Holiday Lights Phoenix: Lights in the Desert Part One

I’ve never really thought of Phoenix as a good place for holiday experiences, but this year I have become very aware of the fact that this city comes alive with lights in the winter. Whether you are here right after the summer heat ebbs in October, or through the Christmas and New Years, there are fantastical events featuring art, sharing culture, and giving us moments to celebrate those who have left us and hopes for the future. If any of that sounds interesting, stay tuned for our guide to Holiday Lights Phoenix. 

The Lights Fest

The Lights Fest is a paper lantern lighting festival out in Florence, AZ (a town southeast of Phoenix). The festival usually takes place in the beginning of November, but be sure to double check their website because the date can move around due to availability of the festival grounds, weather, etc.

For about $25 per person (sign up for their mailing list to get early ticket access), you can take part in the unique experience of lighting your own paper lantern. Watching it float amidst hundreds of other lanterns against the dark night sky more than makes up for the longer trek out to the field.

The lanterns aren’t launched until the sun has set and the fire department give them the okay to let lanterns go, so be prepared to keep yourselves entertained (though they usually have live performances and music playing). It’s a good idea to bring chairs to sit on, and if the event is in the fall, blankets and warm clothing, too.  If you want to make a picnic out of it, you can bring your own food and drinks – just no alcohol. They also typically have food trucks on-site, but the lines are usually pretty long.

It’s a pretty laid-back event, so if you want to enjoy a relaxing afternoon/evening and enjoy a beautiful display of floating lanterns, this is a great little festival to attend.

Moonviewing Festival in the Japanese Friendship Garden

Holiday Lights Phoenix

The beautiful Japanese Friendship garden of Phoenix celebrates the coming of the Fall (and the break of the hellish summer heat) by holding a Moonviewing Festival (Otsukimi in Japanese). By nature, this is a Phoenix holiday lights experience, because the moon is involved, but the friendship garden also decorates the grounds with luminaries, paper lanterns, and soothingly illuminated Japanese art pieces. They also bring in food vendors, and open up their tea garden to visitors.

Holiday Lights Phoenix

You can enjoy delicious Japanese foods while listening to traditional, live music. Then head over to the teahouse to learn about the Japanese tea ceremony and traditional instruments. When you need some solitude, you can wander the grounds of the gardens. Be soothed by the rushing waterfall and lapping pond, while the sounds of the festival ebb and flow in the background. Of course, you have to also marvel at the majesty of the moon. You can attend this event for $25-$30 dollars beforehand or at the door respectively; this price does not include food. (Late October)

Scottsdale Canal Convergence  

Holiday Lights Phoenix

The Scottsdale Canal Convergence is a yearly event that brings together interactive art, educational and hand-on activities, and the beauty of Old Town Scottsdale. The best time to visit, particularly if you want to enjoy the art in its element, is after dark. Although the event opens in the late afternoon. Most of the installations are meant to dazzle your senses by melding light and sound into a totally unique experience that you can often also touch and feel.

Holiday Lights Phoenix

This year, I got to watch metal lotuses floating in the canal fire multi-colored flames into the air. I got to watch children laughing as they spun a massive, shifting rainbow of empty water bottles. I climbed into a glowing hamster wheel and rowed with my husband until the pictures lining the inside spun into an animated blur. There were giant pieces of lace floating over the water, glowing chalk paintings, and a crystal of endless fractal depths. There were also student art pieces to explore and marvel at. Every year has different art, so I can’t guarantee what you will find here. But I suspect this will continue to be a great place to visit as long as it continues. The best part about this Phoenix holiday lights event? It’s completely free! (Early-mid November).

Holiday Lights Phoenix

If you are in Phoenix for the winter and missed any of these events, there is no lack of other great winter attractions to visit. And come back in a couple weeks to learn about more opportunities to see beautiful lights in the city.

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Why You Need an Arizona Christmas Vacation in Phoenix: Lights in the Desert Part Two


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38 Comments

  1. I have always wanted to participate in a paper lantern launch! Who knew there was one in Arizona?!

    • waitingforrain28

      We’ve got lots of cool stuff here, but fire is definitely a concern out here. Luckily there were fire marshalls on hand. 😀

  2. Oh my, what an incredible event! I’d love to attend someday. My kids would lose their minds – it would remind them of the Disney Rapunzel movie called Tangled, which has a festival of lanterns, too. Thanks for the post!

  3. These events sound like so much fun! The lantern festival looks so beautiful. I had no idea there were so many great light festivals around Phoenix!

    • waitingforrain28

      The winter is an amazing time to visit Arizona for so many reasons. Lights and perfect weather are pretty great.

  4. Wow, this looks like a wonderful experience! I never think of Phoenix as a winter destination, but it seems like the perfect place to escape the cold and experience some warm climate cheer. The Lights Fest particularly seems like a great Christmassy Phoenix activity.

    • waitingforrain28

      Phoenix is really only a cool weather destination in my opinion. The summers are dangerously hot. If you need a break from the snow, we are here!

  5. ARI

    Now those are two things I didn’t expect to see together. A Japanese Light Festival in the city of Phoenix. I don’t know much about the city though, so maybe it’s just my lack of knowledge of the area. But looks like you truly shared some nice holidays and escaped the heat of the desert in the cooler months!

    • waitingforrain28

      It is a little surprising! The Japanese festival is all thanks to our wonderful friendship garden.

  6. Umiko

    Looks like you have great events at the dessert st this time of year. They all look interesting. It’s hard for visitors though when they only have a limited time of visit, because I don’t think I want to miss any of them.

    • waitingforrain28

      I completely agree! It is even hard not to miss some of this great stuff while living here!

  7. That Canal Convergence event looks so cool! I’ll be home this December, but you’ve inspired me to find some similarly fun holiday lights events in my hometown.

  8. Light Fest would be amazing to see in person. We have always wanted to see something like that. The metal lotuses seem like a cool experience as well. This makes me want to move to Phoenix even more now.

  9. Wow this looks incredible! There is something almost magical about these lanterns I think. I have a friend living in Phoenix actually, wonder if she knows about this. Looks like a lovely experience.

    • waitingforrain28

      It really was magical! If she doesn’t know and would be interested, I hope she makes it out next year!

  10. In Thailand, the lighting of lanterns is part of New Year celebrations and it used to be my favourite part of the night. I wish we had a Light Fest in Sydney! Such a fun thing to do.

    • waitingforrain28

      I would love to see some of the original lantern festivals in Asia. I am sure that they are even more amazing than the ones here.

  11. Mayuri

    Wow! The pictures and your descriptions want me to go and check this place out myself! I love winter festivals. I didn’t know there was a light fest of this kind in the States
    Lovely post

  12. candy

    I never seen anything like the lanterns being launched. The metal flowers looks beautiful as well. Would be wonderful to experience.

  13. I absolutely LOVE AZ but have never even heard of this. I’m adding it to my bucket list!! Thanks for sharing!

    • waitingforrain28

      I’m glad that you’ve been here and enjoyed it! Maybe a winter of light festivals is in cards for the future.

  14. I am really impressed! I never thought such things were a thing in Phoenix. Any time Arizona comes to mind, I think of hot and dry. And not much fun. Glad to know they have something awesome for the end of the year too!

    • waitingforrain28

      Oh gosh, I hope I can change your mind about AZ. It is an amazing place, especially in the winter.

  15. That looks like the coolest festival ever! I always wanted to launch a lantern. They look so beautiful in the night sky! What a great experience! I hope to be able to do that one day. Who knows maybe I’ll get to go to this festival in Arizona one day!

    • waitingforrain28

      Even if not, you might find yourself in the right place for another lantern festival. They are so beautiful.

  16. Sounds like a pretty cool tradition. When I lived at a ski resort in Idaho, we would watch the annual ‘Torch Light Parade’ where skiers would ski down the mountain carrying torches. I can only imagine the Lights in the Desert being just as impressive.

  17. Elizabeth O

    This sounds and looks like an amazing once in a lifetime experience. I would love to participate in lighting a lantern too.

  18. Blair villanueva

    Paper lantern festival is always a lovely event, and can’t deny that this is also worthy for souvenir photos.
    But not ideal when done nearby residential area.

    • waitingforrain28

      Luckily, it wasn’t anywhere close to a residential area, and the fire marshall was onsite to make sure that there were no fires. 😀

  19. Sheena Moncatar

    I am a great fan of lantern festivals but I always check so many things out before ever consenting to it. The type of paper and the location among them. Thanks for sharing such a great post by the way. Loving your photos.

    • waitingforrain28

      Same here! It is good to know about the safety and sustainability of these things.

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