As mentioned in an earlier article, Christmas can be a confusing time in Tucson, especially if you grew up in a different climate where the snow was real and pine trees abundant. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t decorate for the holidays! You can check out our post for some decoration ideas for your home and yard, but if you still feel like you need some inspiration, keep reading! We will highlight some Tucson holiday attractions, events, and locations that will make it feel like Christmas in no time!
Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul
Tohono Chul’s gardens can provide inspiration for your own patch of dirt year-round, but things really light up at Christmastime. The trees and cactus are covered with lights, music fills the air, and you can sip on a warm beverage and browse crafts or sit and listen to a local musician.
A similar event is the Luminaria Nights at the Tucson Botanical Garden, but sadly, I have never been there so I have no photos of that particular event.
Westin La Paloma’s Barrel Cactus “Tree”
Note: due to the tree falling one year, this particular holiday decoration has been discontinued.
Resorts around Tucson are really skilled at creating unique and often Tucson-specific decor for the holidays, and one of the best examples of this is the golden barrel cactus tree at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. If you’ve never seen it in person, a multi-level shelf that is shaped to resemble a pine instead holds dozens of small barrel cacti. Lights shining on the “tree” change color periodically, making it just one more way that you can see Christmas in a different light.
My favorite part is that after the holidays are over, the cacti are planted around the grounds of the resort. The cactus Christmas tree is located near the entrance of the resort, so you can’t miss it. You can even just drive by and see it – just be sure not to block traffic or anyone trying to wheel their heavy suitcase in or out!
You may not be able to replicate a 24-foot high cactus tree, but the idea of using something for the holidays that you later plant in your yard is a good one. For example, you could create a succulent wreath and then plant the succulents!
I feel like I’m sharing a secret, telling you about the Arizona Inn, so don’t tell everyone you know about it, okay? Visiting the Arizona Inn is like watching a favorite old movie, partly because movie stars DID stay there back in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and partly because of its classy decor and timeless feel. (You can see black and white photos of Gary Cooper at a rodeo, President Theodore Roosevelt enjoying his stay, Clark Gable lounging by the pool, and more historical photos hanging in the lobby or on the Arizona Inn website).
First opened in 1930 by Isabella Greenway, you might not even know that the Arizona Inn lies tucked on Elm Street, not far from the University of Arizona campus, yet somehow secluded and private. I highly recommend visiting one of their restaurants, wandering the 14-acre grounds and gardens, or even booking a staycation there – its an oasis in the middle of the Old Pueblo, though when it was built, only a rodeo and a few other buildings stood nearby.
The Arizona Inn has a few unique holiday decorations each year – luminarias light the front walkways, there’s a gingerbread replica of the inn displayed just off the lobby that is full of intricate details, but the best area, in my opinion, is the library. I love meeting friends there for a holiday-themed cocktail, seeing the leather-bound books on the shelves, the fire in the large fireplace, and, of course, the giant Douglas fir Christmas tree that is shipped in every year from Oregon (technically, they ship in two, because the first one dries out so quickly and needs to be replaced). It smells amazing, is beautiful, and really transports you to another time and place.
The Arizona Inn grounds are a mixture of native and non-native plants, trees, and flowers, and the inn itself is a combination of old and new. If you’re looking for a way to incorporate some of your old holiday traditions with some new or Tucson-specific ones, the Arizona Inn is a great place for inspiration.
Other Tucson-Area Resorts
While we’re only focusing on two local resorts, almost all have some special holiday displays to check out. Loews Ventana Canyon usually builds something giant from gingerbread, has s’mores nights around the outdoor firepits, and has a giant (albeit artificial) tree overlooking the view of the mountains. Plus, it’s always fun to stop there and visit the waterfall. They also have an Afternoon Holiday Tea available every Friday and Saturday in December. (It’s very tasty, I’ve had it before!)
The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain will have a gingerbread workshop on Christmas Eve, along with several other holiday-themed events this month.
Check out some of the other resorts and let us know if they had any special displays or events!
Winterhaven Festival of Lights
Is it even Christmas in Tucson if you haven’t been to Winterhaven? This neighborhood – designed to look like somewhere in a climate much further north – takes advantage of their tall trees and grassy lawns. The homeowners (with some help from TEP) decorate their homes and yards and then invite all of Tucson to wander the streets and take in the glow.
The Winterhaven Festival of Lights is free to attend – your entrance fee is a donation to the Community Food Bank. You can definitely get some ideas for how to hang Christmas lights by wandering through the streets of Winterhaven. If you don’t want to walk, there are options for hayrides, party bikes, or even limos. Plus, there’s usually at least one day each year where you can drive through the neighborhood (the 2019 date is Sunday, December 29th).
According to the Winterhaven website, the most needed items for the Community Food Bank this year are:
- peanut butter
- granola bars
- canned tomato products
- canned tuna & chicken
- canned soup
- canned vegetables & fruit
- rice & pasta
- shelf-stable milk
Additional Holiday Events, Locations, and Shows in Tucson
Looking for even more holiday decoration inspiration? You can visit the enchanted snowfall at La Encantada Shopping Center while you get some shopping done. Or visit any of the local craft fairs (including the Fourth Avenue Street Fair and Cultivate Tucson) to find some handmade decorations and gift ideas.
Take in a show at the Gaslight Theatre, see the Regional Tucson Ballet’s “A Southwest Nutcracker,” or see the original Nutcracker performed by Ballet Tucson. Don’t forget the Parade of Lights downtown or the Zoo Lights at Reid Park Zoo! You can take a hayride at Christmas at Pantano (you can buy hayride tickets ahead of time), or go see A Christmas Carol at the Berger Performing Arts Center. There is no shortage of holiday events to check out, and inspiration can come from some unexpected places.
Have fun and enjoy the holiday season in Tucson!