What are the best things to do in Santa Fe?

Hayley Bosch

Because of the altitude, the climate in Santa Fe is cool, so there’s much to do and see here all year round. Here are some of the best things to do in this Southwestern capital:

1. Hike the Atalaya Mountain Trail. This trail is one of the most popular and easily accessible in Santa Fe. Hikers have the option of taking the longer route (Trail 174), which is approximately seven miles round-trip, or parking further up near the Ponderosa Ridge development and doing a 4.6-mile loop (Trail 170). Both trails eventually join and take you toward the top of Atalaya Mountain, a 9,121-foot peak. The first few miles of the trail are relatively easy, but it becomes increasingly steep and strenuous as you near the summit. You’ll be rewarded with great views of the Rio Grande valley and the city below.

2. Tour the Palace of the Governors. Built in 1610, this is the oldest public building in continuous use in the U.S. and was the seat of government in New Mexico for more than 300 years. It is now a major museum of Southwestern history and part of the Museum of New Mexico; daily self-guided and docent-led tours are free. Outside, Native American vendors sell artwork and traditional crafts in the adobe building's arcade, so leave time for shopping.

3. Go white-water rafting. The Rio Grande and Rio Chama rivers north of Santa Fe are prime for river running and white-water rafting. Santa Fe Rafting Company offers several rafting trips, including half-day, full-day and multi-day camping excursions, some of which include a boxed lunch. The biggest rapids are found on the Taos Box full-day trip, open to anyone over age 12. All trips include roundtrip transportation from Santa Fe.

4. Visit the Museum of International Folk Art. The museum, first opened in 1953, contains more than 130,000 objects, billing itself as the world’s largest folk museum dedicated to the study of traditional cultural art. Much of the massive collection was acquired when the late architect and designer Alexander Girard donated his 106,000-object collection of toys, figurines, figurative ceramics, miniatures and religious/ceremonial art, which he had collected from more than 100 countries around the world. This is a rich museum experience and can easily take several hours to explore. Two museum shops offer a wide variety of folk-oriented books, clothing and jewelry from which to start your own collection at home.

5. Explore the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The legendary artist painted in Santa Fe throughout her life, so a visit to this museum is a must. You’ll find 1,149 works of art by O’Keeffe, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, sketches and photographs, which are accompanied by 1,840 pieces by other artists. The current exhibition, “Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George,” focuses on the work she created on many visits to the New York lake. This exhibit is on display through January 26, 2014.

  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    What are the best outdoor activities in Santa Fe?

    The Sangre de Cristo Mountains that surround Santa Fe provide a playground for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. Taking Hyde Park Road to Hyde Memorial State Park leads to a variety of hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking and birding opportunities. Past the park, several parking areas mark trailheads that lead into the Santa Fe National Forest. Winsor Trail is known as one of the best mountain biking routes in the country, and during the fall the entire area is a riot of colors with the changing of the aspen leaves.

    At the top of Hyde Park Road is Ski Santa Fe, about a 40-minute drive. This full-service ski area features a top elevation of 12,075 feet with 77 runs catering to all ski levels. Equipment rentals and lessons are available. From Santa Fe, a variety of outdoor destinations are well within a day trip, including Bandelier National Monument with Native American ruins and hikes, and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument with trails and fascinating geological formations.
  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    What is the best thing to bring home from Santa Fe?

    Bringing home a piece of New Mexico Native American Pueblo pottery is perhaps the best way to commemorate your visit to Santa Fe. You’ll be benefiting generations of artists here, while being able to pass a quality piece of art down through yours. The amount of skill, patience, talent and time that go into a true piece of Pueblo pottery is reflected in the price of the pot. Some pots that are sold are formed in molds, then painted by a skilled Pueblo artist. While these are still valid works of art, their price should be much less than a hand-coiled and fired pot. The dealer should state upfront that they are not hand coiled. Always ask before purchasing to make sure you’re not paying too much. In a hand-coiled pot, often the uneven finger impressions of the artist can be seen along the inside wall.
  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    What are the best Santa Fe events?

    Almost every month, Santa Fe has a unique cultural or artistic festival happening. Five favorites from the calendar are:

    1. Rodeo de Santa Fe. Each June, the cowboy-filled event opens with a parade downtown and then several nights of professional rodeo.

    2. Santa Fe Spanish Market and Traditional Spanish Market. These July events feature classic Spanish artwork created by some of the best traditional Hispanic artists in the nation. July also sees the International Folk Art Market that brings artisans from around the world to Museum Hill to share their handcrafted goods.

    3. Santa Fe Indian Market. Every August since the 1920s, the Santa Fe Indian Market has attracted art lovers from all over the world to the Santa Fe Plaza to shop for the best in Native America art. Hundreds of artists sell their work.

    4. Zozobra. Early September sees the burning of Zozobra, a 50-foot-tall marionette that represents Old Man Gloom, followed that Friday by Fiestas de Santa Fe, which honors the Spanish entry into Santa Fe in 1692, complete with reenactments, pageantry, parades, music and dancing.

    5. Farolito Walk. On December 24, farolitos — paper sacks filled with sand and candles — light the Plaza and Canyon Road. Small bonfires and carolers complete the scene.
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  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    Where is the best nightlife in Santa Fe?

    Compared to many cities, Santa Fe may seem a bit quiet at night, but there are several notable places to go if you’re not ready to call it a day. The Rouge Cat at 101 West Marcy Street is Santa Fe’s premier club for after-hours cocktails and dance music with DJs. El Farol restaurant on Canyon Road is known for its exciting flamenco dancing and live Latin, jazz and blues music on select nights. The Matador at 116 West San Francisco is a downstairs, cash-only, hipster dive bar that plays punk and rockabilly music; it’s popular with locals and welcoming to tourists. The Underground at Evangelos near the Plaza feels like two bars in one, both divey in feel, with Evangelos playing live rock, blues or jazz upstairs, and the Underground spinning hip hop and live music downstairs. The Cowgirl and Vanessie’s restaurants are known for their live music, and many hotels have popular lounges that feature live music, such as La Fiesta Lounge at La Fonda de Santa Fe.
  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    What is the best way to see Santa Fe in one day?

    Many of Santa Fe’s most notable landmarks and museums are situated near the historic Santa Fe Plaza, and make for a pleasant self-guided walking tour. Begin at the New Mexico History Museum, where you can learn about Santa Fe’s origins and get tips and advice from staff on where to visit next. Several organized tours are available as well. Loretto Line Tour Company takes passengers to Santa Fe’s most iconic sites, including the landmarks on the Plaza, Canyon Road and Museum Hill, in open-air trolleys. Several guided walking tours are available, such as the 2.5-hour Santa Fe Detours walking tour that concentrates on the Plaza area. For the strong-hearted, Historic Walks of Santa Fe’s Ghostwalkers tour visits sites that have ghost stories attached to their histories, such as Julia Stabb’s supposedly haunted room at La Posada de Santa Fe.
  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    What are the best restaurants in Santa Fe?

    With fine Southwestern fare flavoring many of its menus, Santa Fe enjoys a well-deserved star on the country’s culinary atlas. Here are five of the best restaurants to try while you’re in town:

    1. Geronimo. Located on Canyon Road, this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star fine-dining restaurant serves excellent seafood dishes — such as Maryland soft-shell tempura crabs — and other offerings in a restored adobe building.

    2. Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen. Maria’s is known for its traditionally prepared New Mexico chile dishes, but it’s the extensive tequila selection and margarita offerings that make this a local favorite.

    3. Tomasita’s Restaurant. In the Railyard District, Tomasita’s makes no apologies for the heat of its chile, which it advises to sample before ordering. That said, its Northern New Mexico cuisine has been delighting locals and visitors for the past 40 years.

    4. The Compound Restaurant. This Canyon Road spot has helped put Santa Fe on the culinary map with its linen atmosphere and unique fusion menu. One signature dish: tuna tartare topped with Osetra caviar and preserved lemon.

    5. The Cowgirl. When you’re looking for a family-friendly meal, head to the Guadalupe District and The Cowgirl, known for its burgers, barbeque and kitschy Western theme. Its extensive comfort-food menu includes offerings such as barbeque, butternut squash casserole and buttermilk chicken-fried chicken.
  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    What are the best hotels in Santa Fe?

    Santa Fe is a land of luxury hotels and indulgent resorts, but some of the best places to stay are:

    1. Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. Guest rooms at this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel near Santa Fe Plaza boast kiva fireplaces and Southwestern textiles, and the hotel’s excellent Anasazi Restaurant is similarly rooted in New Mexico tastes.

    2. Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe. Located just north of downtown in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this Four Star Four Seasons is a wellness haven with a Four-Star spa and beautiful casitas for guests.

    3. La Fonda on the Plaza. This historic property, often called “the living room of Santa Fe,” stands out for its location near the Plaza; its comfortable, recently refurbished rooms and suites; La Plazuela restaurant; and the La Fiesta Lounge and Bell Tower Bar that probably offers the best views of Santa Fe’s famous sunsets.

    4. La Posada de Santa Fe. Once the Victorian home of the wealthy Stabb family, La Posada has expanded to a compound of luxurious rooms with corner fireplaces, fine dining at Fuego, a full-service spa and gardens throughout its grounds — all within walking distance of the Plaza.

    5. Inn and Spa at Loretto. Modeled after the stepped exterior of Native American pueblos, this hotel’s Southwest motif continues in its luxury rooms, shops, Luminaria Restaurant (with patio dining) and Spa at Loretto.

    6. Hotel St. Francis. The elegant Hotel St. Francis, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a block from the Plaza and features a fine dining restaurant, Tabla de Los Santos, along with New Mexico artisans displaying their skills in its lobby.

    7. Eldorado Hotel & Spa. Well-appointed Pueblo Revival-style rooms, Agave Lounge, Nidah Spa and The Old House Restaurant make this large hotel feel like a boutique.
  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    Where is the best shopping in Santa Fe?

    Santa Fe is known for its high-end art, Native American jewelry and pottery, and Southwest clothing and home furnishing boutiques. Shops can be found throughout the city, often tucked into small adobe buildings that look unimpressive from the outside but that house unique treasures within. The historic Plaza is a good place to start as it’s surrounded by shops selling a range of items, from souvenirs and gifts to fine art.

    The cluster of Native American artists selling their work underneath the portale of the Palace of the Governors is a must-stop. South of town, the Fashion Outlets Santa Fe has stores such as Polo, Brooks Brothers and Le Creuset. In town, DeVargas Center has both national and local stores — its Las Cosas Kitchen Shoppe offers kitchen gadgets and cooking classes.

    For a truly unique Santa Fe shopping experience, visit the Tesuque Flea Market north of town, near the Santa Fe Opera, where vendors sell an eclectic mix of items from all over the world such as jewelry, beads, rugs and clothing. The market is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays from March through December.
  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    What are the best things to do with kids in Santa Fe?

    Santa Fe is a wonderful destination for families. Balance out the gallery hopping and fine dining with these kid-friendly activities that will keep your little ones happy and engaged:

    1. Santa Fe Children’s Museum. Kiddos (and parents) will love this hands-on, interactive learning space that features bubble making, arts and crafts, an area where you can make full-body imprints of yourself using thousands of pins, climbing areas, water play, pulleys and more.

    2. Museum of International Folk Art. Located on Museum Hill, this museum features elaborate costumes, masks, toys and art from around the world.

    3. Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary. Located at the end of Canyon Road, this facility sits on 135 acres next to the Santa Fe National Forest. Easy hiking trails are perfect for getting kids out into the Santa Fe foothills. More than 190 species of birds pass through this area, and guided tours are available on Fridays and Saturdays.

    4. Santa Fe Climbing Center. This indoor climbing gym features top-rope, hand-hold climbs for rank beginners (starting at age five) to experienced climbers. A color system highlights routes from easy to extreme.

    5. Genoveva Chavez Community Center. This large recreation center has year-round, indoor ice-skating (on the only rink in Santa Fe) and swimming for all ages.
  • On September 30, 2013
    Steve Larese answered the question: Steve Larese

    What are the best things to do in Santa Fe?

    Santa Fe is a year-round destination with plenty of attractions to fill any season. Here, from historic streets to hot cuisine, are five ways to experience the best of the city:

    1. See Santa Fe Plaza. Many of Santa Fe’s best restaurants, shops, museums and historic sites are within easy walking distance of the historic Santa Fe Plaza. Santa Fe — La Villa Real de Santa Fe — was established in 1608, making it the oldest continuous capital in what is now the United States, and the Plaza has been the heart of the city since its earliest days.

    2. Explore Canyon Road. East of the Plaza, Canyon Road attracts worldwide art collectors with more than 100 galleries in a square mile — one of the largest concentrations of galleries in the world.

    3. Visit the Railyard District. This is Santa Fe’s newest revitalized area, where locals shop and restaurants surround the farmers market that pops up every Tuesday and Saturday mornings. True to its roots, the New Mexico Rail Runner passenger train travels between the Santa Fe Depot here and Albuquerque.

    4. Tour Museum Hill. This cluster of renowned museums includes the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, which highlights contemporary Native American art such as that of the late R.C. Gorman; the Museum of International Folk Art; the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian; and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. Gardens, outdoor sculpture, a café and sweeping views of the surrounding mountains make this a worthwhile destination for an afternoon.

    5. Indulge in spa treatments and fine dining. Indulgence is part of the total Santa Fe experience, and spas abound, including the Four-Star Spa at Rancho Encantado and the unique Ten Thousand Waves Japanese hot springs resort. Savor any number of restaurants that serve everything from Southwest-Asian fusion to perfectly grilled steak, and of course traditional New Mexico chile-based dishes. Give yourself time to enjoy your hotel room, which can range from lush Southwest design to Persian luxury to an eclectic mix that has come to define Santa Fe style.