Santa Fe

Perched at 7,000 feet above sea level, the historic, high-desert city of Santa Fe honors its deep roots in Spanish, Native American, and Mexican traditions. The charming, 400-year-old state capital, also known as the “City Different,” has become a cultural epicenter for music, diverse art galleries and museums, memorable outdoor adventures, and renowned Southwestern dining. The magical city backs up to the dramatic Sangre de Cristo Mountains and lures travelers with its impossibly blue skies, clean air, vast open landscapes, and stunning pueblo architecture.

Entrance to the Sculpture Garden at the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

Photo courtesy of Jack Parsons/Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau

Overview

When’s the best time to go to Santa Fe?

Summer’s warm months are busy with cultural events, including a world-class opera, art fairs, and chamber music. Fall promises a change in colors as aspen trees turn golden and freshly harvested Hatch chilies come on the market. The colder (less touristy) winter months usher in powdery snow for skiers, and festive walks along winding Canyon Road offer a glowing backdrop of farolitos (small candles). While spring’s arrival can feel a bit late, the crowds are still thin, so it’s a perfect time for outdoor strolls and more vigorous hikes.

How to get around Santa Fe

Visitors arrive at either Albuquerque International Sunport Airport or the smaller Santa Fe Municipal Airport. The 90-minute Rail Runner commuter train runs from Albuquerque (a quick shuttle bus takes you to the train from Sunport) to Santa Fe. The reasonably priced Sandia Shuttle Express van makes frequent airport runs, dropping off at various Santa Fe locales. To properly explore and enjoy long scenic drives, rental cars are readily available at the airport.

For easy access to the surrounding desert and landscapes, it’s best to rent a car. But once you’re in town, Santa Fe is extremely walkable. A leisurely stroll takes you around the Plaza (the heart of downtown) or up legendary Canyon Road and through the contemporary arts scene in the vibrant Railyard District. Various hiking and biking trails beckon those who crave outdoor activities.

Can’t miss things to do in Santa Fe

The New Mexico State Capitol, known as the Roundhouse, holds an impressive art collection. It includes 600 pieces (paintings, photographs, sculpture, textiles, mixed-media), spread over four floors, but easily accessible and free to visitors. The extensive collection is limited to works created by artists who live in New Mexico.

Food and drink to try in Santa Fe

The diverse dining scene is a melting pot of Spanish, Mexican, cowboy, Mediterranean, and Pueblo Native American influences. Earthy tamales, enchiladas, and chiles rellenos are classic Southwestern offerings. The official New Mexico state question, “Red or green?” asks what chili sauce you want smothering your dish. (Red is more pungent, green is packed with heat.) For a taste of both, the marriage of red and green sauces is known as Christmas. Margaritas are abundant on drink menus, alongside craft brews and award-winning local sparkling wines.

Culture in Santa Fe

The original Native American tribes in the region were joined by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century. Today you can expect a melting pot of these and Anglo influences, and a colorful spectrum of traditions. The merging of the Old and New Worlds has resulted in a fascinating and unique style of architecture that can be seen in centuries-old haciendas, colonial buildings, and Spanish churches.

In summer, shoppers arrive for the popular Indian Market, which brings together over 1,200 artists from 100 different tribes, and the Folk Art Market, which showcases textiles, toys, and jewelry. Fall is the time for the Santa Fe Fiesta, celebrating the town’s 1692 settlement with concerts and a carnival. The Spanish Market showcases traditional Spanish colonial arts, and Christmastime brings festivities along Canyon Road amid a warm glow of lights.

Local travel tips for Santa Fe

At this high elevation, locals frequently apply, and reapply, effective sunscreen, and it’s good to note that the effects of one alcoholic drink at this altitude equals around three elsewhere—so tread lightly on those delicious margaritas and specialty beers. For those who have trouble adjusting to altitude, try a massage catering to what ails, or a dose of the locally produced ChlorOxygen, a chlorophyll herbal remedy that purports to increase your blood’s capacity to hold oxygen. And, in the food category, locals eat the fluffy fried pastries (known as sopapillas) after their meal.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
Chip Conley has launched hotels and led the hospitality strategy at Airbnb. Now he’s focusing on helping midlife travelers get more out of their trips—and their lives.
Hotels
With their firepits and comfort-minded interiors, these are the best hideaways where you can embrace the chill this season.
Resources to help plan your trip
Wake up hungry, for good things are in store. To many locals, a Santa Fe breakfast is the best meal of the day, with a range of Southwestern-style restaurants doling out hearty huevos rancheros, carne adovada, breakfast burritos smothered in chile sauce—all accompanied by fresh juices and hot coffee. It’s best to rise early and beat the crowds.
Of course there’s Mexican food, and New Mexican food, and great hearty breakfasts for pre-ski or pre-hike mornings, but the international culinary options in this funky little town may surprise visitors expecting little more than margaritas. (Those margaritas are pretty tasty too.)
From cervezas and margaritas, to bloody marys hopped-up on Hatch chiles, Santa Fe can roll out cocktails, wine, and beer like the best of them.
Of course there’s Mexican food, and New Mexican food, and great hearty breakfasts for pre-ski or pre-hike mornings, but the international culinary options in this funky little town may surprise visitors expecting little more than margaritas. (Those margaritas are pretty tasty too.)
Santa Fe is known for its distinct cuisine, unique architecture and strong art scene. Many hotels incorporate Southwestern elements into their architecture and design, such as adobe, kiva-style fireplaces, Native American artwork, and textiles.
Santa Fe is more than just a plaza! I’ve rounded up the best of Santa Fe’s natural beauty, amazing food, cultural highlight, and yes... including some stops on the plaza.
Santa Fe renders pure magic. Explore the historic streets of the country’s oldest state capital, known for its collection of museums and its adobe and colonial architecture and Native American influences. Stroll the legendary Canyon Road art galleries and stop by a local bookstore. Attend an opera in an open-air amphitheater. Don’t forget dinner at a legendary dining institution, perhaps with a margarita, a taste of chili, and the sunset.
Welcome to Santa Fe’s fabled restorative and healing arts. For centuries, the inflicted and ill have sought healing in the dry climate, natural hot springs, and pristine air. Most wellness centers use scented elements of pinion, sage, and lavender in their treatments. Restorative techniques hail from ancient local remedies, as well as from Thai and Indonesian therapies. Yoga and mediation are here, too.
Art spaces, wellness retreats, and fine restaurants await, along with 22 miles of trails to reward hikers and cyclists with stellar vistas of New Mexico’s legendary landscapes, including the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Rio Grande River. The city’s epicenter, known as the Plaza, offers dining, window shopping, and Americana treasures. Start your visit with our A Perfect Day in Santa Fe guide, and then go a little deeper with the following recommendations.
After a day in Santa Fe, you’re bound to be thirsty. Not to worry. There’s no better pit stop than an old-school bar, picturesque cafe, or family-owned gem that crafts beloved margaritas with your favorite tequila. (It’s the tipple of choice here in the Southwest.) When in doubt, opt for the establishment’s signature concoction.
Santa Fe is a terrific embarkation point for epic day trips. Follow the winding, highly scenic High Road to Taos through the shifting landscapes of the mysterious Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiú home and studio is a short trip from Santa Fe, as are the stark canyons, cliffs, and red rock mesas of Ghost Ranch and Bandelier National Monument.
It’s no wonder Georgia O’Keeffe came to this New Mexico town to paint. The high-desert setting inspires artists. Think of the city as your oyster: Take in the abundance of local works that occupy a surprising variety of spaces. Hop from ceramic studio to folk art museum, and from photography exhibit to cutting-edge gallery. Even the capitol building is filled with artwork.
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