Santa Fe yuletide adventures |

Santa Fe yuletide adventures

Liana Moore
Special to the Daily
On Christmas Eve, thousands of people walk Canyon Road decorated on one night only with hundreds of farolitos (brown sacks filled with sand and holding a glowing candle inside).
Photo courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe

As fall turns to winter, Vail becomes a wonderland. While locals now get to enjoy the twinkling lights on snow laden branches and endless powder days, sometimes we still get a touch of cabin fever. I know our family gets an itch to get out of town and out of our bubble. One of our favorite long weekend getaway destinations is Santa Fe, New Mexico, and surprisingly, the holiday season may be the best time to visit Santa Fe.

Why Visit Santa Fe for the holidays

Santa Fe’s storied history of bringing together Native American culture, Spanish colonial heritage and the Old West pioneer spirit makes for a deeply rich yuletide experience. Santa Fe, which means “holy faith,” graciously welcomes visitors of all faiths to celebrate the season with a cornucopia of unique traditions. Traditions include celebrations of food, song, dance and graceful light displays from the city’s centuries of warm community spirit, diverse history and culture.

If you are lucky enough to visit when it snows, you will see the iconic adobe buildings take on the appearance of life-size gingerbread houses with a layer of snow creating a “frosting” look on the roofs and ledges. You may even be able to spot this unique style of gingerbread houses during your visit.

Who doesn’t love New Mexican cuisine? With traditions such as farolitos, Las Posadas, biscochitos and tamales smothered in red chile, New Mexican smells and tastes come alive during the holiday season. It is the perfect time of year to warm up with authentic New Mexican chocolate elixirs. The city offers unbelievable hot chocolate drinks in the craft chocolate shops along the Santa Fe Chocolate Trail. Our family strayed off the Santa Fe Chocolate Trail for a unique chocolate elixir from Terra at the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado Santa Fe. Rich, delicious steaming chocolate paired with the best spot in Santa Fe to take in a gorgeous sunset is hard to beat.

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Want to learn how to prepare New Mexican cuisine? During the holidays the Santa Fe School of Cooking offers a traditional New Mexican Christmas cooking class. Participants learn to prepare shredded pork tamales and poblano and corn tamales, both served with red chile sauce, hearty holiday posole with green chile, calabacitas and the famous official state cookie, bizcochitos.

Happen to be in Santa Fe on Christmas Eve? Don’t miss the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk on Canyon Road where thousands of people walk this famous road decorated on one night only with hundreds of farolitos (brown sacks filled with sand and holding a glowing candle inside). Farolitos are often called “luminarias” in other parts of the country. Pedestrians warm themselves around bonfires along the way, hot cider and chocolate and bizcochitos are served and sounds of caroling fill the air.

What Else to do in Santa Fe During the Winter

Bandelier National Monument, one of the oldest and most fascinating archaeological sites in North America is located just outside of Santa Fe and open year-round. During peak summer months it can only be accessed via shuttle or private tour. But once late October rolls around, you can enter the park independently. This really is an area with deep history. The cavates built into the tuff of the cliff are fun to climb into and imagine the ancient Pueblo people living there from 1150 to 1550. It was beautiful in fall with the yellow cottonwood leaves and can only image it is just as beautiful with a covering of white snow.

A visit to Meow Wolf is really necessary anytime you are in Santa Fe. This multidimensional, multisensory place of discovery and imagination that was born of art and is part-amusement park and part-art experience. In a day and age when kids too often hear “be careful” and “don’t touch that,” Meow Wolf encourages the opposite. Visitors are all expected to open and then explore through appliances, cabinets and anything that could conceivably be an entry. It feels as though one stepped into C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” and Narnia. On a second or third visit to Meow Wolf, perhaps you will have time to start to explore the mystery of the family who lives in the home.

Where to Stay in Santa Fe

Santa Fe has many interesting and historic resorts and hotel properties. Many of the historic hotels are located near the plaza. Our discovery this visit was the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe. The Four Seasons also has an interesting history.

Set on a spiritual vortex, tucked into the Sangre de Christo foothills, the compound had its original heyday in the 1960s when the charismatic Betty Egan purchased and ran it as a retreat for artists, cowboy poets and luminaries.

This pristine retreat was redesigned, rebuild and reopened under the classic management of the Four Seasons is 2012. It is a relaxing getaway with possibly the most spectacular views of sunsets that the “Land of Enchantment” has to offer. The rooms themselves are oversized luxurious castitas where guests can enjoy the privacy of their own balcony or deck.

Mountain kids will enjoy the heated pool year-round. The Adventure Center offers interesting tours curated by adventure architect, Forrest Fene. Daily morning hikes of the pristine property are led out of the Adventure Center. We loved our tour of Bandelier National Monument and want to return to take the tour of Georgia O’Keefe’s famed Ghost Ranch.

Terra’s Executive Chef Kai Autenrieth blends traditional New Mexican flavors and ingredients into international cuisine for a unique and delightful dining experience. Our entire family had so much fun delighting our senses throughout the entire meal. The only disappointment was that we didn’t save enough room to finish off our rich chocolate elixirs. We also enjoyed making a local connection. Executive Sous Chef Andrew Fox spent time working in some of the best Vail Valley restaurants before joining the Terra team.

The Four Seasons Santa Fe offers unique winter programming. Snow-ga, or yoga in the snow, is taught Wednesday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. by one of the resort’s talented yoga instructors. The resort provides guests with cozy mittens to keep their hands warm during their yoga practice. There are also s’more sessions at the Terra fire pit every Friday and Saturday in December, plus every day during holiday weeks from 4 to 6 p.m.

Liana Moore is chief mama blogger at Insider Families. She can be reached at,, or

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