Art, Adventure, Spas, and Chiles: The Best Things to Do in Santa Fe

Santa Fe has all the art, food, history, and nature you could want. Here are the coolest ways to spend your time in the Southwestern city.

A few modern adobe-style homes dotted among green trees and mountains by Santa Fe

Santa Fe is a city rich with intriguing art and appealing food—and it’s all set in some of North America’s most scenic landscapes.

Photo by 12019 Pixabay

Santa Fe’s nickname is “The City Different,” which may seem a little odd or exaggerated—how different can a city be? But once you’re there, it makes sense immediately. It’s so unlike any other city in the United States, you may often have to remind yourself you haven’t actually left the country. And we mean that in the best way possible: Different (delicious) cuisine, a variety of languages, and non-Anglo-centric cultures mash together here to create something utterly one of a kind.

Aside from this, Santa Fe is simply a beautiful place. Ancient adobe architecture allows the mountain desert backdrop to shine, while the city’s impressive art scene adds flourishes in all the right ways. It became part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network in 2005.

And recently, Santa Fe has seen some exciting openings. A satellite of the New Mexico Museum of Art arrived in the city’s art-focused Railyard District, and the food scene continues to grow. Which is why you should plan your trip to New Mexico’s vibrant capital city now—read on for the best things to do in Santa Fe.

A glow-in-the-dark path through neon colored trees at art installation Meow Wolf Santa Fe

Meow Wolf’s interactive, walk-through art installation is like a fun house on steroids, with glow-in-the-dark sections and a story that ties the whole experience together.

Photo by Billie Cohen

1. Immerse yourself in an interactive art world at Meow Wolf

Make a beeline for Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, which is inside an old bowling alley. The Meow Wolf collective began in Santa Fe, and they can easily argue that they started the immersive art craze when they first opened here in 2016. The fun-house-meets-art-installation is intensely interactive (climb through laundry machines, play xylophone on alien bones, find story clues on TVs and in bedroom drawers), boundary pushing, mind bending, and beautiful. Today—with outposts in Denver, Las Vegas, and Grapevine, Texas—they’ve made a name for themselves and have inspired several emulators.

You can get tickets online at

2. Decide which chile style you prefer: red, green, or Christmas

New Mexico is one of the few U.S. states to truly have a cuisine worthy of its own classification—when someone says New Mexican food, it actually means something. Usually, it has something to do with Mexican influences and New Mexican–grown chiles, namely Hatch chiles, which can be green or red depending on how ripe they are. These form the base for red or green chile sauce, which you’ll find on dishes all over the city.

Start with the New Mexico invention of a breakfast burrito filled with eggs, beans, and sometimes fried potatoes, and you’ll usually be asked if you want them smothered in chile sauce (answer: yes) and which kind (red, green, or Christmas, which is half and half). If you ask a group of locals where to get the best one, you’ll get a flurry of competing answers, but you can’t go wrong at the iconic Tia Sophia’s or the more modern Dolina Bakery & Cafe (which also has a delicious Eastern European menu and stellar baking program).

For lunch or dinner, longtime local downtown favorite the Shed is good for a slew of traditional New Mexican dishes, from enchiladas to tamales to posole, all served with fiery red or green chile.

Café Pasqual’s has been serving Mexican and New Mexican fare since 1979, and Sazon dishes out classic Mexican food with a focus on mole cooked by Mexico City native chef Fernando Olea.

If you need a chile break, try Paper Dosa, one of the most authentic South Indian restaurants in the country.

Short, historic wooden water tower with the words Santa Fe Railyard on it, with a few people and buildings nearby

Santa Fe’s Railyard Arts District is a neighborhood full of galleries, restaurants, and historic buildings.

Photo by Keely MIller from Pixabay

3. Explore the Railyard District and farmers’ market

The Sky Railway’s Santa Fe depot is in the Railyard District, just a few minutes from downtown. The active train station (it’s where the commuter train to/from Albuquerque stops) has become a creative, shopping, and dining hub in recent years, and it’s been the home of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market since the 1990s. Visit vendors selling locally grown produce, and herbs and spices like epazote and ground chiles. You can also pick up prepared foods such as raspberry-rhubarb pies, chile and cheese flatbread, green and red chile mustard, and brightly colored chile ristras (dried chile strings and wreaths). On Sundays, catch the adjacent Railyard Artisan Market, as well as the El Museo Mercado vintage and flea market across the tracks.

4. Visit the New Mexico Museum of Art Vladem Contemporary

In September 2023, after 10 years of planning, the New Mexico Museum of Art opened a new building in the Railyard District: the New Mexico Museum of Art Vladem Contemporary. It adds nearly 10,000 square feet of exhibition space and affirms the institution’s commitment to contemporary art. Don’t miss the NMMA’s original location either. The handsome pueblo revival adobe building has a peaceful garden and courtyard and mounts small, rotating exhibits from its impressive 20,000-piece permanent collection that includes such well-known artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, Gustave Baumann, and Ansel Adams.

5. Get to know today’s creatives at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

For modern Native American art, a stop at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is a must. It’s the country’s only museum for exhibiting and collecting the progressive work of contemporary Indigenous artists.

6. Be wowed at Site Santa Fe

Site Santa Fe, which opened in 1995, hosts provocative biennials as well as a wealth of multimedia productions and notable international and contemporary art exhibits. After a striking renovation and expansion (by the New York–based design firm SHoP Architects), its dramatic glass facade sits beneath a triangular front, welcoming visitors inside.

7. Get to know the real Georgia O’Keeffe

Located in downtown Santa Fe, the perfectly sized Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is dedicated to the artistic life of the famed painter (1887–1986) and houses the single largest collection of her work in the world. It’s small but mighty and is a definite must-see; if you have time, make a pilgrimage to her house in Abiquiú, about an hour’s drive away.

8. Wander through downtown’s galleries

The gallery scene in Santa Fe is legendary, with more than 250 of them throughout the downtown area and along the famous Canyon Road (Shiprock, Keep Contemporary, and Good Folk are a few favorites). You can easily spend an entire afternoon strolling the tree-lined street dotted with classic adobe homes that are now galleries.

9. Plan a trip around Santa Fe Art Week

Every July, the city hosts Santa Fe Art Week, a festival of gallery strolls every evening in a different neighborhood, various openings and shows, art talks, workshops, and more. The week closes with the annual Art Santa Fe fair at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, which includes art labs curated by leading galleries, site-specific solo exhibits, and an affordable art section called Discoveries Collection.

Hallway with skylights and lined with windows (L); women walking into steam room of Spa at the Inn of the Five Graces (R)

The Spa at the Inn of the Five Graces is a luxurious indulgence after a day of hiking.

Photos by David Marlow

10. Indulge in restorative wellness

Santa Fe has long attracted people seeking to renew and refresh their mind, body, and spirit. Many even believe that the city has its own healing powers thanks to the area’s dry climate, natural hot springs, sun-filled days, and starry nights.

Ten Thousand Waves Spa is known for its Japanese-style hot spring soaking tubs, but getting a reservation can be tough if you don’t book far in advance.

The long-standing Inn of the Five Graces, an eclectic and luxurious Relais & Châteaux family-owned hotel, added an excellent spa in 2021. Like the rest of the hotel, its design features textiles and furnishings imported by the owners from such places as India, Afghanistan, and Morocco, as well as detailed tile mosaics in the bathroom and treatment rooms. If you can manage to stop gawking at the gorgeous decor, you’ll find the capable hands of a masseuse will soon lull you into relaxation.

11. Ride the Sky Railway

Game of Thrones author and Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin put his name (and money) behind Meow Wolf. So when he took it upon himself to join with other locals to reimagine the defunct 18-mile rail spur between Santa Fe and Lamy, the result was no ordinary train ride. Called the Sky Railway, two fantastically painted trains make their way between the two cities while riders enjoy entertainers, music, dinner parties, and cocktails along the way. The railway launched in 2021 with experiences including Pablo’s Magical Holiday, Sunset Serenade, and Murder on the Lamy Line, and it recently added the Margarita Rail, which gives each passenger a passport for the Santa Fe Margarita Trail to use around the city after the train trip.

If you don’t feel like cooking, choose one of many newly opened food and drink spots in the Railyard District. Bosque Brewing Co. from Albuquerque, recently added Restoration Pizza inside, As Above So Below Distillery not only distills spirits but also mixes up creative cocktails (and offers tours), Nuckolls Brewing Co. serves beer and music, and Chomp Food Hall is a wide-ranging food hall (think pizza, Khmer cuisine, barbecue, and wines) that also hosts live music.

Blue pottery bowl holding about 15 fancy chocolates, viewed from overhead at Kakawa

In addition to its drinking chocolates, Kakawa also sells truffles and bars to take home as souvenirs.

Courtesy of Kakawa Chocolate House

12. Sip chocolate elixirs

As temperatures drop, a rich cup of hot chocolate begins to sound very appealing. But at Kakawa Chocolate House—which has two locations in Santa Fe—you won’t find overly sweet and milky concoctions. Instead, its drinking chocolates are based on recipes from historic sources using carefully selected chocolate from Latin America and Africa. And if you ask for a tasting, you’ll get a dose of palatable cacao education that delves into drinking chocolate’s Mayan and Aztec origins, tracks its European versions (including a recipe by Thomas Jefferson), and culminates in several of Kakawa’s own recipes. The shop also makes a variety of truffles and ice cream.

13. Shop small businesses

Santa Fe is filled with independently owned boutiques. Wander around the city’s main square, the Plaza, and discover shops selling plenty of vintage and new turquoise jewelry, Southwestern textiles and apparel, western cowboy-style gear, and modern housewares. Several worth poking your head into include Keshi, Overland Sheepskin Co., Hecho a Mano, Malouf on the Plaza, Collected Works Bookstore, Seret and Sons, Santa Fe Dry Goods, WearAbouts, and Double Take, New Mexico’s largest consignment shop.

A skier in orange jacket heading downhill, with mountains in background

Winter is prime time for experiencing Santa Fe’s outdoor offerings.

Courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe

14. Go for a hike or hit the slopes

Santa Fe is surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, high desert, and the Santa Fe National Forest, which make for excellent hiking and skiing locations. For hiking, try the 3.9-mile-long Picacho Peak Trail, which ascends one of the highest hills that rises above the city, or the longer Nambe Lake Trail, about a 30-minute drive from downtown. In winter, settle into the Ski Santa Fe resort and get ready for some serious powder.

This story was originally published in 2021 and was updated on April 17, 2024 with current information.

Devorah Lev-Tov is a Brooklyn-based food and travel journalist who has been published in Afar, the New York Times, National Geographic, Vogue, Bon Appetit, and more.
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