Editor's note: This story was originally published in 2022 and updated in 2023.
Winter in Tucson is the best time to head outside and participate in the fun outdoor activities that we can’t necessarily do in the summer.
While some things listed below can be done during other seasons, they’re even more exciting to do when it's not 103 degrees outside. Other activities, however, can only be done this month.
So bundle up and head outdoors. It’s a desert winter wonderland all around Tucson.
Get in the holiday spirit with a walk through Winterhaven
Ask anyone around Tucson: “What’s the one holiday thing I should check out in Tucson during wintertime?” and they’ll probably tell you “Winterhaven.” It’s for good reason though.
The Winterhaven Festival of Lights has been a holiday tradition here for over 70 years. You can feel the holiday magic as you walk through the neighborhood filled with elaborate holiday displays and tons of twinkling lights. Plus, it’s so much fun to make a wish at The Wishing Tree or snap a few photos with your friends or significant other while there.
Take in the snowy sights on Mount Lemmon
Occasionally, we’ll get lucky in Tucson and experience snowfall in the city. It doesn’t happen often (like maybe once a year, if that), but when it does happen, it’s glorious.
For the rest of the year, we rely on seeing the snow up on Mount Lemmon. But there are no complaints here — Mount Lemmon is just the closest thing to a real winter wonderland we can get in Tucson.
Some of the best parts of Mount Lemmon include the fresh pine trees, wooden cabins, the ski lift and the new coffee shop. Don’t forget to grab a plate-sized cookie from the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin when you visit!
It’s best to check with the Pima County Sherriff’s Department at 520-576-1400 before heading up the mountain on snow days. There may be road closures or car requirements like tire chains or four-wheel drive. It may not be snowing by the time you leave for winter break, but you can check the weather through these webcams!
Glide around Tucson’s pop-up ice skating rink
Tucson’s pop-up ice skating rink is quickly becoming a winter favorite here. For $22 per adult, you get 90 minutes of gliding, spinning, jumping or falling on the ice. Even if you’ve never ice skated in your life, it’s bound to be a fun time.
Tucson hasn’t had a permanent public ice rink in over 10 years, so it only makes sense to take advantage of this pop-up while we can. After all, it's only here once a year.
Take a hike through one of Tucson’s stunning hiking trails
If someone in Tucson tells you to “take a hike,” you should consider it a good thing. We have some of the best hikes around, just saying. But when #ThisIsTucson tells you to take a hike, we mean it literally — go out and take a hike through the best of the Southwest while the weather is nice.
Fortunately, #ThisIsTucson has a couple of hiking guides to choose from to help you make the best of your hiking experience. If we had to recommend one place to hike, it would be Sabino Canyon, where you’re surrounded by greenery, cool air and running water after it rains.
Buy some goodies from vendors at the Fourth Avenue Street Fair
The Fourth Avenue Street Fair is back! This winter street fair takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Dec. 8-9 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10. You can find over 300 vendors at this year’s event with everything from one-of-a-kind art, jewelry, candles and food items like honey and spices.
The street fair could be a great place to find holiday presents for your friends and family. Even if you don’t pick up any goodies, you can always walk around and enjoy the atmosphere, or grab a bite to eat at one of the food stands or restaurants along the avenue.
This event comes around twice a year, so enjoy it while it's here!
Visit one of the many local winter markets
Fall and winter are the best times to go out and explore our local markets. The weather is cool and the holidays are right (no joke, right) around the corner, so it makes for a fun and easy shopping trip.
Plus, it’s one of the easiest ways to support local small businesses, artists, crafters and more.
Although some of our favorite yearly markets have already passed, there are still a few markets left before the end of the holiday season.
Indulge in fresh tamales
Of course, this list had to feature some type of food-based activity (Just one?! Don’t worry, there’s more foodie stuff farther down the page.).
You have to indulge in some traditional Mexican food before you leave the Old Pueblo and what’s more traditional than tamales?
Check out our list of where to find tamales in Tucson.
Take in the holiday lights at Tohono Chul and Tucson Botanical Gardens
If you’re a big holiday person, you’re in luck. Tucson has plenty of holiday-themed activities and events this time of year.
Sure, Winterhaven may be a standout place to check out holiday lights, but we have some other light displays around the city, too. Some of our favorites include the holiday lights at Tohono Chul and the Tucson Botanical Gardens.
Visiting these gardens during the holiday season is a double win — you get to take in the sights and scents of the flora while being surrounded by holiday cheer.
Enjoy the cool weather with an afternoon picnic at a local park
OK, OK, you can technically have a picnic any time of the year in Tucson, but it’s nice to have one when there’s no chance of it being 90-plus degrees outside. Plus, it’s a great way to spend time with your friends before you leave the Old Pueblo for winter break.
Just make sure you have a picnic pretty early in the afternoon because as soon as the sun starts to set, it gets chilly outside!
Stay warm with a bowl of your favorite soup from a local restaurant
If you don’t want to pack sandwiches for your outdoor picnic, consider ordering a bowl of soup from your favorite local restaurant. Or, if you’re a homebody, take your bowl of fresh soup and binge-watch your favorite show at home.
If you want to stick to a “Tucson” theme, we recommend picking up a bowl of menudo or pozole, which are traditionally made around the holiday season. Did we mention that we have some of the best Mexican food in the U.S.? It only seems fitting to get your fix in before heading out!