Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and drenched with sunshine, the high desert town of Santa Fe is a melting pot of Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures. Whether you are an art lover, history buff, outdoor adventurer, or foodie, you'll find plenty to see, do, and eat in this high-altitude capital city about an hour north of Albuquerque.
Due to flight availability, many people arrive in the Land of Enchantment by flying into Albuquerque and then driving the 60 miles north to Santa Fe. Add to your adventure by taking the Rail Runner Express. It takes about $10 and 90 minutes to travel by train from downtown Albuquerque’s Alvarado Transportation Center to the Santa Fe Plaza.
Regardless of how you arrive in The City Different, these are the best things to do in Santa Fe.
Things To Do In Santa Fe
Covering a city block in the center of town, the historic Santa Fe Plaza has been the heart of Santa Fe for more than four centuries. And like the beat of this vital organ, the Plaza has set the pulse for life in Santa Fe.
Explore The Palace Of The Governors
The Palace of the Governors sits directly across Palace Avenue from the Plaza. Originally built in the early 1600s to house the Spanish colonial government, this single-story adobe building with timber columns is now the New Mexico History Museum.
Visitors can schedule a complimentary docent-led tour or take a self-guided tour to explore the National Historic Landmark. While there is a fee to visit the New Mexico History Museum, admission is free on Wednesdays for New Mexico residents 60 and older.
Take A Tour Of The Roundhouse
A few blocks south of the Plaza, the circular New Mexico State Capitol is known as the Roundhouse. The unusual shape is fashioned after the Zia sun sign, the beautiful symbol emblazoned on the state flag. (Learn more about its meaning here.) Schedule a guided tour or explore the building at your leisure on a self-guided tour.
Fun Fact: Because its role as a government seat dates back to Spanish colonial times, Santa Fe is the nation’s oldest capital city.
Visit El Rancho De Las Golondrinas
History buffs will love El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history museum in La Cienega (about 30 minutes south of Santa Fe). Through recreated structures, live demonstrations, and hands-on classes, it brings historic New Mexico to life.
Check Out The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
From images of animals chiseled into volcanic rocks to pastel landscapes, the infinite sky and ever-changing high desert terrain of northern New Mexico have inspired artists for centuries. For Georgia O’Keeffe, an unexpected train detour through Santa Fe caused her to immediately fall head over heels in love with the Land of Enchantment.
Although O’Keeffe’s home at Ghost Ranch is about an hour north of Santa Fe, you can visit a museum dedicated to the legendary artist just a few blocks from the Plaza. Start your trip to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum with a brief film of the artist explaining her inspiration. Then explore more than 3,000 of her sketches, paintings, sculptures, and other works of art on display.
Experience The Area’s Art And Culture
Adjacent to the Plaza, the New Mexico Museum of Art is a sprawling adobe building built around a courtyard rimmed with desert plants and strings of ristras hanging under the portal. Inside, it displays the work of a wide range of artists, including photographers and sculptors.
A short drive from the Plaza, the Museum of International Folk Art showcases a unique collection that ranges from costumes to miniatures. And Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return is a 21st-century immersive art experience that pairs sights and sounds with an interactive treasure hunt.
Pro Tip: An easy, no-cost way to travel between the Plaza, the State Capitol, Museum Hill, and other sights is the free Santa Fe Pickup Shuttle.
With its unique blend of Native American, Hispanic, and Old West roots, Santa Fe offers many rich cultural experiences as well. At the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, you can admire the art and hear the stories of the Pueblo people who have called this region home for thousands of years. Or explore Hispanic culture from a 4,000-square-foot fresco to live performances at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
Pro Tip: You can save on admission to 15 museums and historic sites throughout the state -- including the New Mexico History Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art, Museum of International Folk Art, and Museum of Indian Arts & Culture -- with the New Mexico CulturePass.
See The San Miguel Chapel And Loretto Chapel
Set in the Sangre de Cristo (“Blood of Christ”) Mountains in the city whose name means “Holy Faith,” you’ll find the oldest church in the United States. The San Miguel Chapel was constructed in 1610 by members of the Tlaxcalan tribe, who accompanied the Spanish conquistadors as servants. You’ll find the unassuming adobe structure topped with a simple white cross just a few blocks from the Plaza.
On the way to San Miguel, you’ll pass the Loretto Chapel. Inspired by Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, this Gothic-style church with a rose window certainly stands out among the nearby adobe buildings and drought-resistant landscaping. Inside, you’ll find the Miraculous Staircase. As if pulled toward the heavens like an ornate wooden Slinky, it completes two full turns as it rises 22 feet to the choir loft without any visible support. How this impossible feat was accomplished (and the name of the carpenter who accomplished it) remains a mystery.
Enjoy The Great Outdoors
Whether hiking the trails, skiing the slopes, or soaring above it all in a hot air balloon, there are so many ways to enjoy the great outdoors in Santa Fe. Through the Santa Fe National Forest and over the Rio Grande, Bandelier National Monument includes more than 70 miles of trails. Winding through the rugged 33,000-acre park, they lead you to ancient cliff dwellings, past archeological sites, and to the top of the highest point in the park.
And when it comes to skiing, Ski Santa Fe is a hidden gem. Not only is it conveniently located just up the mountain from the Plaza, but the high-altitude destination, paired with more than 300 days of sunshine each year, provides spring-like ski conditions throughout the season. And if that’s not enough, the lift lines aren’t typically as long as you might experience at ski resorts in nearby Colorado and Utah.
Finally, don’t overlook the Santa Fe Botanical Garden as a low-key way to slow down, smell the roses, and soak up the sun.
Best Restaurants In Santa Fe
From flavorful chiles to fried sopapillas to classic comfort food, Santa Fe is full of delicious dishes. Learn more about the local food scene -- including the best places to order green chile cheeseburgers, Frito pie, posole, and margaritas -- here. Additionally, I recommend these local eateries.
Dolina Cafe & Bakery
Start your day with breakfast at Dolina Cafe & Bakery, where you can enjoy everything from a cup of coffee and a freshly baked pastry to a flaky croissant loaded with scrambled eggs, bacon, and avocado. If you visit closer to noon, choose from a selection of American classics -- like waffles and fried chicken or a tuna sandwich -- and dishes with an Eastern European flair inspired by the chef’s upbringing in Slovakia.
Just a block from the Plaza in a pueblo-style adobe building with a bright turquoise door, Cafe Pasqual’s scratch kitchen transforms the freshest seasonal, organic, and naturally raised ingredients into delicious dishes. Whether you enjoy tender carne asada, savory mole enchiladas, or a juicy bison burger, you won’t be disappointed!
Whatever you do, don’t leave Santa Fe without trying the state cookie! Biscochitos are crisp butter cookies spiked with citrus and anise and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The best places to try them in Santa Fe are Sweet Santa Fe and Casa Chimayo Restaurant.
Best Places To Stay In Santa Fe
Built on the site of the town’s first inn, La Fonda on the Plaza is one of the most historic places to stay in Santa Fe. The spacious pueblo-style adobe building perfectly blends vintage charm and modern luxury. During the heyday of train travel, La Fonda was a Harvey House with teams of fresh-faced, crisply aproned young women efficiently serving hundreds of meals to rail passengers as they stopped in Santa Fe.
Another fantastic accommodation is the Inn of the Governors on Alameda Street on the southern edge of the Plaza District. About a half mile south of the Plaza, the Old Santa Fe Inn is a cozy motel-style accommodation. For additional advice on places to stay in Santa Fe, check out this article.
What To Know Before You Go: Adjusting To Altitude
At 7,200 feet above sea level, the city of Santa Fe is 1,500 feet higher than the average New Mexico town. Because an altitude change of just 1,000 feet can cause shortness of breath, headaches, and other symptoms of altitude sickness, be sure to proactively manage the altitude change. (And if you’re wondering if higher altitudes make you _, I answer all of your embarrassing questions here.)