What to do, where to eat, and how to have fun during the enchanting winter months in New Mexico’s capital!
Although Santa Fe’s winter solstice arrives in late December, it’s the first crunch of powdery snow in late fall that really signals a sea change in the life cycle of New Mexico’s capital. On one hand, it’s the carpet that welcomes skiers to the southernmost end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. On the other, it’s the white flag to late nights as locals cozy up to piñon-scented firesides and posole, while warm weather travelers retreat from the scaaaaaary cold. To that, we say: Great! More green chile stew for us!
For those of us who enjoy a more relaxed pace — or simply appreciate the invigorating kiss of sunshine on a crisp, hoodie-and-beanie afternoon — Santa Fe in the winter is a charming place to be! So whether you’re looking to enjoy some local cuisine or a little bit of slopes and soaks, here are some ideas to get you started…
Breakfast Foods: The Palacio Cafè / The Pantry / Clafoutis
The Palacio Cafè is the perfect way to start a winter morning in downtown Santa Fe. Casual vibes mix with the comfort of crowd-pleasing dishes and regional fare alike, with offerings like breakfast burritos (handheld or smothered), huevos rancheros, and french toast! This is how you fuel up and warm the soul before hitting the mountain.
Since you’ll probably be lured into Santa Fe’s trap fairly quickly, no one would blame you if you decided to go on your own, personal, smothered breakfast burrito tour. For a Palacio control group, we recommend The Pantry. Regularly featured on lists like this one, The Pantry is a reliable and delicious joint that’s easy to find along the city’s main thoroughfare.
If you’re looking for something low-key and away from the moderate bustle of downtown, the family-owned, country-style French restaurant, Clafoutis, is just the thing. Whether you’re into savory croissants or sweet crepes, Clafoutis has elegant options across the board. Don’t forget to save room for all of their freshly-baked pastries, though! You’ll want to take some to go…
New Mexican Dinner Foods: Cafe Castro / La Choza / Coyote Cantina
You’ve probably heard by now…Santa Fe really loves its chiles. However, if the most difficult question you have to answer is, “Red or green?”, you’re probably having a good day. Of course, when you go to Cafe Castro for a chalupa dinner, your answer should probably be “Christmas,” which locals know is code for a mix of the spicy, herbaceous green chiles and the sweet, yet slow-burning red variety.
Now that you’re an Xmas expert and you’ve got a taste for chiles, head to La Choza for a combo plate, but make sure one of your choices is carne adovada. This pork (or chicken) dish features tender meat simmered in a thick, red chile sauce, and La Choza does it right. However, with a plethora of regional favorites, like green chile stew or blue corn enchiladas, you can throw a dart at the menu and always be right!
Speaking of green chile and being right, Coyote Cantina is a rooftop restaurant that features some of the best green chile pork posole in The City Different. It’s enough to keep you warm through the winter chill, but don’t worry, the rooftop venue is prepared with closed-air seating options. So settle in and try Mama Schutz’ Frito Pie and wash it down with a margarita or two. You’ll never know it was cold outside!
NOT New Mexican Dinner Foods: Radish & Rye / Geronimo / Izanami
Regional cuisine is GREAT and all, but some nights you want to branch out. Radish & Rye will make you glad you did with their elevated take on farm-inspired cuisine. It’s hard to go wrong here, but if you need a starting point we recommend trying the smoked ribs or the fresh corn chowder served with bone marrow. Make sure to check out their extensive bourbon list, too! It is called Radish & Rye after all…
If you find yourself around Canyon Road, the arts district with over 100 galleries, you might want to settle in for the night at Geronimo, especially if it’s been a particularly brisk day. This New American, fine dining restaurant offers items like the rib-sticking elk tenderloin and blood-warming hot toddies. Just what you need after a day of snowshoeing and getting your tongue stuck to lamp posts!
Whether you’ve spent the day snowboarding or not, Izanami is a great way to wind down — in more ways than one! Located in 20 wooded acres, Izanami is the restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese spa and resort that hosts a number of hot baths among piñons and junipers. Izanami provides an upscale dining experience featuring izakaya plates meant for sharing. We recommend the Heaven and Earth sake, the wagyu beef ishiyaki, and of course the tori no karaage (fried chicken)!
Cocktails and Whatnot: Santa Fe Spirits / Secreto / Tonic / La Reina
The winter is a great time for contemplation and conversation, and what better way to get in the right mindset than with one of Santa Fe’s most spirited haunts? One of the newest options is the Santa Fe Spirits Tasting Room. This extension of the eponymous distillery is the perfect way to sample everything from Apple Brandy to Wheeler’s Gin!
We’ve all heard of “Farm-to-Table” restaurants, but what about “Garden-to-Glass” lounges? The Secreto Lounge, located in Santa Fe’s historic Hotel St. Francis (mere steps from The Plaza), is a cocktail bar that focuses on creating drinks with fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and local spirits and bitters. Now that’s what we call responsible drinking!
You can get a drink almost anywhere, but at Tonic your drinks will often come with a soothing side of live jazz music. Come for the cocktails with names like “Italian Lace,” stay for the tunes, and don’t forget to mix in some high class bar fare, such as the “Handheld Chicken and Waffles.” It’s never been so easy to make good decisions.
When looking for a place to grab a drink in New Mexico, it would be a shame to ignore La Reina, whose hand-picked list of tequilas and mezcals supplement a cocktail menu centered on the glory of agave. Nearly hidden beside the lobby of boutique hotel El Rey Court, La Reina offers a supremely chill venue for a winter margarita.
Chill (But Hot) Fun: Ten Thousand Waves / Ojo Caliente / San Antonio Hot Springs
While Ten Thousand Waves is a great option for those staying around Santa Fe, there are plenty of places to get your hot springs fix in the surrounding area. Located near Española and Taos (north of Santa Fe), Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa is known for its healing, rejuvenating, and restorative hot springs. Surrounded by beautiful scenery in a tranquil environment, Ojo Caliente is an invigorating way to enjoy the outdoors without having to suffer the cold!
If you find yourself wanting to mix in a little hike with your soak, the San Antonio Hot Springs offers the best of both worlds. An out-and-back trail offers a stroll full of mountain views and wildlife, but the real prize at the end is the opportunity to sink into flowing mineral waters while you gaze into the New Mexican sky. Be aware that the roads are a little bumpy, although you can always trade a couple of rough miles for a few extra steps through the glorious scenery.
Cold (But Sunny) Fun: Ski Santa Fe / Taos Ski Valley / White Sands
Sure, short strolls might not be enough to get your blood thoroughly pumping, but there are still plenty of options around Santa Fe for those seeking a bigger shot of adrenaline. So whether you’re a bunny sloper or a master shredder, Ski Santa Fe is a fantastic (and close) way to boost your activity levels during layer season. Located in the Santa Fe National Forest, you’ll find everything you need to enjoy a full ski day, including shops, dining options, and even live music!
If you venture out to Taos during the winter months, or if you’ve already worn out Ski Santa Fe, the Taos Ski Valley is a great alternative for skiers, especially if you’re looking for a few more difficult runs! Don’t worry, though. Taos is still very family-friendly, and the resort and spa options are excellent for when you need some recovery time. Plus, as the world’s first (and only) B Corp ski resort, Taos Ski Valley is dedicated to sustainability, which will help everyone rest easier at night.
Christmas Eve Fun: Farolito Walk
Once Christmas Eve rolls around and you’ve become properly prune-y from all of that sweet, hot springs action, you might want to mix things up a little. In that case, one of Santa Fe’s most beloved traditions is the Canyon Road Farolito Walk. This FREE event takes visitors along the city’s historic neighborhood as carolers and farolitos (votive-filled paper bags) warm the heart and soul.
Day Tripping Fun: White Sands
For those who have the time and transportation during the Santa Fe winter, White Sands National Monument is a must-visit. This 275-square-mile desert is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, and the colder months provide ideal daytime temperatures for exploring the sandy waves. Although White Sands is open every day except for December 25th, be sure to check their website for details about possible missile testing as the monument is surrounded by a missile range and air force base.
Indoor Fun: Lobos Basketball / Meow Wolf (Duh!)
Santa Fe in the winter is great. That much is clear. We’ve got skiing, all the hot springs you can drink sit in, and plenty of great food options. However, Albuquerque is right down the road, so no one would blame you if you took I-25 south to check out a Lobos basketball game at The University of New Mexico. Who knows? You might even get a free ticket to visit Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return!
Speaking of Meow Wolf, any trip (winter or otherwise) to Santa Fe would not be complete without visiting the place that’s ranked #4 on Time Out’s list of Best Things to Do in the World. We’re biased, of course, but we don’t know of any other place in town that offers an immersive art experience, an awesome cafe and bar, and great live music! If that doesn’t hype you up for your winter trip to Santa Fe, you might want to check out our documentary for a little bit of exploration inspiration…
See you in the multiverse, friends!