Santa Fe may not be the first place you think of to visit in the winter, but I want to change that.
While it gets seriously busy during the summer festival season, winter is much more low key. Fewer visitors, cheaper prices, and best of all, plenty of skiing just a short drive from town.
I had the opportunity to visit Santa Fe in late February, and while it was cold, the hotels, shops, restaurants, and attractions were uncrowded. In fact it wasn’t unusual to have some of the museums and shops all to myself. So if you don’t mind the chillier weather, and you really like visiting cities during quiet times, then winter in Santa Fe is perfect!
About Santa Fe
Home to about 83,000 people, Santa Fe is really more of a small town than a city. However, it feels much larger due to the presence of the New Mexico state capital and offices along with a bustling historic district. It combines the best of both worlds–plenty to see and do but fairly easy to navigate.
Built in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States. It’s the site of both the oldest public building in America, the Palace of the Governors, and the nation’s oldest community celebration, the Santa Fe Fiesta, established in 1712 to commemorate the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico in the summer of 1692. You are surrounded by layers of history beginning with Native Americans continuing with Spain and Mexico, and finally as the 47th state of the United States.
Odds are you’ll spend much of your time in the city in the historic district. No buildings in this part of town can be built higher than the Cathedral. And all renovations to existing buildings must meet the approval of the preservation division of the city. So you’ll feel like you stepped back in time several hundred years. When you’re in Santa Fe, it doesn’t look or feel like any other city. You’re clearly someplace special.
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Getting To Santa Fe
Santa Fe does have its own airport, but it is quite small. If you’re flying in from a nearby town, you may find a direct flight. However, if you’re coming from a major U.S. city like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or New York, you will need to take at least two flights to get here.
Another option–which I recommend–is to fly into Albuquerque (ABQ). I flew from Los Angeles International (LAX) to ABQ in just two hours. And while ABQ is considered an international airport, it’s not too big. In the winter I found it uncrowded and comfortable.
Then rent a car or hire a shuttle for the one hour drive to Santa Fe. I personally used Groome Transportation and would definitely recommend them.
What To Do In Santa Fe In The Winter
Here are six things I definitely recommend doing in Santa Fe in winter!
Ski Santa Fe
During my recent trip to Santa Fe I re-learned to ski. My last ski trip had been over thirty years ago, so I had to start from scratch. Fortunately I had this opportunity at Ski Santa Fe, a small, family owned resort about an hour’s drive outside the city. I was paired with an instructor, Jeri, who was not only patient, but also seriously funny. Any time I became frustrated, she just cracked a joke and I relaxed.
While I don’t ski regularly, I do know from my friends who do that this can be an expensive sport. The combination of lift tickets, rentals, and lessons makes it cost prohibitive for many people. Fortunately Ski Santa Fe is a reasonably priced option. Full day lift tickets range from $58 to $88 and a full rental package is just $42. This would be a great destination for new skiers, a family, or someone like me being reintroduced to the sport.
There are over a dozen ski resorts in the mountains surrounding Santa Fe and there are even more options in nearby Taos. Before this trip I had no idea how much skiing is a part of the Northern New Mexican culture, but now I understand why. There’s no doubt that New Mexico in winter is ideal for anyone.
Relax At Ten Thousand Waves
What could be better after a day on the slopes than a few hours in a hot tub? Not much. On our drive down the mountain from Ski Santa Fe we stopped at Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese inspired spa known for its outdoor hot tubs, placed throughout a peaceful forest setting. We enjoyed a large, private outdoor tub for 90 minutes which allowed our tense muscles to relax.
Hot tubs can accommodate up to ten people. The one we reserved also included a private restroom/changing room and sauna. Traditional spa treatments like massages and facials can also be booked. There is a highly-rated restaurant on site, but we ran out of time and weren’t able to try it.
Take a Historic Walking Tour
I’ve written many times about my love of walking tours, so I couldn’t pass-up the chance to take one while visiting Santa Fe. I’ll admit that taking this tour during the winter meant I was cold at times, but our guide did a nice job of finding reasons for us to go indoors periodically and warm-up.
Allen, of Discovery Tours, led us through the streets of historic Santa Fe for two and a half hours. He was so knowledgeable about the city, state, and even the region. Towards the end of the tour he escorted us to the lobby of the Inn at Loretto and regaled us with stories of the Old West, all of which had a local component. Along the way we saw the Palace of the Governors, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, and San Miguel Church, the oldest church structure in the United States. Tours meet each day in the lobby of La Fonda and begin at 10 a.m.
Visit Santa Fe Museums
Santa Fe has an excellent collection of museums, many of them focused on art. I was able to visit four during my stay in town.
I began with a visit to the Museum of International Folk Art. I’ll admit that I was going to skip this one, but a friend highly recommended it, so I went, and I’m glad I did. The permanent collection, Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, was donated by Alexander Girard who was instrumental in establishing this museum. This was a bit overwhelming, so I browsed it quickly and moved on. The exhibit I most was enjoyed was Dressing with Purpose: Belonging and Resistance in Scandinavia which examines three Scandinavian dress traditions—Swedish folkdräkt, Norwegian bunad, and Sámi gákti—and traces their development during two centuries of social and political change across northern Europe.
Across the patio is the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture which interprets the history and contemporary life of the Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, and other Southwest tribes. Here I was delighted to find Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined In Glass. I’ve long been a fan of glass art and was impressed by the quality of these pieces and how they took on the culture and experiences of Native American artists.
Both of the museums above are part of the New Mexico Culture Pass. For Just $30 you’ll receive admission to 15 museums and historic sites throughout the state–four located in Santa Fe.
Located in the heart of Santa Fe is the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, the country’s only museum for exhibiting, collecting, and interpreting the most progressive work of contemporary Native artists. Among all of my museum browsing while in Santa Fe, the exhibit, Exposure: Native Art and Political Ecology, was the most disturbing. It documents international Indigenous artists’ responses to the impacts of nuclear testing, nuclear accidents, and uranium mining on Native peoples and the environment. It’s a traveling exhibit, so if it comes to a museum near you, be sure to go.
Probably the single best museum in Santa Fe is the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. The minute after I booked my flight to Santa Fe, I booked my ticket here. I’ve long been a fan of this talented woman, and I was excited to finally see the institution dedicated to her work. It was a bit smaller than I expected, but I was impressed with the in-depth information about her as well as a range of artwork from all periods of her life. One her largest paintings, Spring, has recently undergone a months-long conservation treatment and is now on display.
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Browse The Art Galleries Along Canyon Road
Just in case you didn’t see enough art in all the museums, then continue on to Canyon Road to browse over 100 galleries. I’ve been to many places in the world, and popped into numerous galleries, but I’d never seen something quite like this. Canyon Road gently slopes uphill, and for about a mile is lined with art galleries featuring every type of artwork you can imagine. You really don’t even need to go indoors since so many of the galleries display sculptures outdoors. Even walking along the scenic road is pleasant.
Check-Out Loretto Chapel
Finally, don’t leave town without a visit to Loretto Chapel and its miraculous staircase.
Work on the chapel began in 1873 under the supervision of the Sisters of Loretto. Unfortunately, the architect died before completion and stairs from the chapel to the choir loft were never built. Instead, choir members had to climb a ladder to reach the loft. So the sisters prayed for nine days that a solution would appear, and sure enough a carpenter arrived to build the spiral staircase that we see today. However, he used no nails, and there’s no supporting pole in the middle. The stairs should not have worked and yet they did. The carpenter disappeared before being paid and to this day no one knows who he was.
It’s a very small chapel, so you’ll be able to get in and out in under thirty minutes, but it’s worth it. In addition to the stairs, the main altar is quite beautiful.
Best Hotels In Santa Fe
I had the opportunity to stay at two different hotels while in Santa Fe, and I highly recommend both. The first is the priciest, but if you’re willing to splurge, it will be worth it. The second has the best location in town, so you absolutely can’t go wrong.
Bishop’s Lodge is one of the newest properties with the Auberge Resorts Collection, a luxury hotel chain. Built on the same grounds where the first archbishop of New Mexico resided, this place combines a connection to Santa Fe’s past with all the modern amenities a traveler could desire. Located on 317 secluded acres, the guestrooms, suites, and casitas are all beautifully decorated in a style that compliments the setting.
I stayed in a king guestroom that included an outdoor terrace, fireplace, and large bathroom. The amenities included a robe and slippers, Nespresso machine, unlimited bottled water (in aluminum, not plastic bottles), and nightly turn-down service. I didn’t want to check out.
There’s a restaurant, bar, and spa on site–all of which I can recommend.
La Fonda On The Plaza
As disappointed as I was to check out of Bishop’s Lodge, I equally enjoyed my stay at La Fonda, especially given its prime location on the plaza in Santa Fe. This historic hotel is celebrating 100 years of hospitality. It’s been beautifully restored so that you appreciate all of its history while simultaneously enjoying modern comforts. The rooms are on the small side, but they are so well designed that it doesn’t matter. And anytime a hotel includes Nespresso machines in the room I’m happy.
What is especially attractive about La Fonda are the 1200 pieces of local, original artwork displayed in public areas and guest rooms. Most pieces have a placard with the title, name of the artist and some background. Artwork includes paintings, sculpture, textiles, and pottery.