Santa Fe looks (and smells) like one big yuletide celebration in December. The aroma of piñon logs burning in kiva fireplaces fills the night air of America's oldest capital city, while downtown rooftops and sidewalks glow with rows of farolitos, paper-bag lanterns holding votive candles. Its cool-weather charms are considerable—browsing art galleries along Canyon Road, relaxing with a Pueblo mud bath at a day spa, gliding down precipitous slopes in the neighboring Sangre de Cristo mountains. Best of all, the often chaotic crowds have thinned by the time of northern New Mexico's first frost, making this month an ideal time for a Santa Fe sojourn.
INNS AND HOTELS Although winter is Santa Fe's low season, accommodations can go quickly—and command higher rates—the two weeks before Christmas. The Inn of the Anasazi (113 Washington Ave.; 800/688-8100 or 505/988-3030; www.innoftheanasazi.com; doubles from $199) puts a luxurious face on traditional New Mexican design. Rooms mix antique handwoven indigenous rugs and traditional wood-beam ceilings with such thoughtful touches as humidifiers (a boon in bone-dry Santa Fe).
A dapper three-story building in the Pueblo style, Hotel Santa Fe (1501 Paseo de Peralta; 800/825-9876 or 505/982-1200; www.hotelsantafe.com; doubles from $99) is in the funky Guadalupe District, a 10-minute stroll southwest of the historic Plaza, which anchors downtown. Rooms in the posh new Hacienda wing come with corner fireplaces and the discreet service of London-trained butlers. The Picuris Pueblo Indians own the hotel and an adjacent shop, a great source for authentic Native American crafts.
Bohemian poet Witter Bynner once owned the rambling 19th-century Spanish—Pueblo Revival house that today contains the 10-room Inn of the Turquoise Bear (342 E. Buena Vista St.; 800/396-4104 or 505/983-0798; www.turquoisebear.com; doubles from $99). You can book the very rooms in which Bynner put up Ansel Adams and Rita Hayworth.
Santa Fe's top lodging secret, the Don Gaspar Inn (623 Don Gaspar Ave.; 888/986-8664 or 505/986-8664; www.dongaspar.com; doubles from $115), is in the up-and-coming South Capitol district, which fringes the southern edge of downtown. Nine rooms and a two-bedroom cottage occupy three adjoining historic structures, each representing a local architectural style: Arts and Crafts, Pueblo Revival, and Territorial. Hand-carved furnishings, Navajo rugs, and limestone-tile whirlpool baths complete the sunny rooms.