One of my favorite things about Taos, New Mexico, is the revolving door of activities that change with each glorious season. Even as someone who was born and bred here, I am constantly discovering new and interesting people, places, and things.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, I strongly believe – and am definitely not alone – that Taos is one of the most magical towns in the Southwest. It offers a culturally rich destination with endless outdoor activities, art, and culture, including a varied culinary scene.
Taos is also special in that there is a buzzing atmosphere combined with a slow-paced lifestyle. It is one of those rare places in the country that still feel a bit old fashioned. This can be frustrating at times, especially if you’re not prepared for it, but is also the very thing that has kept this town a living time capsule that preserves the charm of slower and more rustic times. So I definitely recommend keeping that in mind, so that you remain flexible and are prepared for possible kinks in your itinerary.
Weather in Taos New Mexico
Many people are surprised to learn that Taos is located in the high desert at almost 7,000 feet above sea level which means temperatures drop lower than you think when you hear the word “desert”. And yes, we get snow in the winters. Taos is actually home to world class skiing. Make sure to pack layers especially if you’re visiting outside of the summer months.
Where to Stay in Taos New Mexico
I recently stayed at Casa Benavides. They have prime real estate on a large plot of land just 5 minutes on foot from the center of town – and therefore a lot of the main attractions- and serve one of the best breakfasts in town. Do as I did and get both the granola bowl and the green chile and egg on a homemade tortilla. Even for a local like me, one of the best green chile dishes in Taos.
Top 10 things to do in Taos New Mexico
1. Hot air balloon ride at sunrise through the Gorge
If you’ve never been in a hot air balloon before or are always on the lookout for the most unique thing to do in the destinations you travel to, put this at the top of your list. The flight (I flew with Rio Grande Balloons) starts North of the Gorge Bridge past the Greater World Earthship Community and descends into the Gorge, travels over the Rio Grande river, and eventually ascends out of the canyon until you are finally graced with the grand finale- bird’s eye view of Taos. Finally, the flight ends with a champagne toast and a brief hot air balloon history lesson. The total flight time was about 1 hour and 13 minutes long. Note that this specific route (flying through the gorge) is only available from November to May.
2. Hot springs in Taos New Mexico
Again, if you’re looking for those can’t miss destination specific activities, plan to spend some time appreciating the unique geothermal makeup of New Mexico, and visit Ojo Caliente Hot Springs Resort. This is one of the most luxurious and unique ways to indulge in this natural phenomenon, and this historic property is located 50 minutes outside of Taos so it’s best to set aside a whole afternoon to experience it. The restaurant at Ojo Caliente is also one of my top three favorites (alongside Aceq and Lambert’s) and a great place to dine, especially if you are already going there to soak. Everything on the menu is tasty, but the pasta pomodoro is one of my personal favs.
3. Taos Earthships
There are quite a few obscure and somewhat odd-ball things that northern New Mexico is known for, and I believe that the sustainable building techniques in the Taos area are one of the most interesting elements to explore. In particular, the Earthship construction, and the way that builders use garbage like old tires, bottles, and dirt to build off grid homes for minimal building and maintenance costs, due to the fact that the houses run on solar power and rainwater catchment. This building style was developed by Mike Reynolds in the 80’s and has since evolved into an academy that teaches this obscure building technique within The Greater World earthship community located across the Gorge Bridge. The concept for Earthships was developed with the idea that homeownership could become more accessible while incurring minimal maintenance costs, as long as someone is willing to invest enough manual labor. Since heat and electricity come from the sun, and water comes from rain, it’s supposed to be practically free to live in once it’s built. While there are many Earthship communities in Taos, Greater World is the only one open to the public and available for tours.
4. Taos Pueblo Tour
Taos is home to the longest continuously inhabited pueblo in North America. The Taos Pueblo has been occupied by the Tiwa people (aka Red Willow) for more than 1,500 years and currently houses less than a dozen families full time within the village walls. However, there are over 400 indigenous people living outside of the pueblo walls. A particularly authentic way to tour this UNESCO Heritage Site is through local tour company, Heritage Inspirations. We started the tour with a brief history tour finding our way from the cemetery through the common areas traditionally used for gatherings and to trade, into the St. Jerome Catholic Chapel and across the little river to a very special Horno (adobe oven) bread-baking demonstration. Our tour concluded over a private lunch prepared by chef CJ Bernal, a tribal member who takes culinary inspiration from the local plants and herbs, as well as indigenous ingredients like local bison, and the Three Sisters (corn, beans, squash).
5. Visit an herbal apothecary
Another little known fact about Taos is that it’s a hub for herbalism, due, in great part to the different biomes coexisting in one small region. The medicinal properties of the plants is also more condensed in harsher environments, so the remedies concocted in places like arid deserts tend to be more potent. Some of the greatest herbalists have studied here, making access to knowledgeable herbal practitioners relatively easy. find One of my favorite hidden gems is Cinnamon’s Apothecary located right next to the plaza, off of Kit Carson tiny adobe building feels like stepping into a mountain witch’s apothecary. Owner Cinnamon Bird sources the ingredients of most of her potions locally. This is also a great place for remedies to assist in altitude acclimation.
6. Rolling Still Distillery
The Rolling Still is a local female-run distillery. They started with vodka, and that remains their “hero” product, with four different infusions, all inspired by New Mexican ingredients lavender, pecan, roasted green chile, and red chile. In the past couple of years, they have also developed a tasty whiskey with naturally occurring notes of vanilla and caramel derived from the local ponderosa and pecan bark they use to infuse it. Not only are all of these products sourced from local family run farms, Rolling Still also distills everything using 75 million year old water collected from a glacial moraine in the Sangre de Cristos. Since vodka is 60% water, the quality of that water is a major piece to the smoothness of the end result. After a successful 2 years distilling and expanding their distribution, the Rolling Still opened The Lounge located right off the plaza, where they serve inventive craft cocktails and mocktails, a selection of wine and beer and small bites, in a warm and chic setting.
7. Visit The Gorge Bridge at sunset
Taos County’s most popular landmarks, the Gorge Bridge is one of my favorite places to watch the sunset, and the starting point for one of my all time top trails in Taos. From the rest area, you can hike along the crevice of the Gorge where you’ll find plenty of photo ops and different angles to view the bridge and river beneath it. If you’re lucky you might even see some Bighorn sheep perched along the edge. This trail is also flat, making it a great option for runners.
8. Taos Historic Museums
Taos has been considered an artistic hub for over 100 years, and that appeal continues to this day. In the early 1900’s the iconic New Mexico landscapes gained popularity due to rising artists like Agnes Martin and Joseph Henry Sharp who helped put Taos on the map. In fact, according to local legend, the art being generated here in those days was sold before the paint was even dry. I did a recent art tour through Heritage Inspirations, a unique excursion that included a private tour through an occupied artist studio in the historic district, as well as private tours of a couple of nearby galleries and museums. During this trip we also visited the Fetchin House, and their current exhibit of stunning Navajo blankets for children.
9. Manzanita Market
Manzanita Market is the sister restaurant to local culinary hit The Love Apple, and is located on the East side of the plaza right behind World Cup (great coffee – try the Borgia!). They specialize in wholesome dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.The tasty food and convenient location make it a popular spot for locals and in-the-know tourists alike. . My favorite dishes are The Local Bowl and the Bahn Mi sandwich. They also have a little marketplace featuring books, beauty products and more – all by local makers. I particularly love the tea from tea.o.graphy and Plantfolk’s wildcrafted skincare products. A great stop for gifts and souvenirs that help support the local economy.
10. Bean to bar Chocolate shop
Although artisanal chocolate may not be the first thing that comes to mind when visiting an artsy mountain town, , I recommend you add this to your list, especially if you have a sweet tooth and appreciation for fine culinary creations from an award-winning chocolatier. Chokolá is located on Juan Largo Lane, right across the cobblestone passageway from Manzanita Market, making it super easy (and deliciously tempting) to stop by for dessert after lunch at Manzanita.
I also want to thank Idea Peddler and Visit Taos for providing me with the opportunity to experience my hometown through the lens of a traveler, and for designing such a well curated itinerary. This staycation sparked the idea to write a roundup of the Top 10 Things To Do in Taos, which includes some of the highlights from my weekend festivities.