When you're in the Phoenix area and the desert defines life and dominates the geography, it might feel as if water events are out of the question and not on the agenda. But you would be wrong. Mix a town lake in Tempe, holiday lights, and boats, and you get a magical night's celebration that seems a little surreal. The Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade, bringing that surreal feeling to the Phoenix area since 1999, is one of several annual winter holiday events hosted by Downtown Tempe. SRP is the sponsor with the naming rights to the celebration.
This is a free event, but you'll need cash for food vendors; you don't want to pass up that hot chocolate on a chilly December night.
The Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade takes place on Tempe Town Lake in downtown Tempe. Here is a map of the Tempe Town Lake/Tempe Beach Park area, with instructions for access by Valley Metro Rail. The Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade and its other related activities take place on Saturday, December 14, 2018, starting at 4 p.m. The boat parade will go on no matter the weather.
About 50 lighted and decorated watercraft will sail in front of the shores of Tempe Town Lake for the Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade. It makes a spectacular sight, with lights twinkling off the boats reflected in the water. The parade begins after dark, at about 7 p.m. Luminarias at Tempe Beach Park marks a festive walk to the spectator viewing area on the southern bank of the lake. Santa Claus will make an appearance at Tempe Beach Park, so bring your camera to take photos as the kids tell Santa what they want for Christmas.
6th Street Market vendors will set up at Tempe Beach Park with handmade jewelry and works of art, among other items; check them out for creative holiday gifts. There will also be food, drinks, and live musical entertainment, with a fireworks finale after the boat parade. No viewing will be allowed from Mill Avenue bridges.
If you're driving, you'll find the most convenient parking at:
- Hayden Ferry Lakeside Parking Garage, on Rio Salado, just east of Mill Avenue
- Hayden Square Garage, on Third Street between Ash Street and Mill Avenue, under Hayden Square Condominiums
- City Hall Garage, on Fifth Street between Mill Avenue and Myrtle Avenue
- Centerpoint Surface Lot, on Fifth Street between Ash Street and Maple Avenue
If you'd rather not drive, consider light rail or take the bus, including the free Tempe Orbit Circulator.
Other Attractions and Events to See
Every Sunday in December, Downtown Tempe hosts 6th Street Market, where visitors can find original arts and crafts, live music, shopping, and family-friendly fun. The December event will have more than 60 art booths, food trucks, carolers, and Christmas-themed crafts.
The bi-annual Tempe Festival of the Arts is a full-scale street fair in downtown Tempe held on Mill Avenue from December 6-8, 2019, featuring more than 500 artists' exhibits of woodwork, pottery, jewelry, and paintings as well as live entertainment.
Where to Eat Nearby
Although there will be many great eating options between the food trucks and vendors, it's worth noting the restaurants within a stone's throw of the festivities. Just steps away from Tempe Beach Park, Culinary Dropout is the most noteworthy option; the massive, laid-back space is outfitted with backyard games such as ping pong and cornhole, as well as a gastropub menu of pretzel fondue and fried chicken. The live entertainment and fun atmosphere are a fitting way to end the day's celebrations. Loco Patrõn, another favorite near the park, serves late-night Mexican food until 2 a.m. (so it's perfect for any after-party plans).
If you don't mind a 15-minute walk, House of Tricks is a fine-dining restaurant in a cozy 1920s bungalow; The Chuckbox has been flipping the town's best burgers for more than 40 years, and Postino Annex has everything you'd want in an Italian wine bar.