Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a vibrant city full of art, history, stunning outdoor attractions, and delicious food. Whether you’re looking to shop, go for a hike, browse high-end galleries, or visit an historic church, there are lots of options to choose from here. It’s one of our favorite cities in the Southwest, and every time we return, we find more fun things to do in Santa Fe. Here’s a look at some of our top choices.
Visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
One of the most recognizable buildings in town, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi looks more like it belongs in France than among the adobe buildings of Santa Fe. The Roman Catholic cathedral, which was constructed on a site that has held a church since the 1620s, was designed in the Romanesque Revival style and incorporates a rose window from France.
The vast interior of the cathedral has lots of architectural features worth seeing. The altar area features an 18th-century statue of Saint Francis surrounded by painted images of saints from the New World.
To the left of the altar is La Conquistadora Chapel, which was part of an earlier church structure and dates from 1717. It houses La Conquistadora, a wooden Madonna statue brought to New Mexico 1626. There is often a guide stationed in the chapel to tell its story.
Statues of archbishops and saints, beautiful stained glass, and artwork featuring the Stations of the Cross are also in and around the cathedral.
Relax at Ten Thousand Waves
Ten Thousand Waves is utter perfection. Inspired by Japanese mountain hot spring resorts called onsens, Ten Thousand Waves is just a few minutes from downtown Santa Fe but is secluded among the piñons and juniper trees where you could hear a pin drop (or, in our case, watch rabbits hop by).
There are two public hot tubs with sauna and cold plunge, or you can do what we did and rent a private outdoor tub. Spa suites are also available. A visit here is absolutely one of the best things to do in Santa Fe.
Explore the Plaza
Since the city was founded over 400 years ago, the Plaza has been its cultural hub. A National Historic Landmark, it hosts regular Indian and Spanish markets plus concerts and community gatherings.
More than anything, the grassy Plaza square is full of people having fun – tourists wandering between museums and shops, food vendors, street musicians, and others enjoying the atmosphere. By the Palace of the Governors, Pueblo Indians sell jewelry and pottery, though it can be hard to know what’s authentic and what’s plastic. Still, it’s fun to browse.
Take a break at Santa Fe Brewing Company
Santa Fe Brewing Company was established in 1988 as New Mexico’s first craft brewery and has since become the largest brewery in the state (and is still expanding). At its two local locations, you’ll find cozy spaces for playing darts, trying out a game of ping pong, or just hanging out.
They always have a selection of IPAs, pale ales, and porters. There’s also a selection of barrel-aged sours and seasonal specialties. Our group tried flights of almost everything on tap, and they were all hits.
Explore the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
The collection at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is so vast that it’s hard to imagine there’s anything they don’t have. With over 10 million artifacts from nearly 12,000 archaeological sites, only part of the collection can be displayed at any one time.
The museum’s permanent exhibition, Here, Now and Always, gives context to the artifacts by combining them with interactive elements and stories and songs from Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, and other indigenous cultures. Other galleries address everything from archaeological excavation to modern pottery, contemporary art, and glasswork.
See San Miguel Chapel
One of the most intriguing Santa Fe sites is San Miguel Chapel whose history spans an astonishing 400 years. In that time, the Spanish Colonial mission church has been a chapel, infirmary, special event venue, tourist attraction, and more. It is considered the oldest church in the US.
Likely built by Tlaxcala Indians under the direction of the Franciscans between 1610 and 1628, the building has been partially damaged and rebuilt several times. The simple white interior is punctuated by the attention-getting wooden altar screen whose components date from the early- to mid-1700s. It features a statue of San Miguel and paintings of Christ the Nazarene and several saints, including St. Francis of Assisi and Saint Louis IX, King of France.
Get creative at Liquid Light Glass
Santa Fe is a city known for the arts, and there’s no better place to get creative than Liquid Light Glass. A glass-blowing class with one of the experts allows participants to make several items from vases to ornaments to sculpted flowers in the on-site hot shop.
If you don’t have time to take a class, you can watch the artists at work several days a week. Don’t miss a chance to see the beautiful creations for sale in the gallery.
Spice up your day with a green chile cheeseburger
If Santa Fe were known only for one food item, it would probably be the green chile cheeseburger. After all, chiles (ok, and pinto beans) are New Mexico’s official state vegetables. Green chile is a huge deal here, and people eat it on everything. But a hamburger is the most popular vessel.
The chile itself can be quite hot, and that heat stays strong when the chiles are mixed with onion, garlic, and spices, and spread atop your favorite burger. Lance tried several on his quest to find the best one, and lots of water and tortilla chips were needed along the way.
Get outdoors at Ski Santa Fe
If you’re in New Mexico in the winter, head to Ski Santa Fe. It’s not a huge mountain, but there are ample runs for beginner to intermediate skiers (like me) and slightly more advanced skiers (like Lance).
Ski Santa Fe has seven chairlifts and 86 runs, and we barely waited in line, even on a very busy day. During our visit, conditions were perfect, and we skied all day as about six inches of fresh powder fell around us. A perfect way to spend an active day.
Immerse yourself in Canyon Road galleries
Canyon Road is the heart of the arts district. Over 100 museum-quality galleries dot the area, many with traditional adobe facades.
Among artists’ studios, boutiques, and jewelry shops, the galleries feature a broad spectrum of work. Visitors can find photography, sculpture, paintings, folk art, pottery, and more. On Christmas Eve, the area transforms into a wonderland of candles, lights, and hot chocolate for the Farolito Walk.
Explore the Randall Davey Audubon Center
One of the best things to see in Santa Fe for lovers of the outdoors is the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary. The property includes 135 acres filled with birds and other wildlife as well as the former home and studio of artist Randall Davey.
The Center is a sanctuary for plants and over 100 species of birds, many of which can be seen from the hiking trails that wind across the property. Other animals including raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, and even black bears have been seen on the grounds, so you never know what you may come across. Take the time to tour the Randall Davey house and studio, a converted gristmill that dates from 1847.
Taste the wares at Santa Fe Spirits
Because we always have to hit local distilleries, a visit to Santa Fe Spirits was at the top of our list of what to do in Santa Fe. The distillery was founded in 2010 by whiskey aficionado Colin Keegan with the goal of using local, organic ingredients to bring Scotch-style whiskies and Calvados-style brandies to New Mexico. Add vodka, gin, and white whiskey, and you have a snapshot of all the great products they have.
We had a tasting flight, but there were so many great cocktails available at the bar that we couldn’t just stick to the spirits alone. Some of our favorite cocktails incorporated the Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey and the apple brandy.
Visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is dedicated to the 20th century artist known for works of art featuring flowers, New Mexico landscapes, and the skyline of New York City. With over 1000 works, it houses the largest collection of O’Keeffe’s art in the world. The museum is also home to works by two of our favorite modern artists—Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock—among others.
See the artistic wonder of Meow Wolf
The immersive art experience known as Meow Wolf is a must-see on a trip to Santa Fe. What was once a bowling alley is now over 20,000 square feet of unique art installation that must be experienced to be believed.
The premise behind Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return permanent installation is that a family has gone missing and the nature of space and time is warped. Visitors rifle through their house looking for clues in journals, under pillows, and even in toilets to solve the mind-bending mystery.
It turns out that the house has 70 rooms and spaces all created by different artists. There is a mobile home, a psychedelic DJ, cartoons, sculptures, black lights, and creatures of all kinds. There’s really no telling what’s on the other side of any of the doorways. It’s all weird, creative, and lots of fun to explore.
Try drinking chocolate at Kakawa Chocolate House
Kakawa Chocolate House is the place for chocolate lovers. The specialty chocolate company focuses on historic drinking chocolates from around the world—some with recipes that go as far back as 1000BC.
Whether flavored with rum, laced with spice, or served with a hint of salt, the drinking chocolates at Kakawa are fun to try in any season. With a tasting flight, you can easily sample many of the options. Kakawa also offers small-batch caramels and chocolate truffles that come in traditional flavors and unique varieties like prickly pear (one of my favorites) and goat cheese and sage.
Visit Loretto Chapel
Inspired by the grand Saint Chapelle in Paris, Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878 for the Sisters of the Loretto. Now a museum and wedding venue, the chapel is most noted for its beautiful winding staircase.
According to legend, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, for help in constructing a staircase to reach the chapel’s loft. A carpenter appeared with only basic tools and built the Miraculous Staircase, which has two 360-degree turns and no center pole for support. He then disappeared without payment.
Whether you believe the legend or not, the chapel is worth a quick visit.
Explore Santa Fe Railyard
The Santa Fe Railyard complex offers a little bit of everything, so it’s a fun place to spend the afternoon exploring, eating, and shopping. There are lots of boutiques, several breweries and restaurants, and a state-of-the-art theater for catching an independent movie. The Railyard is also home to one of the best farmers markets in the country, with over 150 vendors every Saturday (and Tuesdays during the warmer months).
The Railyard also has contemporary art galleries and the 13-acre Railyard Park, which has numerous gardens and a play area. If you’re looking to visit more of the state, take the New Mexico Rail Runner train to Albuquerque or Belen.
Take a day trip to Taos
A visit to Taos makes a great 70-mile road trip out of town. The main attraction of the city is Taos Pueblo, an ancient pueblo belonging to a Native American tribe of Puebloan people. One of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States, Taos Publeo has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited on one of the few days each year when photos aren’t allowed due to religious celebrations, but the pueblo is truly worth a visit.
On our visit to Taos, we also stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a steel arch bridge spanning across the Rio Grande Gorge, which provides sweeping views in all directions. And, of course, we paid a visit to Taos Mesa Brewing, a microbrewery and restaurant on Taos Mesa. We tried a selection of their beers and their killer Frito pie.
Laura Longwell is an award-winning travel blogger and photographer. Since founding Travel Addicts in 2008, she has written hundreds of articles that help over 3 million people a year get the most out of their travel. In that time, she has visited nearly 60 countries on 5 continents, often returning to favorite destinations over and over again. She has a deep love of history, uncovering unexpected attractions, and trying all the good food a place has to offer.
In addition to Travel Addicts, Laura runs a site about her hometown of Philadelphia—Guide to Philly—which chronicles unique things to do and places to see around southeastern Pennsylvania. Her travel tips and advice appear across the web.