Comprising a blend of Native American, Spanish, Mexican and American influences, Santa Fe is one of the country’s most culturally and historically significant destinations. Walk its adobe-lined streets or dive into one of its cutting-edge restaurants to explore what truly makes this “the City Different.” Here are the top things to do in Santa Fe.
Visit the Railyard
The Santa Fe Railyard is a newly revitalized district on over 13 acres of open space where you can shop at a year-round farmers market and an artisan market every Sunday inside the pavilion. Farmers, makers, and artists from all over gather to sell everything from goat's cheese to hand-blown glass, making it a great place for one-of-a-kind gift shopping. There is also a movie theater, shopping and dining, and a park with an outdoor stage that hosts live music throughout the summer.
Walk the Plaza
As a National Registry of Historic Places site, the Plaza District is the literal and figurative heart of Santa Fe. At over 400 years old, Santa Fe is one of the oldest cities in the United States, with pre-colonial roots stretching back thousands of years. Door-to-door galleries, shops, restaurants, museums and historical sites line every street along and adjacent to the Plaza. The richness of cultural identity in Santa Fe is evident in its preserved adobe architecture, fabulous public art, and unique foods.
Meet artists near the Palace of the Governors
Along the south side of the Palace of the Governors, under a covered walkway known as the Portal, Native American artists representing forty-one tribes, Pueblos, chapters and villages in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and parts of Arizona sell handmade jewelry and art almost every day of the year.
Before the creation of formal markets in the 20th century, the Palace of the Governors portal was used as a market for produce, game, pottery and basketry. Today, there are different artists daily, regulated by the Portal Committee, who inform rules to emphasize authenticity and traditional materials.
Gallery hop along Canyon Road
Santa Fe is considered one of the great art centers of the world, and its community of artists spans generations. Gallery hopping along Canyon Road is a fun, free way to see all the types of art Santa Fe has to offer, from classic Western scenes to cutting-edge contemporary work. With over 100 galleries located along this deeply historic, world-famous road, you can easily spend a day just wandering.
Try some chile
From vegan and fusion food to tapas and tamales, the Santa Fe food and beverage scene is the best in the Southwest. Chow down at colorful La Choza, known for being worth the wait (arrive early). Or dig into unpretentious Cafe Pasqual’s whose huevos motuleños, made with feta cheese and sauteed bananas is... chef’s kiss. Almost anywhere you go, red and green chile will find a way to be involved.
Watch the sunset from a rooftop bar
La Fonda hotel’s rooftop bar is arguably the best place in the city to watch a legendary Santa Fe Sunset. On almost any evening the sky comes alive with electric oranges, reds and ribbons of gold that fade into neon pinks, blush and purple before filling with twinkling stars.
Go tequila tasting
A Santa Fe tradition since 1950, Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen has over 150 different margaritas, over 170 tequilas, and an excellent menu of traditional New Mexican food to pair them with. If you can’t decide which one to try, the House Margarita, made with authentic agave tequila, triple sec and freshly squeezed lemons, is their best-seller.
Explore Museum Hill
Art history is as important to the landscape of Santa Fe as is the cutting-edge contemporary work that the city proudly displays. A quick drive from the Plaza is Museum Hill, the site of world-class museums where it is easy to spend an entire day taking in the priceless collections within the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. Special exhibits and shows are always on display and worth planning for.
For a twist on the norm, check out the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art (MoCNA) on the Plaza – the only museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting contemporary Native art in the US. Owned by the Institute of American Indian Arts, MoCNA houses 9000 contemporary Indigenous artworks from 1962 until the present.
Be drawn to the art festivals
Santa Fe hosts art markets year-round, drawing in thousands of visitors. Celebrating its centenary in August 2022, the annual Santa Fe Indian Market draws over 150,000 people to the historic Santa Fe Plaza and surrounding neighborhood for an extended weekend of artist booths, a juried art show, gala, auction, fashion show and more. It is the largest Indigenous art show in the world and represents work from at least 1200 artists.
December sees a more scaled-down event in the Winter Indian Market. Other annual events include the International Folk Art Market, Traditional Spanish Market, and Fiesta Fine Arts and Crafts Market during the Fiestas de Santa Fe.
Picnic at the open-air opera
Founded in 1956 by a formerly New York-based conductor by the name of John Cosby, the Santa Fe Opera is an open-air venue 7 miles north of Santa Fe, surrounded by high desert piñon and sweeping vistas. Local lore has it that Cosby and his acoustician friends fired off rifle shots until they found the ideal location on their newly acquired 199-acre guest ranch.
In full Paris meets Wild West meets Haight Ashbury, Santa Fe-style, Opera goers arrive at the dirt parking lot early with champagne, wine and elaborate picnics for an evening of good old-fashioned white table cloth tailgating.
Dance like nobody's watching
If there’s one thing Santa Feans love to do it’s dance like they're alone in their bedroom, and as a visitor, it can be one of the most fun, liberating experiences you’ll have. Catch a free summer concert at the Plaza Bandstand, Latin music at El Farol, live rock’n’roll at Evangelo's, or grab dinner and a dance at Cowgirl BBQ.
Go down the rabbit hole at Meow Wolf
I bet you thought we forgot about Meow Wolf. As if. Book early and carve out a day for the wildest ride in the Fe. When this writer was a whippersnapper, Meow Wolf was an art collective in a run-down building. If you’d told those dreamy kids, trying to make rent and cling to their ideals, that in a few years Meow Wolf would become an immersive art experience inhabiting an abandoned bowling alley, launching second and third locations in Denver and on the Vegas strip, and getting the focus of national attention, they’d have said you were tripping.
The centerpiece of the Meow Wolf Art Complex is The House of Eternal Return, a permanent installation where you can easily imagine what Alice felt like when she chased that rabbit – totally lost, but in the most magical way. With 20,000 sq ft for visitors of any age to explore, touch, climb and take pictures in, the scope of the journey is really up to the individual.