Article by Nick Heil
The first lift started spinning in the mountains outside of Taos way back in the 1950s, and since that time the name has become synonymous with the skiing. Even before I moved to New Mexico more than 20 years ago, I’d heard of the sun-soaked mountain oasis that delivers world-class skiing and snowboarding in one of the most unique settings anywhere in North America. Little did I know then just how special it really was.
Home to Taos Pueblo (a World Heritage Site), iconic adobe churches, numerous art galleries, quirky cafes and fine restaurants, boutique shops, and and eye-popping natural wonders like the Taos Gorge, the town and its surroundings are a kind of condensed version of the entire state. While some towns are conducive to an improvised visit, there’s so much to do and see around Taos it’s worth making an actual plan.
You could spend days simply touring the area and checking out the sites. Several view points in the Rio Grand Valley and along the Rio Grand Bridge provide Instagram-worthy photos. A little further down Highway 285, you’ll find Ojo Caliente Hot Springs, a posh resort with soaking pools, mud baths, a terrific restaurant, and cozy rooms and cottages. You can visit the D.H. Lawrence ranch, where the literary giant lived and wrote—and even pair this with a side trip to Ghost Ranch, Georgia O’Keefe’s home and studio, for a double dose of art history. Just north of town, you can tour one of Taos’s legendary earth ships, a type of sustainable architecture built with recycled materials like bottles and tires. Or keep your exploration right downtown with a visit to the famous Taos Plaza.
Regardless of the time of year and your zest for adventure, a walking tour of Taos is a must. Even without an agenda the town is fun to explore, but you’ll get more out of the experience with a few mandatory stops. The Taos Art Museum and the Millicent Rogers Museum (Rogers family amassed one of the greatest collections of southwest art in the region) top the list. From there you can wander to the San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church—photographed by Ansel Adams and painted by O’Keefe. And make your way to the Kit Carson Home and Museum to learn more about Taos’s most famous past resident.
No surprise that this cultural melting pot also has a vast array of dining options. There are numerous excellent New Mexican options, featuring spicy green and red chile, tamales, enchiladas, and other local favorites. I love Antonio’s (as do many others), a fun, casual place for lunch and dinner specializing in southwest fare. For similar tastes, you can’t go wrong at Orlando’s, Michael’s Kitchen, El Taosueno, and La Cueva Cafe as well.
Branch out in other culinary directions at places like Aji, a terrific newer player on the restaurant scene specializing in Peruvian dishes. Taos mainstays like Doc Martin’s, at the Taos Inn, and Lambert’s always deliver (filet mignon or lobster risotto, anyone?). For more casual dining, check out The Burger Stand (don’t miss their duck-fat fries) and the always popular Taos Mesa Brewing. For a special night out, who doesn’t adore the Love Apple, which serves fresh, locally sourced meals in a charming, intimate space.
Taos is a morning town—in the winter, everyone’s headed for the mountain—and that means there are great coffee and breakfast choices. Grab a latte or cappuccino at World Cup, a block off the Plaza. The Burrito Spot whips up hearty and delicious hand-held burritos. Order up luscious French Toast or Eggs Benedict at Gutiz. Or grab a pastry at Bearclaw or Farmhouse Cafe and Bakery.
While Taos thrums with energy all year, winter is especially lively. Yuletide in Taos stages events from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Including tree lighting, torchlight parades, pop-up shops, and craft fairs, among other activities, the Yuletide activities bumps for more than a month. And the end of January brings the Taos Winter Wine Festival, showcasing world-class vintners and lots of great food as well.
Looking for a base camp? Taos has some great, and refreshingly affordable, options. El Monte Segrado provides well-appointed rooms and a heated covered pool just a few blocks from the Plaza. For a truly classic experience, try the Taos Inn, the historic adobe lodge with the coziest lounge in town. Other great choice5 include Hotel La Fonda, El Pueblo, and one of my favorites: the Sagebrush Inn, which has been around since 1929, which is full of character and a lively restaurant. And for a little more privacy, try the Old Taos Guesthouse Inn, which is equal parts cozy and comfy.
Wherever you wind up, you simply can’t spend time in Taos without absorbing its magic and spiritual energy. Add some snow and mountain adventure and it’s a recipe for lifelong memories.