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Apparently we have been living under a rock. I have no other explanation for why we were unaware of the charm, culture, fun, and deliciousness in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But the good news is that a few days in New Mexico’s capital city helped us to uncover some of the great things to do in Santa Fe. And what to see. And, most importantly, what to eat.
Things to Do and Eat in Santa Fe
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.
Visit the Plaza
Since Santa Fe 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.
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 79 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.
Immerse yourself in local art galleries
Santa Fe’s Canyon Road is the heart of the city’s 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.
Visit the Georgia O’Keefe 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.
Take a day trip to Taos
Not exactly in Santa Fe, 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 were sad to visit 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.
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). Its two-floor tasting room features a bar and a cozy area 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.
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 things 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 available at Santa Fe Spirits.
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.
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 in Santa Fe, 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.
Try a Sopapilla
Sopapillas aren’t specific to New Mexico, but they’re done to perfection in Santa Fe. A puffy, fried pastry, a sopapilla is traditionally made from wheat dough (or a mixture of wheat flour and masa harina) with shortening or butter. After they’re fried, they puff up to about the size of a bread plate. Sopapillas can be served a variety of ways – plain (in place of bread), filled with savory ingredients like ground beef, or drizzled with honey or sugar and cinnamon. In Santa Fe, they seem to be available with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, depending on the restaurant, so give this flaky goodness a try.
Warm up with Frito pie
Frito pie is very popular in the Southwest, and we were psyched to find it on menus throughout Santa Fe. If you’ve never tried it, New Mexico is the place to add it to your list. Frito pie is a fairly simple dish, made essentially of chili, cheese, and Fritos (of course). Creative folks may add things like salsa, sour cream, onions, or jalapeños. It can be baked in a casserole or served simply in a bowl. Sometimes, it’s even made in the Fritos bag. No matter how it’s served, there’s just something about Frito pie that makes it addictive.