Winter in Phoenix—All You Need to Know

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Want to know what winter in Phoenix is all about? Read on to find out!

When much of the rest of the United States is blanketed in snow, winter in Phoenix is the best time of the year and when the city really shines! You just can’t beat the weather in this amazing city in the wintertime.

As a Phoenix local living here for nearly twenty years, I have endured many Phoenix summers. Perhaps, that’s why I appreciate winter in Phoenix even more, now!

When much of the US is bundled up in the winter, in Phoenix, we’re outdoors enjoying the cool, crisp temperatures. We’re out on the mountains, dining out in alfresco restaurants, and just enjoying the incredible weather this area offers.

Winter is really special, as this city does know how to celebrate the holidays, too. And seriously, what is cuter than seeing holiday lights on palm trees? Don’t worry—Phoenix has you covered!

Here’s all you need to know about the winter in Phoenix and why it’s a great time to plan a trip to visit this thriving community!

palm trees with lights on them, phoenix arizona winter

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Wintertime Weather in Phoenix

The wintertime is one of the most popular times to visit Phoenix due to the incredible weather. Average highs are in the 60s and low 70s (15 to 22°C) and lows are in the 40s and 50s (4 to 10°C).

You won’t see any snow in Phoenix, though on occasion, you may see some on the outskirts of the city in higher elevations. There have been times when the mountains surrounding Phoenix are blanketed in snow.

There isn’t usually a lot of rainfall in the winter in Phoenix, either. January does get some, and you could during other months as well, but it tends to fall in scattered areas around the valley.

It’s the perfect time of year for outdoor activities in Phoenix. While your friends are shoveling out their driveways, you can be sitting in your new favorite restaurant in shorts!

Why You Should Visit Phoenix in Winter

People visit Phoenix in winter for the incredible weather. There’s a lot to see and do in Phoenix, and the wintertime is such a great time to see the sights here!

You might have heard a thing or two about the scorching Phoenix’s low desert summers. And it’s no joke! It gets incredibly hot so it’s tough to do things outside during the summer. Winter is a great time to visit this thriving area. It’s busier, of course, but still lots of fun!

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What to Wear During Winter in Phoenix

“What should I wear in Phoenix in the winter?” is a popular question people ask. The answer depends if you’re a local or a visitor!

I can’t help but laugh at myself now as I’m very acclimated to the weather in Phoenix now after so many years. What do I wear in the winter? Sweaters! Yes, I have become my grandfather and if the temperatures fall below 70°F (around 21°C), I grab a sweater!

But for most people, you’ll find winter temperatures quite comfortable in Phoenix. Most people visiting would wear short sleeves and shorts/skirt/capris during the day, and long sleeves with pants at night.

It can hit freezing here overnight and usually does a few times a year, but it doesn’t happen often. So, for most folks, typical “summer wear” with a light jacket would be just fine.

Phoenix does tend to run a bit casual as far as clothing, depending on what you’re doing. At fine-dining restaurants, you may want to dress up, but many other places are fine with shorts or jeans.

People do enjoy bright colors here, too. I moved here from Boston and my wardrobe at the time had a lot of black, grey, and darker, muted colors. I have learned to embrace bright colors and bold prints since moving here!

Top Things to Do During Winter in Phoenix

There is so much to do in Phoenix, the place I’ve called home for so long. This list will focus on outdoor activities, though I will include a couple of my favorite indoor activities as well for a little variety.

Check out this post if you want to see a more robust list of the best things to do in Phoenix.

Meander in the Desert Botanical Garden

This is one of the top places people visit in Phoenix and with good reason! It’s a gorgeous garden focusing on local trees, flowers, cacti, and plants. This 140-acre botanical garden is perfectly manicured with long, winding paths to explore.

I love this place and it’s my go-to spot to bring friends who visit. It’s a great place to fall in love with the desert, as you can see the vibrant colors and gorgeous landscape.

The garden has a lot of interesting exhibits for all ages. They also have some great events in the winter, including Music in the Garden, and one of my favorites, Las Noches de Las Luminarias.

It’s a Mexican tradition around Christmastime where they light the paths around the garden with luminarias to celebrate the season. You do need to buy tickets well in advance and it’s something you shouldn’t miss if you visit in late November and December.

The Desert Botanical Garden is located at 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008. It is open daily from 8 to 8. Tickets may be purchased online for a specific date for $29.95.

desert botanical garden, cactuses, pink and purple sunset in the sky
Desert Botanical Garden, photo credit: DBG

Hike the Phoenix Mountains

Phoenix is in a valley surrounded by mountains. There are also a number of great mountain parks right in the central area of Phoenix. If you’re interested in hiking, or even seeing the desert, you’re in the right place! You’re never more than 30 minutes away from some of the best hiking in the country!

Some of my favorites are the Superstitions in the far east valley, Piestewa Peak Park, Camelback, North Mountain, and South Mountain to name a few. Check out this post on the best things to do in Phoenix for more detail about these parks to see which may be right for you!

And if hiking isn’t your thing but you love great views, you have options, too! The Dobbins Lookout is at the top of South Mountain and you can drive to it! It offers some of the best views of the Phoenix area.

It’s located in the South Mountain Park and Preserve, one of the largest municipal parks in the country. Not only do you get great views, but you might even get to hear the coyote singing!

The Dobbins Lookout is located at 10919 S Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85042. There is no cost to see it and you have the option to drive to the top of the mountain or hike up. There is a short, uneven walk to get to the Lookout. The park is open from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Please check the South Mountain Park website for any information about road closures before you go.

dobbins lookout, south mountain, winter in phoenix, phoeniz arizona in winter
Dobbins Lookout, South Mountain

Al Fresco Dining at the Many Phoenix Restaurants

Phoenix is an incredible foodies’ town! I love going out to eat and have found every type of restaurant and ethnic food I could ever want here! From great Ethiopian to Thai, and Moroccan to Cambodian, you’ll find it here!

A lot of the restaurants have large patios to enjoy the cooler weather months. And many open to the outside—literally—with large windows that pull back and fully open in the cooler weather.

When your friends are home bundled in thick winter coats, you could be outside in short sleeves enjoying the meal of your life! And for those cooler evenings, many do have heat lamps to keep you toasty warm.

I have too many favorites to name and even created the Ultimate Phoenix Dining Guide with a list of many of them. It’s broken into types of food and even regions of the valley to help you pick where you want to go. Check it out and let me know if you find a great one not on the list for me to add to mine!

outside beer garden at ocotillo restaurant
Ocotillo Restaurant beer garden

Explore Tempe

Tempe is a city that’s part of the Phoenix Metro area. It’s known as a college town, and home base to the local and much-beloved Arizona State University (ASU).

Mill Ave is the main drag through the central area of Tempe. You’ll find people of all ages here, from college “kids” on up! There are a lot of great little boutique shops and restaurants from fine dining to ethnic and cheap eats.

Towards one end of this strip, you’ll find Tempe Town Lake and Tempe Beach Park. You’ll find some fun festivals and events here throughout the year.

On Tempe Town Lake, you can go sailing, kayaking, fishing, and rowing. You’ll see people picnicking and joggers enjoying the cooler winter weather. It’s a fun place for gathering and enjoying the outdoors.

Want to see a show? Check out Gammage Theater right off Mill Ave with Off-Broadway shows and other performing arts.

Tempe Beach Park is located at 80 W Rio Salado Pkwy, Tempe, AZ 85281. The heart of Mill Ave. starts right across the street and continues for several blocks. Gammage Theater is located at 1200 S Forest Ave, Tempe, AZ 85281

tempe beach park, tempe town lake, asu, arizona state university
Tempe Town Lake

Revive at the Japanese Friendship Garden

If you’d like a tranquil sanctuary that feels like miles away from the hustle and bustle of Phoenix, check out the Japanese Friendship Garden. It’s a gorgeous and relaxing break from the desert.

Feel like you’re transported to an authentic Japanese garden in this 3.5-acre park. It has a soothing 12-foot waterfall and a large Koi pond with around 300 fish. Wander over the stone footbridges at your own pace.

There’s also an authentic tea house offering traditional ceremonies.

This beautiful garden was created in partnership between Phoenix and its Japanese sister city, Himeji. It’s such a gorgeous and tranquil place and worth visiting.

The Japanese Friendship Garden is located at 1125 N. 3rd Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85003. It is open from 10 to 4 Tuesday through Sunday and general admission costs $10.

waterfall at japanese friendship garden, phoenix in the winter
Japanese Friendship Garden

Take in the Views at Canyon Lake

One of the most stunning areas of the valley is in the far east valley near the Superstition Mountains. The mountains are gorgeous, as is nearby Canyon Lake.

One of the best ways to explore this lake is on the Dolly Steamboat. They have been offering paddleboat tours since 1983, and it’s a family-run business.

They offer a range of cruises including dinner boat cruises, and it’s fun for the entire family. Not only do you enjoy the gorgeous views of the lake, but you’ll likely also see wildlife as well.

There’s a lot to do in this area, including hiking the Superstitions and visiting Goldfield Ghost Town. When the mine closed, the town was vacated, becoming a ghost town in 1926. It’s a recreation of the small town that was in the area.

And check out the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant where you can sit on horse-saddle bar stools and enjoy the dollar-bill “wallpaper” while enjoying a burger with a cold brew or sasparilla. Don’t miss the prickly pear cactus gelato at the old Country store!

Dolly Steamboat is located in Tortilla Flat around fifty miles east of the center of Phoenix. It is located at 16802 AZ-88, Tortilla Flat, AZ 85117. Cruises range from $25 to $65 and run from an hour and 30 minutes to 3 hours. Goldfield Ghost Town is located at 4650 N. Mammoth Mine Road, Apache Junction, AZ 85119. It is open daily from 10 to 5 and there is no entrance fee.

dolly steamboat, phoenix arizona winter
Dolly Steamboat, photo credit: Dolly Steamboat

Check Out Street Art in the Roosevelt Arts District

You’ll find lots of gorgeous art murals throughout Phoenix, and some of my favorites are in the Roosevelts Arts District between 7th Street and 7th Ave on Roosevelt Ave. You’ll see some down 7th Street and all around this area as well.

I love this historic area, both for the great murals, art galleries, and small boutique shops, as well as for the great architecture. You’ll find a lot of small, Craftsman-style homes that are fun to check out. And, one of my favorite Phoenix restaurants is right around this area, Cibo.

Check out the David Bowie mural located at 1755 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85006. See if you can find the Prince mural in the area. Then, drive down Roosevelt and take in the views.

If you happen to be here on the first Friday of the month, you can enjoy First Fridays in this area as well. A lot of the local galleries stay open late as well as the boutique shops. You’ll find locals and tourists enjoying the weather and what local Phoenix has to offer.

Learn at the Many Phoenix Museums

It wouldn’t be a list of the many great things to do in Phoenix if I don’t mention the incredible museums here. There are a lot of great spots to choose from!

For my top pics for uniquely Phoenix museums, check these out:

There are other great spots too, like the Phoenix Art Museum or the Science Museum. However, this shortlist contains museums you won’t find anywhere else with a very unique slant.

musical instrument museum, mim, chello and instruments
Photo credit: Musical Instrument Museum

The Winter Holidays in Phoenix

Phoenix is a city that knows how to celebrate, and there are a lot of great festivals throughout the cooler months. In the winter, the Christmas holiday is celebrated in style throughout the valley.

If you have the time, it’s fun to just drive around and take in the neighborhoods all lit up for the holidays. Seriously, what is cuter than holiday lights on cacti and palm trees? (Added bonus if you don’t need to remove them from the cacti).

If you’re looking for things to do related to the holidays, Phoenix has you covered!

Christmastime

  • Glendale Glitters—The historic town center of Glendale is lit up by 2 million lights to celebrate the season from Thanksgiving to mid-January. They also have some festival weekends with live music and vendors to increase the fun. Here’s a map of the area.
  • ZooLights: The Phoenix Zoo puts up more than a million lights for this epic holiday display. You’ll see lighted animal-shaped sculptures and a reindeer exhibit, and while enjoying some fun tunes. Check out their site for more.
  • City Skate Holiday Ice Rink—This outdoor skating rink is right in downtown Phoenix in a great area with a lot to do. It’s open starting in late November. Check this out for more information.
  • Lights of the World—This festival of lights and lanterns celebrates multiple cultures and regions in the world. Though there is a Christmas area, the decorations are not exclusive to Christmas. It’s quite large, and you’ll see more than 10 million lights on display along with family-friendly activities. The Lights of the World website has more information.
  • Las Noches de Las Luminarias—This annual Desert Botanical Garden tradition is a must-see in my opinion. Wander through this gorgeous desert garden to the glow of thousands of small lights brightening your path. You’ll find it on their events page in the fall, and don’t wait to get tickets as they sell out fast!
palm trees with colorful lights on them, red lights wrapped around palm trees, winter in phoenix

New Year’s Eve

It probably won’t surprise you that the Phoenix area does love its celebrations, especially on New Year’s Eve. There’s always a lot going on here throughout the valley and new events pop up every year.

You’ll also find some annual events like the Roosevelt Row Flannel Ball, where there is live music, food trucks, games, and lots of beer flowing. Added bonus: no need to dress up! The Talking Stick Resort throws a bash, and you’ll usually find one in downtown Phoenix that two great music venues, The Crescent Room and The Van Buren put on.

There are always other smaller annual events like fancy galas, masquerade balls, and more. Don’t worry—you won’t find yourself with nothing to do!

Where to Stay in Phoenix

Phoenix has a lot of great hotels all over town. You’ll most likely want to choose one near the activities you want to do when you visit. Central Phoenix is a great area to look at as it’s very central in the valley and close to the main highway, I10.

BudgetClarendon: I love this fun retro boutique hotel. It has a great pool with underwater speakers and cabanas. It’s located in the heart of downtown Phoenix in a great and convenient location.

Mid-RangeFound:Re Hotel: This is another great hotel with a wonderful rotating artwork display. The restaurant is top-notch, so check it out.

LuxuryHermosa Inn: This boutique hotel in Paradise Valley is a top spot. It’s in a gorgeous neighborhood and is equally stunning. And, it has one of my favorite restaurants in the valley, Lon’s. Grab a seat outside by the fountain.

ResortThe Phoenician: There are a lot of amazing resorts in Phoenix, and this one really stands out. I stayed here for a business conference years ago and still can’t get it out of my head. This place is gorgeous! 

phoenix skyline
Phoenix skyline

Where to Eat in Phoenix

There are SO many amazing restaurants in Phoenix. In fact, you can find anything you want! It’s tough to narrow down my favorite restaurants and I actually wrote a guide with a big list of the Phoenix restaurants I enjoy.

The valley is pretty spread out, so where you’ll go is likely depending on where you are. But, to get you started, here are some of my favorites.

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Mora Restaurant, photo credit: Mora

Why You Should Visit Phoenix, Arizona in Winter

Well, that’ll do it! The top reasons to visit Phoenix in the winter and what you can expect when you do. It’s such a great time of year and you won’t want to miss it!

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