Top Santa Fe Events & The Best Time to Visit

I’m often asked, when is the best time to visit Santa Fe? But there is always a good reason to come here! With specialty fairs, markets and festivals, Native Pueblo Feast Days, and seasonal world-class performing arts series, there are many top Santa Fe events that are worth planning a trip for. So my answers will depend more on your particular interests and weather preferences. Click here for my Weather and What to Pack article showing the seasonal weather trends, and suggestions on what to bring with you.  For a current list of exact dates for the major annual events, see my travel guide’s Annual Events Calendar. Below is an overview of many of the Santa Fe event biggies to plan for.

Around the second weekend of June, the ArtSmart Edible Arts Tour sets the summer season of festivities in motion. Two evenings of art and food entice you to gallery-hop along historic Canyon Road and the downtown Santa Fe plaza area. Galleries offer tasty bites and drinks provided by local restaurants. It’s a great way to celebrate the start of summer, and proceeds from ticket sales go to ARTsmart New Mexico, a 501c3 nonprofit which ensures that school children have the opportunity to explore, experience, and engage in the visual arts.

Tasty bites provided by Mangiamo Pronto-Sam’s Corner Cafe at one of the galleries in the Edible Arts Tour. Photo © G. Marks.

The world famous annual Santa Fe Opera begins during the last week of June and runs through August. It all started in 1957 with a rustic 76-acre guest ranch, a three-year lease and the vision of founder John O. Crosby. The Opera has become one of New Mexico’s cultural and economic leaders, attracting thousands of patrons each year. Opera lovers have been drawn to the magnificent northern New Mexico mountains to enjoy amazing productions and acoustics set against glorious New Mexico sunsets.

Don Giovanni set against a dramatic New Mexico sky. Daniel Okulitch (Don Giovanni) & Solomon Howard (Commendatore). Photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera.

The Wall Street Journal wrote, the company “…feels like the Rolls- Royce of American summer opera festivals.”

June is when the warmest weather arrives. It’s an active month for Pueblo Feast Days and Ceremonials. This link shows you the monthly Feast Days and Dance events throughout the year.  The pueblos within a thirty-to forty-minute drive of Santa Fe that are open to visits on special days are San Ildefonso, Tesuque, Nambe, Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh (a.k.a San Juan), Santo Domingo and Cochiti.

Santa Ana, Acoma, Jemez, and Picuris, are less than 90 minutes away, and you can get to Taos in about an hour and 50 minutes. Be aware that sometimes pueblos may have closures for a sudden unforeseen circumstance that may alter the accessibility for visitors. It’s always best to double check by calling ahead close to the date of the feast day, if you can. The phone numbers are provided on the bottom of the page.

During the second weekend of July The International Folk Art Market fills town. Museum Hill is adorned with a vast collection of folk art brought to town by artists from all over the world. What started as a one-time event has now become a much anticipated, highly popular annual celebration of art, food and music. Over 80% of the proceeds go to the artists to help them build better lives, and improve education and health care in their respective communities.

folk-art-market

Each year, the entrance to the International Folk Art Festival is decorated in a color theme.

Spanish Market is traditionally held the last weekend of July.  It began in 1926, and is the oldest and largest juried Spanish Arts Market in the U.S. There is a full schedule of various musical and cultural events, and the art market, all centered around the historic Santa Fe plaza.

1st Prize Retablos Revival Artist – Catherine Robles-Shaw

In mid-August we look forward to the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts Annual Indian Market. The first market was held in 1922. It has grown to become the largest, most prestigious juried Native American Arts Market, and one of the biggest annual cultural events in the Southwest. Native Artists come to Santa Fe from tribes all over the U.S. with extraordinary works of art. Many cultural events are held throughout the week, culminating in the weekend’s art market at the plaza, with ceremonial dress competitions, fashion shows, music and more.

Apache Warrior. Native ceremonial regalia competition is held on the Santa Fe bandstand during Indian Market weekend.

The last week of August and the first two weeks of September are when locals and visitors are eager to celebrate the Burning of Zozobra, swiftly followed by the historic Fiestas de Santa Fe.  The first Zozobra, standing just six feet tall, was burned in 1924 in the garden of its creator, artist Will Shuster. Now the giant effigy of Old Man Gloom stands at 50 feet tall and attracts thousands of fans.

Zozobra just as his head explodes.

Immediately following Zozobra, the 300+ year-old tradition of Fiestas de Santa Fe takes over the weekend. Celebrations include religious ceremonials, an art market, food fair, live music, and traditional dancing on the Plaza bandstand. ¡Que Viva La Fiestas!

Spanish Dancers on the Santa Fe Bandstand on the Plaza, celebrating Fiestas!

September is a full month for Pueblo Feast Days and Dances as we begin the slow and pleasant curve into harvest season, with warm days and crisp autumn nights.

The end of September brings the now world famous Wine & Chile Fiesta. It began as a small community event in 1991, and now over 70 top chefs and sommeliers partner up to bring us world-class wine dinners, demos, and a full week of popular foodie events.

Santa Fe Wine & Chile Festival gathers chefs and sommeliers together for a foodie extravaganza.

The Annual High Road Artisans Studio Tour is a great reason to hit the High Road to Taos during the last two weekends in September. Arts communities dot the High Road to Taos from Chimayo to Peñasco and beyond. Artists open their studios and galleries to visitors amid the fall color, under clear blue skies.

October still has warm days and fresh, cool nights and during the first weekend in October one of the country’s top Harvest Festivals takes place at the historic El Rancho de Las Golondrinas.

Harvest of pumpkins at Las Golondrinas’ Root Cellar.

Situated on the original Camino Real, the living history museum creates an ideal autumn day out for friends and family.  Enjoy abundant harvests, hay rides, horno bread baking, chile ristra-making and more, under autumn’s golden canopy of ancient, majestic cottonwoods. El Rancho de Las Golondrinas also has a schedule of summer events worth planning for, including the Santa Fe Wine Festival, Festival de los Niños, the Fiber Arts Festival and more. Click link for more info.

For many years, the Santa Fe Studio Tour  has been held the last two weekends in June, but starting in 2020 it will be held the first two weekends in October. It is a free event, and one of the leading studio tours in the area. With as many as fifty artist studios opening their doors to visitors, you can spend the two consecutive weekends gaining a behind-the-scenes look into the creative Santa Fe art world.

The Santa Fe Studio Tour offers a wide variety of artistic talent, and visitors get to see the artists in action in their own galleries and studios.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Festival starts off the first weekend in October. Albuquerque is an easy 65-mile drive south. Many people like to stay in Santa Fe away from the bustle of the big city, and visit the Fiesta for specific events. Balloonists and fans flock to Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta Park to watch giant spectacles of light, shapes and color fill the skies at dawn. Check this link for the complete event schedule and all the information on the festival. After visiting the early morning Balloon Fiesta events, you’ll have the Santa Fe Studio Tour to enjoy in the afternoon.

One of the highlights of Balloon Fiesta is the Balloon Glow at dawn.

Things settle down a bit between the end of October and Thanksgiving, then Thanksgiving Day is when Ski Santa Fe opens (weather permitting). The day after Thanksgiving, it’s fun to join the Christmas Lighting on the Plaza, with a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus in their vintage fire truck setting the tone for the holiday season.

Santa Fe’s Plaza Christmas Lighting on the day after Thanksgiving.

The New Mexico History Museum‘s Christmas at the Palace and Las Posadas events take place around the second week of December, within a day or two of one another. Las Posadas is the traditional nativity play enacted around the Plaza; Christmas at the Palace offers hot cider and a visit from Santa, and fun Holiday festivities in the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors.

Christmas Eve Canyon Road Farolito Walk – photo by Katharine Egli.

Everyone enjoys the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk. Every year, hundreds of people bundle up and take the easy stroll up Canyon Road. Many of the galleries have free hot cider and bonfires, and people gather together, sing carols and enjoy the paper farolito decorations that line the streets and adobe walls.

The city of Santa Fe’s annual New Year’s Eve on the Plaza celebration is gaining a lot of fans. Folks gather together for an alcohol-free celebration on the plaza with fireworks and music, and midnight surprises to ring in the New Year.

For world-class performing arts series, we’re proud to have the The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Santa Fe Pro Musica, and Performance Santa Fe offering top-notch series that highlight the winter Holidays and summer seasons.  The Lensic performing arts center draws performers from around the world and offers the summer Jazz Festival, the annual Christmastime Circus Luminous, and a full schedule of musical and theatrical performances year-round.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Nutcracker. A much anticipated event each Holiday season.

December through January there are many Native pueblo Feast Days to experience for the New Year. February is when we locals look forward to Restaurant Week. Santa Fe restaurants offer excellent prix-fixe deals and specials, and we get to cast off the cabin fever and eat like royalty. Due to the abundance of wonderful restaurants and chefs we have in Santa Fe, it’s become a good reason for visitors to make the trip too.

In April the monumental Annual Gathering of Nations Pow Wow takes place in Albuquerque.

Image courtesy of Gathering of Nations.

During quieter months, the weather may be cooler but it’s still often sunny. January to April is an ideal time to find great deals on lodging, and for spring break there are many deals and family specials to be found. You can create a fun-filled itinerary of exciting activities, creative classes, and winter sports adventures. It’s time to ski, and snow-shoe, and you can always hike, off-road, and fly-fish. As early as March you can start your river rafting adventures.  Or indulge in a soak, eat and take in an evening performance.

If you’re planning your visit, remember, it’s always a good idea to book your lodging well in advance, especially if your dates coincide around the time of any of the big events. To book your lodging direct and to save with our special discounts, see my recommendations in my lodging category. For the complete guide on where to eat, shop, play and discover the authentic Santa Fe, go to SantaFeSelection.com.

If you’d like help finding the right lodging for your needs and budget, or planning your itinerary, call me at (505)470-2991.

If you’d like to receive our free Mini Guide Maps piece in advance of your arrival, and you’re located within the U.S., send your full mailing address to Maria@santafeselection.com and I will send you the best three maps to acquaint yourself with points of interest, top restaurants, shops, galleries, and activities in and around Santa Fe.

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