Lights, Ice, and Bites: Winter Festivals Happening in the West
Celebrate winter in the West at these events with a mix of lights, food, gifts, and plenty of family fun.
Winter may not be everyone’s season, but it sure is packed with things to do. Skiing and snowboarding are in full swing. Snowfall brings opportunities for spontaneous snowball fights or snowman building. And the season is full of holidays, from Christmas to the New Year. On top of it all, there are countless festivals happening across the West, transforming parks and civic centers into winter wonderlands.
These events are spread out over the coming months and offer myriad activities and goods to help you enjoy the season. They bring communities together to showcase their skills and talents—like the professional ice sculptors at Seattle Winterfest—or offer an opportunity to support small businesses, such as the Village in Enchant Christmas in Las Vegas.
Still looking for gifts? Many of these festivals include markets with all kinds of jewelry, apparel, crafts, and food, perfect for locating that one-of-a-kind gifts while supporting local businesses and artisans. Then you can stick around to watch a live performance from local bands, dancers, and other groups featured at many of these events. Live performances don’t stop at music, either. These festivals can include all kinds of showcases, from mariachis at Phoenix’s Las Noches de Luminarias to dog shows and snowboarding trick courses at Oregon Winterfest.
These festivals are also great for kids, as some will include craft stations and storytellers, and, of course, plenty of opportunities to see Santa. Most of these events are held outside amid the coronavirus pandemic, and any that host elements or activities indoors require face masks.
Check out a few examples of winter festivals in Arizona, Washington, California, and beyond.
Las Noches de Luminarias
Las Noches de Luminarias brings the desert to life, decorating the paths of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix with hundreds of paper lanterns. These lanterns, called luminarias, hold special significance in the Southwest, particularly during Christmas. The luminarias are joined by a full nightly lineup of performances, including carolers, mariachis, handbell choirs, and other talented local musicians. However, on Dec. 21, in celebration of the solstice, there is no music, encouraging visitors to quietly walk the garden paths in a night of quiet reflection. The festival takes place Dec. 7-31, though it is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and requires a general admission ticket to the garden.
This festival has almost everything to offer, from food and live entertainment to fine art. The Oregon Winterfest this year heads to the Deschutes County Expo Center in Redmond, Oregon. If you’re looking to shop, the Wonderland Marketplace hosts local businesses and crafters selling food, apparel, and other products. If you want entertainment, you’ve got plenty of options, like the dog show with feats of canine acrobatics and the Rail Jam where skiers and snowboarders show off with impressive tricks. If you like art, the Light, Ice, and Fire Exposition will feature local artists’ creations in light, impressive fire pits, and hand-carved ice sculptures. For something a little calmer, the Fine Arts Pavilion will display the work of more than 80 local artisans, including paintings, ceramics, and handmade jewelry. The event runs over one weekend, Feb. 18-20, with general admission tickets running at just under $20.
Enchant Christmas is a roving festival that’s been held annually since 2010, and this year lands in Las Vegas, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg, Florida. Here in the West, it will be held in the Las Vegas Ballpark from Nov. 26 to Jan. 2 with a variety of activities for the whole family. There’s an ice-skating trail that allows you to weave through brightly lit Christmas trees and decorative arches, and a maze that takes you through a similar network of trees and decorations covered in brilliant lights. You can also stop by The Village to wander around the Nordic-inspired Christmas market, with food and gifts from local vendors and live performances. Plus, for the kids, there’s a Play Place with more beautifully lit decorations, a craft area, a a nightly story by the one and only Mrs. Claus. Of course, there will also be opportunities to meet and get a photo with the big man himself. General admission tickets run between $20 to $35.
Seattle Winterfest brings people together in the Seattle Center to celebrate the winter and showcase their talents. The main focus is a series of performances, featuring artists across a variety of genres, including traditional Dickensian carolers, a high school jazz band, a Motown-inspired trio, and a traditional Mexican dance group. But the performances aren’t all this event has to offer. Every Saturday at noon, a world-class ice sculptor will be creating seasonal sculptures live in front of an audience. Inside the Seattle Center’s event hall, you’ll find a model train and Christmas village that have been on display for 40 years, plus clues for a scavenger hunt. To top it off, the event features an array of holiday lights, with a special light and music display happening every evening. The festival takes place from Nov. 26 to Dec. 31 and is free to the public, though donations are appreciated.
This is a festival of light on an impressive scale. Luminaria takes over the entirety of Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point, with more than 20 different sites and themed areas to check out. The event has you follow a one-way path that takes you past and through each of those sites and themed areas, starting with a light mosaic on a hill. The mosaic uses 6,500 programmable lights as pixels to create moving images of reindeer and other seasonal scenes. The path then takes you through other lighted areas, with themes like Electronic Forest and Candy Cane Lane, as well as a nativity. Luminaria also features a number of food stalls so you can appreciate the impressive light art without going hungry. Luminaria runs from Nov. 18 to Jan. 1, with a special fireworks show on New Year’s Eve. The event is closed on Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, and admission costs around $20.
Winterfest at California’s Great America
Santa Clara, California
Winterfest transforms a Bay Area amusement park into a winter wonderland with lights, decorations, and new activities. On select nights from Nov. 26 to Jan. 9, in addition to the park’s normal rides, guests will have access to special attractions, including an ice-skating rink in front of the park’s iconic carousel, a selection of Peanuts-themed holiday rides and shows, and opportunities to spend time with the Clauses, including cookie decoration with Mrs. Claus. The park will also feature Artisan Alley, featuring more than 20 local artists selling their crafts, handmade toffee and candy, jewelry from across Northern California, handblown glass, and wandering carolers. In addition to the Peanuts show, the park will also host a number of other holiday shows, including a drumming show, a jazzy Christmas performance, and a tree lighting ceremony. Some of the Winterfest activities involve an additional cost beyond a park admission ticket, so look out for that on the website as your plan your visit.