Get ready to feel the Tucson holiday cheer this weekend as the neighborhood of Winterhaven kicks off the 2019 Festival of Lights

This midtown event, celebrating its 70th anniversary, is a must-do if you're new to town or just want to feel some yuletide magic. And because we want you to have a wonderful time ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing at some twinkle lights, here's a list of everything we think you should know about this beloved Tucson tradition before heading out and experiencing it for yourself. 

Visitors admire the lights and animals in the "Winterhaven Zoo" during opening night.

What's the Winterhaven Festival of Lights?

Each year folks from the midtown Winterhaven neighborhood decorate their homes with bright lights and elaborate holiday displays for the whole city to enjoy.

The event was started in 1949 by Winterhaven's original developer, C.B. Richards, after he visited some similar neighborhood light displays in Beverly Hills, Cali. In fact, the whole neighborhood was designed in hopes of one day being able to host a big holiday festival like the one we see today. Read more about the Winterhaven neighborhood here.   

The festival is free to attend, however it's also a fundraiser for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona — bring money and food donations and drop them off on your way in. 

A choreographed water fountain and musical display dazzles at Farr and Treat Circle during the first night of the 67th Annual Winterhaven Festival of Lights on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016.

Where and when is it?

The Winterhaven neighborhood is located near Fort Lowell and Country Club in midtown Tucson.

From Saturday Dec. 14 through Dec. 29, 2019 visitors can stroll the streets of this holiday wonderland from 6-10 p.m.  

Just be sure to wear some comfortable shoes — this is a park-and-walk-in kind of deal with the exception of Dec. 29, when it's drive-thru night. 

Strollers are okay to bring into the event. Dogs are also allowed but they must be on a leash and owners should bring baggies just in case. Biking around Winterhaven is discouraged due to the large number of people walking during the festival.

Where can I park?

While there is no designated place to park outside Winterhaven, there are a number of businesses nearby that offer paid parking. You can also try to park in some of the surrounding neighborhoods or along Tucson Boulevard and Prince Road. 

Lights greet visitors at the entrance to Winterhaven Festival of Lights 2015 in Tucson, AZ. Photo taken Wednesday, December 16, 2015. Photo by Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star.

What if I'm not seeing the neighborhood by foot? 

See the lights on the move by taking advantage of some of Winterhaven's mobile tours, including hayrides, party bikes and a trolley limo ride. These tours typically fill up fast, so the sooner you reserve your spot the better.  

If you're panning to visit during drive-thru night on Dec. 29, avoid going through the main entrance at Country Club and Fort Lowell as it often gets congested. Instead, try entering Winterhaven on Prince Road and Treat Avenue, or any of the other side streets. 

Will there be food?

Yes! Concessions this year include Star Kettle Corn, You Sly Dog hotdog food truck, Common Grounds Espresso and the Trucking Good Cupcakes

Where can I bring in my food donation?

Be on the lookout for the donation stations, located at the entrances into the neighborhood. You can also pick up a map to Winterhaven at these stations in exchange for a donation.

Some of the most-needed items this year include peanut butter, oatmeal, cereal, granola bars, canned tomato products, canned tuna, canned chicken, canned soup, canned vegetables, canned fruit, rice, pasta, shelf stable milk.

Donation boxes will also be available for people to drop off food 24 hours a day during the festival. 

What's the deal with those signs on the lawns?

The Winterhaven neighbors win awards for decorating their homes for the festival. Categories include everything from "Best Door" to "Best UofA Spirit." 

Find the list of last year's winners here.    

Santa on a cutout boat on display during the Winterhaven Festival of Lights on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Residents of Winterhaven who decorated for the festival had the potential to win awards for their creative displays, including the "Best Dressed Vehicle' award.

Also, I keep hearing about a tree that makes wishes? Halp!

You can find the wishing tree on Christmas Avenue. It's a place where people write notes filled with hopes and well-wishes and chain them all up to a large tree in front of the Baker's residence.

Over the years, the family's daughter Liz has been collecting these wishes and even analyzing them with science.   

Read more about the wishing tree here.  

Kathleen Bethel staples some of the longer wishing links together at her family’s Wishing Tree in Winterhaven in 2011.

Have a fun time out there!