If you're traveling to the Greater Phoenix area this December, you probably won't be surprised to learn that a lot of the events that take place in the city this time of year are centered around holiday celebrations. There are also a number of great community events, cultural and arts festivals, concerts and performances, and local attractions not related to Christmas, Hannukah, or Winter Solstice.
Below you'll find a curated selection of events, arranged by theme and type, that you and your family can experience on your December vacation to Phoenix, but please be sure to check the official websites for these special events as pricing, timing, and cancellations can happen.
From Christmas Holiday lightings, festivals, and events to tailgate parties for your favorite Arizona sports team, there's something for everyone to do in Phoenix this December. Explore the list below and plan your trip today.
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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 for festivals and special events throughout the month.
Every Monday, rain or shine, you can also take a casual, social yet self-guided three-mile walk around downtown Phoenix for "Meet Me Downtown," which starts at CityScape, Downtown Phoenix—check out our guide for more information.
On the first Friday of the month, head to the Arts district for Phoenix First Friday where you can visit over 80 art galleries, studios, and spaces, or you could head over to Motorcycles on Main in downtown Mesa, which closes the road to all but motorcycles, music, food, and a beer garden. Alternatively and also on Main Street in downtown Mesa, check out 2nd Friday Night Out, where live music, entertainment, prizes, and specialty crafts are available to guests every second Friday of the month.
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Art Festivals, Exhibits, and Discounts
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.
Starting out the month, the bi-annual Tempe Festival of the Arts is a full-scale street fair in downtown Tempe held on Mill Avenue from December 1 through 3 featuring more than 500 artists' exhibits of woodwork, pottery, jewelry, and paintings as well as live entertainment.
Every Thursday in December, you can also check out the Scottsdale ArtWalk in the downtown Scottsdale Art District for a casual evening walking the streets and enjoying fine art for free.
On the third Friday of December (and every third Friday year-round), the streets of Historic Downtown Chandler transform into an artist bazaar complete with over 70 artists' booths at the Downtown Chandler Art Walk.
For the first three Sundays in December, downtown Gilbert is also transforming its street into an interactive display of art at the monthly Gilbert Art Walk where local artists set up booths to sell their work at the Water Tower Plaza in Gilbert’s Heritage District.
The Phoenix Art Museum offers free admission Wednesdays 3:00 to 9:00 p.m., First Fridays 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., Second Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Second Sundays 12:00 to 5:00 p.m., which includes special hands-on, educational programming and entertainment designed to appeal to visitors of all ages. Additionally, the ASU Art Museum offers free First Saturdays for Families on the first Saturday of the month.
On December 2 and 16, the Mesa Arts and Culture Festival, MACFest, take over a portion of Downtown Mesa from Main Street to Pepper Place, featuring artists creations, music, and live entertainment perfect for the whole family, or if you miss one of those weekends, downtown Mesa also hosts the Mesa Arts Festival on December 9 and 10 at the Mesa Arts Center.
On December 8 through 10, you can also visit the Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix to celebrate local talent at the Phoenix Festival of the Arts, and finally, on December 16, you won't want to miss the Mesa Arts Center's" Spark! After Dark," a free grown-up night out with live art and music, great food, and adult beverages available for purchase.
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Science, History, and Cultural Exhibits
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.
Youth and teen programs focused on topics such as robotics, meteorology, physics, geology, and biology are on full display at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler, which hosts STEM Saturdays once a month in partnership with the Museum of Science and Sustainability. This year, on December 9, STEM Saturdays features a study on "Marvelous Materials."
On December 15, the City of Scottsdale will once again invite participants 8 years old and over to experience the magic of the stars at Astronomy Evenings, a novice-level talk explaining the facts about the solar system followed by observing the moon, planets, and star systems through a Celestron telescope in Pinnacle Peak Park—registration is required to attend.
For a bit of history, consider the Sahuaro Ranch Historic Site Tour, where you can learn about the various buildings, barnyard, trees, and groves at this ranch site which is now a public park, and for an education on everything modern culture has to offer, consider checking out the annual LIBCON West, a convention featuring 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 at the Glendale Main Public Library on December 9.
Experience different cultures, too, at either the Indian Market at the Pueblo Grande Museum on December 9 and 10, featuring representations of more than 50 tribes displaying and selling their arts and crafts; the Musical Instrument Museum's "Experience Scandinavia" on December 2; or the Arizona Asian Festival at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall on December 2 and 3.
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If you're a fan of music and entertainment (who isn't?!) 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.
In Chandler, the Sonoran Sunset Series offers guests special family-friendly concerts on select evenings in December at the Environmental Education Center, or you can head over to Glendale for the Glendale Community College performances of students and faculty of the school.
At the Desert Ridge Marketplace, there are concerts every Friday and Saturday nights at the "Desert Ridge Concert Series," or you can head over to Downtown Gilbert's Heritage District for a concert the Water Tower Plaza (across from Hale Theater).
If you're visiting the Mesa Arts Center and have a moment during your lunch hour, be sure to check out the "Out to Lunch" concerts featuring folk, country, jazz, Dixieland, oldies, and world music in the Wells Fargo Garden on select days from noon to 2 p.m.
In Tempe, you can either head over to the Tempe History Museum for "Performances at the Museum," which includes children's plays, kid and adult film series, and classical music concerts, or you can visit the Hayden Square Amphitheatre in Downtown Tempe for live music, beer, wine, and food at "Beyond the Bricks."Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Animal Shows and Attractions
Arizona is a land of natural beauty, so it stands to reason that there's plenty of wildlife to see while you're visiting, even in the colder month of December, but did you know there is a world famous Arabian horse farm and an all-breed cat show that both offer special events in December?
At the Mesa Convention Center on December 9 and 10, the " All Breed Cat Show" returns to Phoenix and features professional exhibitors, vendors, and cat-loving spectators from around the world hosted by the Phoenix Feline Fanciers.
If bigger animals are more your style, consider taking the Arabian Horse Farm Tour at one of Scottsdale's prominent Arabian horse farms, which open their doors, welcoming the public to enjoy National Champion horses, meet top trainers, and learn more about this breed from December 29 through January 1. Alternatively, head over to the Fairgrounds in Central Phoenix for the annual Arizona National Livestock Show, which takes place December 27 through January 1.
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Sports Events and Games
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.
The Arizona Cardinals play professional football at the University of Phoenix Stadium while the Coyotes play NHL hockey at the Gila River Arena and the Phoenix Suns play NBA games at the Talking Stick Resort Arena. For more information on seeing one of the home games, click on each team's linked name above.
There are also a number of Bowl games and special events associated with being a fan of these sports including the Pac-12 versus Big-12 Conference matchup game the Cactus Bowl and the top college football game the Fiesta Bowl, which also comes with a Fiesta Bowl Parade and Fiesta Bowl Tailgate Party. Before every home Cardinals football game, you can also join the Touchdown Tailgate party at the Westgate Entertainment District's WaterDance Plaza.
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Movies and Special Screenings
If you don't feel like going out and doing something active like shopping or cheering for sports teams, the Greater Phoenix area also offers a number of opportunities to sit back, relax, and enjoy a movie in a public space free of charge.
The Phoenix Art Museum, for instance, offers various dates in December for Movies at the Museum, which is free with standard admission to the museum and offers to seat guests on a first-come, first-served basis.
Similarly, the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts often screens sneak-previews of new and upcoming indie and foreign films before their theatrical release at "Talk Cinema," which offers guests the chance to engage in moderated conversations hosted by guest speakers.
Finally, you won't want to miss catching a free movie at CityScape in Downtown Phoenix, an indoor-outdoor recreation center and park right in the heart of Phoenix which hosts monthly City Lights Movie Nights free of charge.
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Shopping and Vendor's Markets
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 get truly unique Christmas gifts.
The Arizona Antique Market, for instance, offers thousands of square feet of indoor browsing through some of the best antiques in the state, right in the heart of Scottsdale, and you can also check out the Sweet Salvage four-day shopping event every third Thursday through Sunday (December 13 through 16, 2017).
If you're a fan of big guns, you should also get a ticket to the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. The shows offer hundreds of tables of interest to both the once-a-year hunter and the avid collector.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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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, and you can find extensive listings of those activities and events in the Greater Phoenix Christmas Holiday Guide or by checking out our lists of Chanukah, Christmas and holiday concerts, shows, and activities.
Some highlights from these lists include the Desert Botanical Garden Las Noches de las Luminarias, which ignites the whole of the Desert Botanical Gardens in a dazzling display of thousands of luminaries lining the paths on various nights through December, and the Chandler Snow Day, which invites young visitors to play in real snow (until it melts) while learning all about the science of winter precipitation courtesy of the Environmental Education Center.
If religion is not really your style but Yuletide traditions are, don't miss celebrating the ancient festival of the Winter Solstice when towns all across Arizona celebrate the longest night of the year with music, poetry, fun, and food.
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Planning on staying in Phoenix through the New Year? Fortunately for you, there's a great number of special events, parties, and celebrations for kids and adults alike to ring in the new year in true Arizona style. Take a look at our list of New Years' Eve specific events if you plan to stay in the Greater Phoenix area for the last night of the year.