Christmas Avenue and Farr Street is colorful corner during a busy opening night for the Winterhaven Festival of Lights, Tucson, Ariz., December 11, 2021.

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

The double palms light the night at Treat Avenue and Kleindale Road during a busy opening night for the Winterhaven Festival of Lights, Tucson, Ariz., December 11, 2021.

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

People ride the ski lift over a snow covered mountain side at Ski Valley in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Summerhaven, Ariz. on Dec. 13th, 2021.

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. And you can check if it's snowing by looking at these webcams!

Glide around Tucson’s pop-up ice skating rink

Abigail Hanley, 13, left, and her friend Ellie Sundt, 14, laugh while creating a TikTok video at the City of Tucson and Rio Nuevo's Outdoor Ice Skating Rink in front of the Tucson Convention Center in Tucson, Ariz. on Nov. 23rd, 2021.

Tucson’s pop-up ice skating rink is quickly becoming a winter favorite here. For $20 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

A couple walks up a hill along the newly repaved road at Sabino Canyon Recreational Area in Tucson, Ariz. on June 3, 2022.

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

Two people walk past Harmony Tie-Dyes booth during the 50th annual Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair on N. 4th Ave. on December 13th, 2019. The street fair runs along 4th Ave, between E. University Blvd. and E. 8th St. from 10 a.m. to dusk on Dec. 9-11.

The Fourth Avenue Street Fair is back! This winter street fair takes place from 10 a.m. to dusk on Dec. 9-11 and it’s free to attend. 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 on the avenue.

This event only comes around twice a year, so enjoy it while it's here!

Visit one of the many local winter markets

Shoppers browse the wares at the St. Philips Plaza Artisan Farmer's Market, 4280 N. Campbell Ave., Feb. 23, 2019, in Tucson, Ariz.

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. Some upcoming markets include the Las Mujeres Verdes Mercados, the Holiday Bazaar in the Mercado District, the St. Philip’s Plaza Market, and the Heirloom Farmers Markets.

Indulge in fresh tamales at the Tucson Tamal & Heritage Festival

Tamales at the Annual Tucson Tamal & Heritage Festival at Casino Del Sol west of Tucson.

Of course, this list had to feature some type of food-based activity (Just one?! Don’t worry, there’s more foodie stuff further 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?

The yearly Tucson Tamal & Heritage Festival at the Casino del Sol features live entertainment, artisan vendors, a farmers market and, of course, a tamale contest.

You can try everything from the traditional shredded beef tamales to green corn tamales with chiles to even sweet tamales with pineapple. 🤯

Take in the holiday lights at Tohono Chul and Tucson Botanical Gardens

Visitors take in live music with lights strung all overhead during the 2018 Holiday Nights, Dec. 1 2018, at Tohono Chul Park, 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte, in Oro Valley, Ariz.

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 gardens while being surrounded by holiday cheer.

Enjoy the cool weather with an afternoon picnic at a local park

A spoonful of yogurt parfait and the shade of his red cowboy hat help 2-year-old Emerson Gillespie beat the heat during a "morning picnic" with mom Maggie Pitts, right, at Reid Park on July 27, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz.

OK, OK, you can technically have a picnic any time of the year in Tucson, but it’s so 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 

Martha Gastelum ladles a portion of menudo for a customer at Birrieria Guadalajara, 304 E. 22nd St., on Sept. 13, 2018, in South Tucson, Ariz. The restaurant has been in owner Monica Gonzalez's family since 1981.

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!


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Digital Features Reporter

Elvia is a journalism and history graduate from the University of Arizona. She hopes to create stories that show what makes Tucson and its community special.