family, holidays, generation, christmas and people concept - smiling family with santa claus and gift boxes at home

While Santa visits your home on Christmas Eve to leave presents, he rarely sticks around to chat — Kris Kringle does keep a busy schedule, after all. Fortunately, he makes plenty of appearances before Christmas where you can meet him.

While you might run across him anywhere while shopping or running other errands, we rounded up some places in the Valley he will absolutely visit. Keep reading so you can plan your Santa sightings. Oh, and you can bring the kids too.

But first, some fun Santa facts and history:

  • The name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas (itself derived from the name Saint Nicholas). However, in the Netherlands – and Belgium – Sinterklass is still a separate figure with his own gift-giving day of December 5. Santa Claus carries the name “de Kersteman,” or “the Christmas man.”
  • In 1912, U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized local mail carriers to respond to children’s letters to Santa. Today, the Letters to Santa program partners with local businesses, charities and citizens to answer some of the millions of letters sent to Santa each year. More info:
  • In 1932, a Mesa newspaper accidentally killed Santa. During a marketing stunt that involved skydiving, Santa’s parachute failed to open and he fell 3,000 feet into a field. Fortunately, it was only a mannequin in a Santa suit, but the horrified onlookers rushed home and didn’t find out that Santa wasn’t “dead” until much later.
  • In 1937, the themed town of Santa Claus was founded in northwest Arizona. It flourished as a tourist spot for decades, but declined in the ’70s and shut down for good in 1995.
  • Also in 1937, a famous professional Santa named Charles W. Howard started the Santa Claus School to train Santa Claus impersonators. It still offers classes today. More info:
  • In a 1955 store catalog, Sears Roebuck & Co. misprinted the number of their “Santa” hotline and instead calls went to the military’s Continental Air Defense Command (now NORAD). Director of Operations Colonel Harry Shoup played along and NORAD’s annual tradition of tracking Santa’s flight around the world came into being. More info:

Now, on to the places you can visit Santa in the Valley.

1. Bass Pro Shop

A shopping Mecca for outdoors enthusiasts, Bass Pro Shop hosts Santa’s Wonderland all December. In addition to activities for kids, including crafts and games, you can meet and get free photos with Santa.

Where: Bass Pro Shop, 1133 North Dobson, Mesa
Free Photo with Santa: 10 am.-8 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays
Free Crafts: 5-7 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Free Games & Activities: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Cost: Free
More info:

2. Breakfast with Santa

There are actually two places in the Valley that you can enjoy breakfast with Santa. The first takes place at the luxury resort Wigwam, which offers a full Santa-attended holiday breakfast on Saturdays until December 17.

Where: Wigwam Arizona, 300 East Wigwam Blvd., Litchfield Park
When: Saturdays Dec. 3-17 from 9 a.m.-11 a.m.
Cost: $22 adults, $10 kids 3-12
More info: (PDF)

The other option takes place on Saturday, December 17 and it’s a pancake breakfast with Santa at the Mesa Convention Center. Picture opportunities will be available, along with other fun activities.

Where: Mesa Convention Center, 263 N Center Street, Mesa
When: Saturday, Dec. 17, 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Cost: $7 per person over 1
More info:

3. CitySkate

CitySkate in downtown Phoenix offers not just one magical sight — an honest-to-goodness outdoor ice rink in Phoenix — but holiday decorations, a tree and several visits from Santa.

Where: CitySkate, 50 W Jefferson St, Phoenix
When: Saturdays and Sundays, Dec. 3-18 from 1 p.m. – 6 p.m., also Friday, Dec. 9 from 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Cost: Free, but you can buy photo packages
More info:

4. Merry Main Street

For the holidays, Main Street in Mesa lights up with thousands of lights, hosts one of the Valley’s few outdoor ice rinks, and offers more holiday fun, including visits with Santa on certain days.

Where: Christmas Tree on Merry Main St. N. Macdonald, Mesa (between Main & Pepper)
When: Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 17 at 5 p.m.
Cost: Free
More info:

5. ZooLights at Phoenix Zoo

ZooLights at the Phoenix Zoo remains one of the Valley’s biggest holiday attractions, with millions of lights, a three-story tree, plenty of displays, the 200-foot Polar Slide, nightly snowfall and more fun. It also offers nightly visits with Santa.

Where: Phoenix Zoo, 455 North Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
When: Dec. 1 – Jan. 8, 5:30 – 10:30 p.m.
Cost: $12.95 or $19.95 per person depending on day
More info:

6. Visit Santa at Westgate

Westgate Entertainment District really gets into the season with an outdoor ice rink, holiday decorations and visits with Santa through Christmas Eve. Every family gets a free downloadable photo with Santa, but you can purchase full photo packages as well.

Note: Westgate also allows dogs to visit, if you want a special holiday picture of your pup with Santa.

Where: Fountain Park at Westgate Entertainment District, 6770 N. Sunrise Blvd., Glendale
When: Dec. 9-24, times vary
Cost: Free
More info:

7. McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park decks out for the holidays with more than 50,000 lights, and a train ride through a winter wonderland. Through Christmas, you can also visit with Santa.

Where: McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, 7301 E. Indian Bend Rd, Scottsdale
When: Dec. 9-23, 6:30 – 9 p.m.
Cost: Free entry, $4 train rides, $2 carousel rides
More info:

– Justin Ferris,