The Southwestern US is more than a dry desert with a few cities surrounded by cactus trees and can be best location for winter vacation ideas. It is even more than a wintertime golf destination, a place for retirees or a destination for counter-culture aficionados. Some of the country’s best cultural attractions, ski resorts and shopping venues are located in this region of the US. Winter is a good time to visit because of the cooler temperatures. It is surprisingly cool for people who are not familiar with the desert climates of Arizona and New Mexico. Temperatures can drop into the 40s during the night in the Phoenix area and get well below freezing at higher elevations in New Mexico and Arizona. These temps make it possible to enjoy some of the attractions (see below) that are inaccessible (or at least uncomfortable) during the summertime because of the heat
Here are some winter vacation ideas for people who want to look beyond Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon and find excitement, memories and culture in the Southwest.
Santa Fe Xmas
Santa Fe is the most attractive urban destination in New Mexico. It is a atmospheric city known for its arts scene and history. Few would-be tourists know that it is also one of the most interesting holiday destinations in the US. There are festivals and events taking place throughout the holiday season. Most of these events have to do with Christmas. Las Posadas is a family-friendly, interactive parade that takes place in mid-December. People follow actors who portray the Christmas story of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. The crowd follows them along the parade route holding candles. Another parade, the Farolito Walk, takes place on Christmas Eve. Farolitos, decorated paper bags holding candles, are set all around the city’s main square creating quite a visual spectacle. After the holidays an antiques and arts show rounds out the menu of December festivities.
Taos is another art-filled town in New Mexico. It is high in the mountains and has a ski season that is similar to the Rocky Mountain resorts of Colorado. With over 300 inches of snow per year and a laid-back vibe, Taos Ski Valley is a unique place to hit the slopes and a great alternative to the crowds and over-the-top “ski-scene” at more popular resorts.
Scottsdale, Arizona is a suburb of Phoenix that has become a destination in its own right. Its Fashion Square Mall is a sprawling complex that is one of the country’s biggest malls. Shops and boutiques stretch out from the downtown area offering literally miles and miles of aisles to explore. Scottsdale’s Old Town has a mixture of good deals, classy shopping, art galleries and tourist traps. Still, it has a fun vibe and is popular amongst visiting tourists. Southwestern art, both classic and modern, are for sale throughout the city.
Spectator sports in Phoenix and elsewhere
Phoenix is a sports-happy town. During the winter, the Arizona Cardinals football team regularly sells out their stadium and the Phoenix Coyotes bring the unlikely sport of hockey to the desert. The Phoenix Suns have been a pro basketball powerhouse in the past and still regularly sell out their arena. Fall baseball is played in the Arizona Fall league and Spring Training brings major leaguers to town in late February and March. Spring training, known as the Cactus League, is a great chance for fans to mingle with players and get autographs. Arizona State University, located in Tempe, brings college football and basketball to the Phoenix area each winter and rounds out an impressive menu of spectator sports.
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Sonaran Desert Tours
The beautiful Sonaran Desert, outside of Phoenix, is best visited in the winter. Much of wildlife has become dormant, but the temperatures are much more comfortable during the winter than they are during the summer, when the only sane way to view the countryside is from the window of an air conditioned 4×4. Horseback rides, some lasting for multiple days, and trekking tours can bring nature appreciators up close with the desert.
Of course, the Grand Canyon is still a possibility. It is much less crowded in wintertime, when the hordes of tourists are back at school and work. Still, with so many diverse wintertime options in the region, tourists could be forgiven for giving the famous canyon a miss.