Welcome to “The City Different.” If you’re looking for the best things to do in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I have you covered. After spending four days in this iconic Southwest city, all I can say is, book the trip.
I had little idea of what to expect on my visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in partnership with TOURISM Santa Fe and Steller. The itinerary was four days, exploring the ins and outs of what I knew to be a top destination — Conde Nast Traveler readers just named it the #2 best small city in the U.S.
What I found during my four days was just how vibrant the city of Santa Fe is. From its arts, food, design, museums, and rich history, Santa Fe lived up to its name as “The City Different.” And it truly is. From sitting at 7199 elevation (you may feel a bit winded walking around) to a bustling art scene as a UNESCO Creative City, you have it all.
I love that in one breath you can be walking through exquisite art studios along the famed Canyon Road and in another, out of breath hiking the trails of Santa Fe National Forest just seven miles out of downtown. It’s a spectacular blend of everything you could want on a trip. (And let me make a case for what is an epic girls’ getaway destination.)
If you’re looking to visit Santa Fe, this guide to the best things to do on a visit will help you plan your stay. There’s no shortage of things to do in The City Different. The question is: which will you do first?
Planning a Trip to Santa Fe? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels in Santa Fe:
- Four Seasons Rancho Encantado, for the best luxury hotel
- Hotel Santa Fe, for the best quintessential Santa Fe hotel
The 23 Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Nestled amidst the pinon woodland landscapes of Santa Fe, the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado is a retreat that seamlessly blends luxury with the American Southwest. The resort’s adobe-style architecture sits perfectly in the natural surroundings, offering an immersive Southwestern experience.
Getting to spend two nights out at this resort was a wonderful start to my time in Santa Fe. It felt like a retreat in itself, being just 15 minutes outside of downtown. The grounds are stunning, almost like a living art gallery, where sculptures and art are intertwined into the design.
The casitas and suites are spacious and have wood-burning fireplaces, and Le Labo amenities in the bathroom. It’s a wonderful resort to book while visiting Santa Fe. Book the best rates here.
2. Grab Breakfast at Dolina Café
Such a delicious spot just outside of the downtown, Dolina Café is an Eastern-European-inspired cafe. The pastry case is hard to pass by but trust me when I say to sit down for brunch. The menu has many creative dishes on it, some traditional, and some with Slovakian roots. I loved my cinnamon French toast that is housemade daily. Their lunch menu with more savory dishes looked incredible, too.
3. Sip Bubbles at Gruet Winery
A descendant of Gilbert Gruet’s Champagne house in Bethon, France, Gruet Winery here in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a must-stop for bubble lovers. I came into the tasting room for a quick glass, and my friend did a tasting. Such a lovely space and fun to get to taste this New Mexico-made sparkling wine.
4. Visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a captivating tribute to the iconic American artist known for her vibrant and larger-than-life paintings of flowers, landscapes, and abstract forms. It houses an extensive collection of O’Keeffe’s works, providing visitors with a profound insight into her groundbreaking contributions to modern art. I highly recommend booking a reservation in advance as they only allow a certain number of guests daily.
5. Experience the Santa Fe Farmers Market
The Santa Fe Farmers Market was such a highlight of my time exploring Santa Fe! The big Saturday market set in the Santa Fe Railyard is packed with local vendors selling local produce, handmade goods, honey, and more. It’s one of the best markets I’ve been to in the country — I came home with several locally grown spices, dried beans, and more.
Another part of the market to enjoy is the “artisanal” where local artisans sell their art and jewelry. If you’re looking for a cup of coffee to fuel up while at the market, check out Sky Coffee. I’d recommend an early start as the market does get packed, and most vendors are cash-only.
6. Explore the Shops on Lena Street
This was my favorite part of Santa Fe as Lena Street is a young, hip area full of artist studios, small coffee shops, and restaurants. Park in one spot and just make your way down through several spots. My favorite finds were Living Threads for home goods and Whiskey & Clay for ceramics. We had lunch at Ozu, a Japanese eatery that makes onigiri and other Japanese food. For pastries and coffee, stop into the Bread Shop!
7. Dine at the Elevated Terra Restaurant
Set at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, Terra Restaurant boasts incredible views over the landscape. It’s an elevated dining experience, with a focus on flavors of Northern New Mexico. Some of my favorite dishes were the octopus tostada and the hamachi ceviche with a kick.
8. Visit the New Mexico Museum of Art Vladem Contemporary
One of my favorite museums as the setting is stunning, the New Mexico Museum of Art Vladem Contemporary is the newest in town. It’s a must-see if you only pick one! Inside, an array of art from modern to contemporary, and the building itself is worth touring as well. No reservation is required for this one!
9. Hit the Galleries on Canyon Road
If you’re looking for art in Santa Fe, go no further. Canyon Road in Santa Fe is a renowned art district boasting approximately 100 galleries that showcase an impressive array of artworks. Strolling along this picturesque street, you can pass by dozens of galleries along the way. I’d recommend spending at least 2-3 hours here if possible.
Another recommendation for this area, if you’re looking for a bite to eat, is Joe’s Tequila Bar at Inn on the Alameda. And just up the street, Folklore and La Boheme are some of my favorite local stores in this part of Santa Fe.
10. Try Seasonal Cuisine at The Compound
For an upscale lunch, book a table at The Compound. This French meets New Mexico cuisine is an elevated dining experience in Santa Fe. This was my favorite for more refined dining, and their seasonal dishes were amazing, like the poached pear with blue cheese on toast.
11. Mix Clay and Cocktails at Tumbleroot Pottery Pub
If you’re looking to do something interactive but without a set time, come to Tumbleroot Pottery Pub. It’s a clay studio meets cocktail lounge where you can pay for a pail of clay. You can order drinks made with their own in-house spirits, and sculpt your clay pieces. In the pub itself, there are dozens of stunning ceramics made by local artists for sale.
12. Catch A Show at El Flamenco Cabaret
I had a friend tell me once that when in Santa Fe, you have to catch a flamenco show. Book yourself a table to see a show at El Flamenco Cabaret. It was so captivating to see the talented show that runs over 100 times a year with talented artists from Spain.
13. See the Sunset From the Cross of the Martyrs
Budget about 30 minutes or so to visit Cross of the Martyrs, it’s just outside of downtown (like 5 minutes!). But well worth driving to the very top as you get unparalleled views over Santa Fe. I came up for a quick look and loved getting such a wonderful perspective of Santa Fe.
14. Stay in the only Native-American-Owned Hotel, Hotel Santa Fe
Set just outside of the downtown, Hotel Santa Fe is a quintessential stay in Santa Fe. It has been open for 25+ years and celebrates the spirit of the Pueblo people. The hotel also has a spa and restaurant onsite, worth checking out if you have the time. One of the best parts of staying here is the complimentary, on-demand shuttle service that will take you downtown. Parking can be challenging at times, so this was super helpful to take advantage of! Book the best rates here.
15. Take a Georgia O’Keeffe-Inspired Cooking Class Demonstration
The Santa Fe School of Cooking offers a dedicated cooking class inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe. I don’t want to spoil the menu or the experience too much, but it was so interesting to learn more about the artist’s life through food. The experience is a 2-hour demonstration, lots of information on her gardening and preserving, followed by lunch.
16. Enjoy Creative New Mexican Cooking at The Shed
The Shed restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a popular spot known for serving up classic New Mexican dishes. I loved sitting in the inside courtyard, which had a lovely atmosphere. The food here is known to have a bit of that Santa Fe chile kick, so keep this in mind when ordering. I ordered the tamale appetizer, added chicken, and did the green chile sauce — so, so good. This place gets absolutely packed, so I’d recommend making a reservation far in advance.
17. Explore and Shop Near the Santa Fe Plaza
The Santa Fe Plaza is the heart of the city with its historic charm. While there, be sure to explore the iconic Palace of the Governors, a centuries-old adobe structure that served as both the New Mexico capitol and the governor’s residence during the Spanish Colonial era.
Near the Santa Fe Plaza, there are many boutiques and galleries to peruse. For high-end fashion, Santa Fe Dry Goods is a must. Just next door, don’t miss Shiprock Santa Fe, one of the most impressive Native American jewelry and home goods stores. Up the street, The Rainbow Man is a great art gallery collection with local pottery and goods too. My other favorite two stores were Ex Voto for fine jewelry and Los Poblanos Farm Shop Norte for a curated home goods boutique.
18. Enjoy a Spa Day at Four Seasons Santa Fe’s Spa
On my last morning at the Four Seasons Santa Fe, I booked in for a spa experience set in one of their luxurious suites at the spa. It had its very own hot tub and steam room, with a fireplace inside the treatment room. I tried their chardonnay body scrub followed by a nourishing lotion (everything on the spa menu looked lovely!).
19. Spot Fall Foliage along the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway
If you want to get out into nature, take the drive up the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway. You could put in your maps the Aspen Vista Picnic Ground and Trailhead as your destination, but all along the way is truly wonderful. Come October, the fall foliage here is spectacular as there are so many aspens. Along the way, you’ll find many places to stop and hike as well.
20. Hike the Aspen Vista Trail
One of the most iconic trails to hike in the fall for foliage is the Aspen Vista Trail. The trail itself is rather flat, so it’s easy to do with all ages but keep in mind it starts at 10,000 feet elevation. If you want, you can park, walk to the aspens, and turn back to the parking lot.
21. Get a Coffee at CrashMurderBusiness
For a fun stop in Santa Fe near the railyard, CrashMurderBusiness specializes in craft coffee and elixirs. Their menu is hyper-creative and each drink is really beautiful. I tried their maple-infused “unicorn” drink and the bright glitter on top was so fun!
22. See the Historic Churches of Santa Fe
You’ll likely pass a few of these while strolling through downtown Santa Fe, so I’m highlighting my favorites. Some noteworthy churches you shouldn’t overlook include the San Miguel Chapel, often regarded as the oldest church in the continental United States, the Loretto Chapel, and the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. All of these are within earshot of each other as well.
23. Try Sipping Chocolate at Kakawa Chocolate House
This was one of those stops I am so glad we made! Kakawa Chocolate is renowned for its artisanal approach to crafting exquisite chocolate truffles and historic drinking chocolates. They have ancestral chocolate blends to modern takes, and each day it rotates for their seasonal drinks. I had the Marie Antoinette drink that had orange blossom and a bit of almond milk, and it was so good (worth a visit!).
What to Know About Visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Santa Fe?
Santa Fe, New Mexico is a year-round destination with each season having something on offer. In my opinion, the best time to visit Santa Fe is during the fall, from September to November, when the weather is pleasant. You can’t go wrong during the winter months either when the town is decorated with lights. Come late spring, it’s equally temperate in weather.
How Much Time Do I Need in Santa Fe?
A visit to Santa Fe can be enjoyed properly in about 3 to 4 days. This timeframe allows you to explore the city’s rich art and culture scene, try its diverse cuisine, and take a few day trips in the surrounding area, including nearby attractions like Taos and Bandelier National Monument.
Where To Fly Into to Visit Santa Fe?
The primary airport for visitors flying into Santa Fe is the Santa Fe Regional Airport (SAF), which offers convenient access to the city and is located just a short drive from the downtown area. Alternatively, you can also consider flying into Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), which is the largest airport in the region and offers a wider range of flight options. From Albuquerque, it’s about a 60-90 minute drive to reach Santa Fe.
Do I Need a Rental Car When Visiting Santa Fe?
While Santa Fe itself is a walkable city with a compact downtown area, having a rental car is beneficial for exploring the surrounding area. I picked up a car at Albuquerque Airport when I flew in. My preferred website for low-cost rentals is Discover Cars.
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1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
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Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: