The lights in Jacome Plaza in downtown are reflected in the puddles left behind by a Christmas Even rain shower in 2019.

Even just a few strands of twinkling lights can turn a simple tree, saguaro, or building into something dreamy. 

But at these Tucson places, where you'll find holiday lights by the thousands, you'll be treated to an experience that is absolutely magical. 

While we'll miss some Tucson faves like the Winterhaven Festival of Lights and the Downtown Parade of Lights, which are on hiatus this year (thanks pandemic), there are still plenty of opportunities to get your light fix. 

Several places require reservations for their events, so be sure to get yours before they sell out. 

ZooLights: Holiday Magic

You can walk through holiday lights and have a socially-distanced visit with Santa in the North Pole Village at Reid Park Zoo. (This photo was taken at the Zoo Lights event in 2017). 

Walk through the zoo and enjoy a dazzling light display with thousands of colorful, twinkling lights covering the tree canopies, walkways and in different sculptures and scenes throughout the zoo's grounds. The zoo has also added a new North Pole Village where kids can have a socially-distanced visit with Santa Claus. 

Where: Reid Park Zoo, 3400 E. Zoo Court

When: Dec. 4-23 with two admission slots at 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Encore nights are Dec. 26-30, but Santa will have returned to the North Pole by then and will not be present.

Cost: Tickets are $11 general admission, $9 for seniors, $7 for children.

More info: Purchase your tickets online here. The zoo is limiting the amount of visitors, so be sure to get your tickets in advance as some nights have already sold out.

Wanderland at Tucson Botanical Gardens

Chris Wright examines one of the 24 Korean lanterns at the Tucson Botanical Gardens in 2019. 

The Tucson Botanical Gardens is transformed into a winter wonderland with pathways lined with more than 3,000 luminarias, more than a dozen large Korean lanterns and colorful LED lights. You'll also see 400 festive poinsettias, a 10-foot-tall poinsettia tree and enjoy holiday music via a special playlist curated by KXCI Community Radio. You can also drop off a letter to Santa in a special mailbox set up in the garden, you can print out a letter template and fill it out before you arrive here

When: Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 3 through Jan. 3 with two admission times at 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. 

Where: Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way

Cost: General admission is $15 for adults and $8 for children ages 4-17; children under 4 are free and discounts are avaialble for members, seniors, students and military. 

More info: Tickets can be reserved online here

Drive-Thru Holiday Lights Parade

The Town of Sahuarita is hosting a reverse holiday parade, where motorists cruise by stationery displays including lights, ice sculptures and entertainment. The route will pass through the Sahuarita Town Hall Complex and along Sahuarita Center Way. If you are interested in being a parade entry, you can apply here by Dec. 7. 

When: Saturday, Dec. 12, 6-8 p.m. 

Where: Line up at the west entrance of the Sahuarita Primary School on South Rancho Sahuarita Boulevard

Cost: Free

More info: Find more information on the Sahuarita Parks and Recreation Facebook event page

Marana Christmas Tree Light Show

Although the Marana Holiday Festival, which typically draws thousands of guests, is canceled this year. You can still see the town's Christmas tree light show from Dec. 5-31. 

What: Marana's Main Street will be aglow starting this weekend and through the entire month of December with its annual light show, featuring dozens of illuminated trees synched to holiday music. The town will be hosting a special one-day Christmas Cruise, drive-thru event featuring an appearance by Santa and goodies for kids.  Kids can wave to Santa and leave their letters and wish lists with elves as they pass by Santa's station. If you include a self-addressed stamped envelope Santa will be sure to reply.

Where: Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Drive

When: The Christmas Cruise happens Dec. 5, 6-9:30 p.m. If you miss the event, you can still see the light show nightly from 5-9 p.m., Dec. 6-31.

Cost: Free

More info: Visit the Town of Marana's website for more information. 

Downtown Tucson 

The Christmas tree is in full lighted glory in Jacome Plaza outside the Joel D. Valdez Library, downtown Tucson, Ariz., December 1, 2020.

Stroll the streets of Downtown Tucson which is dressed up for the holidays with twinkle lights illuminating 150 trees lining the streets, a giant walk-through ornament and a 25-foot holiday tree set up at Jacome Plaza in front of the Main Library. The tops of several downtown buildings are are also lined with glowing LED light strips. 

When: Now through the rest of December

Where: Downtown Tucson. The tree and ornament can be seen at Jacome Plaza, 101 N. Stone Ave

Cost: Free

Valley of the Moon Fairy Lights

This event has been cancelled. 

Phoenix Events

If you're in the mood for even more holiday cheer, consider a drive up north for a visit to one of the several illuminated drive-thru experiences hosted by Phoenix-area venues.

Here are a few to consider: 

  • Holiday Lights at Salt River Fields - See 5 million twinkling lights along a 1.2 mile route, you can take your own car or if you're feeling real luxe you can spring for the VIP package and take a Cinderella-esque carriage through the event. 
  • World of Illumination - This attraction bills itself as the "world's largest drive-thru animated light show" and there are two locations with different themes in the Phoenix area. The set up in Glendale at the Westgate Entertainment District has a "Rockin' Christmas" theme, where holiday music comes to live along a mile-long route. The "Arctic Adventure" theme at Tempe Diablo Stadium focuses on all things cold and snowy. 
  • Cruise ZooLights - This night time adventure at the Phoenix Zoo features animal sculptures, lanterns and tons of twinkling lights. It runs through the end of January so you can still experience some holiday magic well beyond Christmas. 

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