10 Best Holiday Attractions in Tucson to Bask in Southwestern Glow

By Patricia Escarcega, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson Local Expert

Winter is the high season in Tucson, thanks to the city's great weather and unique Southwestern cultural attractions. The city comes alive from November through January with seasonal events full of holiday cheer.

One of Tucson's biggest winter events is the Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair, which attracts thousands of holiday shoppers to the city's colorful Fourth Avenue District. More than 300 vendors set up shop on the avenue, with entertainment from street buskers and jugglers adding to the festivities.

For a uniquely Southwestern holiday light display, head over to Tohono Chul Park for Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul. For six special evenings, Tohono Chul is transformed into a winter wonderland complete with a million holiday lights and a special desert snowman.

Another great destination for holiday lights is the Tucson Botanical Garden, which hosts the annual Luminaria Nights at Tucson Botanical Garden. The garden grounds glow with the lights from traditional Southwestern paper lanterns. There are also twinkling lights, live music, and local food trucks dishing out holiday treats. 

For a fun, family-friendly showcase of holiday spirit, head to downtown Tucson for the Annual Downtown Parade of Lights. The parade features a cavalcade of floats wrapped in twinkling holiday lights.

 

10. Winterhaven Festival of Lights
Photo courtesy of Winterhaven Festival of Lights

The Winterhaven Festival of Lights is one of the longest-running holiday traditions in Tucson, and one of the longest running light festivals of its kind in the country. This leafy residential neighborhood in Tucson features mature Aleppo pines wrapped up in twinkly lights, and brilliant displays of holiday spirit. The festival is free and open to the public (the residents of Winterhaven have hosted the festival for generations, and consider it their gift to the people of Tucson). Entrances to the Festival are on Ft. Lowell, Tucson, Country Club, and Prince - there are no official parking areas - but the best way to enjoy the festival is by making a reservation on a hayride wagon, a bus trolley, a pedal-powered group bike. Or, of course, you can also see the lights on foot.

9. Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair
Photo courtesy of Fourth Avenue Merchant's Association

The Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair is one of the biggest arts and shopping events on the annual Tucson calendar. The event, which takes place over the course of one weekend in mid-December, brings together more than 200 arts and craft booths, plus food vendors, and dozens of musicians, jugglers, and other street performers. For the kids, there is a free hands-on art pavilion where the little ones can explore and create. The fair also features food and product demonstrations, face painting, chair massages, and balloons. Busy Fourth Avenue is shut down for the weekend to make room for the festivities, which is a busy destination for holiday shoppers looking for unique art pieces.

8. A Southwest Nutcracker
Photo courtesy of A Southwest Nutcracker

Tchaikovsky's classic holiday ballet The Nutcracker is translated to the Tucson of the 1880s for Tucson Regional Ballet's special presentation of A Southwest Nutcracker. The ballet retains the story and magical elements of the original, but brings the tale to territorial Arizona, where coyotes, rattlesnakes, and a Western cavalry take center state. The ballet, which is presented at the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall, also features the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. Professionally designed sets and stunning costumes make this an annual Tucson holiday experience to share with the family. A Southwest Nutcracker offers a new way to experience a holiday classic.

7. Zoo Lights at Reid Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Reid Park Zoo

Zoolights at Reid Park Zoo is an annual Tucson holiday tradition that transforms the zoo into a winter wonderland. The family-friendly event features twinkling lights and lighted animal sculptures throughout the zoo grounds, along with nightly visits from Santa Claus himself. Guests can also enjoy live entertainment nightly through December 23rd, along with cookies, hot cocoa and other holiday snacks. There will also be camel rides available. Most animals won't be visible during the event, but you can rest assured there will still be plenty to see and hear. Zoolights offers two post-Christmas "encore" nights, usually held on December 26 and 27.

6. Magic of Christmas: Tucson Symphony Orchestra Holiday Special
Photo courtesy of Tucson Symphony Orchestra

Every December, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra puts on a holiday pops spectacular at the Tucson Music Hall in downtown. The holiday concert features all of your favorite Christmas masterpieces and holiday carols. The family-friendly concert is the ideal way to introduce young children to the symphony and ring in the season. The Tucson Symphony Orchestra tells the story of Christmas through song and dance. At the end, Santa pays a visit and spreads his cheer. The Magic of Christmas is an annual Tucson favorite for anyone who enjoys the spirit of the season. The event is ideal for classical music enthusiasts, as well as lovers of holiday music.

5. Christmas at San Xavier Annual Concert
Photo courtesy of Patronato San Xavier

Set in the historic San Xavier Mission south of downtown Tucson, the Christmas at San Xavier Annual Concert celebrates one of the Southwest's most historic gems and the warmth of the holiday season. The annual holiday concert usually includes pieces by Bach, Schubert & Fauré, and a helping of holiday favorites. The concert features the Sons of Orpheus and the Tucson Boys Chorus for an aural feast of Christmas classics. Seats for the concerts are priced at around $100, but most of the ticket price is tax deductible. Funds raised through the concert benefit the restoration of the historic mission. Tickets can be reserved through Patronato San Xavier. The event begins at 5:00pm with a reception at Arizona Inn, with transportation to and from the mission.

4. Annual Downtown Parade of Lights
Photo courtesy of Downtown Tucsonan

For more than 20 years, downtown Tucson has hosted the Annual Parade of Lights, a family-friendly parade featuring floats, performers and holiday music. The local tradition takes place in late December as soon as the sun goes down, bringing families downtown in droves. A panel of guest judges hand out cash prizes to the best parade floats in the categories of Best Historical or Cultural Theme, Best Use of Lights, Best Musical Group, Best Youth Group, and of course, the Grand Marshal's Award for Best Overall Entry. Festive snacks and live music are part of the holiday festivities, as well. The event also includes the Mayor's Tree Lighting Ceremony.

3. Holiday Artisans Market
Photo courtesy of Tucson Museum of Art

The Tucson Museum of Art turns into a celebration of holiday art every late November in downtown Tucson. More than 100 of the Southwest's best artisans set up shop in the sunny courtyard of the museum, giving shoppers an eyeful of authentic Southwestern art. Shoppers and art-lovers can check out pottery, glass, jewelry, textiles, fine art and gift items, all in a nice outdoor courtyard setting. The market also features local food, live music, and kid-friendly activities. Guests at the holiday market can also view El Nacimiento, the museum's colorful and traditional Mexican nativity scene. Admission to both the market and the museum is free and open to the general public.

2. Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul
Photo courtesy of Tohono Chul Park

More than a million lights transform the scenic Sonoran Desert at Tohono Chul Park in Tucson every winter. Over the course of three consecutive weekends in November and December, the grounds at this botanical garden turn into a winter wonderland, with a desert-themed twist. Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul Park features live music, holiday treats, and shopping at the gift shop and art gallery. As a special plus, a desert-inspired snowman is on display nightly. Tickets are available online or can be purchased at the admissions window. Each ticket is good through the event, which goes on for six evening every season.

1. Luminaria Nights at Tucson Botanical Garden
Photo courtesy of Tucson Botanical Garden

Tucson Botanical Gardens is transformed into a magical wonderland in December during its annual Luminaria Nights. For the first two weekends in December, thousands of luminarias - traditional Southwestern paper lanterns - are set out on the grounds of the garden, transforming the garden into a unique holiday display. There are also twinkling lights, trees decorated with hand-made ornaments, and live music. There are also local food trucks on hand to feed visitors during the chilly desert evening. Luminaria Nights at Tucson Botanical Gardens has become an annual tradition for locals and out-of-town visitors looking for a truly Southwestern-style celebration of the holiday season.