Santa Fe, New Mexico's downtown skyline at dusk. Photo via Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, N.M.

BY Megan Bannister | September 18, 2022

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Santa Fe? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Santa Fe?”

Don’t sleep on Santa Fe. This is the oldest capital city in the United States, but it’s far from past its prime: It has some of the country’s best examples of pueblo-style architecture, breathtaking desert vistas and bundles of chile peppers everywhere you look. Hispanic, Anglo and Native American cultures have collided here in the Sangre de Cristo foothills for centuries, creating a community teeming with creativity and artistic expression. In fact, artists like the great Georgia O’Keeffe have spent years in the area capturing its beauty through their work. Here, you can visit a National Historic Site before relaxing on the patio of an award-winning brewery while making plans to wander an otherworldly art installation. You can indulge in traditional New Mexican cuisine while being surprised and delighted by modern, fusion foods made by James Beard Award-winning chefs. You can trek through sandstone canyons and along red-dirt paths in the shadows of historic cliff dwellings in pursuit of jaw-dropping views that give way to the mountains beyond. And you can connect with Indigenous artists working to expose new generations to their craft. Whether you’re an artistic spirit, an outdoor enthusiast or just someone in need of a restorative retreat, this guide will lead you to some of the best Santa Fe has to offer.

You’re Here for the Iconic New Mexico Art …

…and you’re definitely in the right place. Santa Fe has no shortage of artistic flair. Bask in the works of modern masters or enjoy a faster, funkier afternoon at a highly Instagrammable installation. 

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
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Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

217 Johnson St, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Spark your creativity with a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which celebrates the artist’s life and work. Get lost in the vibrant, abstract florals that made her famous and discover the colorful whimsy she used to capture the beauty of the Southwest. Opened 11 years after the artist’s death, the museum’s collection includes more than 3,000 works by O’Keeffe from oil paintings to drawings and more. 

If you want to visit, be sure to plan ahead. Art lovers come from near and far to see the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to an internationally known woman artist. Timed tickets are required for the museum, and this popular spot tends to sell out, especially during the high season. Tickets to the museum can be purchased up to 30 days in advance. Diehard O’Keeffe fans may also want to make the 52-mile drive to Abiquiú, N.M., to tour the artist’s historic home and studio. 

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Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Santa Fe, New Mexico - October 23, 2019: Popular Canyon Road in the downtown district is lined with art galleries and sculpture exhibits along the road. Photo via Shutterstock.

Canyon Road

Canyon Road, Santa Fe, NM, USA

No place is the city’s predilection for the arts more apparent than on Canyon Road. Home to more than 80 local galleries and designers, this half-mile stretch of Santa Fe is well-known as a mecca for art of all mediums. Even if you don’t have the budget to become a collector, a stroll along Canyon Road is the perfect way to get a sense of the city’s artistic spirit. 

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Meow Wolf in Santa Fe. Photo via Shutterstock.
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Meow Wolf in Santa Fe. Photo via Shutterstock.

Meow Wolf Santa Fe

1352 Rufina Circle, Santa Fe, NM, USA

While they’ve since expanded their installations to other cities across the country, the artist collective known as Meow Wolf got its start in Santa Fe. Opened in 2015, the House of Eternal Return features more than 70 winding rooms that harbor a science-fiction-esque secret. Step inside the refrigerator or peek behind clothes hanging in the closet to be transported into another dimension in what the collective calls “the original immersive art adventure.”

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Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe
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Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe

Museum of International Folk Art

706 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM, USA

There are lots of reasons to explore Santa Fe’s Museum Hill neighborhood, but you won’t want to miss the largest collection of folk art in the world. Founded in 1953, the Museum of International Folk Art now has a collection of more than 130,000 folk and traditional art pieces from around the world. 

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And Historic Chapels

It’s almost impossible to separate Santa Fe’s storied history from its early days as a Spanish mission. The Spainards left behind religious architecture around every corner that’s just waiting to be explored. 

Loretto Chapel
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Santa Fe: Helix-shaped spiral staircase of the famous Loretto Chapel on October 6, 2019 at Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Shutterstock.

Loretto Chapel

207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Experience an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” firsthand with a visit to the Loretto Chapel. Built in 1878, the Loretto Chapel is a beautiful example of a Gothic Revival-style chapel with one exception: No one can explain how its impressive helix-shaped spiral staircase was constructed. The 20-foot stairwell has no central support and does not appear to be held together using glue, nails or other hardware. The chapel is open daily and worth the few dollars’ admission to marvel at this feat of allegedly otherworldly engineering. 

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San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Shutterstock.
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San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Shutterstock.

San Miguel Chapel

401 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Built in 1610, the San Miguel Chapel is believed to be the oldest church in the country. Both the Tlaxcaltecasof Mexico and Spanish Franciscan monks play a prominent role in the mission’s history and creation. While part of the original building was destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, visitors and parishioners alike can still visit the historic chapel today.

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Stroll Through Santa Fe

This is a great place to explore on foot. Amble through the Santa Fe streets to get a real feel for the city’s vibe.  

Santa Fe Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Santa Fe, New Mexico - October 4, 2019: Santa Fe Plaza is a central square and tourist attraction. It is also known as the "Heart of Santa Fe"

Santa Fe Plaza

63 Lincoln Ave, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Established as a Spanish colony in 1610, Santa Fe’s colonial roots run deep. As with many Spanish-American cities, a main plaza was built in the city center. Today, the Santa Fe Plaza exists as a public greenspace and gathering place, and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. While it serves as a popular site for local festivals and events, wandering the shops and restaurants that line the plaza is a great way to get a taste of Santa Fe’s local culture. 

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Palace of Governors in Santa Fe Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Flags flying above the Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe Plaza, State Capital of New Mexico at sunset on a spring evening. Adobe structure and historical Spanish seat of government in the Southwest.

Palace of Governors

105 W Palace Ave, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Just off the Santa Fe Plaza, you’ll find the iconic Palace of Governors. This historic site dates back to 1610 and is considered to be the oldest public building in continuous use constructed by European settlers in the country. Today, the building is a part of the New Mexico History Museum campus. Along the portico facing the plaza, you’ll find Indigineous makers selling jewelry and other artisanal crafts, if you’re in the market for a souvenir. 

 

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Explore Desert Small Towns and Petroglyphs

There’s even more to explore just a short drive from Santa Fe. Learn about some of the area’s earliest inhabitants and delve deep into its mining history with these easy day trips. 

Bandelier National Monument in Santa Fe. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Bandelier National Monument in Santa Fe. Photo by Shutterstock.

Bandelier National Monument

15 Entrance Road, Los Alamos, NM, USA

If you have time for a day trip while you’re in Santa Fe, you won’t regret a drive north to Bandelier National Monument. Located among rugged canyons and picturesque mesas, this historic site protects manmade petroglyphs and cliff dwellings that date back more than 11,000 years. The more-than-33,000-acre park has a variety of hiking trails that provide ample opportunity to explore this unique piece of the area’s history. 

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Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway. Photo by Shutterstock.
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Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway. Photo by Shutterstock.

Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway

Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, NM, USA

Get off the interstate and opt for the winding back road of Highway 14 that connects Santa Fe to Albuquerque. Known as the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, this 50-mile stretch of road is as picturesque as it is adventure-packed. Stop in towns like Golden, Madrid and Cerrillos to experience a slice of the area’s mining past as well as the restaurants, boutiques and galleries that have shaped its future.  

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Sample the Famous Chiles

While there’s some debate whether the Spanish or the Pueblo American Indians introduced chile peppers to New Mexico, one thing is for sure: This varietal is a New Mexico staple that will pop up in all sorts of cuisine and culture. 

The Shed in Santa Fe
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The Shed in Santa Fe

The Shed

113 E Palace Ave, Santa Fe, NM, USA

The Shed is a Santa Fe institution. At this local favorite, you’ll find green chiles incorporated in a wide variety of dishes. From quesadillas to tamales to blue corn tortilla tacos, if it falls under the umbrella of Mexican-American food, The Shed probably puts chiles in it. If you are only going to order one chile-forward dish, make it the green chile stew. The stew is considered one of the best in the city and mixes zesty roast green chile peppers with potato and tender pork. 

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The Chile Shop in Santa Fe
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The Chile Shop in Santa Fe

The Chile Shop

109 E Water St, Santa Fe, NM, USA

If you’re in search of a chile-themed souvenir, The Chile Shop is the perfect place to pop in. Located just off the Santa Fe Plaza, this cozy shop is stuffed with products for the pepper obsessed from dried chile pods and powdered spices to cookbooks, holiday ornaments and more. 

 

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Try “Global Eclectic” Food

New Mexico may be known for its chiles, but there’s so much more to savor in Santa Fe.

Geronimo in Santa Fe
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Geronimo in Santa Fe

Geronimo

724 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, NM, USA

As one of Santa Fe’s most lauded fine-dining establishments, Geronimo serves up what Executive Chef Sllin Cruz calls a “global eclectic,” seasonally changing menu. On a recent menu, dishes included twists on popular favorites with a wasabi Caesar salad as well as homages to local flavors with dishes like the New Mexico Four Corners Grilled Rack of Lamb and the mesquite grilled Maine lobster tails served in a green chile sauce. The highly awarded restaurant is housed in a 1765 adobe home that helps marry Geronimos’ Southwest tradition with its innovative fusion fare. 

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Paper Dosa in Santa Fe
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Paper Dosa in Santa Fe

Paper Dosa

551 West Cordova Road, Santa Fe, NM, USA

After you’ve eaten your fill of New Mexico chiles, head to Paper Dosa to indulge in some incredible South Indian cuisine. Named for the paper-thin batter-based pancake that is traditional South Indian fare, this eatery is a bustling local favorite where you’ll often encounter a wait. Naturally, dosa is a popular menu item, but Paper Dosa’s uttapam and curry dishes are equally delicious. 

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And Eat Really Good Mexican Food

It would be a crime to spend time in Santa Fe and not sample some Mexican food. While there’s no shortage of options in the city, these award-winners are local favorites for a reason. 

Cafe Pasqual's in Santa Fe
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Cafe Pasqual's in Santa Fe

Cafe Pasqual's

121 Don Gaspar Ave, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Part art gallery and part eatery, Cafe Pasqual’s is an inviting spot that serves traditional Mexican fare alongside contemporary local art. Housed in a red adobe-style building with colorful papel picado hanging from the ceiling, this popular cafe dishes up fresh but hearty menu items like chile relleno con huevos and grilled nopales salad for three meals a day. If you’re looking to sample some famous New Mexico chiles, they’ve got those too. But it’s not just locals who rave about Cafe Pasqual’s. In 1999, this Santa Fe eatery received the James Beard Foundation’s coveted America’s Classics Award. 

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Sazón in Santa Fe
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Sazón in Santa Fe

Sazón

221 Shelby St, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Santa Fe’s Sazón is a self-described “adventure in flavors,” and its ardent fans agree. This favored spot offers a daily tasting menu but is also well-known for its sopa de amor, cholula and helado de mole poblano (mole poblano pepper ice cream). Though it seems the hype for this elevated Latin American restaurant may just be picking up, Head Chef Fernando Olea, originally from Mexico City, has been wowing Santa Fe foodies since the early ’90s. More recently, he caught the eye of the James Beard Foundation and was named the 2022 James Beard Award Best Chef of the Southwest. 

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Drink Mesoamerican Chocolate and Smoked Beer

Raise a glass to this unique Southwest destination. In Santa Fe, you can enjoy everything from traditional chocolate elixirs to craft brews and more. 

Kakawa Chocolate House
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Kakawa Chocolate House

Kakawa Chocolate House

1050 Paseo De Peralta, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Founded in 2007, Kakawa Chocolate House is an artisanal chocolate shop that excels at creating both historic and contemporary flavors. This specialty chocolatier has made it their mission to recreate both Mesoamerican and colonial recipes for the modern day through their sweets and popular non-alcoholic chocolate elixirs. For a zesty yet sippable pick, try Kakawa’s Chili Elixir, which is made with unsweetened chocolate, agave nectar, Ancho chile and vanilla for a sweet but slow burn. 

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La Reina
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La Reina

La Reina

1862 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Located at the El Rey Court, this Instagram-worthy watering hole attracts locals and hotel guests alike. La Reina is a mezcal-focused bar that offers a variety of rotating cocktails alongside wine, beer, and light snacks like marinated olives. Belly up to the bar or grab a seat under the lush arbor of the patio to sip your Ranch Water and truly drink in this Santa Fe gem. 

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Santa Fe Brewing Co. in Santa Fe
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Santa Fe Brewing Co. in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Brewing Co.

35 Fire Place, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Founded in 1988, Santa Fe Brewing Co. was the first craft brewery in the state. It has since grown to be the largest in New Mexico with numerous locations in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque. While the growth of this mini craft beer empire has made its brews easier to find, a visit to the Beer Hall at HQ is still worth your while. The brewery complex pairs expansive mountain views with ample indoor and outdoor seating and 27 beers on tap. 

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Chili Line Brewery
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Chili Line Brewery

Chili Line Brewery

204 N Guadalupe St, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Follow the scent of chile to this brewery. Specializing in smoked beers, Chili Line Brewery is a microbrewery that incorporates iconic New Mexico ingredients into their brews. We’re talking beers like the Como Pica, which uses Chimayo roasted green chile, and the Pinche Guey, which is brewed with local neomexicanus hops. 

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Sleep in a Historic Hotel

Celebrate why Santa Fe is unlike any other city — even when you’re catching some z’s. Stay in a Route 66 icon or take a load off in a historic spot that’s welcomed guests for more than a century.

El Rey Court
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El Rey Court

El Rey Court

1862 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM, USA

Originally built in 1936, El Rey Court is an iconic Route 66 motor court that has been transformed into a trendy retreat. When the hotel was renovated in 2018, the adobe architecture and Southwest style were updated to make this reto motel a modern getaway. Inside cozy guest rooms, stark white walls and exposed wood beams are paired with woven tapestries, midcentury furniture and the occasional decorative cow skull. With 86 rooms, ample communal outdoor space, a refreshing Swim Club and on-site bar, El Rey is your perfect Santa Fe oasis. 

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La Fonda on the Plaza
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La Fonda on the Plaza

La Fonda on the Plaza

100 E San Francisco St, Santa Fe, NM, USA

If you want to be at the center of it all, book a room at the historic La Fonda on the Plaza. Located directly off the Santa Fe Plaza, La Fonda is a living, breathing slice of Santa Fe history that once served as an iconic Harvey House, one of many depot-adjacent hotels built and run by the Fred Harvey Co. in the late 1800s. The hotel’s hand-painted furniture and original artwork beautifully complement its enduring Southwest style, making for a luxurious way to experience local history without even leaving the property. 

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