Best holiday events around Arizona for families and kids

When thinking of the holidays, perhaps you envision twinkling lights along an avenue filled with people wearing heavy coats, the mist from their breath vanishing into the night.

Or you may picture a line of children fidgeting under a bright sun, waiting for their turn with a red-faced Santa whose only Christmas wish is that his helpers quit blocking the fan.

Arizona offers the yuletide season in a variety of climates, from wintry to warm. Whether you lean toward sleigh rides in the pines or ice skating in your shorts, the holidays are a great time to get out and explore the state.

Here are some of the notable events celebrating the season.

Williams: Polar Express

Climb aboard for a magical ride on the Grand Canyon Railway to the North Pole, where Santa awaits with his reindeer. Enjoy a reading of “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg while St. Nick mingles with the passengers.

Don’t miss:  The scenery. Try booking a trip when the moon is full, and take time to gaze out the window at a landscape that seems to glow. If you’re lucky, there might even be a layer of snow. 

Nearby: Enjoy downtown Williams, where the vibrancy of Route 66 brings back the 1950s. The diners, neon signs and classic cars send you back a half century, albeit with 2017 prices and strong cell signals.

When: 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. on select dates through Jan. 6.

Where: Williams Depot, 235 N. Grand Canyon Blvd.

Admission: $31-$74, depending on the day.

Details: www.thetrain.com.

Flagstaff: North Pole Experience

Given the frigid temperatures and lack of internet access at the North Pole, it’s easy to understand why Santa set up shop in more temperate and accessible Flagstaff. Check out his workshop and help the elves build a toy.

Don’t miss: The top-secret sleigh hangar. Santa is very cautious when it comes to showing off his Christmas Eve-based powers, but he trusts that no one will share the secret with, say, the Easter Bunny.

Nearby: Explore the shops and restaurants of downtown Flagstaff. If your kids are of an age where they can be left to their own devices for a time, have a cocktail at the Zane Grey bar on the third floor of the Weatherford Hotel. Bundle up and enjoy the view from the balcony.

When: Through Dec. 28. Hours are 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and 4-8:30 p.m. Closed Dec. 4-6, Dec. 12 and Dec. 25.

Where: Little America Hotel, 2515 E. Butler Ave.

Admission: $33-$55, depending on time and day.

Details: northpoleexperience.com.

Sedona: Tlaquepaque Tree Trail

If you need holiday decorating ideas, this is your inspiration destination. The 20-plus trees are designed and crafted by the creatively enhanced people who run the shops and galleries in this outdoor marketplace.

Don’t miss: Picking up the free trail map. Check off each tree as you go because it’s easy to get turned around. If a tree resonates with you, odds are its ornaments and decorations are for sale nearby.

Nearby: Drop by the Oak Creek Brewery and Grill at the north end of Tlaquepaque for a cold pint. Start with the Oak Creek Nut Brown, a smooth dark English ale and the brewery’s signature beer.

When: Nov. 24-Dec. 2. From 10 a.m.-6 p.m., have your photo taken with Santa (for a fee).

Where: Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, 336 State Route 179.

Admission: Free.

Details: www.tlaq.com.

Lake Havasu City: Ice skating at London Bridge

There aren’t many places where you can sit on the beach during the day and go ice skating at night. This rink is only about the size of a tennis court, but you’re ice skating in the desert, a place winter barely knows.

Don’t miss: Skating at night. With lights twinkling above and a nip in the air, you can imagine you’re on a frozen lake in snowy pine forest. Yes, you must have a good imagination to pull it off.

Nearby: Stroll under London Bridge, lights outlining its perfectly proportioned arches. Though you probably can’t imagine yourself in the English capital, you may be inspired to try out a British accent.

When: Nov. 24-Jan. 8. Hours are 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays, 3-11 p.m. Saturdays, 3-8 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays and Christmas.

Where: London Bridge Resort, 1477 Queens Bay.

Admission: $10, $8 for age 12 and younger for a 90-minute session.

Details: iceskatehavasu.com.

Jerome: Light up the Mountain

The quaint arts colony of Jerome takes on a magical appearance as merchants and residents get in the Christmas spirit with luminarias and thousands of multicolored lights.  

Don’t miss: Santa’s arrival at 3:30 p.m. The Jolly Old Elf boards an antique fire engine (the next best thing to a sleigh) for a ride to his temporary home, where he’ll happily entertain the commercial fantasies of all children.

Nearby: Enjoy the flip-side of holiday cheer at the naturally eerie Jerome Grand Hotel, supposedly one of Arizona’s most haunted hotels. The former hospital looms over Jerome like a silent, spooky guardian. Settle in at the bar of the Asylum restaurant and ask staff members for their favorite ghostly tales.

When: Nov. 25. The lighting ceremony starts at 5 p.m. At 6 p.m., lights will be flipped on after a reading of ” ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Where: Upper park, First Avenue and Main Street.

Admission: Free.

Details: jeromechamber.com. 

Yuma: Holiday Pageant & Friendship Tower Lighting

It’s no easy task to drape Christmas lights upon Yuma’s Friendship Tower, a rather impressive water tower. But it’s worth it to create a 200-foot-tall beacon to the holidays.

Don’t miss: All the holiday-event trimmings, including performances by local dance troupes and plenty of caroling.

Nearby: Castle Dome City, Ghost Town and Museum is a hidden gem in the desert outside Yuma. The preserved cabins offer a peek at life in the late 1800s when the mining town was larger than Yuma.

When: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 25.

Where: Friendship Park, 1435 W. 34th St.

Admission: Free; a donation of non-perishable food is requested.

Details: www.caballeros.org.

Sedona: Holiday Tree Lighting & Santa Visit

Anything looks great when framed by magnificent red sandstone cliffs, especially the holidays. Tlaquepaque North (across SR 179 from Tlaquepaque) hosts the lighting of a 20-foot Christmas tree, accompanied by live seasonal music.

Don’t miss: A visit with Santa. The jolly old elf will greet the young ones, saving you a trip to a crowded mall where the Santa line is two hours long. 

Nearby: Enjoy a day in Sedona. Explore the trails at Red Rock State Park ($7 admission) or stroll among the downtown shops.

When: 5-7 p.m. Nov. 25.

Where: Tlaquepaque North, 313 SR 179.

Admission: Free.

Details: visitsedona.com.

Williams: Bearizona Wild Wonderland

The wildlife park gets lit for the holidays. A synchronized show with 250,000 lights is designed to dazzle, and you can get cozy during Story Time With Mrs. Claus. There will be animal meet-and-greets plus beverages and treats to get you in the mood.

Don’t miss: The event itself. The drive-through part of the park is closed during the after-hours activities.

Nearby: Finish the night with a family meal, if not a cold beer, at the Grand Canyon Brewery’s Restaurant and Tap House in Williams. The location is less than a year old and features a woodsy vibe that’s charming in a kitschy way.

When: 5-7:30 p.m. Fridays-Sundays from Dec. 1-17, then nightly Dec. 18-30. Closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Where: 1500 Route 66.

Admission: $14 for age 4 and older.

Details: bearizona.com/News-Events.aspx#wild-wonderland.

Prescott: Courthouse Lighting and Ceremony

If by early December your holiday attitude is more Grinch than grins, this will put you right. Whether holding a hot chocolate or hot toddy, you’ll warm to the season when lights fill Prescott’s Courthouse Square.

Don’t miss: Preparing adequately. Nearby merchants have everything you need to feel the spirit, from Santa hats to ugly Christmas sweaters.

Nearby: Keep the spirits going at a local establishment filled with holiday cheers. Belly up to the historic bar at the Palace Saloon and Restaurant, or enjoy a local craft beer at the Coppertop Alehouse.

When: Dec. 1. The Christmas parade is at 1 p.m.; the lighting ceremony begins at 6 p.m.

Where: Courthouse Square, 120 S. Cortez St.

Admission: Free.

Details: www.visit-prescott.com, www.prescottdowntown.com.

Wickenburg: Christmas Parade of Lights

Wickenburg’s annual salute to the holidays brings you back to days when homemade entries were designed to impress the neighbors. Floats assembled and decorated by churches, youth groups, businesses and individuals give the parade a vintage feel.

Don’t miss: The post-parade announcement of awards. There’s far more pride than money at stake, and winners celebrate with a surprising level of enthusiasm. Enjoy cookies and hot cocoa as you watch.

Nearby: The Desert Caballeros Western Museum boasts one of the country’s premier collections of Western art. Which makes sense, given the area’s ranching history.

When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 8.

Where: Historic downtown Wickenburg.

Admission: Free.

Details: www.wickenburgchamber.com, outwickenburgway.com.

Camp Verde: Fort Verde State Historic Park Candlelight Tours

Experience the holidays in a time when open flames were necessary, not a fire hazard. Re-enactors in period costumes lead the way through the officers’ quarters decked out for a Victorian Christmas.

Don’t miss: Learning what life was like pre-electricity. Re-enactors stay in character and are happy to answer questions about turn-of-the-century living. Should one of them ask you about that strange glowing device you’re holding, go along with it. Don’t spoil the fun.

Nearby: Enjoy the exotic animals at Out of Africa Wildlife Park. Elevate the experience with a journey along the zip-line course that soars over the enclosures.

When: 5-8:30 p.m. Dec. 8-9.

Where: Fort Verde State Historic Park, 125 E. Hollamon St.

Admission: $7, $4 for ages 7-13.

Details:  azstateparks.com/fort-verde.

Sedona: Festival of Lights

There’s something about the soft glow of luminarias that kindles the holiday spirit. This festival isn’t the only one to feature luminarias, but it’s one of the best. More than 6,000 of the glowing lights line walkways and balconies of Tlaquepaque.

Don’t miss: Pocketing your phone and taking a seat in a courtyard. Listen to carolers and let the magic of the season settle in.

Nearby: There are few better ways to explore Sedona’s scenic beauty than by jeep tour. Several outfits offer trips that will have you four-wheeling over rugged trails on the way to sweeping vistas.

When: 3-8 p.m. Dec. 9.

Where: Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, 336 SR 179.

Admission: Free.

Details: www.tlaq.com.

 

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Douglas Harper