Santa Fe NM
Ski Santa Fe is well known for downhill thrills, but the excitement is enhanced by the nearby town. If there is a more charming place than Santa Fe in winter—cozy adobe dwellings, chilly nights, warm lights, the scent of pinion smoke wafting through the air—I have yet to find it. Add a little snow, which is entirely possible from December to March, and it becomes one of the most unique and lovely settings anywhere in the United States. I’ve called Santa Fe home for more than 20 years and I’ve never grown tired of this picturesque tableau.
Few events capture this character better than the town’s Christmas Eve Farolito Walk. When the sun sets every year on December 24, the traditional candle lanterns lining sidewalks and rooftops light up by the thousands. Soon the crowds arrive to stroll historic Canyon Road, past pinion bonfires, sparkling trees, and groups of carolers. It’s like walking through a living fairy tale.
For all its old-world charm, however, these days Santa Fe is a bustling contemporary destination. Long a popular and much-celebrated vacation spot, Santa Fe’s special history—the rich native culture, the oldest continuously occupied building in the nation, the art and architecture, to mention a few—is well-known. But new currents are coursing through town. Take, for example, Meow Wolf, a must-see immersive art installation that began in Santa Fe in 2008 and has grown to become a thriving entertainment fixture, with additional outlets appearing around the country. Include other world-class venues, like Site Santa Fe and the Center for Contemporary Arts, along with the many independent galleries around town, and the “City Different” becomes worth a visit for the art alone.
But of course many other options abound. Celebrated for its outdoor recreation, Santa Fe sparkles during the colder months, too. Ski Santa Fe, just a 16-mile drive east of downtown, is the main attraction, but you can also venture out for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, year-round fishing, and off-road exploration—all easily accessible from a Santa Fe basecamp.
Work up an appetite? Good, because the food and beverage scene in Santa Fe is worthy of its reputation as one of the best “foodie” towns in the country. That’s because Santa Fe excels in a variety of regional specialties, particularly its world-famous red and green chile, ladled onto enchiladas and burritos, served alongside posole, tamales, tacos, sopapillas (fried bread), and huevos rancheros.
For top-notch chile samplings, try local favorites like The Shed and La Choza. Other great options can be found at Harry’s Roadhouse, Counter Culture, Tune-Up Cafe, Tesuque Village Market, El Parasol, El Farol, or the excellent new Horno, which opened in Summer 2021. Both Bobcat Bite and the outdoor walk-up, Shake Foundation, are known for their terrific green chile cheeseburgers.
Kick off your day with a hearty breakfast at Tune-Up, El Palacio, or Dolina Cafe, which informally compete for the best breakfast burritos in town. Or try a coffee and beignet from the popular French bakery Clafoutis. For lunch, check out the healthy, fresh fare at Opuntia, in the Railyard, with one of the best views around. If you’re looking to take it more upscale for dinner, you’ve got abundant classy spots to choose from, including Geronimo, The Compound, izanami, Sazon, Joseph’s, and Paloma, with their creative takes on classic New Mexican entrees. And if you wind up completely hooked on Santa Fe’s signature flavors, bring some of them home with a visit to the Santa Fe Cooking School for hands-on culinary lessons.
While driving tours can cover a lot of ground, Santa Fe may be at its best on foot. Whether you’re a fit, ambitious hiker setting out to scale Atalaya Mountain, a strenuous 2,000 foot ascent to stunning views just east of town via the Dale Ball Trails, or a casual ambler strolling around Museum Hill or the shops and galleries surrounding the Plaza, walking is the best way to experience this historic place. Did you know Santa Fe has a Margarita Trail? Complete with its own app to guide you to more than three dozen spots mixing top-shelf cocktails, you can plot your own course. Two of my favorites: La Reina, at the El Rey hotel on Cerrillos, and the Anasazi Bar and Lounge, one block from the Santa Fe Plaza.
Naturally, after all that walking (or skiing, or snowboarding, or sledding, or cross-country touring), you’ll want to indulge in a little self-care. The good news is your choices around Santa Fe range from the excellent to the opulent. The Japanese onsen-style spa Ten Thousand Waves is a much-loved—and highly recommended—destination for locals and visitors. La Posada offers deluxe spa treatments in a historic adobe setting. And the newly renovated Bishop’s Lodge, near Tesuque, offers a five-star splurge that Conde Nast Traveler recently called one of the “coolest hotels in the U.S.” And of course there are numerous short-term rentals on AirBnB, VRBO, and other platforms, to find your perfect retreat. Rest up. A winter full of fun, on snow and off, awaits.