Best Things to Do in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Has It All: Art, History and Outdoor Adventure

People are drawn to Santa Fe’s enchanting mystique. The rich history, cultural heritage and art create a unique magic. There’s no other place like it. The city streets with their 400- year-old buildings transport visitors to another era. Explore a host of small museums and over 200 art galleries; The City Different is the third largest art market in the US. People have lived in this area for over a thousand years. Go back in time at one of the ancient cliff dwellings or attend the authentic Pueblo dances held throughout the year. Experience Spanish Colonial culture at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history village, or visit Chimayó, a mountain hamlet known for weaving, chile and miracles, with its mix of Colonial and contemporary. Discover the great outdoors: hike, raft, ski, snowshoe, camp or even go up, up and away in a colorful balloon. Summer is a great time for music buffs bringing the Santa Fe Opera, the New Mexico Jazz Festival and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. The free Santa Fe Bandstand concerts rock the historic Santa Fe Plaza all summer or check out the free outdoor jazz while picnicking at Music on the Hill.


Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

Want to visit a quaint art town? Madrid, NM (pronounced MADrid), an Ortiz Mountain mining hub turned ghost town, has morphed into a vibrant enclave of over 40 unique galleries and shops. Located on New Mexico Highway 14 (the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway), the colorful village is a popular tourist attraction. Bikers, some traveling iconic Route 66, detour to this tiny hamlet which was the setting for the 2007 John Travolta/Tim Allen comedy, Wild Hogs, about middle-aged, middle-class bikers on a zany ride west. The fa�ade for Maggie's Diner, run by Marisa Tomei, in the film remains intact. Behind it there's a shop selling motorcycle gear and memorabilia. Drop by the Madrid Old Coal Town Museum and the adjacent Mine Shaft Tavern, a popular local hangout. Browse the galleries and shops and stop for a cup of Joe at Java Junction. Then head on down the trail.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: It's a fun place to stop as you drive the historic Turquoise Trail with over 40 shops and galleries to explore.

Billie's expert tip: Stop at the Mine Shaft Tavern for a burger or brew and check out the wall murals by the late artist, Russ Ward. If you have time, go to Tinkertown, his quirky museum of miniatures further down the trail. It's open April through October.

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Pecos National Historical Park
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

Interested in history? Head for Pecos National Historical Park about a half-hour east of Santa Fe. The Cicuye Pueblo (named "Pecos" by the Spanish), lived here from 1,100 A.D. to the 1830s. It was an important trading site between the Pueblo people and Plains Indians. Stop at the Visitors Center to pick up a trail guide and watch the 12-minute film before embarking on the 1.2-mile loop trail that takes you through the remains of this once great pueblo. There are two reconstructed kivas to climb into and ruins of the Pecos Pueblo Mission Church. Walk the 2.3-mile Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass trail (a short drive away). Ask the ranger for directions and the gate code. On Sundays, you can tour Forked Lightening Ranch. Advance reservations are suggested as tours can fill up. There is an admission charge to the site.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Pecos National Historical Park offers a wealth of historic and archeological information and three distinct sites to explore.

Billie's expert tip: Before or after your Pecos adventure, eat a traditional northern New Mexico lunch at Frankie's at the Casanova in the village of Pecos. This old roadhouse is loaded with charm. Check out the kitschy 1940s murals on the walls.

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North of Town
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

Take the High Road Byway to the small mountain hamlet of Chimay�, first settled in the 1740s. The village is known for three things: its weaving technique handed down through generations, its chile (the official New Mexico State Vegetable) and its church, the Santuario de Chimay�. Visit the Sanctuario, built in 1813 because of a reported miracle on that spot. Scoop up some "healing" dirt while there. Check out the Santo Ni�o de Atocha chapel built by Severiano Medina in 1856. The chapel is filled with tiny shoe offerings to the child saint beloved for his healing miracles. Stop in at the shops and art galleries and see weavers in action at Ortega's, Trujillo's and Centinela Traditional Arts. Perhaps you'll find a treasure to take home. Eat lunch or dinner at Rancho de Chimay�, a popular dining spot since 1965. Reservations are recommended in season.

Billie's expert tip: Ever met a lowrider? Stop at Lowlow's Lowrider Gallery and meet lowrider artist Lowlow Medina, descended from the town's original Medina family. His unique low-rider inspired art is on display. If you're lucky, one of his restored vintage low-riding cars will be there.

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Puye Cliffs
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

The Puye Cliffs were the dwelling place of the ancestors of the present day Santa Clara Pueblo people from around 900 to 1,500 AD. There are two main tours. One goes up the cliff-face past the cave dwellings. The second tour explores the mesa at the top of the cliffs where you'll see their ancestral pueblo. You can also take a combined tour. You must be accompanied by one of the Santa Clara guides. They're knowledgable about the history and customs of their people. Be aware that some information isn't shared with outsiders and be respectful if an answer seems incomplete or none whatever is offered. They sometimes hold special events at the site including Pueblo dances and pottery making (Santa Clara is known for its black pottery). Always call ahead as they sometimes close for ceremonial and other reasons. There is an admission charge.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This site made the list as it offers a unique opportunity to see extensive cliff dwellings and the mesa-top pueblo remains with Native American guides.

Billie's expert tip: After your tour, head to the Santa Clara Pueblo, 10 miles farther down the road. Visit Saint Clare Church and the Plaza and stop by some the pottery studios – they'll have signs out if they're open. Camera permits are required; stop at the Tribal Administration Building to purchase one.

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Santa Fe Mountain
Ski Santa Fe
Photo courtesy of Ski Santa Fe

When people hear there's skiing in Santa Fe they're often shocked. Ski Santa Fe, opened as Santa Fe Ski Company in 1947, offers skiing for all levels of expertise. There are 77 trails served by seven lifts two double chairlifts, two triple chairs and one four-seater along with two conveyors for the beginner runs. They also offer snowboarding. Don't have your own equipment? Make your first the rental shop where they have everything you may need from skis and boots to polls and even snowboards. Need some food or a drink? Head for La Casa Food Court; it has a range of options. Sit and relax in their beautiful new dining area with seating for over 650 guests.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: People don't realize there's skiing in Santa Fe. Ski Santa Fe is a draw for skiers and snowboarders at all skill levels.

Billie's expert tip: Have kids in tow? Ski Santa Fe offers childcare for infants and kids up to 3 year olds. Their Snowplay program accomodates for 3and 4-year-olds. Children 3 to 11 can take skiimg or snowboardinglessons at the Chipmunk Corner.

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El Rancho de las Golondrinas
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history village southwest of Santa Fe, recreates life as it was lived in Spanish Colonial New Mexico. The property was originally a parejo (camping stop) on the historic El Camino Real, the long route between Mexico and Santa Fe. Buildings brought here from other sites include a schoolhouse, mills, a blacksmith's, and a recreated Morada (a Penitente meeting house). On weekends in season docents the place really comes alive with fairs and festivals and doecents wearing period dress recreating daily life as it was in 17th and 18th century Santa Fe. Observe spinning, weaving, bread baking in ornos (outdoor clay and mud ovens), tin and black smithing, grain milling and other period activities. Heirloom crops and heritage livestock are raised here. They're open Wednesday through Sunday from May through September. Hours are 10a.m. to 4p.m. There is an admission charge.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: El Rancho de las Golondrinas is the best place in Santa Fe to experience life as it during Spanish Colonial times.

Billie's expert tip: Shop for unusual souvenirs and gifts at the Museum Shop. It features a carefully curated selection of traditional Spanish Colonial art and crafts made by New Mexico artisans who are descendants of the people who settled the area.

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Bandelier National Monument
Photo courtesy of Joy C. Frank-Collins

Travel back in time at Bandelier National Monument where there are signs of humans dating back at least 10,000 years. The Tyuonyi Pueblo and cliff dwellings, ancestors to the current-day Cochiti Pueblo, were inhabited between about 1,400 and 1,500 AD. Other Pueblo peoples who have ancestral ties to the monument's over 33,000 acres are San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo and Zuni. Walk the Main Loop Trail past the remains of Tyuonyi and along the cliff dwellings. Ladders lead to some of the caves and you can even crawl inside. Kids and adults love it. Feel adventurous? Climb the three long wooden ladders to the Alcove House 140 feet above Frijoles Canyon. The park is open from dawn to dusk every day except Christmas and New Year's. Hours vary seasonally. In summer and fall, mandatory shuttles run from the White Rock Visitors Center from 9a.m. to 3p.m. There is an admission charge.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Bandelier offers visitors a glimpse into lives of the historic pueblo people who lived here hundreds of years ago

Billie's expert tip: Don't want to ride the shuttle? If you arrive at Bandelier National Monument before 9a.m. or after 3p.m. you can drive directly to the site. If you do take the shuttle, it runs from 9a.m. to 3p.m. The last shuttle returns from the White Rock Visitors Center at 5p.m.

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Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Photo courtesy of Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum owns the largest collection of the iconic artist's work in the world. Because it's a small museum, most items aren't on display, but there's always an interesting array. Special exhibitions which change two to four times a year focus on specific aspects of O'Keeffe's work. Sometimes her work is juxtaposed with another artist's and a few exhibitions have focused entirely on a specific artist, such as a 2013 show featuring photographer Annie Leibovitz. Before entering the galleries, view the two videos (one on her life and one on her houses). They're worth the twenty minutes they take. The museum also owns and operates the Georgia O'Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu an hour northwest of Santa Fe. The site, open seasonally, is very popular so if you want to visit, make reservations far in advance. There is an admission charge.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The name Georgia O'Keeffe, probably the best known woman artist in the world, is synonymous with Santa Fe.

Billie's expert tip: If you plan go to Abiquiu for the O'Keeffe Home and Studio Tour, also check out the O'Keeffe Landscape Tour at Ghost Ranch. You'll see places she painted while she lived there and get a glimpse of her home there. Advance reservations are recommended; it fills up.

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Museum Hill
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

Museum Hill, aka Camino Lejo, a short drive from the historic Santa Fe Plaza, is home to four museums and the Santa Fe Botanic Garden. As you turn off Old Santa Fe Trail you'll see the Journey's End Monument. A covered wagon pulled by mules and accompanied by pioneers commemorates the arduous journey west on this historic trail. The first museum you'll come to is the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art housing traditional arts from the period when New Mexico was a Spanish colony. On Milner Plaza you'll find both the state-run Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art. Hungry? Enjoy lunch at the Museum Hil Cafe. The Santa Fe Botanic Garden, opened in 2013, sits across the road from here. Last stop on the Hill: the small, private Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.. There are admission charges to these venues.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The area has a high concentration of important museums that are an integral part of the Santa Fe experience.

Billie's expert tip: Check out the shops in the museums for carefully-selected and well-priced merchandise. The Colleen Cloney Duncan Museum Shop at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture has an extensive collection of Native American jewelry and handcrafted items. The Case Trading post at the Wheelwright is also worth a stop.

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Canyon Road
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

Historic Canyon Road is home to about half of the city's over 200 galleries. Artists have been living on this street at least since the late 1880s.You'll also discover unique boutiques and a few eateries. As you walk the street, check out the pueblo and Territorial-style architecture. Friday nights, especially in season, bring gallery openings and great people watching. Art here runs the gamut from southwestern to contemporary and covers a wide range of mediums. Special events such as the annual Paint Out and the Edible Art Tour are held throughout the year. On Christmas Eve, it seems like the entire city turns out for the annual Canyon Road Farolito Walk. Farolitos (candles in paper bags, as well as the plastic, electrified versions) and luminarias (piñon wood bonfires) light up the street. It's magical! People spontaneously break into Christmas Carols, creating a festive atmosphere.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Canyon Road, one of Santa Fe' most vibrant and historic streets, is home to over half the city's galleries as well as boutiques and restaurants.

Billie's expert tip: want to deal with parking on this narrow and crowded street? Check out the Santa Fe Pick-up. It offers free shuttle service between downtown and Canyon Road. Rde to the top of the road (it's a bit hilly) and stroll down stopping at galleries and shops on the way.

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Meet Billie Frank

Billie Frank is a freelance travel, food and feature writer based in Santa Fe New Mexico. Her blog, Santa Fe Travelers, is a treasure trove of information on the oldest capital city in the...  More About Billie