Plaza and Vicinity. More than four centuries after it was laid out, the Taos Plaza and adjacent streets remain the community's hub of commercial and social activity. Dozens of independent shops and galleries, along with several notable restaurants, hotels, and museums, thrive here. The plaza itself is a bit overrun with mediocre souvenir shops, but you only need to walk a block in any direction—especially north and east—to find better offerings.
South Side. The first Spanish settlers were agrarian, and many families continue to till the fertile land south of Taos, an area anchored by tiny Ranchos de Taos, which is home to iconic San Francisco de Asís Church, memorialized by Georgia O'Keeffe and photographer Ansel Adams. The main approach road into Taos from the south, NM 68, is lined with gas stations, convenience stores, and chain motels.
Taos Pueblo. The Pueblo is the ancient beating heart of the entire valley, the historic and architectural basis for everything that Taos has become. A small, unmemorable casino aside, this area a short drive northeast of the plaza has been spared commercial development and remains a neighborhood of modest homes and farms. The Pueblo itself is the sole draw for visitors and worth a visit.
El Prado. As you drive north from Taos toward Arroyo Seco and points north or west, you'll first take the main thoroughfare, Paseo del Pueblo Norte (U.S. 64) through the small village of El Prado, a mostly agrarian area that's notable for having several of the area's best restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, and shops.
West Side. Taos is hemmed in by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the east, but to the west, extending from downtown clear across the precipitously deep Rio Grande Gorge (and the famous bridge that crosses it), the landscape is dominated by sweeping, high-desert scrub and wide-open spaces. The west side is mostly residential and makes for a scenic shortcut around the sometimes traffic-clogged plaza (from Ranchos de Taos, just follow NM 240 to Blueberry Hill Road to complete this bypass).
Arroyo Seco. Set on a high mesa north of Taos, this funky, hip village and arts center is an ideal spot to browse galleries, grab a meal at one of a handful of excellent restaurants, or simply pause to admire the dramatic views before driving on to the Enchanted Circle or Taos Ski Valley.