Paradise & Pacific Railroad are fancifully decorated with strings of glowing bulbs. Visitors can ride the train or McCormick-Stillman’s historic carousel every night during 90-minute sessions that start at 6 and 8 p.m. (Note: Entry will be limited to 550 people per session.) Photo pods and other activities will also be available. Admission is $15 per person and free for kids 2 and under. Hours are from 6 to 9:30 p.m.

Lights at the Farm at Vertuccio Farms

Have an illuminating experience strolling through “Arizona's largest walk-thru synchronized light show” at Vertuccio Farms, 4011 South Power Road in Mesa. More than two million lights cover the various tunnels, structures, and trees making up this sprawling display. There will also be food, drinks, games, a skating rink, and a petting zoo at the venue. It operates 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Sunday to Thursday; 5:30 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, through January 2 (except December 24 and 25). Admission is $12 to $15.

Holiday Lights at Salt River Fields

Take an illuminating journey through this mile-long light extravaganza set up in the parking lot of Salt River Fields, 7555 North Pima Road in Scottsdale, which features approximately 5 million lights and a half-dozen tunnels. Holiday music will be broadcast over a low-power radio transmitter. Gates open at 5:45 p.m. and the attraction is open until 10 p.m. nightly. General admission is $36-$40 per car Monday to Thursday and $46 to $50 on weekends.
click to enlarge A scene from the Black Theatre Troupe's performance of Black Nativity. - BLACK THEATRE TROUPE
A scene from the Black Theatre Troupe's performance of Black Nativity.
Black Theatre Troupe

Black Nativity at Black Theatre Troupe

The Black Theatre Troupe, 1333 East Washington Street, will continue its annual tradition of presenting Langston Hughes' Black Nativity with performances happening from Thursday, December 9, to Sunday, December 19. The musical, which was penned by the late poet/playwright, reimagines the Nativity story with an all-black cast. Shows will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $42 per person.

Winter Wonderettes at Desert Stages Theatre

Desert Stages Theatre, 7014 East Camelback Road, will host this fancifully retro singing and dancing revue during back-to-back weekends in mid-December. It's set during the Harper’s Hardware Christmas Party in 1968 and stars the colorful members of The Winter Wonderettes (Missy, Suzy, Betty Jean, and Cindy Lou). They’ll perform dozens of well-known holiday songs throughout the upbeat show, including “Santa Baby,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “Winter Wonderland,” laying on the wholesome charm and schmaltz. Performances will take place Friday through Sunday from December 10 to 19. Tickets start at $25.

An Irish Christmas

The Irish Cultural Center, 1106 North Central Avenue, will host an evening of traditional music and dancing on Saturday, December 11. The Kerry Voice Squad will sing Christmas Carols, champion dancers Tyler Schwartz and Emily MacConnell will perform during the event, which starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $70.
click to enlarge Santas gone wild. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Santas gone wild.
Benjamin Leatherman

Santa-Pede Bar Crawl

Dress up like Santa or another holiday character and drink your way across Tempe at this costumed bar crawl on Saturday, December 11. Participants will gather at The Golden Pineapple, 2700 South Mill Avenue, at 6 p.m. before heading for nearby spots like Monkey Pants and Time Out Lounge. Everyone will wind up at Yucca Tap Room, 29 West Southern Avenue, where a collection of art cars, DJs, and bands will await them. It’s free to participate (you have to pay for your own drinks, though).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical

History’s most famed reindeer will be celebrated onstage at the Herberger Theatre Center, 222 East Monroe Street, with this musical adaptation of the 1964 Rankin/Bass animated television special. Characters like Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Yukon Cornelius, and Rudolph come to life in multiple performances from Saturday, December 11, through Thursday, December 24. Showtimes and admission prices vary.

Winter Wanderland in Downtown Phoenix

Spend a day walking around downtown Phoenix on Saturday, December 11, while enjoying a variety of lights, live entertainment, cooking demos, tastings, and other family-friendly activities. This self-guided tour will feature stops at the Arizona Center, Renaissance Square, Herberger Theater Center, CityScape, and other locations. Ensembles and groups scheduled to perform will include Urban Electra, Fushicho Daiko, Palo Brea, and the Phoenix Children’s Chorus. The full schedule and lineup are available here.

Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade at Tempe Town Lake

Boats will quite literally become floats at this nautical nighttime cavalcade on Saturday, December 11, that will traverse the length of Tempe Town Lake, 80 East Rio Salado Parkway. More than 50 vibrantly decorated and illuminated watercraft will participate in the parade, which commences at 6 p.m., while a variety of luminarias will adorn the sidewalks around the lake. Vendors will be selling their wares along the sidewalks and a fireworks finale takes places place at 8 p.m. Admission is free. Check out the schedule here.

Ugly Sweater Christmas Party at Pedal Haus Brewery

Your god-awful and gaudy pullovers can finally be unearthed from the closet and put to good use, as Pedal Haus Brewery, 730 South Mill Avenue, will host a shindig from 5 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, December 16, where hideous and unsightly sweaters are encouraged. Happy hour pricing will be available and those wearing sweaters get their first beer for $1. Local band People Who Could Fly will perform from 6 to 9 p.m. a gift raffle is planned. It’s free to attend, but a $15 VIP ticket will include food, specialty shots, and other perks.
click to enlarge Look for Hipster Santa during Phoestivus in downtown Phoenix. - PHOESTIVUS
Look for Hipster Santa during Phoestivus in downtown Phoenix.
Phoestivus

Phoestivus Market 2021

As its name portends, this locally focused outdoor bazaar at Phoenix Public Market, 721 North Central Avenue, takes its cues from the infamous Seinfeldian holiday and will include such activities as the “Pheats of Strength” and the “Airing of Grievances.” This year’s edition, which takes place on Wednesday, December 15, and Thursday, December 16, will also feature more than 150 local merchants and vendors, a beer garden, food trucks, and an appearance by “Hipster Santa.” Hours are from 5 to 10 p.m. both nights. Admission is free. Full details can be found here.

Snowing Every Hour at Tempe Marketplace

Despite the current forecast for Christmas Even calling for clear skies and temperatures in the high 60s, it's apparently going to be snowing at Tempe Marketplace, 2000 East Rio Salado Parkway. The frosty weather phenomena will be limited to the area surrounding the District Stage, where snowflakes will fall upon shoppers every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Admission is free.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.