Everything You Have to Do in Santa Fe This Fall
Most people don’t associate desert climates with peak fall beauty… unless they’ve been to Santa Fe. From September through November, the landscape here is lined with golden aspens, the weather cools, and there’s a festival or event to attend pretty much every weekend. From celebrations that honor the city’s deep artistic roots to those that pay tribute to the state’s official vegetable (which is technically a fruit -- more on that later), Santa Fe knows how to do fall right.
October means one thing in the Rio Grande Valley: hot air balloons. For nine days in October, the skies will be filled with more than 550 hot air balloons, as pilots from all over the world descend on the region to take flight for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. For those in Santa Fe, trekking the hour out to ABQ is worth it, as the schedule is jam-packed with events for spectators like nightly “glow” events, chainsaw carving exhibitions, fireworks, plus a lineup of live music on October 12 dubbed the Music Fiesta.
Cost: $10 for general admission, individual event prices vary
Set at a living history museum, the annual Harvest Festival at El Rancho de las Golondrinas has been going strong for 47(!) years and promises to celebrate New Mexico’s fall traditions -- especially in the food department. Throughout the weekend, you can learn to string your own chile ristras, crush grapes by foot for wine, and enjoy plenty of freshly cooked tortillas. Once you’ve had your fill of authentic dishes, you can work on filling your tote bag: There are tons of crafts from local artisans available to purchase throughout the weekend, too.
Cost: $8 for admission
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Cost: Free to join
Saddle up, cowboy: there’s whiskey to taste. Coming back for its second year, the Whiskey Classic is taking over the San Cristobal Movie Ranch once again to give whiskey aficionados the chance to experience the Wild West. Last year, the event drew 1,300 attendees to the ranch, which promises everything from authentic chuck wagons to saloon girls to bring the space to life. Of course, there’s plenty of whiskey promised, too, plus scotch and bourbon, as well as breweries, wineries, and more on site.
Just a short drive from downtown Santa Fe, the Galisteo Basin is home to one of the most breathtaking desert landscapes in the country -- so it’s no surprise that a variety of artists call this area home. And on the second weekend of October, these artists (photographers, bronze sculptors, jewelry makers) open their studios to the public to tour. Beyond the opportunity to take in the scenery and artwork, special food stops along the tour will be serving traditional New Mexican fare as well as contemporary fusion dishes, so you’ll go home inspired and satisfied.
Santa Fe Railyards
With more than 150 local farmers and producers, the Santa Fe Farmers Market is one of the largest in the country -- and unlike other farmers markets further north, this one doesn’t slow down in the fall. It’s open every Saturday, so bring your reusable bag and fill it to the brim with fresh, New Mexico-grown fruits and veggies. Don’t blow your whole budget though; on Sundays the market pavilion showcases New Mexican artists and crafters, who sell everything from handmade pottery to artisanal tea blends to keep you cozy all autumn long.
Cost: Free entry
Santa Fe Rail-Trail
Just in time for those chilly winter nights ahead, Dr. Fields Good Butcher and Deli will be the site of a hands-on cooking class for all things Vietnamese, including Bún bò Huế, a beef and noodle soup that will keep you warm all season long. Hosted by Open Kitchen, the evening will explore dishes from northern, southern, and central Vietnam, and guests can either take part in the cooking class or just enjoy a tasting menu of various styles. So come with an open mind (and an empty stomach.)
In Santa Fe, Meow Wolf has become a counterculture icon thanks to their oddball immersive experiences and other-wordly art installations, like the House of Eternal Return -- which had buy-in from the likes of George R.R. Martin. At their Learning Center, they host events throughout the year, but few are as timely as their cosplay basics courses, offered throughout the fall. Here, you’ll get an introduction to cosplay, including how to collect and put together a costume with your budget in mind, and be able to lean on the expertise of instructors to pull off your very first costume.
Cost: $30 for all three classes
Downtown Santa Fe
People from all over come to Santa Fe to explore the culture of the region’s Native American tribes (there are 23, to be exact), so in 2016, the city passed a resolution officially marking the second Tuesday of October as “Indigenous People’s Day.” To commemorate the occasion, there will be traditional dance performances and storytelling at the Downtown Santa Fe Historic Plaza throughout the day. Additionally, Native American non-profit organizations will be on site, so you can find ways to get involved all year long.
Santa Fe, historically, is an artsy town (Georgia O’Keefe called the city home, after all) so it’s no surprise that filmmakers flock here as well. The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival has been going strong since 2009, starting as a “fringe festival” then exploding into one of the largest in the country. The fest takes over various venues throughout the five days, featuring everything from Q&A panels with filmmakers to workshops and, of course, plenty of movies to watch.
Cost: Tickets start at $25 for individual screenings, full festival passes are $325
Paseo Pottery has a unique mission: it’s staffed completely by volunteers, and 100% of the profits are donated to a local non-profit organization every year. Located inside a 100-year-old adobe, the studio is a vibrant part of the city’s art scene, and hosts one of the best intros to pottery-making in Sante Fe. Their “Suds and Mud” pottery class teaches students the basics, from throwing on the wheel Ghost style to glazing and more. The “suds” part also means there’s beer involved, to make things even more interesting.
Cost: $95, donated to local charities annually
Though it’s technically a fruit, the chile is New Mexico’s official state vegetable, and fall is the season where it really shines. So, Slow Food Santa Fe is digging deep into the chile’s history and cultural heritage -- and cooking up some tasty (and spicy!) dishes to celebrate. In this two-hour class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, students will cover the differences in northern and southern New Mexico chile varieties and learn how to make both green and red chile sauces, all while testing their taste buds’ endurance on the Scoville scale.
Fall loses some of its luster without the spooky tales or nightmare-inducing frights, so celebrate accordingly at El Rancho de Las Golondrinas for their annual Halloween event: “Spirits of New Mexico’s Past.” Throughout the night, you’ll hear stories of some “intriguing” historical events by lantern light, plus you can warm up around campfires, sip on hard cider, and possibly encounter a few yourself as you explore the living history museum.
What’s more terrifying than goblins, ghosts, and ghouls? Having an existential crisis about the vastness of space. To provide some real frights this Halloween, The Planetarium at Santa Fe Community College is hosting three “Scary Astronomy” shows throughout the evening, where they’ll dive deep into the creepiest parts of our universe, covering everything from zombie stars, killer asteroids, black holes, and more nightmare fuel.
Cost: Free, but limited tickets available
Forget the Black Friday sales and cross a few people off your list early while enjoying a weekend in Dixon, aka a desert landscape filled with stunning orchards and farmlands. For the past 38 years, more than 40 artists in the area open up their studios for an entire weekend to visitors, selling pottery, paintings, and other original works as part of the Dixon Studio Tour. The entire village (which is only about an hour drive from Santa Fe, by the way) comes out to celebrate, including La Mesa Farm, whose owner Ron Monsour shows off his botanical photography while offering up apple cider, atole, posole, tortillas, and pupusas.
Cost: The tour is free, art and food prices vary
The Recycle Santa Fe Art Festival is the largest market of recycled art in the country, where community members and juried artists showcase their pieces created using only discarded materials. Throughout the weekend, there’s a fashion show, juried art exhibit, and art market, all of which are open to the public. But, you can also create your own art at “make and take” workshops throughout the weekend -- so you can finally put some of those plastic water bottles to actual good use.
Cost: Ticket prices to be announced
Cranksgiving began as a bike race devised by New York City bike messengers to help feed the homeless. Since its beginnings two decades ago, it’s expanded to 100 cities, including Santa Fe, and here, locals are tasked with scavenging city streets and grocery store aisles for food items -- all on bicycle. In the end, all the items are donated to The Food Depot, a local food bank, but in true scavenger hunt fashion, expect a few twists and turns along the way.
Cost: No entry fee, but expect to spend at least $15-20 on food donations
Being a city that prides itself on being unusual, Santa Fe’s annual holiday light extravaganza is nowhere near traditional. From late November through New Year’s Eve, the Santa Fe Botanical Gardens is lit up with thousands of twinkling lights, via displays created by featured artists. This year, Victoria Rabinowe will bring more than 150 spirit poles to her exhibit, while Christopher Short’s will focus on his trademark sci-fi laser displays. Of course, there will be holiday music and plenty of good cheer, too -- and thanks to the temperate climate, you won’t have to freeze to take it all in at night.
Cost: Non-member tickets are $8 in advance, $12 at the door