Surrounded by mind-blowingly beautiful landscapes, Taos really surprised me. Nestled on a large mesa surrounded by desert and mountains, northern New Mexico offers natural attractions for any type of traveler. I visited Taos as part of my road trip through the United States in summer 2021. We stopped in Taos with my husband’s family as a birthday getaway for his mom, and it was simply a perfect long weekend. You can find river adventures, mountain activities, historical attractions, delicious seasonal cuisine and everything in between. Taos even has a ski resort making it a wonderful all-season destination!
What to Do in Taos
Located just a few miles west of the modern city is Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community designated as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. This is the ancestral home of the Red Willow People who speak Tiwa, and it is still home to approximately 150 native people. The entire area was closed due to Covid during my visit, but it is nonetheless an important historical place to visit in Taos. The ancient ruins found around the Taos Valley indicate that Native people have lived in this region for nearly 1,000 years. If you are able to visit Taos Pueblo, you will see adobe buildings that were likely built between 1000 and 1450 A.D. If you happen to be in Taos in mid-July, the community opens for an annual powwow celebration where visitors are welcome to learn about Native culture and watch a number of traditional dances by New Mexico’s Native tribes.
Shopping Around Taos Plaza
The charming downtown of historic Taos has an adobe, saloon kinda Western vibe that allures you at first glance. The Plaza is surrounded by pergola covered walkways as you meander through tourist shops, art galleries owned by Native people, and cozy watering holes to quench your thirst from the New Mexican sun. A few of my favorite shops in this area were Lun + Ojo, an approachable and trendy art gallery that specializes in tattoo style prints, as well as Ampersand, a stunningly styled vintage and modern home decor store. The friendly owners are usually there to chat with patrons!
Taos Ski Valley
Located about 20 miles away from the city center, Taos Ski Valley is the ski resort in this region. The resort itself is quite small, especially compared to what I am used to in Breckenridge. It’s still worth a visit though, because it is tucked into a beautiful stretch of mountains. The drive up to the resort alone is worthwhile. The scenery is remarkable! The resort is designed after a European ski chalet town, with half timbered structures and fresco paintings of Medieval era stories. If you’re visiting Taos in the winter, don’t miss the slopes, appropriate for all levels of skiers! If you happen to come in the summer like I did, grab a cup of coffee at Black Diamond and enjoy the views. Or head out from the base of the resort for a day hike up the mountain! You’ll get plenty of exercise with the 9,000+ feet of elevation.
Thanks to the dry climate and sunny conditions, the northern part of New Mexico has seen an emerging wine scene. A number of wineries have opened up in recent years, and they’re not half bad! The scenery is beautiful in this area, a perfect backdrop to a day spent tasting wines of the region. Spend an afternoon driving along the high road between Taos and Santa Fe as you visit a number of different wineries. A few of the wineries to visit include Black Mesa Winery + Cidery as well as La Chirpada, which is New Mexico’s oldest winery. We particularly liked Vivac Winery. The sweet little patio is surrounded by vineyards and beautiful red rock structures. Make sure to have a designated driver to travel safely and responsibly!
Best Things to See Around Taos
Rio Grande Gorge
This was probably my favorite thing that we saw around Taos because wow — it is like a mini grand canyon! The Rio Grande Gorge is very beautiful and only 15 minutes drive outside of the city. This canyon is near the headwaters of the Rio Grande, a major river that serves as the border between Mexico and the United States. The gorge is sharp and deep, carved some 600 feet down. If you go to the look out point near the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, you’ll really get a sense of the canyon’s intense depth as you walk over it. There are well-marked walking paths along the top of the gorge which offer very nice views. It is quite sunny and the altitude is higher than many people are used to, so bring sunscreen, a hat and water. Colors are best for photos in the early morning, and you might even catch a glimpse of the mountain goats that live in this area.
For a glimpse at some of the most environmentally conscious homes in the country, drive roughly 15 miles outside of Taos to the Earthship community. Earthships are eco-friendly homes built out of unconventional, natural, and usually recycled materials, such as glass bottles, tires and packed mud. The homes are built in a passive solar manner to maximize solar energy and daily temperature fluctuations. The unusual structures are visually striking in the otherwise high plateau region. Keep in mind these are private homes, not an open air museum, so stick to public streets and roads. The visitors center allows you to learn more about the process of building and you can even sign up for their courses!
Bandelier National Monument
On our drive from Taos to Santa Fe, where we spent a few days during the same trip, we decided to stop at Bandelier National Monument. After having visited, I would say this is a great day trip destination from Taos! The monument preserves the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans, with some structures dating back to 1150. Visitors can meander through the ruins, even climbing into some of the pueblo structures that are open to the public. The homes are carved directly into the mountain, forming cave-like structures, and it really gives you a sense of what it would be like to live in this environment. Surrounding the monument are the beautiful Jemez Mountains on the rim of the Valles Caldera. Over 70% of the monument is left as wilderness, so this is a great area for hiking and wildlife viewing.
What to Eat in Taos
For a city of it’s size, Taos has a surprisingly large number of excellent restaurant options. You will be eating well in Taos! Start your day with some baked goods from Michael’s Bakery, which nearly always has a line out the door. I would absolutely recommend the green chili cheese turnover and the apple fritter, but I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the choices. We loved it so much, we went three days in a row. If you really want to level up, get a box of baked treats to go and take them to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge for breakfast with a view!
For lunch, grab a casual burger and beer at the Burger Stand at Taos Ale House. The burger menu is impressive, including creative flavor combinations as well as a good selection of vegan and vegetarian options. I really liked their impossible burger! Another option is Leonel’s Tamales. Located south of town, this spot doesn’t look like much from the outside, but damn are the tamales delicious. They are the best in Taos for a reason!
If you need to cool down after walking around or exploring Taos, grab a homemade ice cream at Taos Cow and sit in the backyard. Their patio is located on a literal babbling brook and I honestly couldn’t imagine a better place to lick an ice cream cone. If you’re a chocolate lover, Chokola will be your paradise. This bean to bar organic cafe is the real deal. The single origin bars are made with beans from around the world and you can even do a sampler if you’re not experienced eating high quality chocolate.
There are delicious dinner options abound in Taos! If you’re looking to sample some good quality New Mexican cuisine, Orlando’s is an excellent choice. Their chile relleno with christmas mix sauce was perfect and their brightly colored restaurant is straight up charming. Aceq, located in Arroyo Seco, was absolutely delightful and probably my favorite meal I had in Taos. The menu is small, but packed with unique and creative dishes that you don’t see at other restaurants in the area. For something slightly upscale, Medley is a nice choice. The spacious patio and dining room are connected to a wine shop, so you can expect good recommendations to pair with the well-composed dishes that come out of this kitchen. We got to eat in these little greenhouses to comply with Covid restrictions, which turned out to be really fun!
What to Drink in Taos
Admittedly, Taos isn’t a big nightlife town but there are some noteworthy watering holes perfect for a happy hour drink or nightcap. Margaritas are the name of the game when it comes to cocktails in this region, and there is an abundance of good options in Taos. My favorite was at the Adobe Bar (or Doc Martin’s restaurant) inside the historic Taos Inn just off the plaza. There are several to choose from, including spicy margaritas, mezcal margaritas and of course a classic margarita. The Alley Cantina is another good option, and it is located inside the oldest house in Taos. This has more of a local vibe with friendly staff and a casual atmosphere.
If beer is more your jam, there are a couple of good local breweries and beer joints to visit. I enjoyed the beer and general ambiance at the laid back Taos Mesa Brewing on the south end of town. The staff is knowledge and inclusive of all types of beer drinks. With over 20 taps to choose from, you can get recommendations on what you might like best. Try several with a flight! Their actual brewery is located across the street from the Hotel Luna Mystica about 10 miles outside the city. Mentioned above for food, Taos Alehouse has a large selection of taps and bottles from around New Mexico and the US.
How Long to Stay in Taos
Taos isn’t a big city, and it can easily be explored in one or two days. Given its unique and central location, Taos is a great place to plan a longer stay because it is a great jumping off point for exploring the natural areas in this part of New Mexico. I think it would be appropriate to stay for up to a week depending on how many outdoor activities you were interested in, but 4 days was how long we stayed. I thought it was perfect timing, where we got to see a lot at a relaxed pace, but we didn’t get bored.
Where to Stay in Taos
If you are planning to ski with a large group, there is no better place to rest your head than the Wilderness Lodge. It sits at the top of the Taos Ski Valley, over 10,000 feet above sea levels, with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. The lodge is even within walking distance to the ski lift! The striking Insta-friendly design and well equipped interior will make you feel like you’re a million miles away from real life.
For a unique stay in the Taos area, look no further than Hotel Luna Mystica — a vintage trailer hotel and starlight campground! Centered in the heart of the Taos Mesa, the surroundings couldn’t be better for glamping under the starry sky. There are a number of vintage trailers, all with unique names and styles. Upon booking, you’ll choose the exact trailer you’ll stay in. Their website has a ton of photos so you know exactly what you’re getting. Each trailer is equipped with its own deck, bathroom, bed, and kitchen facilities. There are common bathrooms and shower space shared among the guests if you’re not comfortable using the one in your trailer.
Serene and luxurious surroundings await you at the beautiful El Monte Sagrado. This resort is a top-of-line experience perfect for a couple’s getaway or a romantic weekend. Lauded for its creative Southwestern design, indoor gardens, and spa, you can easily spend the majority of your trip relaxing on the property. It is conveniently located within walking distance of downtown Taos, so it is easy to explore the city by foot.
Perfect for a family or small group, we absolutely loved our stay at the beautiful and private Arroyo Seco House. On a quiet stretch of highway 64 between Taos and Arroyo Seco, this vacation rental home has a lovely view of several mountain peaks from the spacious front porch. It’s so relaxing to wake up and sip coffee with that view. In the back, you can enjoy a high altitude garden with lots of succulents and desert flowers. Inside, you’ll find spacious bedrooms, a fully stocked kitchen and hand-painted tile bathrooms.