Note: This blog was written by author Sarah Osman for Matador Network in paid partnership with TOURISM Santa Fe.
Santa Fe has always lived up to its nickname, “The City Different.” The nation’s oldest capital is filled with history, art, museums, and some of the best food in the country. At the same time, it’s an outdoor adventure hub, sitting at 7,000 feet in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
You’ll probably feel a little dizzy when you get here, and not just because of the elevation. There’s a million things to do, and you only have so much time. Well, we’ve done the hard work for you and broken out four very different Santa Fe itineraries — all you have to do is choose your favorite and strike out into town.
Itinerary #1: Foodie odyssey
Photo: Tourism Santa Fe
If you’re always seeking out the latest restaurants or live for fusion cuisine, then consider your scrolling adventure over. Santa Fe is known for its delicious bites, in every corner of the city, sunrise to sunset.
Speaking of sunrise…the most important meal of the day is breakfast, so start bright and early at The Pantry. A 10-minute drive from Santa Fe Plaza, this is when and where you start living your best life. The breakfast burritos are legendary, and this is a good spot to learn the difference between red and green chile (though know that both, aka “Christmas,” is always a valid option).
Venture to the city’s outskirts and hit up Horseman’s Haven. Sitting next door to a gas station, yes, the exterior does look a bit questionable. But that’s part of the mystique. Step inside and you’ll find a fun cowboy motif and some of the best green chile cheeseburgers in town. If you live for spice, be brave and try the level two green chile. (“Level two” must be short for level 2,000 — it’s not for the faint of heart.)
It has to be Tomasita’s, a Santa Fe staple that knocks traditional New Mexican cuisine out of the park. A bit fancier than the two stops above, Tomasita’s is known for (among many other things) their margaritas and is a popular stop on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail. After dinner, stay on theme and head over to Del Charro for the aptly named Santa Fe Trail Margarita. Two down, 43 more awesome margs to go!
If you ever start to tire of New Mexican food, bookmark Harry’s Roadhouse. Like Horseman’s Haven, it’s a bit of a jaunt, but the drive is worth it. Harry’s is known for their buffalo burger, but the pizza, catfish, ribs, and vegetarian “Buddha Bowl” don’t disappoint, either.
Of course, planning your own food tour can be overwhelming — especially in a city like Santa Fe. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, know that you can simply join someone else’s. Check out Food Tour New Mexico or Wander New Mexico and taste the best of Santa Fe by district: the Plaza, Canyon Road, the Railyard, or downtown (for epic street eats). Expect to spend anywhere from two to five hours indulging.
Itinerary #2: Arts & culture adventure
Photo: Tourism Santa Fe
Santa Fe is one of the largest art markets in the country, which should tell you something about the abundance of art in the city. Galleries and museums dominate the map, and art markets routinely crowd the streets, especially in summer. Where do you even begin? Follow the itinerary below to see the best of the best.
To put your artsy adventure on the right footing, begin with Meow Wolf. Born in 2008 as an art collective, this is one giant interactive art experience. Its first permanent exhibit, the House of Eternal Return, is a multilevel mystery house complete with secret passages and portals to other worlds. Meow Wolf has become so popular that it’s now expanding into other cities, but it’s best to experience it where it all began.
Once you’ve returned to this dimension, it’s time to take in the splendor of Santa Fe Plaza. The focal point of town, the Plaza itself is a work of art, while each of the buildings fronting it are picturesque examples of the adobe style — quite a few house art galleries, too.
Less than a block east of the Plaza is the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, the only museum of its kind in the country. And when you’re done there you should check out the nearby Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, a monumental cathedral that’s been featured in a handful of films and is some 135 years old.
The heart of Santa Fe’s art scene is situated along Canyon Road, an easy walk southeast of the cathedral. The narrow, winding street is home to over 100 different art galleries, mostly situated right next door to each other. Wander in and out of those with works that interest you, be they traditional Western art, abstract contemporary, or anything in between.
Tip: If trying to visit 100+ art galleries sounds overwhelming, seek out the Santa Fe Art Tour, where a guide will take you on a curated, best-of tour of Canyon Road.
With four museums and the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, Museum Hill should comprise an entire day’s itinerary (or more). Between the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, there are hundreds of thousands of artifacts to connect you to the city’s Indigenous history. The museums usually open around 10am — get there early to make a day of it.
Tip: The free Santa Fe Pickup Shuttle runs from the Plaza to Museum Hill (and back), giving you extra change to spend in the Museum Hill Cafe — there are great views from the patio.
If you happen to be in Santa Fe around Labor Day, you must go to the Burning of Zozobra. Started in the 1920s, the popular city event celebrates the burning of a 50-foot-tall groaning puppet (Zozobra) and the kicking off of the Fiestas de Santa Fe. The entire town gathers to watch the burning of Old Man Gloom, and perhaps no single itinerary item is more uniquely Santa Fe.
Itinerary #3: Shopping spree
Photo: Tourism Santa Fe
Just as Santa Fe has all manner of foods to sample and art to experience, the city offers tons of options for those looking for the perfect souvenir. You won’t need much help to find the turquoise piece or cowboy belt buckle of your dreams, but those aren’t the only keepsakes available. Like many attractions in Santa Fe, most shops are located downtown and around the Plaza, but you’ll also be rewarded for venturing further afield.
No matter where you go or what you do, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to purchase some stunning Santa Fe jewelry. Malouf on the Plaza works with local and Native American artists — by shopping here, you’re supporting the local economy and getting some cool (read: 100% legit) pieces in the process. The store also sells weavings and clothing.
And then there’s the ineffable Shiprock. It’s perhaps the best Native American gallery in the nation, and good luck not wanting to touch everything. The jewelry, of course, is exquisite — but you’ll likely also be wowed by the earthen pottery, basketry, and the intricately designed Navajo rugs and blankets.
Chocolate lovers should beeline it to Art of Chocolate/Cacao Santa Fe, where the two owners source their cocoa beans from Hawaii and Latin America, creating some unusual chocolate flavors. The store also offers factory tours and workshops on how the chocolate is made.
If you fancy yourself a chef, visit the Santa Fe Olive Oil & Balsamic Co. Right in downtown, this small shop is home to a smorgasbord of olive oils and balsamic vinegars (including “New Mexican specialties”). There’s a tasting room, too, where you’re invited to go nuts.
Chef-status or not, everyone should scope out the Santa Fe Farmers Market, if for nothing else but the scent of fresh-roasted chile, piñon, and breakfast burritos. It’s been running since 1968, and you’ll find it on Saturday mornings — all year long — in the Railyard.
For the kids
If you’re shopping for little ones (or, hey, if you’re an adult with a kid-like spirit!), make a stop at Doodlet’s. Also located downtown, Doodlet’s is home to stuffed animals, dinosaur toys, greeting cards, folk art, and Christmas ornaments. This is a fun one for just wandering around (though we bet you’ll probably cave to something).
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what type of shop Jackalope is. Some may interpret it as a nursery, others as a pottery store, and others may see it as an ode to its namesake (jackalopes are mythical rabbits with antlers). The easiest category to put Jackalope under is “homeware,” as the store sells an eclectic mix of rugs, vibrant pottery, furniture, New Mexican culinary ingredients, and oddball gifts. Even if you don’t plan to buy a thing, Jackalope is another fun store to wander aimlessly around and get a good chuckle out of.
Itinerary #4: Outdoor rush
Photo: Tourism Santa Fe
Thanks to 300 days of sunshine as well as four distinct seasons, Santa Fe is an outdoorsy city any time of year. Exactly what to explore, though, depends on when you visit. Here are some recommendations.
Contrary to popular belief, Santa Fe does get snow — and quite a lot of it. Located just a half hour from the center of town is Ski Santa Fe, where you can ski, snowboard, or safely watch your friends from the warmth of the lodge. Expect a fair amount of powder during a season that typically lasts from December to mid-March.
When the weather warms up in the spring, Puye Cliff Dwellings is a fascinating place for a hike. You’ll need two things for this adventure: a car to get there and a guided tour to explore the site — self-guided options are very limited in order to protect the area’s landscape and culture. You’ll see a mix of cliff and cave dwellings as well as early Pueblo architecture. (Note: You can visit in winter; it’ll just be chillier than in the spring or summer!)
There’s quite a bit of hiking that’s closer to Santa Fe, too. Santa Fe National Forest starts roughly 20 minutes outside of downtown and is great for hiking, camping, and, in some areas, fishing. It’s worth a trek any time of year, but the absolute best time to visit is in the fall when the aspens change color and the forest turns to a blend of vibrant yellows, reds, and oranges. On the outskirts of the forest (in the Espanola Ranger District), you’ll find the Dale Ball Trails, which are superb for hiking, running, and biking. These are a bit closer to the city and can be accessed year-round.
In Santa Fe proper, there are two extensive parks: Railyard Park and Cross of the Martyrs Park. The Santa Fe Railyard and Railyard Park sit right in town and are home to contemporary art, restaurants, shops, and markets (many events take place here as well). Cross of the Martyrs, meanwhile, overlooks the entire city from its vantage point just northeast of the Plaza. It’s roughly a 20-minute hike to the top (involving a lot of steps), but your effort is rewarded with an awesome spot to watch the sunset or escape the bustle of the city.
If you need a chance to catch your breath amid all these outdoor adventures, it’s easy to slow down at Santa Fe’s top-tier spas. Sunrise Springs Spa Resort is just one local hot spot that’s mastered the art of tranquility. It’s set in 70 acres of wetland — ciénega in Spanish — and these natural springs fill the repose pools. (You can even drink the fresh spring water straight from the tap.)
An outdoor soak could be all you need to feel rejuvenated, though the resort also offers a sweat lodge, multiple trails, and even snuggles with kittens. Whatever you decide to experience, you’ll be somewhere inspired in The City Different.