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How to Make the Most of Phoenix in Winter

Phoenix in Winter - Desert landscape with cacti and mountains with snow in the background

I asked Phoenix expert Sam from My Flying Leap to share her top tips for enjoying Phoenix in winter.  She shares her recommendations for the best things to do in Phoenix in wintertime, and why winter is actually the best time to visit the city.

If you’re looking for a respite from winter weather, look no further than the Phoenix area. There are lots of fun things to do in Phoenix, and you can be outdoors enjoying the beautiful weather all winter long. It’s almost like being on a permanent vacation when cacti and palm trees surround you! Here is why you should consider a visit to Phoenix in winter and some fun things to do while you’re there.

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Why Winter is the Best Time to Visit Phoenix

Tourists flock to Phoenix in the winter due to the mild temperatures. Where most of the country is blanketed in snow in the winter months and dealing with cold temperatures, Phoenix generally doesn’t hit freezing, even at night. And it’s not only tourists as there are a lot of “snowbirds” here as well. They live in northern states during the summer months, then move to Phoenix for the winter to take advantage of the mild temperatures. Word is out that Phoenix is a great place to be.

Winter is such a great time to visit Phoenix as you can be outdoors enjoying the beautiful desert scenery without bundling up! Go for a hike, tour the cities’ attractions, and just enjoy being outside, even during the winter. It’s a perfect time to visit Phoenix, though, beware as you may not want to return home!

View of the Phoenix cityscape - Mountains Around Phoenix Give Spectaluar Views of Phoenix at any time of year
Mountains Around Phoenix Give Spectacular Views of Phoenix at any time of year

Winter Weather in Phoenix

Temperatures are mild during the winter in Phoenix. The area has average highs of 68°F to 76°F (20°C to 24.4°C) from November to February and average lows from 44°F to 51°F (6.7°C to 10.6°C). Rainfall is minimal, and there’s generally an inch or less on average every month. 

You may find a light frost a few times overnight during the winter, and some mornings you can see your breath. Occasionally, you may see some of the peaks surrounding the city dusted in snow, and on very rare occasions, some of the outskirts of the city may get some sleet, hail, or snow. That’s relatively uncommon, though.

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What to Wear in Phoenix in Winter

Phoenix tends to be a fairly casual city though you’ll find some people dressed to the nines in parts of Scottsdale, one of the more exclusive cities in the metro-Phoenix area. For the rest of Phoenix, dress comfortably. Many restaurants don’t have a dress code though you may want to check at some of the more exclusive places.

You’ll probably notice the locals are bundled up, and we tend to toss on a sweater or a jacket if the temperatures get much below 70°F. It’s ok; we laugh at ourselves, too! So, while locals may have on a sweater, visitors will likely be wearing short sleeves during the day for much of the winter, or even a thin long-sleeved shirt. You probably won’t need much more than a light to medium-weight jacket during the evening.

Cactus in the desert with scrub grasses and a mountain in the background - Mild Weather for Hiking in Phoenix during the Winter
Mild Weather for Hiking in Phoenix during the Winter

Things to do in Phoenix in Winter

Go hiking in the desert, learn about the Native American and Mexican culture, enjoy fantastic shopping in quaint areas, golf on top-rated courses, and get pampered at luxurious spas at some of the country’s hotels. Phoenix offers something for everyone, and these are some of my favorite things to do in Phoenix during the winter:  

Eat Great Food in Phoenix

The great part of visiting Phoenix in the winter is that everything is open as the weather is so amazing. Many of the restaurants have large walls of windows that they open with the good weather. Phoenix is a foodie city, and there are many great restaurants along with a large selection of different ethnic foods available. Or, try some of the southwestern-style restaurants to get a flavor of the area.

Explore the Desert Botanical Garden

If you want to learn how many beautiful plants live in the desert, this is the place to go. There are lots of paths to wander and you can simply take it all in, or read all about the desert landscape.

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Hike the Phoenix Mountains

Phoenix is surrounded by mountains, and they are sprinkled around the city. Hike the parks like South Mountain Park or Thunderbird Park, or climb Camelback Mountain, right in the heart of the city.

Check out these tours from Phoenix:

 

Visit the Japanese Friendship Garden

Visit this traditional Japanese garden in the center of Phoenix for a real sense of calm.

The Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix - a pretty waterfall and a pool amid lush green trees
The Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix | Credit: My Flying Leap

Shop in the Outdoor Malls

There are several outdoor malls in the Phoenix area to take advantage of the winter’s great weather. Kierland, Desert Ridge, Biltmore Fashion Park, and others are waiting for you to visit.

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Relax at a Spa in Phoenix in Winter

Phoenix hosts many conferences during the year, so you’ll find lots of decadent hotels with incredible spas. The Biltmore, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, the Phoenecian, and the funky Hotel Valley Ho offer some great packages you’ll be sure to enjoy.

Tour Old Town Scottsdale

This quaint area has lots of great shops and restaurants. It’s a lot of fun, especially at night.  You could take a Segway tour, a jeep tour or simply explore on foot.

Street in Scottsdale with string lights at dusk - Scottsdale Near Phoenix Arizona
Scottsdale Near Phoenix Arizona

City Skate Holiday Ice Rink

Starting in late November, this outdoor skating rink in downtown Phoenix is in a great area with lots to do.

Celebrate First Fridays

The Roosevelt Row historic arts district has a great celebration on the first Friday of every month in Phoenix, which is one of the best free things to do in Phoenix at any time of year. Enjoy vendors, explore art galleries that stay open for the participants, and dine at some great restaurants in this area. Old Town Scottsdale does something similar on the third Thursday of the month as well.

Take a Road Trip to Sedona

The winter is a great time to be outside enjoying the weather. Another great option is to go on a road trip to visit the stunning area in Sedona. It’s a charming town filled with beautiful red-rock buttes with lots of hiking and sightseeing. Sedona is around two hours north of Phoenix and worth visiting.

 

Christmas in Phoenix

Christmas is a special time in Phoenix. Instead of large pine trees decorated for the season, you’ll see large palm trees and cacti decked out in lights to celebrate. Some neighborhoods go all out for lights and decorations, so it’s worth driving around, especially in some of the more historic districts in the downtown area. 

There are also several great lighting and decoration displays around the Phoenix area that are worth seeing. You’ll also find some great parades, including the Hometown Christmas Parade in Glendale and the Phoenix Light Parade. It’s a joyous and festive time in the city. Here are some of the other fun places to visit around the holidays.

Las Noches de Las Luminarias

Address: 1201 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008

The Desert Botanical Garden puts on some wonderful holiday festivities weaving in the local culture, including Native American and Mexican traditions. They light up the garden with 8,000 luminaria, bags illuminated with a candle’s warm glow. Enjoy entertainment from Native American talent, groups playing bells, and other talented musicians. Stroll through the beautiful garden trails, grab a drink and a bite, and enjoy the festivities of the holiday season.  

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Glendale Glitters

Address: North 58th Ave and West Glendale Ave, Glendale, AZ 85301

Glendale’s historic town center, part of metro-Phoenix, is lit with nearly 2 million lights to celebrate the holiday season from around Thanksgiving to the middle of January. During some weekends, they also have other festivities, including live music and vendors selling holiday treats and crafts. It’s hard to not get into the holiday spirit when you visit.

ZooLights

Address: 455 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008

The Phoenix Zoo puts on quite a display for the holidays! You’ll see more than a million lights decorating the trees as well as lighted animal-shaped sculptures and more. Take in the holiday lights, music, the reindeer exhibit, komodo dragons, and celebrate the season. 

Lights of the World

Address: 1826 W McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ 85007

This large festival of lights and lanterns celebrates the cultures and regions of the world. There is a Christmas area, though it’s a celebration of the world in addition to Christmas. There are more than 10 million lights on display and lots of fun family-friendly activities.

New Year in Phoenix

There are always lots of fun events going on in Phoenix for New Year’s Eve. There are some annual celebrations, and you’ll often find some of the hotels throwing fun events as well. You’ll find themed parties like masquerade balls, roaring 20s, and you might even find a fancy gala or two. 

Annual New Year celebrations in recent years include the Roosevelt Row Flannel Ball, where you can find casual fun with live music, food trucks, lawn games, and of course, lots of beer. It’s a casual fun time with no suits or dresses! The Phoenix Symphony has a yearly celebration as well with complimentary champagne. And The Talking Stick Resort is another regular offering great music and dancing to ring in the new year.

Celebrating New Year in Phoenix - hands holding champage glasses with gold confetti falling all around
Celebrating New Year in Phoenix

Final Thoughts on Phoenix in Winter

Phoenix is a great place to be for most of the year, but winter is the best time to visit. The holidays are a great time as well, with lots to do for people of any age. Come to take advantage of what this desert oasis offers with scenery that is so different from much of the country. But as I said, beware as you just may not want to leave.

Where to Stay in Phoenix Arizona

There is a wide variety of places to stay in Phoenix that you can find on Airbnb, from private rooms to whole apartments and some unique accommodation too!

If you are looking for a private room, this room in a 1949 ranch style home gets excellent reviews for being comfortable, and the great welcome by host Michelle and her dog Cosmo.

For whole homes, this guest house in the Melrose district is close to a lot of the attractions in Phoenix and gets rave reviews.  This cute loft casita is really well done, or if you want to stay somewhere truly unique then check out this gorgeous vintage camper!

You can check all the options for Airbnb in Phoenix here.

 

About the Author

Sam is a travel-obsessed animal lover with big plans to travel the world with her dog. When she’s not blogging about her travel adventures at My Flying Leap, you can find her volunteering with her pet-therapy cat and dog, on the top of a mountain, or enjoying a glass of bold red wine planning for her next trip.  You can also find her on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to Phoenix, get a quote now from World Nomads.

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Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you!  I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.

Last updated: October 19, 2020

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