In between my usual trips to Florida, I did something a little different last December—I visited Scottsdale in the winter. Seeing as how I’d only previously visited Scottsdale, Arizona in the spring, I had no idea what to expect for winter in the desert.
Surely it wouldn’t be too cold, right? Would I have to keep all my activities to the indoor sort? I mean, if indoor skydiving can be a thing, I should be able to do all my hiking, mountain biking, and miscellaneous other desert activities in the dead of winter too. Inside some sort of temperature-controlled desert biome, perhaps?
Scottsdale in the winter
Well, toss aside your oversized terrariums, people! Turns out, winter is the perfect time to visit Scottsdale, Arizona! No parkas necessary.
Maybe it’s because I’m an East-Coaster, but over here on this side of the Mississippi we just kind of think of Florida when it’s time to defrost. Need a winter escape? Head to Florida. Below-zero temps got you down? Head south. Broke your back shoveling snow? Come to Florida – we have hospitals! It’s like we forget that planes can even fly “west.”
But, it’s not just Florida offering year-round sunshine and Sandra Bullock levels of congeniality. Sometimes we forget we have our very own desert right here in our prickly backyards.
Scottsdale in the winter: weather
So what is the weather like in Scottsdale in December and January? I have charts!
While the temperatures can get pretty chilly at night, daytime weather in Scottsdale in the winter is just outright pleasant. The sun shines every day and the temperatures are warm enough to show off your pasty white arms if you so dare.
Average daily highs of 70°F? In the dead of winter? Well now that’s just pleasant.
Reasons to visit Scottsdale in the winter
1. Lower rates
The number 1 reason to visit Scottsdale in the winter would have to be those low, low prices. Airfare, hotel stays, and especially car rentals to visit Scottsdale in the winter cost far less than peak season. More money for tacos, I always say.
The Secret Season
Winter in Scottsdale, Arizona is known as the “Secret Season.” During this time you’ll pay far less to visit the area than you would in, say, the spring (peak season). However, the weather is almost exactly the same and you can still see, do, and eat all the same things.
Airfare, while not that much cheaper in the winter, is still a savings and probably costs a lot less than you’d expect. I was shocked to see how affordable my non-stop flight from Boston to Phoenix was in December. I had always imagined with greater distance comes greater credit card bills. But alas, ‘tis not the case!
Staying at a hotel during Scottsdale’s “secret season” will save you around 33% less than if you visited during peak season. You’ll pay a whole third less just by visiting Scottsdale in the winter. Holy guacamole! Do you even know how many tacos that is?!
There are some awesome places to stay Scottsdale, Arizona—places that are basically a reason to visit in the first place. The iconic Hotel Valley Ho is a Mad Men, mid-century modern dream come true. *Tosses candy cigarettes into carry on*
And the wellness resorts and spas like Civana are the perfect calming retreat. Add in the fact that you just saved a third of your vacation budget and maybe now you can try some relaxing on for size. Don’t worry, it looks great with your bath robe. (More on both of those in the link above)
Renting a car during your visit to Scottsdale in the winter is where you’re going to save the most cash. Like, crazy, Scrooge McDuck amounts of cash.
During my 4 days in Scottsdale in December, I paid a whole $148 to rent a medium-sized SUV for a week. Pulling up the prices right now for that same week in March, a Toyota Camry is $634. (They don’t even have SUVs available for these weeks.)
Let me repeat:
- December 9-13: medium SUV = $148
- March 9-13: standard sedan = $634
That’s for the same number of days, from the same rental company, at the same location. Visiting Scottsdale in the winter will save you almost $500… and you’ll get a better car!
2. Perfect weather
Ok maybe I spoke too soon – perhaps the number 1 reason to visit Scottsdale in the winter is the great weather. During Boston’s worst winters, I’d give up almost any number of tacos to be able to feel my fingers and toes again.
But yes, the weather in Scottsdale in the winter is great. Considering all the snow you’re not shoveling down here in the Sunshine and Margarita state? (That is Arizona’s nickname, right?) Truly and utterly remarkable. After all, Experience Scottsdale does say “You can’t shovel sunshine.” And what a load off my lower back that is!
Even in the winter, Scottsdale still sees sun every day and temperatures hovering around 70°F. You can trade in your scarves for sunglasses, your shovels for golf clubs, and your snow boots for hiking boots. Ice and salt are for margaritas, not driveways!
3. Fewer crowds
Because Scottsdale in the winter is the “offseason,” tourist crowds are at their lowest. Hotels won’t be packed, streets won’t be clogged with mind-numbing traffic, and visiting tourist attractions won’t make you feel like a sheep being herded.
Popular tourist attractions like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West (his winter retreat, I might add), where guided tours are required, won’t be jam-packed or sold out.
The hiking and biking trails won’t be overcrowded. And getting a table at one of Scottsdale’s amazing restaurants will be easier than brushing the snow off your shoulders. Gotta get, that, snow off your shoulder.
Plus, occupancy being down during this time really comes in handy when you just don’t feel like putting on clothes after the spa. (Property-wide #robelife is the new black.)
4. There’s nothing you can’t do in Scottsdale in the winter
Visiting Scottsdale in the winter, you can still do the things you’d do in other times of the year. Only this time, you won’t have to worry about heat stroke. My pathetic golf stroke? Yes. Heat stroke? No.
Scottsdale, Arizona is a year-round destination. There’s never an “off” time to visit Scottsdale. All winter long you can still go hiking. You can still go mountain biking through the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. All of Scottsdale’s awesome museums, restaurants, and tourist attractions are still open and thriving.
You can drink margaritas outside on trendy restaurant patios and relax in the hot tub underneath a blindingly gorgeous sunset. Outdoor yoga continues, hot air balloons still fly, and they’ve got 18 holes with your name on it. (That sounded better in my head.)
To see an example, check out my jam-packed 4-day Scottsdale itinerary to see everything I did (and ate) during my trip there in December.
5. Perfect conditions for hot air ballooning
Hot air ballooning over the desert is one of the most popular things to do in the Scottsdale area and I can attest to the fact that you do not want to miss out on this. I am officially addicted to hot air ballooning.
As it turns out, winter = cooler air. And cooler air = better flying conditions.
Hot air balloon rides in Arizona take place year-round, at sunrise and sunset when the temperatures are lower. They say “year-round” but this is entirely depending. In some places and with some companies, flights are only offered between the months of October and April, for instance.
During the winter months you’ll have the best chance of your balloon getting off the ground (literally and figuratively) and having the smoothest, most ideal flight possible. (Like I had on my flight in December!) Kiss cancelations and rough landings goodbye as you sail up and over the rainbow.
If hot air ballooning over the desert is on your bucket list (and it should be!), winter is the most ideal time to do so. Also, check out my post on what to expect on your winter hot air balloon ride in Arizona. (And watch this video!)
6. Less risk of scorpion stings and rattlesnake bites
If this is a concern for you (and a legitimate one at that!), have no fear. Before my trip to Arizona, I was more than a little concerned I’d find a scorpion hiding out in my shoes (the hard way of course). Or of crossing paths, literally, with a rattlesnake during one of my hikes or bikes.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love snakes. I just prefer when our meetings are scheduled. Ashley doesn’t like being sneaked up on. And she certainly doesn’t like rattles.
Even though the Scottsdale, Arizona area sees mild temperatures all winter long, scorpions and rattlesnakes still go into a sort of “hibernation” until March or April. Though they may come out to stretch if the day is warm enough, chances are you won’t see either of these during your visit to Scottsdale in the winter.
Both scorpions and rattlesnakes burrow themselves into dens to wait out the winter, huddled together to share body heat. Not unlike those of us living in New England, actually.
Scorpions, though typically solitary creatures, can share dens with up to 30 others. (Well, if that’s not an image I’d like to un-see.) And coming across a rattlesnake den will put you face to face with up to 200 rattlers. I’m pretty sure that’s a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hey, maybe they’re guarding something ancient and powerful! You go first.
7. Lots of holiday activities to partake in
Let’s face it. The ho-hum holidays are played out. You’ve been going to same house and doing the same thing for the holidays every. single. year. of your life. It’s time for a change. Scottsdale in the winter has a ton of fun holiday activities and events to get into. Ain’t no spirit like the holiday spirit!
Scottsdazzle is a month-long holiday celebration in Old Town Scottsdale that features a city lit up in holiday lights, festivals and concerts, dining, holiday shopping, and other unique events.
The city also hosts a handful of holiday bazaars to get all your shopping done, incredible holiday light displays of all shapes and sizes, holiday shows, and much more. I’ll update this post for the holiday 2020 season with more event information!
Also, you’ve just got to check out Coach House. Coach House is Scottsdale’s oldest tavern and gets all decked out for the holidays. The place is covered top to bottom (and then some) with Christmas lights and is a spectacle if there ever was one.
8. The perfect holiday escape
Or… perhaps you need a break from the holidays altogether? I hear you, and I am here for you.
If you’re looking to forget “the holidays” are even a thing (ahem, guilty), head to Scottsdale in the winter. Seriously, the sun, sand, and salty prickly pear margaritas will have you forgetting it’s even December in the rest of the world.
Forget the family gatherings, forget cooking and cleaning and shopping ‘til you drop. Toss aside the lists and RSVP “Hell no!” to the company holiday party. It’s time to trade in the North Pole for some Southwest and call it a year!