Winter Wonderland Ice Rink at Merry Main Street
Winter Wonderland Ice Rink at Merry Main Street, Mesa

Out-of-town relatives flying in for the holidays? Whether they only stay a few days or the whole week, you don’t want to spend the entire time at home — no matter how much you love them.

To that end, we rounded up some of the best attractions in the Valley that will keep your extended family entertained during their visit, and show off the place you call home. You can also do any of these with your in-town family.

If you want to know about specific daily events like Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas concert or a free outdoor movie screening of “Elf,” click here.

1. See stunning holiday lights

Everyone likes to look at Christmas lights, and the Valley offers tons of bright spots, from big municipal displays with millions of lights to ambitious neighborhoods and individual houses. No matter where you live, you can find something spectacular to see.

Click here for a list of massive light displays that no one will want to miss.

2. Spy amazing animals

Valley residents are rightly proud of the Phoenix Zoo. With more than 1,400 animals that include old favorites like elephants, bears, jaguars and parrots, along with obscure animals like the Arabian Oryx, it makes a great day trip for everyone. Plus, right now the Phoenix Zoo offers both the popular ZooLights and a Lego exhibit.

Click here to learn more about what the Phoenix Zoo can offer. While you’re there, hop next door and show off the beauty of the desert at the Desert Botanical Garden.

3. Go skating — on ice!

If your family comes from chilly Northern climes, they might find our 60- to 70-degree weather a bit of a shock — probably a welcome one, but a shock nonetheless. You can make them feel a bit more at home by taking them ice skating at one of the Valley’s six outdoor ice rinks.

Click here to learn where you can ice skate outdoors — really.

4. Visit a world-class museum

If your family harbors even a passing interest in music, the Musical Instrument Museum should be on your list of stops. It offers the world’s most complete collection of musical instruments, categorized by country, and each display offers video and audio of the instruments in action.

Plus, enjoy rotating exhibits devoted to famous musicians or musical eras, and a room where you can try out many of the instruments yourself.

Click here to learn more about the Musical Instrument Museum.

5. Meet Santa Claus

For the younger members of the family — and young at heart — no Christmas would be complete without a visit with Santa. Leading up to Christmas Day, you can run into him at dozens of places around the Valley, but we know 7 places he will absolutely be, and when.

Click here to find out where you can meet Santa.

6. Admire astounding art

For art lovers, the Valley offers a range of amazing museums and galleries, from the massive Phoenix Art Museum to the the Southwest-focused Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Right now, some truly spectacular exhibits are in town that fit a wide range of tastes.

Click here to learn where to see the Valley’s best art exhibits.

7. Hike the desert

If you feel the need to walk off your Christmas dinner, and you want to take advantage of the gorgeous Phoenix weather, take a hike. There are several trails around the Valley, such as Hole-in-the-Rock, that offer an easy adventure while showing off Arizona’s natural beauty.

Click here to learn about five great hikes the whole family can enjoy.

8. Travel another kind of trail

For families without little kids to tow along, a wine tour can be a fun activity. Arizona boasts numerous wineries, and there are three major wine trails within driving distance of Phoenix. Of course, two of them are also near Sedona, if you want to take a side trip.

Click here to see the wine trails and learn more about Arizona’s wine industry.

9. Catch a movie in comfort

A trip to the movies might be just the thing to while away a few hours, and plenty of great movies are out this holiday season. However, before you pop over to the nearest basic cinema, take a look at some theaters that offer a richer experience.

Click here to learn about 6 Valley theaters that offer something unique.

10. Hang out underwater

The Valley’s newest major attraction happens to be one of the largest aquariums in the country — in the middle of the desert, too. OdySea Aquarium offers more than 10,000 animals in 2 million gallons of manufactured sea water, along with numerous habitats. From fish to otters to penguins, no one will get bored.

Click here to learn more about OdySea Acquarium. While you’re there, pop next door to Butterfly Wonderland, the largest indoor butterfly habitat in the country.

– Justin Ferris,