Best Things to Do in December in Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, AZ Business District
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The Greater Phoenix area of Arizona is full of festive events in December, and if you're traveling to the city this time of year, you'll find a variety of seasonal ways to celebrate the holidays. However, there are also a number of community events, culture and arts festivals, concerts and performances, and local attractions beyond those related to Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, and New Year's Eve. From Christmas holiday lightings to tailgate parties for your favorite Arizona sports team, there's something for everyone to do in Phoenix this December.

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Street Festivals and Special City Events

With the weather in Phoenix remaining above freezing for most of the month of December, the city's streets come alive with festivals and special events throughout the month. Explore a full range of arts and cultural events on certain nights in December.

  • Phoenix First Friday Art Walk: Sponsored by Phoenix Urban Guide and Artlink Phoenix, this monthly event takes place on the first Friday of December from 6 to 10 p.m. and invites guests to tour over 80 art galleries, studios, and spaces in the Phoenix Arts District.
  • Motorcycles on Main: Held in downtown Mesa on the first Friday of December (and every month from September through June) from 6 to 10 p.m., this monthly event closes Main Street to all but motorcycles, music, food, and a beer garden.
  • Second Friday Night Out: Also held on Main Street in downtown Mesa, this monthly themed event features live music, entertainment, prizes, and specialty crafts from local artisans as well as a family movie in the Sliver Lot.
  • Sixth Street Market: Held every Sunday in downtown Tempe from November through April each year, the Sixth Street Market is a weekly event that features food trucks and more than 60 art and vendor booths where you can buy farm-grown produce, Arizona-made goods, and confectionery treats from local bakers. In December, these events also feature carolers and Christmas-themed crafts.
02 of 10

Art Festivals, Exhibits, and Discounts

Scottsdale ArtWalk

TripSavvy / Jackson Vance

Phoenix is a city of artists, covered in murals, art installations, and special exhibits throughout the year, but December brings a unique set of events to this Arizona metroplex.

  • Tempe Festival of the Arts: Held on Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe, this bi-annual street fair features more than 500 artists' exhibits of woodwork, pottery, jewelry, and paintings as well as live entertainment and takes place from December 6 through 8, 2019, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
  • Scottsdale ArtWalk: Held in the downtown Scottsdale Art District every Thursday in December, this weekly event features a casual evening of walking the streets and enjoying fine art for free from 7 to 9 p.m. In addition to the weekly art walks, Scottsdale also hosts special Gold Palette themed ArtWalks once a month; be sure to check out this month's special event, Scottsdazzle, on December 12, 2019, from 6 to 9 p.m.
  • Downtown Chandler Art Walk: Held on the third Friday of December (and every third Friday year-round) from 6 to 10 p.m., the streets of Historic Downtown Chandler transform into an artist bazaar complete with over 70 artists' booths.
  • Gilbert Art Walk: Every Saturday in December, Gilbert’s Heritage District transforms its main street into an interactive display of art, where local artists set up booths to sell their work.
  • Free Admission at the Phoenix Art Museum: On Wednesdays from 3 to 9 p.m., first Fridays from 6 to 10 p.m., and second Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., visitors can enjoy free admission to the museum that includes special hands-on, educational programming and entertainment designed to appeal to visitors of all ages.
  • DT Mesa Fest: The Downtown Mesa Festival of the Arts is a free festival at MacDonald Street and Main in the heart of downtown Mesa featuring unique artist creations, music, food, and fun for the whole family on the first and third Saturdays of each month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Phoenix Festival of the Arts: Visit the Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix from Friday, December 13 through Sunday, December 15, 2019, to buy local art, enjoy musical performances, feast at food trucks, and take part in family fun.
  • Spark! At Dark: Every third Saturday from October through May, the Mesa Arts Center campus is taken over by live art, music, and great food and drinks for a night of free entertainment. In 2019, Spark At Dark takes place on December 21 from 7 to 10 p.m. and features Lulubell Toy Bodega and Champ Styles' presentation of "Sticker Shogun," a New York City-style street art party celebrating artistic stickers.
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Science, History, and Cultural Exhibits

Musical Instrument Museum

TripSavvy / Jackson Vance

If art isn't really your style, the Greater Phoenix area also offers many great educational events in the fields of science, history, and cultural appreciation including a number of ethnic festivals, cheap museum exhibits, and special events centered around education.

  • Astronomy Evenings: This monthly event takes place on Friday, December 20, and Saturday, December 28, 2019, at 5:45 p.m. in Pinnacle Peak Park and features a novice-level talk explaining the facts about the solar system followed by observing the moon, planets, and star systems through a Celestron telescope.
  • Sahuaro Ranch Historic Site Tour: Learn about the various buildings, barnyard, trees, and grove at this ranch site (now a public park) during guided tours of the facilities from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays throughout December.
  • LIBCON West: This convention features panels on pop culture topics for teens, crafts for teens, vendors selling their comic-con inspired materials for everyone of all ages, food trucks, and cosplayers on Saturday, December 7, 2019, from noon to 5 p.m. at the Glendale Main Public Library (also known as the Velma Teague Library).
  • Pueblo Grande Indian Market: On December Saturday, December 14, and Sunday, December 15, 2019, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., stop by the Pueblo Grande Museum to learn about the culture of over 50 Native American tribes selling and displaying their arts and crafts.
  • Congo Masks and Music: This special exhibition at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix features a glimpse into the masquerade traditions of Central Africa with a collection of over 150 rare masks, instruments, and costumes from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Curated tours are available on December 5 and 19, 2019, starting at 2 p.m.
04 of 10

Concerts, Performances, and Showcases

Sonoran Sunset Series
East Valley Tribune

If you're a fan of music and entertainment and traveling to the Greater Phoenix area, don't miss out on some of the great concerts, performances, and showcases of talent that this Arizona region offers up to guests.

  • Sonoran Sunset Series: On the third Thursday of each month the Environmental Education Center in Chandler's Veterans Oasis Park hosts a free concert under the stars, and on December 19, 2019, you can catch a special holiday performance of The Real Thing Band from 6 to 7 p.m.
  • Glendale Community College Performances: Throughout the month of December, the student and faculty of the school put on a series of end-of-the-year concerts including chamber music recitals, college choirs, opera workshops, piano recitals, and orchestra showcases.
  • Desert Ridge Concert Series: Every Friday and Saturday night in December, head to the Desert Ridge Marketplace for special concerts by local and visiting artists and performers.
  • Out to Lunch: The Mesa Arts Center hosts special concerts featuring folk, country, jazz, Dixieland, oldies and world music in the Wells Fargo Garden on Thursdays between December 5 and December 19, 2019, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
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05 of 10

Animal Shows and Attractions

Athala Arabian Horse
Amazon

Arizona is a land of natural beauty, and there's plenty of wildlife to see while you're visiting, even during the colder month of December. Events this month include tours of a world-famous Arabian horse farm and an all-breed cat show.

  • All Breed Cat Show: The Phoenix Feline Fanciers (PFF) hosts the largest cat show in Arizona at the Mesa Convention Center on December 14 and 15, 2019. The event features professional exhibitors, vendors, and cat-loving spectators from around the world.
  • Arabian Horse Farm Tours: Scottsdale's prominent Arabian horse farms ope then doors and welcome the public (free of charge) to enjoy National Champion horses, meet top trainers, and learn more about this breed from December 28, 2019, through January 1, 2019. Farms featured in this annual tour include Culbreth Equine Training and Management, McDonald Arabians, Royal Arabians Rio Verde, Hoofbeatz USA, Los Cedros USA, Arabian Expressions, Rae-Dawn Arabians, Sahara, and Sandspur Ranch.
  • Arizona National Livestock Show: Held at the Fairgrounds in Central Phoenix from December 27, 2019, through January 1, 2020, this annual showcase of farm life features a variety of judged competitions, a feed store, and plenty of special exhibits devoted to agriculture and ranching.
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Sports Events and Games

Cactus Bowl

Christian Petersen / Getty Images

December is a month full of sports in Arizona, with regular-season games happening for the Arizona Cardinals football team, the Arizona Coyotes hockey team, and the Phoenix Suns basketball team as well as several college teams in the area.

07 of 10

Movies and Special Screenings

CityScape Movie Night
Courtesy CityScape Phoenix

If you don't feel like an active outing, the Greater Phoenix area also offers a number of opportunities to relax and enjoy a movie in a public space, free of charge. 

  • Movies at the Museum: Free with standard admission to the Phoenix Art Museum, this semi-weekly event features various showings on a first-come, first-served basis. In 2019, watch "Speed Sisters" on December 15 and the "Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema: The Nutcracker" on December 21 and 29; all screenings start at 1 p.m.
  • Movies After Dark: The Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix hosts free movie nights throughout the year at the District Stage, and in 2019, you can catch a showing of "The Grinch" on December 12 and "The Nutcracker" on December 26.
  • Movies in the Desert: OdySea in the Desert in Scottsdale welcomes families to enjoy a free screening of movies once or twice a month throughout the year; in 2019, watch "Secret Life of Pets 2" on December 14 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Desert Courtyard.
  • Scene and Heard Film Series: The Heard Museum in Phoenix hosts monthly screenings on independent and documentary films throughout the year. Stop by on December 14, 2019, for a screening of "Fractured Land" at 11:30 a.m. and "Free Solo" at 1:30 p.m.
08 of 10

Shopping and Vendor's Markets

Antique furniture and knickknacks at flea market
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Although there are plenty of pop-up Christmas villages and shops across the Greater Phoenix region, there are also a number of specialty sales happening in the month of December where you can find truly unique Christmas gifts.

  • Thieves Market: On the first Saturday of the month from October through April, this Tempe flea market features dozens of vendors selling vintage and antique items ranging from clothing to furniture.
  • Sweet Salvage: Every third Thursday through Saturday, this monthly event brings over 60 vendors to 7th and Highland avenues in Phoenix for four days of shopping through vintage, antique, and handmade goods and gifts.
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09 of 10

Holiday Concerts, Shows, and Lights

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Christmas Holiday tree lightings, festivals, and events typically begin in mid-November and continue through the end of December and even into January. Throughout the holiday season, you can find extensive listings of those activities and events in the Greater Phoenix Christmas Holiday Guide or by checking out the ChanukahChristmas and holiday concerts, shows, and activities. Highlights of this year's festivities include:

  • Christmas at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess: Featuring a 45-foot tree with over 67,000 LED lights, this annual season-long celebration also includes visits from Santa Claus, live musical performances, ice skating, and entertainment for the whole family nightly from mid-November through December 31, 2019.
  • Las Noches de las Luminarias: The whole of the Desert Botanical Gardens lights up in a dazzling display of thousands of luminaries lining the paths on various nights through December.
  • Holiday Festivities at Westgate Entertainment District: The Westgate Entertainment District in Glendale hosts a variety of professional ice skating performances, public skating sessions, and visits from Santa throughout the month as well as a special tree lighting ceremony and menorah lighting throughout the season.
  • ZooLights at the Phoenix Zoo: The animal exhibits at the Phoenix Zoo are fully decorated with holiday lights from mid-November through mid-January each year for this annual event. You'll also have access to a 200-foot-long Polar Slide, visits with reindeer, and a fun 4-D Theater event, all of which are included in the price of admission to the zoo.
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New Year's Eve Events

The City of Phoenix

If you're planning on staying in Phoenix through the New Year, there's a multitude of special events, parties, and celebrations for kids and adults alike to ring in 2020. Take a look at the New Years' Eve specific events if you plan to stay in the Greater Phoenix area for the last night of 2019.

  • New Year's Eve at Symphony Hall: This special two-hour NYE concert starts at 7 p.m. and features a mixture of Strauss waltzes, seasonal favorites, and Broadway show tunes as well as a complimentary glass of champagne to top off the evening.
  • Raven's Celestial New Year's Eve Gala: The Talking Sticks Resort in Scottsdale hosts this annual party, which features live musical entertainment, two full bars, a complimentary champagne toast at midnight, and a balloon drop over the main dance floor to ring in 2020.
  • New Year's Eve at the Sanctuary: This annual event at the Sanctuary Resort on Camelback Mountain includes a prix fixe meal at Elements or a party featuring DJ music, dancing, and a champagne toast at the Jade Bar.
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