1. “Winter” is code for “hiking season.”
Depending on your threshold for cold, any time of day is right for a winter hike in Phoenix. The city contains over 40,000 acres of park and preserve land, from popular Camelback Mountain with its steep 1.2-mile summit trail and ceremonial Hohokam Indian cave, to the 2,608ft Piestewa Peak and the easier trails of nearby Dreamy Draw Recreation Area in North Phoenix.
Pop by early in the day for smaller crowds and cooler temps — sweats are a plus — or hang out till sunset to take a ton of selfies with Phoenix’s signature sherbet sky as backdrop.
2. Shopping means boutiques, sunshine, and live music.
In most parts of the country, shopping malls are crowded two-story relics of the 1990s. Think creepy carousels and hot dogs on sticks. Scottsdale’s Kierland Commons, Tempe Marketplace, and the Desert Ridge Marketplace in North Phoenix are more like walkable mini-towns, complete with boutiques, upscale restaurants, water features, and outdoor fireplaces with comfy lawn couches for a post-shop respite.
On cool winter nights, both marketplaces offer live music and host a nightly snowfall (with soap bubble “snow” so it doesn’t instantly melt, of course) during the holidays.
3. A mountain getaway is never far away.
One of the best parts of being in Phoenix is the city’s proximity to more mountainous terrain. You can take advantage of February’s 72°F average highs and then hop in the car for the short trip to nearby Prescott or Pinetop for a cabin getaway among the snow-covered Bradshaw Mountains.
Just two and a half hours north, the Arizona Snowbowl features 40 ski trails serviced by seven lifts. Where else can you drive a couple hours, snowboard on fresh powder, and return home to go hiking in shorts and a t-shirt — all in one day?
4. Al fresco meals with mountain views is the norm.
There’s no shortage of patio dining in Phoenix. Around November, restaurant patios become the most coveted spots in the house, offering views of mountains, vine-covered trellises, and golden sunsets. Food Network chef Beau MacMillan’s Elements at Sanctuary on Camelback and Kevin Binkley’s Café Bink in Carefree are two that top the visually stunning list.
What’s more, plenty of places have invested in dog-friendly enclosures, including Milagro Grill and Morning Squeeze, a trendy neighborhood brunchery in Old Town Scottsdale that includes a “Tail Waggers” menu.
5. Golf season is approximately 365 days long.
The grass is literally greener in Phoenix — the nearly 200 public golf courses in the area are watered year-round (largely with reclaimed water) to ensure a pristine playing surface any time of year. From the budget-friendly Grand Canyon University Golf Course to Scottsdale’s snazzy 36-hole McCormick Ranch Golf Club (open 365 days a year with a Bermuda grass driving range, two chipping areas, and a putting green large enough to house an entire mini-golf joint), there’s a course for every budget and skill level.
Bonus: The big boys of the PGA will be in town for February’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, which draws some of the largest crowds on the pro-golf circuit. And then there’s the Champions Tour’s end-of-year Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Desert Mountain Golf Club in November.
6. You can blast into the past. The post-medieval past.
Plenty of cities host renaissance faires where you can devour massive turkey legs while watching your friends get mock-arrested and thrown in the stocks. But few offer the spectacle of the annual Arizona Renaissance Festival, now in its 28th year.
Open weekends February 6 through March 27 on the eastern outskirts of Greater Phoenix, it’s a 30-acre medieval theme park complete with merchants, jugglers, Ded Bob the talking skeleton, naughty nuns, and jousts to the (simulated) death. Considering most jousters would freeze their lances off in February, the Arizona faire is one of the few places in America where time travel doesn’t stop for the winter.
7. The desert is blooming with color.
While Midwest crops wither until the spring thaw, winter is planting season in Arizona. Snapdragons, petunias, and marigolds are among the home garden essentials that bloom throughout the cold season. The 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden, established in 1939, is home to more than 50,000 cacti, succulents, and flowering desert plants, many of which bloom in winter. Look for waxy fuchsia-colored cactus flowers and aloes erupting in shades of crimson and orange, brought out especially during sunset hours. Afterward, the temporary Bruce Munro glow-art installation (on display through May 8) provides mood lighting for a romantic nighttime stroll.
8. You’ll be able to pack whatever you want.
Phoenix doesn’t have a granola vibe like Portland or the monochromatic, suit-and-tie stuffiness of Boston. Residents tend to embrace the West Coast’s chill attitude, which means pretty much anything you put in your suitcase or wardrobe will do for a night on the town. Flip-flops? Not just for poolside.
In wintertime, the unofficial outfit consists of a t-shirt and shorts or jeans. Closed-toed shoes are as elusive as an oak tree in the desert, excepting the occasional athletic shoe or hipster-chic mid-calf boot. So for pretty much whatever you’re getting up to in Phoenix, your wardrobe can remain the same.
9. You can taunt your friends back home.
As illustrated in the points above, “winter” means something entirely different in Phoenix than in most of the rest of the country. Which is why tourists and residents alike can’t help but call up their East Coast cousins to rub in their good fortune. “What, you’ve been stuck inside for three days because of the storm? Sorry, we can’t hear you over the noise of this raging pool party!”