Santa Fe Travel Guide

USA  #17 in Best Fall Vacations
Credit

Courtesy of Getty Images

Best Things To Do in Santa Fe

Canyon Road, the epicenter of Santa Fe's artistic culture, is the first and last stop for most visitors. But while the commercial galleries and public museums found there often steal the thunder of the historic monuments, you must still check out Plaza sites like the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and the Palace of the Governors. For a little living culture, support the local commerce at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. And if you arrive wanting fresh air, the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains are great for hiking, skiing, horseback riding and biking.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated June 21, 2018

  • #1
    Things to do in Santa Fe
    View all Photos
    #1 in Santa Fe
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If there's any doubt that Santa Fe is a prime destination for art lovers, Canyon Road quashes it. Situated just east of the Santa Fe Plaza, Canyon Road is home to a slew of art galleries selling renowned artwork from famed artists such as Fernando Botero and cultural treasures like hand-woven Navajo rugs and Southwestern wood carvings. The area is touted as an art lover's mecca because of the variety of mediums used to highlight art. Pop into the different galleries (there are more than 50) along the street and you'll find everything from jewelry and pottery to sculptures and paintings. The street itself is also a feast for the eyes: Many of the galleries found here are housed in historic adobe buildings laced with brilliantly colored flowers, art installations are often showcased outside and the spicy odor of chile peppers wafts from the doorways of top-notch eateries like Geronimo Restaurant and Compound Restaurant.

    Recent visitors said the best way to experience this arts district is simply by strolling down the street, adding that it's a wonderful way to experience art without being stuck indoors or inside a single museum. Travelers were impressed with everything from the variety of art to the pueblo architecture and said there are ample opportunities to snap photos of this vibrant site.

  • #2
    Santa Fe Plaza
    View all Photos
    #2 in Santa Fe
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Since the city's founding in 1610, the Santa Fe Plaza has been its cultural hub, hosting bullfights and fandangos. Today, surrounded by numerous ancient buildings like the San Miguel Mission and the Palace of the Governors, the Plaza continues to be the epicenter of Santa Fean affairs, from live music to September's Santa Fe Fiesta. The Plaza, which is a National Historic Landmark, hosts Indian and Spanish markets regularly, in addition to concerts and community gatherings. Any night of the week, the Plaza is buzzing with activity with people enjoying restaurants, perusing galleries and checking out souvenir shops. Save a little money to do some trinket shopping while here: Santa Fe Plaza is full of vendors selling authentic Native American crafts, but be wary of the inflated prices.

    Visitors say you have to make a point to stop by the Santa Fe Plaza to experience the lively atmosphere, noting that there always seems to be something going on, whether it's a parade, a market or a festival. Recent travelers also suggested taking time to browse the various shops around the Plaza, but do warn things seemed a little overpriced.

  • #3
    Santa Fe Opera House
    View all Photos
    #3 in Santa Fe
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Santa Fe Opera House is a world-renowned venue that plays host to a variety of operas each summer. The company has presented operas – comedies, dramas, tragedies and more – every summer since 1957. The venue itself is an open-air theater surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountain ranges, which means it offers some gorgeous views, and it can accommodate around 2,200 spectators. Patrons can arrive up to three hours prior to the show and many often do, specifically to tailgate in the surrounding parking lots with picnics, gourmet meals and drinks. (The opera also offers special dining options like premade tailgate picnics and preview buffet dinners for a set price.) 

    Recent visitors offered plenty of praise for the Santa Fe Opera, saying the singers were impressive and that the setting is quite picturesque. Travelers and residents agree that tailgating is a must – people are dressed to the nines, sipping on Champagne and savoring "chic eats," so plan to bring some food and drinks to enjoy. Some warn that you may experience thunderstorms, but that the lightning makes for an even more dramatic backdrop during the show.

  • #4
    Museum of International Folk Art
    View all Photos
    #4 in Santa Fe
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Of all the museums that make up the New Mexico History Museum group, this one is probably the most unique. Southwestern art is definitely represented, but the Museum of International Folk Art also showcases more than 100,000 objects and has interesting displays representing daily life in societies all over the globe. At this museum, you'll encounter African, Asian, Middle Eastern, contemporary Hispanic and Latino, European, North American and Spanish Colonial pieces ranging from household objects, ceramics and paintings to toys, puppets and costumes. Don't worry about boring your kids: the large collection of colorful toys from around the world is sure to spark their interest.

    Past museumgoers called this site everything from "fascinating and unusual" to "amazing and delightful," with many adding that there's something for everyone to see here. Visitors loved the quirky, colorful art and said they ended up spending more time than they thought here because of the extensive number of works on display.

  • #5
    Palace of the Governors and the New Mexico History Museum
    View all Photos
    #5 in Santa Fe
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Constructed in 1610, the Palace of the Governors was the original Capitol of New Mexico. The adobe structure was the site of the only successful Native American uprising, which took place in 1680, and it has been in public use longer than any other structure in the country. Today, the National Historic Landmark showcases 400 years of the state's history (officially as part of the New Mexico History Museum) with the help of such artifacts as a stagecoach dating back to the days of the Santa Fe Trail and an altarpiece made in 1830 for a church in Taos. Outside, Native American craftsmen sell handmade souvenirs, jewelry and more. Meanwhile, the New Mexico History Museum (situated behind the Palace of the Governors) features a variety of exhibits showcasing the Land of Enchantment's fascinating past. Displays include artifacts from Native American history, the Spanish Colonial period and the Mexican period. You can learn about the renowned Santa Fe Trail (the 19th-century transportation route connecting Missouri to Santa Fe) and the Museum of New Mexico Press.

    Recent travelers said they gleaned a great deal of knowledge from visiting this site, noting that not only did the guides offer insights into the building's past and New Mexico's history but the vendors also educated them on the different crafts and wares for sale (and weren't too pushy, either).

  • #6
    Santa Fe Farmers Market
    View all Photos
    #6 in Santa Fe
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    No matter your reason for visiting Santa Fe – whether it be to see the art or ski the slopes – set aside some time to check out the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Open throughout the year, you'll find dozens of vendors selling everything from locally grown produce, flowers and cheeses to cider and tongue-numbing green chile salsa. There is also a snack bar selling coffee and other local treats.

    Recent visitors were supremely impressed by this farmers market, especially with the variety of fresh produce and the stimulation of the senses (from colorful veggies and fruits to the aromas of fresh flowers and spices). The only downside, according to some travelers, was that the venue was packed with people; many suggested getting there early to avoid the crowds.

  • #7
    The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
    View all Photos
    #7 in Santa Fe
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you're an architecture buff, take some time to check out the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Located a block east of the Santa Fe Plaza, this breathtaking Romanesque cathedral stands out among the city's adobe skyline. Constructed in 1869, the cathedral's main purpose was to help bring Catholicism to the Southwest. Sitting next to the cathedral is the small adobe chapel – all that remains of a previous church that was destroyed during the 1680 Pueblo Rebellion – which contains the oldest representation of the Madonna in the United States.

    This historical church receives plenty of praise from travelers and Santa Fe residents alike, with many suggesting that you visit in the evening when the sun is setting to see it cast a golden glow on the exterior of the structure. Visitors said you should stroll through the inside, take in the beautiful stained glass windows and try to find a docent to help explain some of the history of the church. 

  • #8
    Skiing
    View all Photos
    #8 in Santa Fe
    Skiing
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Skiing
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    It may come as a surprise to some visitors, but New Mexico is home to some of the top ski spots in the Southwest. Ski season here usually spans from late fall into early spring, with many resorts seeing up to 300 inches of snow annually. There are four major ski areas that are all within a two-hour drive of Santa Fe. The closest mountains are Ski Santa Fe (about 15 miles northeast of Santa Fe), which is home to 79 trails and 660 acres of terrain; Pajarito Mountain Ski Area (about 40 miles northwest), which features 40 trails and 300 skiable acres; and Sipapau Ski and Summer Resort (about 60 miles northeast), which has 41 trails, three terrain parks and 200 skiable acres. Those hoping to tackle a larger mountain with more varied terrain will have to travel a little farther to Taos Ski Valley, which is situated around 88 miles north of Santa Fe and boasts 1,294 acres and 110 trails. All four facilities feature terrain for all skill levels and on-site amenities like bars, restaurants, shops, lessons and more.

    Visitors who tried Ski Santa Fe appreciated its proximity to the town and said there's even a shuttle (the RTD Mountain Trail shuttle) that runs from downtown Santa Fe to the mountain for a reasonable fee, making it easier to access. Skiers said the quality of the snow was great, the views are impressive and there were rarely lift lines. Sipapu and Pajarito are praised for being good fits for beginner skiers and families, with travelers noting affordable accommodations, fewer crowds and helpful staff members. Meanwhile, Taos Ski Valley earns heaps of praise for its challenging terrain, long runs and relaxed atmosphere.

  • #9
    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
    View all Photos
    #9 in Santa Fe
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Having moved from the East Coast, Georgia O'Keeffe was inspired by Santa Fe's blazing landscape, and soon her portrayals of New Mexico earned her a reputation as one of the top Southwestern artists. Even those with just a minor love of art should stop by this museum, which is housed within a former adobe Baptist church and features the largest O'Keeffe collection in the world. More than 1,000 drawings, paintings and sculptures, as well as another 2,000 works by her peers. The museum also screens a video detailing O'Keeffe's life, story and growth as an artist.

    Past visitors loved the video that offered highlights of O'Keeffe's life and many said they enjoyed the variety of exhibits. Many also strongly suggested downloading the free Georgia O'Keeffe app and bringing headphones to listen as you peruse the gallery. On the flip side, some recent patrons warned that the museum is small and said they wished more of O'Keeffe's finished works were on display. 

  • #10
    Bandelier National Monument
    View all Photos
    #10 in Santa Fe
    Hiking, Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Hiking, Monuments and Memorials, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    For centuries before the United States declared independence, the Southwest was divided into a number of city-states governed by Native Americans. At the Bandelier National Monument, visitors can explore the remnants of one of these settlements. At the base of Frijoles Canyon are a collection of ancient cave dwellings and other stone structures belonging to ancestors of the Pueblo people. You can explore the settlement by following the paved trail through the village and climbing the wooden ladders into the caves themselves. After visiting the monument, take advantage of the surrounding park, complete with more than 30,000 acres of backcountry wilderness, wildlife and about 60 miles of hiking trails. Travelers say that while it's a bit of a trek to get here from downtown Santa Fe, it's worth it if you're looking to enjoy the outdoors and go exploring. Families with children said their kids loved it, since they can climb up the ladders and check out the cave dwellings.

    Located about 40 miles northwest of Santa Fe proper, the Bandelier National Monument is open every day from dawn to dusk. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. A seven-day pass (which includes an automobile permit) costs about $20. For more information about tours, activities and free park days, visit the Bandelier National Monument website.

  • #11
    New Mexico Museum of Art
    View all Photos
    #11 in Santa Fe
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The oldest art museum in the state, the New Mexico Museum of Art is set in a traditional adobe building and home to more than 20,000 pieces of art hailing from the Southwest. Pieces range from drawings, paintings and photographs to more unique displays like prints, textiles and quirky installations. The museum has a permanent collection and welcomes rotating exhibits; exhibits have included things like "Medieval to Metal: The Art and Evolution of the Guitar," which probes into all aspects of the instrument, and "Colors of the Southwest," which showcased vibrantly colorful and iconic watercolors, photographs and ceramics.

    Recent visitors called the collection of art at this museum "interesting," "fabulous" and "refreshingly unpretentious." Many museumgoers loved the rotating exhibitions and said they often return to see what new pieces are on display.

  • #12
    Liquid Light Glass
    View all Photos
    #12 in Santa Fe
    Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Established in 1986, Liquid Light Glass is a hub for glass-blown art, sculptures, ornaments, vases and more. The shop is located in the Baca Street Arts District, an up-and-coming neighborhood in Santa Fe home to retail shops, furniture showrooms and art boutiques. Travelers can visit the studio to watch founder and owner Elodie Holmes create the colorful glass art or even sign up to take a glass-blowing class (which visitors highly recommend). Past patrons said walking through the shop to see all the unique glass-blown art is a treat; many added that they loved the glass flower-making glass and that the instructor was very patient and helpful.

    You'll find Liquid Light Glass about 2 miles southwest of the Santa Fe Plaza. The store is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Several types of glass-making classes are available and prices vary depending on the type of class. Check out the website for additional information.

Explore More of Santa Fe

When purchasing from our site, we may earn commissions. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.

Recommended

The Best Gettysburg Tours

Use these helpful tips to plan a successful visit to the national military park.

John RodwanSeptember 18, 2019

The Best Statue of Liberty Tours: What to Know Before You Go

Use these tips and advice to help plan your visit to the iconic national monument.

Lyn MettlerSeptember 17, 2019

The Best Graceland Tours: Tips for Visiting Graceland

Advice for making the most of your time at Elvis' famous home.

Gwen PratesiSeptember 16, 2019

The 15 Best Stonehenge Tours

Visit one of the world's most mysterious UNESCO World Heritage Sites with the help of a guide.

Kim Foley MacKinnonSeptember 13, 2019

Baby Travel Tips: Everything You Need to Know About Traveling with an Infant

Traveling with an infant isn't for the faint of heart.

Holly JohnsonSeptember 12, 2019

Pearl Harbor Tours: Tickets and Tips for Visiting

Visit the historic Hawaiian memorial with ease.

John RodwanSeptember 12, 2019

The 13 Best Places to See the Northern Lights

Check the aurora borealis off your bucket list.

Gwen PratesiSeptember 9, 2019

The 9 Best St. Augustine Ghost Tours

Learn about St. Augustine's haunted past with an expert guide.

Holly JohnsonSeptember 9, 2019

The 11 Best Hollywood Tours

Get to know the real Tinseltown with the help of a local.

Gwen PratesiSeptember 6, 2019

The 18 Best Miami Tours

Eat, walk or party your way through the Magic City on these top tours.

Lyn MettlerSeptember 5, 2019