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30+ Things To Do In Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe is my wife’s favorite city in the U.S. because, it seems, beauty is everywhere you turn – whether that beauty is natural or created by one of the plethora of artists who call “The City Different” home. It’s also quirky, romantic, and human-sized. And the food – you just need to read on for that. Here are 30+ things to do in Santa Fe, NM.

This Santa Fe, NM trip report is a guest post from Jim Fatzinger The Travel Organizer and we thank him for putting this great travel guide to Santa Fe together for us.

Getting To Santa Fe

Unless Santa Fe is part of a larger Southwest road trip, you have your choice of 2 airports. Santa Fe Regional Airport (SAF) is served by American Airlines (via DFW or PHX) and United Airlines (via Denver) on regional aircraft. Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) is served by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Jet Blue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines. SAF is infinitely more convenient; the terminal is about 20 minutes from downtown whereas ABQ is a little over an hour’s drive away. Flight schedules in and out of SAF are limited, on regional aircraft, and usually more expensive.

Where We Stayed

We elected to stay at Villas de Santa Fe, a Hilton Grand Vacations property, which is just a 10-minute walk from the Plaza in the center of town. This property, which features 1- and 2-bedroom suites with kitchenettes, can also be booked through a number of OTAs.

Fair warning: There is a $25/day resort fee that covers parking, WiFi, etc. There are hotels at every price point; from the “perfectly different” El Rey Court to the landmark La Fonda on the Plaza (see below).

What We Did

I will share with you what we accomplished during our 5 day, 4 night stay in Santa Fe. Most of our excursions happened within the city limits but we did venture outside the city as well. It was all done in one excellent day trip.

Day Trip From Santa Fe, New Mexico

We will start off this destination guide sharing the details of our day trip. One of the stops is something I think everyone who comes to the area should experience. Let's dive in.

Things To Do In Santa Fe
Santuario de Chimayo

We set off on “the High Road to Taos” for Santuario de Chimayo after our breakfast at Dolina Café & Bakery (see review below); it’s a little more than a half-hour drive from Santa Fe. This site, sometimes referred to as “the Lourdes of North America,” was associated with miraculous healing long before the chapel was built.

The faithful (and the hopeful) come to scoop “holy dirt” from a depression in the floor of a little room to the left side of the chapel which is then rubbed on the part of the body in need of healing. Crutches, braces, and prayers of thanksgiving fill another room as evidence of healing attributed to Chimayo even though the Catholic Church has made no attempt to confirm or deny any accounts of the efficacy of the holy dirt.

On an adjacent piece of property is the Santo Nino chapel with a side room filled baby shoes left behind by the faithful for the baby Jesus because, the legend goes, he would wear through his sandals bringing comfort and healing to those in need.

Things To Do In Santa Fe
Puye Cliff Dwellings

The website for Puye (poo-yay) Cliff Dwellings invites visitors to “…be touched by the spirit of a special place between the earth and sky.” While not on the same scale as Machu Picchu, the impact of arriving at this virtually untouched remnant of a civilization last inhabited 3 centuries before European contact was similar.

As you catch glimpses of the cliffside caves on the 7-mile drive on NM5 from NM30, the inevitable question arises: “How did people make homes on (what appears to be) a sheer wall of rock?” Even less evident are two secrets you will come to discover:

  • First, the cliffside openings are only a small part of the original dwellings and
  • Second, there is another equally impressive complex of building remnants on the mesa top.
Cost Of The Puye Cliff Dwellings

Puye Cliff Dwellings has done a masterful job of making the site accessible for any pocketbook, interest, or physical ability and all tours are led by guides who trace their lineage to those who once inhabited this magical place.

  • “Roadrunner Trail” ($20) includes access to a recently reconstructed cliff dwelling as well as an optional 30’ ladder climb to a second level.
  • “Cliff Dwellings Tour” ($25/adults, $21/seniors and children under 14) includes a more in-depth look at 2 levels of cliffside dwellings and petroglyphs of the ancient Santa Clara Pueblo people.
  • “Adventure Tour” ($40/adults, $36/seniors and children under 14) combines the highlights of all 3 tours above into one comprehensive experience.
  • Visitors with physical limitations can be driven to the plateau to explore the complex of buildings including a ceremonial kiva on the “Mesa Top” tour ($25/adults, $21/seniors and children under 14).

Joe Chavarria, Operations Manager, was our guide on the “Adventure Tour” and I thought it offered amazing value at the price points listed above. About 45 minutes from Santa Fe, a visit here should be on every itinerary.

Sopapilla Factory Restaraunt

After scrambling around the ledges at Puye Cliff Dwellings, we stopped at Sopapilla Factory Restaurant, 7 West Gutierrez (off of US 84/285 just south of Pojoaque). The word “Factory” in their name is a bit of a misnomer (at least as far as we could tell) but they do turn out fantastic sopaipilla! You can get your sopaipilla stuffed with chicken, ground beef, or shredded beef as an entrée ($13.75), stuffed with ice cream and topped with strawberries and whipped cream ($6.25), dusted with cinnamon and sugar ($1.75), or to go (95 cents each).

What We Did Within Sanfa Fe City Limits

Here are some of the things we did, ate and saw in the Santa Fe city area during our 4 night stay.

Meow Wolf
Meow Wolf Santa Fe

I struggled with how to convey what it is like to visit Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf installation. It’s labyrinthine, bizarre, mind-bending, dazzling, (and I could go on) but no adjective can adequately describe it because the experience is so subjective. And then it dawned on me. Remember how Alice followed the White Rabbit down a rabbit-hole into Wonderland? That’s what entering the House of Eternal Return is like. Where else can you walk through a refrigerator…encounter a holographic, interdimensional travel agent…stroll through a fairy forest with interactive mushrooms…and play the ribs of a glowing, life-size thermoplastic mastodon?

This home of the original Meow Wolf (there are other installations in Grapevine, TX [5 minutes from DFW], Denver, CO and Las Vegas, NV) is in a former bowling alley. That is actually kind of ironic since there are few things more linear than a bowling alley and few things less linear than a Meow Wolf installation!

Cryptic clues to the underlying mystery of the unexplained disappearance of the Selig family abound, but it’s not an escape room (you can exit – and reenter – anytime you want as long as you don’t leave the building). How much time should you plan on spending here? As much as you want. We felt like we only scratched the surface (and didn’t come close to solving the mystery…if that’s even the point!) during our 3-hour visit.

Drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and snacks can be purchased at the Float Café & Bar (pictured above) which has the same operating hours as the House of Eternal Return (Sunday-Thursday from 10am-8pm, Friday & Saturday from 10am-10pm, $39-$45/adult and $32-$38/ages 4-12).

Margarita Trail

This ended up being most expensive T-shirt in my closet (but did I ever have fun “earning” it!): Stop in any of the Tourism Santa Fe Visitor Centers (66 E. San Francisco St. [opposite the Plaza], 201 W. Marcy St., or 410 S. Guadalupe St. [temporarily closed for renovations]) early during your stay to buy a paper Margarita Trail passport for $3 or download the app for $2.99.

Then enjoy a margarita from any of the dozens of participating bars and restaurants and have your bartender or server “stamp” your passport; collect 5 stamps to receive a Margarita Trail T-shirt.

  • Tip #1: Pick up a free visitor map of Santa Fe at the Visitor Center when you buy your passport.
  • Tip #2: You are going to want to pay attention to the rules. Since you can only “earn” 2 “stamps” every 12 hours and you can only “earn” 1 stamp from any participating location, map out a plan to collect your desired number of “stamps” during your visit.
  • Tip #3: Each location’s “signature” margarita is supposed to be discounted $1; check your receipt.
  • Tip #4: You can only pick up your T-shirt at the 66 E. San Francisco Street Visitor Center, so factor that into your schedule.
Things To Do In Santa Fe
Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary

You may be surprised to learn there are 41 Audubon Centers and Sanctuaries in the U.S., each a haven for resident and migratory birds and their habitats. The history of the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, located at the terminus of an unpaved portion of Upper Canyon Road leading away from the city, is as interesting as its mission is important.

Originally the site of a sawmill built to support the construction of fortifications during the Mexican-American War, it was acquired in 1920 by the modern realist artist from New York, Randall Davey, who said of this property, ““I wouldn’t trade my life here where I can hunt, shoot, ride, for all the committee-going and boot-licking you’ve got to do in a city for anything.  An artist might starve for food here, but he’ll starve spiritually in a place like New York.”

Here are some different options of how to enjoy the site:

  • Docent-led tours of Davey’s house and studio are offered at 2pm every Friday ($5).
  • Guided bird walks take place on Saturdays @ 8:30am (free, donations accepted, binoculars available to borrow).
  • An unexpected feature is the Nature Discovery Center (free, donations accepted) which includes a giant pinecone, an oversized acorn, a treehouse, and rope tunnels for families to explore.
  • 190 bird species have been spotted on the trails that crisscross the 135-acre property.
  • A “Haiku Trail,” featuring poems in a 5-7-5 syllable pattern, stamped into ceramic plaques, opened in May 2022. Open Monday-Saturday (except holidays), 8am-4pm.
Things To Do In Santa Fe
The Railyard

The Railyard, Santa Fe’s eclectic public space, is a unique opportunity to witness urban evolution in progress. The nonprofit organization that manages this 50-acre site (more than 25% of which is open space for public gathering) insulates implementation of the master plan from changing political whims. They ensure fidelity to the founding vision of “…build(ing) a vibrant, beautiful, popular and safe community gathering place representing the history, values and aspirations of the people of Santa Fe.”

The Railyard Tips
  • Tip #1: On-street parking is free on Sundays; on other days, the best parking option is probably the underground garage near REI.
  • Tip #2: Cross Paseo de Peralta and there are plenty of picnic areas (with restrooms). Here are just some of the recurring/ongoing events and activities at The Railyard:
    • One of the top Farmers Markets in the U.S. with 120 outside stalls and another 40 inside the Market Hall: Saturdays, 8am-1pm (Free)
    • Railyard Artisan Market featuring only local artists and creative small businesses: Sundays, 10am-3pm (Free)
    • Summer music concerts (with food trucks): Fridays, 7-10pm (Free)
    • Summer movie series (BYO food and drinks): Every other Saturday, 7-9pm (Free)
    • El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe Mercado (Arts & Culture Market) featuring Native American jewelry, art, textiles, clothing, furniture, and collectibles: Saturdays, 9am-4pm and Sundays, 10am-4pm (Free)
    • Fanciful journeys (e.g., Sunset Burlesque” and “Margarita Rail”) in painstakingly refurbished train cars on Sky Railway board here. The creative force behind this project is none other than George R. R. Martin, creator of Game of Thrones, who describes Sky Railway as “transporting (riders) to another time and reality” on “one-of-a-kind immersive experiences.”
    • SITE Santa Fe, a contemporary art museum: Monday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10am-5pm; Fridays, 10-7pm (Free)
    • “Bluegrass and Bagels,” jam session with bagels and coffee: Every 2nd Sunday, 9am-Noon (Free, donations encouraged)
    • 2 theaters: Jean Cocteau Cinema (another George R. R. Martin project) and Violet Crown (offers 4-hour parking validation with ticket purchase)
    • 2-hour Historic Railyard Walking Tour: Tuesdays, 10-11:30am ($33)
Canyon Road

Canyon Road, which has been described as “a magical half mile,” boasts the highest density of art galleries in the United States. Most galleries are open 10am-5pm.

  • Tip: Nearby, just past the sinfully delicious Kakawa Chocolate House, find a Santa Fe secret gem—the sculpture garden behind Nedra Matteucci Galleries.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson Street (just steps from the downtown Plaza) has more than 3,000 works, a portion of which are displayed in changing thematic galleries.

  • Tip #1: If you’re an O’Keeffe fan or if your favorite piece wasn’t on display, you can click through all 997 of O’Keeffe’s works in the museum’s collection here.
  • Tip #2: Remember earbuds (we didn’t; the museum offers a free audio tour).
San Miguel Misson / Chapel

According to oral history, The San Miguel Mission/Chapel, 401 Old Santa Fe Trail, dates to 1610 – just 3 years after the first English settlement at Jamestown and 10 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with its history before your visit (which is free) even though docent history talks are scheduled Tuesday through Saturday at 11am and 2pm. Of special interest is the mystery of the San Jose Bell just inside the front entrance which visitors are invited to sound.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

The French Romanesque Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, 131 Cathedral Place, is open and free to visit Tuesday through Friday from 9:30am-4pm and Saturday from 9:30am-3pm.

  • Tip #1: The powerful Prayer Garden to the right of the Basilica features 14 life-size sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross.
  • Tip #2: Don’t miss the bronze doors which are reminiscent of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise of the Baptistery in Florence, Italy.
Liquid Light Glass

Liquid Light Glass, 926 Baca Street, Suite #3, is a small, but impressive contemporary glass studio and gallery. You can also book a glass blowing experience at a rate of $225/hour (not per person), which includes everything except shipping your completed creations. Tip: Parking in the small lot is free, but spaces can be hard to find.

Cross Of The Martyrs

The Cross of the Martyrs/Overlook is:

  • an enjoyable (if sometimes steep…but see tip below) 6/10 mile walk from Paseo de Peralta on the north edge of downtown past the site of Fort Marcy (see Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary), 
  • a history lesson about the only successful Native American revolt against European colonization in North American history, and
  • a west-facing viewpoint overlooking the low-profile skyline of Santa Fe.

Here are a few tips I learned along the way:

  • Tip #1: There is no parking for this walk on Paseo de Peralta but there is free parking at Prince Park, just past Fort Marcy Hotel Suites on Kearney Avenue. Remember, Santa Fe is already 1⅓ miles above sea level, so park here and walk as much (or as little) of the paved path as you wish.
  • Tip #2: Check the time of sunset on the day of your visit for the most spectacular photo opportunity.
New Mexico History Museum

The New Mexico History Museum, 113 Lincoln Avenue, open daily 10am-5pm ($12/adult, 16 and under are free) encompasses The Palace of the Governors and tells the story of Spanish colonization, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and New Mexico’s journey to statehood through permanent and changing exhibitions.

Where We Ate

I will share some of the places we ate for breakfast / brunch and some of our dinner spots during our visit.

Breakfast / Brunch

Here are the locations we started off the day right at:

Horseman’s Haven Café

Horseman’s Haven Café, 4354 Cerrilos Road. Don’t let the plain, almost nondescript, exterior dissuade you from making this family-owned and -operated eatery a must on your dance card when you’re in Santa Fe. The late Anthony Bourdain included their enchilada with carne adovada, posole, and sopaipilla in season 2, episode 4 of his Parts Unknown TV series which originally aired September 29, 2013. Their green chili burrito which locals call “the devil” had the Food Network’s host for season 4, episode 9 of The Secret Life of…(Fiery Foods) steaming and sputtering.

Dolina Café & Bakery

The eclectic menu at Dolina Café & Bakery, 402 North Guadalupe Street, includes a vegetarian borscht, Hungarian goulash, langos (Slovakian street food), and chicken schnitzel – just to name a few. We opted for the Orechovnik French toast and the pesto omelet; both were delicious.

Clafoutis

Clafoutis, 333 West Cordova Road, means “batter pudding” in French. Another family-owned business, this café is perennially voted as serving the “best pastries in New Mexico.” The coconut French toast ($12.50) is heavenly and the egg croissant with bacon or ham and Swiss cheese is a good value at $8.95.

Dinner

Here are the locations that we ate dinner at during out trip.

Dr. Field Goods Kitchen

Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, 187 Paseo de Peralta (in the DeVargas strip mall, enter under the portico and the restaurant will be the first door on your right…the sign over the entrance may still read “Santa Fe Bar & Grill”). The “Bad Ass BLT” ($16.95), more than a half-pound of bacon ground and shaped into a patty served with tomato and lettuce on a potato Kaiser roll, was featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. But I went with our server’s suggestion, the Cubano, Dr. Field Goods’ take on the sandwich brought to Florida by Cuban immigrants.

Il Vicino

Il Vicino, 321 West San Francisco Street (next to Eldorado Hotel & Spa), as the name suggests, specializes in Italian comfort food (wood-fired pizza, calzones, and pasta dishes). Tip: Familiarize yourself with the menu before you arrive because you will need to place (and pay for) your order at a cash register just a few feet inside the entrance before finding a table. This often causes a queue to extend out the door into the street-adjacent courtyard. 

Restaurant
La Plazuela

La Plazuela @ La Fonda was our splurge meal (total, with tip: $132), and it was worth every penny! I only wish we had eaten there earlier in our trip so we could have returned for another meal. From the ambience to the professional attentiveness of our server to the quality of the food – it was a pretty perfect dining experience! I’m a sucker for steak frites – and La Plazuela’s was out of this world.

Tip: Be sure to ask about the blue plate special if you dine here Monday through Thursday; my wife was beyond pleased with her fish selection. Of course, we also had their signature margarita as part of our Margarita Trail experience. La Fonda, the hotel that is home to La Plazuela, opened its doors in 1922 and while George Washington never slept here, Presidents Kennedy and Reagan, along with Paul Newman, Gary Cooper, Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz did!

Maximizing Miles, Points & Discounts In Santa Fe, New Mexico

With a nod to the name of this website/blog, here are ways we Traveled on Point(s) or miles, snagged a discount, or earned credits for future flights/stays/dines, etc. on this trip:

Attractions
  • We got free admission to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (saving $40.00) and the New Mexico History Museum (saving $24) from having a Traveler membership through the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield, CA. If you enjoy visiting museums on your travels, this is the best deal since sliced bread! For just $125, you get a year’s worth of complimentary admission for 2 adults and up to 4 children (ages 17 and under) to more than 1,000 (!) art and historical museums, botanical gardens, children’s museums, zoos, etc.!
Dining
  • Restaurant savings/earning:
    • Always remember to check if any restaurants on your itinerary are part of the Rewards Network; even better when there are stackable cash back offers from Dosh, Groupon+, etc. for the same restaurant(s). I earned 170 AAdvantage miles + $4.42 cash back from our $34 (with tip) dinner @ Il Vicino.
    • Make reservations, whenever possible, using OpenTable. The restaurant we enjoyed most as well as one of our stops along the Margarita Trail were on the OpenTable network, so we earned 200 OpenTable points toward a future dine. (I realize that’s not much but, hey, it’s better than a stick in the eye!)
    • The Dine Rewards network includes chains like Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, etc. and, if you’re an AARP member, you can stack a 10% discount on top of any earnings as well as any restaurant-specific offers! We redeemed a $5 reward, claimed a free Bloomin’ Onion, and got a 10% discount on our bill from our pre-flight meal at Outback Steakhouse.
Travel

Santa Fe Destination Guide: ToP Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed this deep dive covering 30+ things to do in Santa Fe, NM. Jim did a great job covering where to stay, where to eat and so many cool things to do. Thank you again for putting this together for us. Santa Fe appears to be one of the more underrated travel destinations in the US with plenty of interesting and fun things for people of all interests to enjoy.

Let us know your favorite thing to do in Santa Fe over in the ToP Facebook Group.

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