Looking for a winter van life destination to get into the holiday spirit? Head to New Mexico’s charming capital city for the perfect blend of art and culture, winter sports, unique architecture, and delicious food. Santa Fe is nicknamed The City Different because you won’t find anywhere else like it.
Despite Santa Fe’s relatively small size, the city has much to offer. You can spend every day exploring a different aspect of this classy and cozy locale. From luxurious spas to remote nature, Santa Fe has it all.
The capital of the Land of Enchantment is an appealing destination year-round, but the magic of the city truly shines during the winter, when snow blankets the Pueblo Revival-style buildings and the warming powers of traditional New Mexican food are especially appreciated. Enjoy world-class skiing, holiday festivals, and a mug of gourmet hot chocolate when you visit Santa Fe in the winter.
If your interest is piqued, keep reading for ten reasons to visit Santa Fe as the weather gets colder. Along the way, we’re sharing noteworthy spots to add to your itinerary.
Guest Post By Sofia Resnik
Just 16 miles from the city center, Ski Santa Fe provides some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the Southwest with fresh powder, tree-lined runs, and great views. This winter sports destination in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains sits at one of the highest elevations of any ski spot in the country. A bit further from Santa Fe, the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area and the Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort are also popular options to hit the slopes. For something more lowkey, explore the area’s stunning landscape through hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
Santa Fe gets its iconic look from the city’s Pueblo Revival-style architecture. Flat roofs, wood beams, and earth-toned plaster can be seen across the city, especially in the downtown area surrounding the historic Santa Fe Plaza. Wander through the quaint narrow streets to feel like you’ve gone back in time, then make your way to the plaza to people–and building–watch.
Thanks to its plentiful museums and galleries, Santa Fe is known across the country as one of the best destinations for art enthusiasts. Canyon Road is the hub with many galleries clustered together on an enjoyable walking route. There are also around twenty art and history museums in Santa Fe, with the most visited being the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Museum of International Folk Art. For more recent works, check out SITE Sante Fe, the Museum of Contemporary Native Art, and the sensational interactive dreamworld known as Meow Wolf.
Aside from the fine art, marvel at the superb craftsmanship of local goods like turquoise jewelry, woven rugs and blankets, leather and silver accessories, and pottery. You can find these items in stores near the plaza and at street markets. Just be sure to understand the origins of your purchases and prioritize buying traditional items from Native artisans. Santa Fe also offers contemporary luxury shops like Design Warehouse for modern home goods and Santa Fe Dry Goods on the plaza for expertly curated designer clothing.
A Santa Fe trip wouldn’t be complete without sampling the local delicacies–and by delicacies, we mean hearty dishes like enchiladas, posole, sopapillas, tamales, Frito pie, and green chile stew. And by sampling, we mean digging in. Take the chill off with these comfort foods at one of many cozy restaurants in downtown Santa Fe, perhaps next to a crackling fireplace. The state question–“red or green?”–is a testament to New Mexico’s love affair with chile. You can find tasty Northern New Mexican and Mexican food in Santa Fe at every price point, from the popular and affordable Tomasita’s to the fine-dining restaurant Sazón. The indoor/outdoor Santa Fe Farmers’ Market also showcases local flavors year-round.
When indulging in all the mouth-watering savory dishes of the region, be sure to save room for dessert! Santa Fe has a long and rich history with chocolate, going back to Native New Mexican tribes’ use of cacao roughly a thousand years ago. Of the five stops on Santa Fe’s modern-day Chocolate Trail, the Kakawa Chocolate House is a must-visit. They serve a variety of authentic drinking chocolates as well as imaginative offerings like pomegranate lavender truffles and chocolate-covered chiles. New Mexico’s state cookie, the cinnamon and anise-flavored biscochito, might become your new favorite holiday treat.
Speaking of the holidays, Santa Fe does Christmas right. The most noteworthy celebration is the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk. Farolitos are candle-filled paper bag lanterns that make a captivating golden display when lined up on walkways, sidewalks, and the roofs of buildings. You can enjoy these lights all around Santa Fe leading up to the holidays, but the biggest display will occur on Canyon Road, which will be blocked off to cars on Christmas Eve to allow for festive strolling.
One of the best contrasts to the cold weather is soaking in hot water. Visit one of Santa Fe’s spas to relax and recharge after a morning spent on the slopes or walking around town. The most famous of these is the Japanese-style Ten Thousand Waves, where you can soak in beautiful tubs in an often-snowy natural location just outside of Santa Fe. Or sink into the steamy spring-fed waters of Ojo Santa Fe and treat yourself to a well-deserved hot stone massage.
Feast Days and Dances
The 19 different Native American Pueblos of New Mexico have had a large impact on the culture of the state today. You can learn about these Indigenous communities in Santa Fe, but we recommend heading out to the Pueblos themselves, which are largely closed to visitors except during celebrations. On these special days, visitors can watch traditional dances and are often invited into people’s homes to partake in a feast. For a calendar of events across New Mexico, many of which take place near Santa Fe in the winter months, click here. Some Pueblos may be closed to the public due to Covid-19, so check before visiting.
Van dwellers often head to warmer climates as the seasons change, but if you want to experience a winter ambiance without completely freezing, Santa Fe is a smart pick. In winter, the temperature drops to an average of 43 degrees during the day and snow is not uncommon. However, the area is mostly sunny throughout the year, including in winter. You might even get to experience the strange phenomenon of a blue sky and warm sunshine while snow is still on the ground.
In addition to these ten reasons to visit Santa Fe in winter, the city makes a good destination for van travelers. There are multiple RV parks within the city and abundant van-friendly campgrounds in the surrounding nature.
For even more interesting attractions, add the larger and lower-elevation city of Albuquerque to your road trip itinerary. Plus, if you find yourself in a patch of bad weather in Santa Fe, you can switch to the warmer weather of Albuquerque only an hour’s drive away.
Van life provides the freedom and flexibility to travel wherever the wind–and your whims–take you. Looking for the perfect rig for your winter adventures and beyond? Visit Rec Van today to browse our collection of camper vans from the best brands in the industry.