On the foothills of Sangre de Cristo, filled with Pueblo-style architecture, is the capital of New Mexico. Santa Fe, a hub of art and Spanish history. Characterized by its windswept homes and winding streets.
When it comes to choosing what to do in Santa Fe, there is no shortage of options. This old town is well known for its history and heritage, what with it being the second oldest city in the States.
However, there’s more to do here than seeing museums and old buildings. Although it looks like an old western town, Santa Fe will surprise you with its blend of historic and modern culture, and it has one of the largest amounts of art galleries per capita of any city in the US.
So, pack your hiking boots, dust off your art knowledge, and prepare yourself for some unmissable things to do in Santa Fe!
Top Things to Do in Santa Fe
Looking for those unforgettable things to do in Springfield (Missouri)? Here are some of the cities must-see landmarks and attractions for every traveler to enjoy.
Canyon Road is the first and foremost hub of all things art-related in the city. As many locals will tell you, there’s just never enough time to fully take in all 80 art galleries found here.
As we’ve already mentioned, Santa Fe is known to some as the art hub of the United States, and Canyon Road is the art hub of the city. With so much variety and passion on offer, your time spent exploring will never feel dull nor wasted.
If you’re artistically inclined, you’re going to struggle to not spend your entire day here!
Speaking of art, you can’t come to Santa Fe and not learn about its most famous artist. Chances are, Georgia O’Keeffe has come up at some point in your life.
O’Keeffe pioneered and popularized American modern art. She spent her life dedicated to refining and promoting her style. She hoped to inspire others to pursue their dreams and make their goals a reality.
As a local, she has a museum commemorated to her legacy. At the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, you’ll not only learn about her but also get to see many of the pieces that made her famous.
Pecos Pueblo is an ancient ruin found just outside Santa Fe, built well before any western settlers had arrived in the area. Home to the Ancient Pueblo people, this site is over a millennia-old.
Spanish Mission Church can be found here, which tells the story of the Spanish settlers and their impact on the locals. There’s also war scars around the area after a fierce Civil War battle was fought between the Union and the Confederacy.
The 1.25 mile walk around the entire ruins makes for easy-going, perfect for an entertaining and information-filled day out with the family.
Dominating the downtown area of the city, Loretto Chapel is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Where once it was a fully functioning Catholic Cathedral, today stands a museum and wedding chapel.
Although the building itself is unique to look at, it’s the helix-shaped spiral staircase that’s the real attraction. Handcrafted by a mysterious carpenter, these stairs are known as the “Miraculous Stair”, due to the locals attributing its construction to miraculous circumstances.
Standing testament to Santa Fe’s Spanish roots, this magnificent structure encompasses a lot of the city’s heritage. It’s undoubtedly one of the more popular things to do in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe’s architecture is very unique to the United States. There aren’t many places you’ll visit in the US that can boast the Adobe and Mission Revival-style buildings found here.
Due to its Native American, Spanish and Northern Mexican influences, you’ll get the chance to experience Santa Fe’s heritage through its structures.
This also means you’ll get to walk the city and see more of what it has to offer from a local’s perspective. Seeing the city from the ground up should be on the top of your list of Santa Fe things to do.
El Rancho de Las Golondrinas, more commonly known as the Ranch of Swallows, is but a short twenty-minute drive away, on the outskirts of the city.
This heritage site is dedicated to the culture and history of New Mexico’s 18th and 19th centuries. Although on the surface it may come across as just another museum/historical location, the Ranch of the Swallows is still a fully active and inclusive ranch.
The locals dress up as they did way back then, wanting to make you feel as though you’ve had an authentic 1800s experience. The 200-acre ranch is filled with things for the whole family to get involved with.
Unusual Things to Do in Santa Fe
When it comes to unique things to do in Santa Fe, you’ll never be in short supply. Here are a few that we think are noteworthy.
Santa Fe is notorious for its arts and culture. On any list of the most well-known cultural things to do, food tasting is always near the top. Here, the locals are proud of their interesting meals and are desperate for you to taste their cuisines.
There are many opportunities available for you to try local delicacies, and at the city’s famous plaza you’ll find more variants of food than you could ever try.
With fine dining experiences on the cards, as well as local Mexican cuisines and Santa Fe wine, getting the most out of the local eating experiences won’t be hard!
You can expect that in this part of the world, culture and heritage play a huge part in everyday life, and the Ancient Pueblo people are one of this area’s most influential cultures.
At the Museum of Indian Art and Culture, archaeological exhibits and cultural pieces make for awesome visual aids. They’ll assist you when you hear the stories of the Pueblo people’s lives and legacies.
There are over 75,000 artifacts at the museum, with the majority of them on display for your viewing. If Native American heritage interests you, there are a few places other than the Museum of Indian Art better suited to you.
Another one of the premier artistic to do in Santa Fe would definitely be taking part in one of its private art classes. Often hosted by an experienced local, you’ll get to dabble in the various techniques made popular by the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe.
Oils, pastels, wood, paper, and canvas come alive under your hands as you’re guided into making a work of art!
This area is known as one of America’s greatest art havens, and being able to tap into that and experience it is an unmissable experience. Like having pizza in Naples, you must paint in Santa Fe.
Safety in Santa Fe
The city is well known for its rich culture and outdoor activities, however, there are a few things for you to be wary of. Minor incidents of pick-pocketing and burglary have taken place. These are thankfully restricted to the more popular areas such as Canyon Road.
So long as you maintain a sense of awareness of your surroundings, your trip will remain blissfully uneventful. Read our tips for traveling safely before you fly and always get travel insurance. Check out our roundup of the best travel insurance.
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you - pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it's perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.
Things to do in Santa Fe at Night
The local area has an amazingly vibrant nightlife, filled with events and activities. Below you can find a few of the very best.
This is one of those times when the unique name given to an activity, matches its quirkiness. As an art gallery, Meow Wolf has, since 2008, been entrancing its visitors with its amazingly scattered lights and eccentric artwork.
In Santa Fe, the building hosting the Meow Wolf Art Complex is now known as the “House of Eternal Return”. An appropriate name for the psychedelic institute.
The focus of the owners is to share the elaborate and immersive art pieces of the local creators and share their visions with the world. This is being achieved in a very non-conformist manner.
11. Dance the Evening Away to the Rhythm of the Night
It’s unsurprising that Santa Fe has a vibrant and incredibly diverse nightlife, with its artistic and cultural background. On any given evening you can dance into the early morning to blues music, country, Latin American, or bluegrass.
And, if any of these don’t take your fancy, there’s always the mainstream electronic scene for you to make use of.
If you’re looking for a local sound, then El Farol on Canyon Road or Second Street Brewery are your spots. If a more modern scene is what you’re after than Vanessie may have something for you.
12. Catch a show at the Art Center
Looking like it came straight out of Old Town Mexico, Lensic Performing Arts Center is a part of the furniture here in Santa Fe. Housing over 800 occupants, its seen the likes of Rita Hayworth, Ronald Reagan, and Judy Garland walk its stage.
Like many theaters across the US, the Lensic deteriorated over the 90s after decades of use. It was only in the 2000s that the theater was refurbished into a modern house for the performing arts.
Today, you can catch ballets, local productions, and musicals here. There’s not much that compares to a night out with your loved one, dressed up for the theater.
Where to Stay in Santa Fe
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Santa Fe.
Best Hostel in Downtown Santa Fe – Santa Fe International Hostel
The International Hostel is one of the few hostels in the local area. Not only has it operated for over 30 years, but it still maintains the traditional hostel values.
This means the hostel asks tenants to perform small daily jobs to help with the upkeep of the facilities. These values have helped foster a great community within its walls.View on HostelWorld
Best Airbnb in Downtown Santa Fe – Magical Cottage Near to Plaza
Located within a private compound, this cottage is great for those looking to enjoy a quiet space away from the hustle and bustle. The bedroom comes fitted with a queen-sized bed and incorporated lounge for convenience.
The kitchen comes fully stocked with all the cooking essentials and necessary appliances, with WiFi included. You couldn’t be closer to most of the local attractions!View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Downtown Santa Fe – Inn of Governors
The Inn of Governors boasts quaint and comfortable rooms with free WiFi, cable, and washing facilities. You’ll also find a full buffet breakfast on offer every morning along with a late afternoon tea.
Location is important, and you’ll find that the Inn is very close to nearby activities such as the O’Keeffe Museum and Historical Plaza!View on Booking.com
Romantic Things to Do in Santa Fe
The whole area is beautifully rich with culture and scenery. Any couple looking to escape, unwind and enjoy each others company whilst engaging in some fun activities will be spoilt for choice in Santa Fe.
After a day of the outdoors, walking the city streets, you’re going to want to settle down for the evening and enjoy a quiet moment, right?
One of the best spots in town for the stunning Santa Fe sunset would be at La Fonda Rooftop Bar.
For 400 years there has been a visitor’s lodging on this site, and the current hotel does a fine job of maintaining that legacy. From the fifth floor, you’ll be able to get the perfect panorama of the entire city, and a lasting image of the sunset.
14. Explore Santa Fe’s Historic Plaza
Since its creation in the 1600s, Santa Fe’s plaza has been the hub of trade and bartering. Geographically it’s the center of the town, but metaphorically it’s also the city’s soul.
If you’re in search of the city’s legacy, you won’t find a more apt representation than at the Historical Plaza. There’s always something going on here, whether it be dancing, live music performances, or the consistent selling of wares!
Explore the local vendors who specialize in the art of traditional Native American crafts. If ever there was a spot to get your loved one a gift or souvenir, it was here.
Do You Need Travel Insurance
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favorite travel insurance provider.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Best Free Things to Do in Santa Fe
The surrounding area is not only dominated by pricey attractions. There are many essential things to do in Santa Fe that won’t cost anything.
15. Go See the Great Outdoors
As you now know, Santa Fe has some amazing art and culture to share. However, its outdoor activities showcase another awesome aspect that it has to offer.
The New Mexico terrain can be dry and arid, just like in the Old West. But, it’s also beautiful and majestic, making for great walks. The air is crisp and clean, with nature’s splendor in abundance!
Santa Fe’s most well-known trail would be the Dale Ball Trail. It’s the most commonly used by both locals and tourists alike. However, be warned – due to Santa Fe’s height above sea level, air can be thinner than what you’re used to. So, take it easy!
16. Explore the Remains of the Ancient Railyard
From the Railyard Park to the Railyard itself, runs the city’s old, out-of-commission railway system. The yard is only one portion of the greater railway track, meaning there’s much more than meets the eye here!
The 13-acre Railyard Park is ideal for wandering. Try spending some time exploring what remains of the old railway system. Much of Santa Fe looks like today came from this railway!
Follow the line and you’ll find the iconic SITE Santa Fe, and the famous Rail Runner station amongst other things. If you’ve seen pictures of the city, then you’ve seen pictures of the famous railway tower.
17. Wander Through the Local Farmers Market
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the Railyard becomes busy with activity as the Farmers Market makes its weekly appearance. Santa Fe’s local community is proud of its heritage and the Farmers Market encompasses their passion fully!
You’ll find a strong variety of what New Mexico has to offer when it comes to its local produce. All the Mexican-inspired cuisines are here in their most authentic form!
The market is a hive of local interaction. With most residencies wanting to buy their food from here, you’ll get to experience an authentic local’s encounter unlike anywhere else in Santa Fe!
Santa Fe Packing List
1. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
2. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
3. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
4. Camera or Cell Phone Camera Accessories: One thing’s for sure – Santa Fe is a picturesque destination! Get perfect shots from your phone using clip-on-lenses with wide-angle, close-up and optical zoom. With the ability to turn travel pictures from basic to professional, this universal lens sits neatly over any phone camera and comes with a durable, travel-friendly case!
5. International Adapter: Santa Fe outlets accommodate typical US two-pronged plugs, but for electronics that have three prongs or if your plugs are of a different variety, you’ll need an adapter. Save yourself the hassle of trying to track down an adapter at your destination and paying twice as much than planning ahead by buying one online.
Books to Read in Santa Fe
These are some of the greatest American novels of all time. Be sure to grab a few them of them while backpacking in America.
The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
Sometimes a Great Notion – A tale of a hardheaded Oregonian logging family that goes on strike, leading the town to drama and tragedy. Written by PNW legend, Ken Kesey.
Walden – The transcendental masterpiece by Henry David Thoreau that helped modern Americans rediscover nature and her beauty.
To Have and To Have Not – A family man gets involved with the drug smuggling business in the Key West and ends up in a strange affair. Written by the great Ernest Hemingway.
Things to Do with Kids in Santa Fe
With such great and abounding outdoor activities, your kids can spend hours exploring and getting some awesome knowledge. Here are a few activities best suited for your children.
Every year, Randall’s receives thousands of people, adults and children alike, to teach them about the world of nature. While New Mexico’s landscape acts as the classroom.
The surrounding reserve has over 190 birds, diverse flora and fauna, and unique animals roaming its forests, all to be seen. The grounds are free to explore, but just make sure your kids remain supervised.
A stop at this center would not be complete without exploring the Randall Davey House. Filled with things to learn there’s a good chance your kids will want to be explorers like Lewis and Clark by the time they’re done!
The bug museum is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Santa Fe. However, you won’t find a larger selection of bugs and insects anywhere this side of the midwest.
With a collection of over 4,700 mounted insects and 150 live ones, you and your kids will get the opportunity to not only see them but interact with them too. This means touching, feeling and even holding live bugs!
With reptiles and amphibians also on show, you can be assured that your child won’t want to leave.
Other Things to Do in Santa Fe
There’s already so much to do here in Santa Fe! But, here’s a few more for you just in case you needed them.
20. Marvel at the Cathedral of St. Francis
Commonly known as Saint Francis Cathedral, the Cathedral Basilica is one of the more prominent sites in the city.
Here in Santa Fe, there’s a strong Spanish heritage and thus a strong Catholic heritage. Completed in 1869, the church was designed to be the center of the Old Town. Today, the CBD has moved further north, but the cathedral marks where it once stood.
Dedicated to the famous Italian saint, you can find beautiful architecture and designs throughout the grounds inspired by both local and Italian architects.
Santa Fe’s Botanical Gardens are one of the few places that perfectly show you the full extent of New Mexico’s biodiversity. With more than 50 acres of land to stroll through, you’ll be exposed to the fantastic sites and sounds of the area.
The garden is made up of a mixture of indigenous and non-native plants, as a means of showing just how fertile and rich soil is in this area.
Nothing is by chance, and what you see around you was designed to make you feel awe-inspired. The city places a strong emphasis on conservation and sustainability, and it really shows at its gardens!
Just outside the city, you’ll find the famous Ski Basin that so many tourists frequent. The resort offers some of the best skiing opportunities for you and your family.
The landscape is perfect for both beginners and experienced alike. In fact, some say it’s one of the best spots to learn how to ski in the US!
Although skiing season usually lasts from late fall through early spring, the Basin remains a perfect place to visit out of season. The hiking trail is just as beautiful without snow.
23. Walk to the Path of Martyrs
Finally, within the city limits is the Paseo de la Loma Hill in Fort Marcy Park. Here, you’ll find a 25-foot-tall concrete cross that overlooks the entire cityscape.
It’s a bit of a trek up the hill, but once you’re there you’ll appreciate the views. The monument was built to commemorate the 21 priests and many Spanish colonists who died during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680.
From here you’ll get to appreciate the giant vistas on the horizon that are the Jemez Mountain, as well as the large cottonwood trees that populate downtown Santa Fe.
Day Trips From Santa Fe
New Mexico boasts some amazing opportunities for you to make the most of outside of the city. Here are a couple of activities you may find interesting.
Ride the Rio Grande Racecourse
Does white water rafting excite you? Do you like the idea of spending your day speeding down the most popular river in New Mexico? As day trips from Santa Fe go, this is one of the most popular.
The Rio Grande is a very well-known river. Situated on the opposite side of Albuquerque, a trip to the river offers an opportunity for you to see the greater New Mexico landscape. You’ll get to see the famous Rio Grande Bridge as well as paddle under it.
With lessons provided on how to stay safe while rafting as well as paddling techniques, you can feel well-prepared for your travels down the Class I and Class III rapids.
Visit the Gem that is Jemez Spring
Jemez Spring is most commonly known for the mineral-rich waters found at its hot baths. Traditionally it has been taught for decades that the waters have healing properties. However, the town is characterized by more than just its namesake.
As a small town, Jemez is filled with both spiritual and recreational activities inspired by indigenous beliefs and traditions. It’s perfect for rejuvenation and restoration.
The town hosts many archeological sites dating back circa 2,500 B.C. There are remnants of ancients civilizations littered all over the town, making for an awesome exploration. Even Bigfoot was spotted here!
3 Day Itinerary in Santa Fe
Should you have the time, here is a 3-day itinerary perfect for experiencing as much of Santa Fe as possible.
Day 1 – Walk the History of Santa Fe
Your first day in the city will be focused on its history. Start your day by visiting the famous Historical Plaza and the Palace of the Governors. It’s the metaphorical “soul of the city” and is the perfect place to start your travels.
You can spend your whole morning getting to know the locals and buying their wares. This is where all the action is!
Nearby, West of the Plaza, you’ll find the New Mexico History Museum as well as Georgia O’Keeffe’s memorial. Both are integral to the city’s history and are musts for learning the city’s legacy.
Finally, for your late afternoon, catch the sunset at the Cross of the Martyrs, atop the Paseo de la Loma Hill. You’ll cap your day off with the beautiful sight of the Jemez Mountains and the entire cityscape.
Day 2 – Arts and Crafts
Your second day will be defined by Santa Fe’s artistic background. As one of the major art hubs in the US, there are more than enough artsy things to do here. For your morning, we’d suggest exploring the beautiful Botanical Gardens and frequenting the Museum of International Folk Art.
The gardens and museum are filled with stunning sculptures and captivating pieces of art. The perfect casual way to start your day.
From there, you can either walk or catch the M Bus from the museum. Either way, you can spend your afternoon exploring the famous Canyon Road. With over 80 art exhibitions to see, you won’t need anywhere else to go!
Canyon Street has food tours, art experiences, and an amazing vibe late into the night.
Day 3 – See the Outdoors
Prepare yourself in the morning for an excursion to the outskirts of the city. Local guides will take you to the famous Pecos National Park, a heritage site built to preserve the legacy of the Ancient Pueblos people.
You’ll not only learn about the indigenous people who have been here for over 1,000 years, but you’ll also learn about the Spanish settlers and their Christian mission. Spend your day walking the terrain and getting a sense of what it was like here before the land was developed.
If you want, you could organize to see Taos Pueblo, the private homeland of the current-day Pueblo people. Artists and residents have lived here for a millennium, holding to their traditional ways.
More Great Resources
There’s a reason why this city is one of the US’ most well-known, smaller metropolitan areas. With such a vast legacy of art, history, and natural splendor, its unsurprising that a visit to Santa Fe would come recommended by most.
Whether it be the fact that it has produced more artists than any other city, or that it prioritizes its Pueblo and Spanish roots, the Santa Fe attractions are rich with energy and local pride.
Prepare yourself for an eye-opening experience of which you’ve probably not been on the receiving end of before. This city is unique in itself, and that makes visiting all the more worthwhile.
Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.
Like this post? PIN ME!!!