The Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo are popular attractions throughout the year, but only during the day or for selected special events. December is different. They open up to the masses and the masses come in droves for ZooLights at the Phoenix Zoo and Las Noches de Las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden.


Both events are great for all ages, but we would recommend the Phoenix Zoo’s ZooLights for a family looking to entrain the kids for a night. Each year zoo staff sets up thousands of Christmas lights and glimmering animal light sculptures, and every year more is added throughout the park. If you haven’t attended in a few years, make this a holiday excursion for 2010.

Even as you pull up to park, you begin to notice some of the 3.5 millions lights and a few of the 600 animal sculptures. The entire event is set up as a circle around the zoo so it’s easy to view everything in about 1-2 hours.  Some foot options are open and hot chocolate and can purchased at a few locations. The top attraction is the “Dancing Trees” that are timed with various holiday songs. Grab a nearby bench and enjoy the sounds and sights of the holiday. Also check the website for the various performances by local groups and carolers every night.

New this year is “Polar Slide,” billed as the first simulated snow tubing the in the Southwest. Rush down a 180′ slide on a tube for only $3 per ticket or 10 rides for $25. Children may also enjoy the “Endangered Species” Carousel ride for $2.

There are very few animals to view so don’t expect to see many. Those near viewing areas with limited lighting may include zebras, otters and flamingos. Weather permitting, there is an elephant show, and Camel rides are available for $5.

ZooLights is open every night through January 9, 6pm-10pm, even on Christmas day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  Avoid crowds by arriving around 7:30 or 8:00 Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Go to for information on ticket purchasing and cost of entry.  

Find more photos on Flickr.

Las Noches de Las Luminarias

Desert Botanical Garden’s Las Noches De Las Luminarias is in its 33rd year, and is a great event for a romantic date night or getaway for a more mature audience, although children can enjoy the festivities too. This year more than 8,000 hand-lit luminaries line the garden paths, and are accompanied by up to 10 performances throughout the ground every night.

Make sure you grab a map as you enter to locate all the entertainment and dining options in the Garden. Anyone over 21 must visit the drink stations where multiple choices of wine are available, or try one of the garden’s Hot Chocolate or coffee concoctions mixed with a variety of liquors; these will set you back about $7 with alcohol or $2 for hot chocolate.

The best time to enter is right before sunset so you can see the garden paths aglow with luminaries and the desert plants lighted by a colorful Sonoran Desert sunset. Bring a camera and snap memorable photos you will surely want to frame. Dining at the Garden is popular and meal tickets can be purchased at the gate, or meals can be purchased at a few locations around the grounds.

Follow the paths and grab a seat for the entertainment. We recommend the Bad Cactus Brass Band and The Dicken’s Carolers, but please be courteous to those around you and try not to block the pathways as some areas can get congested.

While trying to prevent large crowds, the Garden limits tickets sales to only 2,200 per nights, and some nights do sell out. Check the Garden’s website, to make sure the day you want to go is still open, and purchase your tickets online beforehand to ensure entry.

Luminarias is open to the public from 5:30 pm-9:30 pm December 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30.

Find more photos on Flickr.

Las Noches de Las Luminarias Ticket Information: Purchase tickets online or at the gates. General public tickets are $25 for adults, $12.50 for children (ages 3-12) (children under three are admitted free). For 25 or more tickets, call 480 481.8104. Group discount will apply.

Meal Tickets: Adults – $16.50 inclusive of tax; Children -$8.95 per Child (12 and under) inclusive of tax. It is recommended that you purchase meal tickets in advance or you may purchase them at the Admissions Box Office. Dining is located in Dorrance Hall. The Patio Café, located on Ullman Terrace, will also be open nightly.

Purchase wine by the glass or bottle or enjoy a wine flight at the seasonal Retail Wine Store.

ZooLights Ticket Information: Tickets can be purchased online. Just print your tickets at home and take them straight to the entrance. This is recommended to avoid the lines to purchase tickets at the gate. You can also purchase tickets at the zoo during the day or order by phone.

ZooLights cost of entry: $10, ($8 for Zoo members), Sunday through Thursday evenings. $12, ($10 for Zoo members) for “Any Night” tickets. If you are taking the family, consider purchasing your tickets at any Greater Phoenix Fry’s Food Store for $11 “Any Night” tickets. Children 2 and under are free every night.