Things to do in Santa Fe, NM

Get Your Bearings in Santa Fe

By Billie Frank
Santa Fe Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

Santa Fe is the nation’s oldest state capital, having been founded in 1610. Explore Santa Fe’s fascinating museums, including the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art. Here, you’ll learn about Santa Fe’s art colony which lead to Santa Fe’s position as the third largest art market in the United States. You can then explore the many art galleries and jewelry stores throughout town. The Santa Fe National Forest is a scenic drive north of Santa Fe into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and after a hard day of hiking, skiing or biking, relax at any one of Santa Fe’s acclaimed spas.

Caution:

Remember that you're at altitude in a dry climate; make sure to drink plenty of water and wear a hat if you're out.

Hot Tips:

The first Thursday of September of every year, Santa Fe burns a 50-foot-tall marionette called Zozobra, which is followed by the Fiesta de Santa Fe.

Where to Stay

Most visitors enjoy being close to the historic Plaza, the heart of Santa Fe that is surrounded by shops, galleries and restaurants. Many of the hotels near the Plaza area are historic and have excellent restaurants and lounges themselves. Be sure to check out the quieter bed and breakfasts off the side streets near the Plaza as well. Rates can get less expensive the farther you are from the Plaza, but you may need a car to get around, and parking can be difficult in this small city. Ask if the hotel provides a shuttle service to attractions.

Caution:

Hotels in Santa Fe book up quickly during Indian Market, which takes place every August, and during Spring Break when families visit Ski Santa Fe.

Avoid:

Historic hotels can be cozy but noisier; ask for a room away from the street if you're a light sleeper.

Hot Tips:

During ski season, some properties offer specials on lift tickets at Ski Santa Fe.

What to Eat

Santa Fe is known for its international menus, and also for its traditional New Mexican dishes. Whether you’re looking for a quick hand-held burrito or an extravagant fusion meal, Santa Fe doesn’t disappoint. Good restaurants are found throughout the city, but those along Canyon Road, the Plaza and the Railyard District will definitely serve a memorable meal. There are plenty of vegetarian and authentic ethnic restaurants here as well. Don’t be afraid to try the seafood in this high-desert city as the chefs here are picky about their ingredients and bring talent from all over the globe.

Caution:

Finer restaurants fill up fast during the summer, especially when there's an opera at the Sante Fe Opera House, which typically begins at dusk.

Hot Tips:

If your chile is too hot, a side of sour cream or glass of milk will take the burn off your tongue.

Be Sure to Sample:

New Mexico is known for its chile dishes, which come red, green or Christmas (mixed). Which one is hotter depends on the season; ask your server or order your chile on the side.

Places to Party

Santa Fe isn’t known for its crazy nightlife or throbbing dance floors, but there are plenty of lounges to enjoy a quiet margarita or clubs to lose yourself in live music. During the summer, live music is performed on the bandstand at the Plaza, and the Santa Fe Opera is world renowned for its productions. Many restaurants turn into watering holes after sundown, with music ranging from local alt-country to flamenco dancing.

Caution:

Remember that you're drinking at 6,000 feet above sea level, which can amplify the effects of alcohol for some.

Take It or Leave It:

Santa Fe is pretty laid back and accepting of all comers; you'll see cutoffs and boots standing next to sport coats, all having a good time.

Hot Tips:

The Santa Fe Plaza and Canyon Road make great romantic strolls at night.

Where to Shop

Santa Fe is known for its Native American Pueblo and Navajo Jewelry and pottery. Contemporary art is also big in Santa Fe, and Canyon Road and the Railyard District are known worldwide for their galleries. 'Santa Fe style,' the term coined for the fashion sense here, can be found in many of the clothing stores and hat shops near the Plaza. Purchase Native American jewelry and pottery straight from the artist under the portal at the Palace of the Governors along the north side of the Plaza. August’s Indian Market and other art festivals dot the calendar year-round for diverse shopping opportunities.

Caution:

Ask about the origin of the art or jewelry you are buying and make sure it's really Native American or New Mexico made.

Avoid:

Stores near the Plaza that advertise going-out-of-business sales with large printed signs; many have been "going out of business" for years.

Hot Tips:

Shops farther away from the Plaza can have better prices at times. Shop around before you buy.

Best Local Souvenir:

Turquoise jewelry is the quintessential New Mexico souvenir. Ask about the quality of the turquoise, and make sure the silver is stamped with an artist's mark to know it's local.

Things to do in Santa Fe