17 Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Top-Rated Attractions 2022
Santa Fe, the capital of the state of New Mexico, is one of the oldest cities in the United States and has a rich history and heritage that you can delve into. Home to a fascinating mix of cultures, its ancient streets are a delight to explore with attractive Native American adobe buildings and charming Spanish colonial churches alongside magnificent Mexican missions.
In addition to being known for its cultural diversity and interesting historical tourist attractions, the city is also famous for its extraordinary artistic scene. While plenty of galleries dot its streets, Santa Fe is also an important center for the performing arts and hosts significant cultural events and festivals.
Other things to do in Santa Fe include visiting excellent museums and exploring its picturesque surroundings at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
1. Canyon Trail
A popular and picturesque place to visit and explore, Canyon Road is notably home to more than a hundred art galleries, studios, and workshops. Located just southeast of downtown Santa Fe, this art area is truly an art lover’s dream, with all manner of wares, from contemporary crafts and extravagant clothing to sparkling jewelry, glittering goldwork, and stunning sculptures on display.
The galleries, displaying impressive and evocative Native American crafts and artifacts, are a delight, as many are housed in attractive buildings.
While some of the artists are internationally renowned, others are locally famous for their fantastic folk art that highlights the history and heritage of the region. In addition, there are many great restaurants and cafes along the route, making Canyon Road a way not to be missed for its beautiful art, architecture, and atmosphere.
2. Plaza de Santa Fe
Plaza de Santa Fe’s historic heart has been the center of city life for more than four hundred years. Situated in the center of the town, the picturesque square is surrounded by many adobe buildings and historic houses, with magnificent monuments and museums.
The ‘Plaza,’ as the locals know it, is a charming, lively, and relaxed place, with many excellent art galleries, boutiques, and Native American art and craft vendors.
As it regularly hosts markets and music events, parades, and festivals, there is always something to see or do. With many souvenir shops, restaurants to try, and museums to explore, it’s impossible to visit Santa Fe without stopping by the plaza at least once or twice.
3. Santa Fe Opera
North of the city is the modern Santa Fe Opera House, which offers world-class opera performances every summer. Being partially outdoors, this phenomenal location provides mesmerizing views of the Jemez Mountains, a stunning backdrop to its expansive setting.
Founded in 1998, the opera house features incredible architecture with its candle-shaped roof reflecting the sounds of the stage to the audience. Every season hosts endless shows and spectacular shows featuring up-and-coming opera singers performing alongside established stars.
The Santa Fe Opera House is one of the best and most memorable places to attend a performance in the country’s Southwest, so it’s worth a visit if you get the chance.
4. Museum of Indigenous Art and Culture
The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is an exciting and impressive place that offers a fascinating insight into the origins, history, and traditions of the Native Americans of the Southwest.
Located just south of downtown on Museum Hill, its captivating collection includes an astonishing array of incredible art, artifacts, and archaeological finds.
Founded in 1909, this magnificent museum protects, preserves, and promotes different peoples’ history, culture, and heritage, in addition to viewing all of its phenomenal pottery, photographs, and permanent exhibits.
5. El Rancho de las Golondrinas
El Rancho de las Golondrinas is just a twenty-minute drive south of downtown, a vast, historic ranch that is now a living history museum. With plenty of beautiful old buildings, orchards, and vineyards, this sprawling site offers invaluable insight into New Mexico’s history, heritage, culture, and traditions of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Once, it was a rest stop on the Camino Real from New Mexico to Santa Fe. Still, the fortified residence “Rancho de las Golondrinas” now welcomes tourists and school groups in its picturesque setting.
It is an educational and interactive place with lots of fascinating exhibits and demonstrations highlighting how farmers, blacksmiths, and millers lived and worked in Spanish colonial times.
6. Santa Fe Farmers Market
Since it was founded in 1968 by a small group of farmers, the Santa Fe Farmers Market has included more than 150 local growers and vendors. This is a charming, lively, and yet relaxed place, located a stone’s throw from the city’s center, in the Railyard of Santa Fe.
As well as browsing its endless stalls laden with fresh produce and colorful foods, visitors can shop for souvenirs, sample some local delicacies, and stop for a coffee or snack.
Although the Saturday morning market is the most popular and features live music and bands, other smaller markets are to stop at on both Tuesdays and Sundays.
7. Chapel of Loreto
Although famous for its “miraculous” spiral staircase, the charming little Chapel of Loreto has many other features that visitors can enjoy. Built-in 1878, it features beautiful architecture with beautiful buttresses, magnificent Spiers, and impressive stained glass windows.
However, inside the glorious Gothic-style church, the striking spiral staircase stands out, around which so many myths and legends revolve.
The unique and unusual staircase appears to be unsupported and stands out charmingly against the white walls of the charming chapel. The Loretto Chapel, now a museum and wedding venue, is located in the historic heart of Santa Fe.
8. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Located in the heart of the city, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is dedicated to the life and legacy of the world-renowned artist. In all, his magnificent galleries house more than a thousand of his fabulous paintings, drawings, and sculptures, as well as countless other works of art by his contemporaries.
In addition to viewing the most extensive O’Keeffe collection in the world, visitors can see a film about his life and artistic achievements and view some of his items and memorabilia.
Situated in a former adobe Baptist church, the museum is worth a visit for its wonderful watercolor works and pretty pastel pieces depicting New Mexican life and landscapes.
9. New Mexico State Capitol
Just a short walk from the Santa Fe Plaza is the New Mexico State Capitol, which is the seat of the state government. This is a unique and unusual building, informally known as the ‘Roundhouse’ as its striking architecture is designed to resemble the circular emblem of the Zia People, which is also the symbol of the state.
Built in 1966, it exhibits a delightful mix of territorial revival and neoclassical architectural styles, with its impressive dome and the stained glass ceiling being the highlight.
In addition to viewing the House and Senate chambers from above, visitors can see all of the fantastic art displayed, representing the history and culture of the peoples of New Mexico.
10. Meow Wolf
A unique interactive and immersive art installation, the mesmerizing Meow Wolf promises to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen or experienced before. Set in a former bowling alley, its surreal scenes and settings are a lot of fun to explore and seem decidedly otherworldly and unique.
As you search for clues and decipher codes related to the disappearance of a California family, you walk through mysterious corridors, find hidden doors, and pass-through portals to other worlds and dimensions.
Along the way, you come across many impressive works of art with magical music blasting through the air. Opened in 2016, the House of the Eternal Return, as it is known, is located just a fifteen-minute drive southwest of the city center.
11. New Mexico Museum of History
Home to an astonishing array of interesting artifacts and exhibits, the New Mexico Museum of History is located just behind the Palace of the Governors in the center of town.
It is worth a visit if you have the opportunity, as it offers a fascinating insight into the people, cultures, and communities of the state and the Southwest.
Inaugurated in 2009, this magnificent museum has three floors of photographs, engravings, and archaeological finds. In them, you can see from the indigenous life in the state to the Spanish colonization and important events of the twentieth century. Plus, you can shop for great souvenirs at the on-site fantastic daily indigenous art market.
12. Santa Fe Indian Market
Every year in August, thousands upon thousands of artists, vendors, tourists, and collectors flock to the city to attend the magnificent Santa Fe Indian Market. Featuring more than 1,200 of the best Native American artists from more than 220 tribes and peoples, this colorful and chaotic cultural celebration is the largest exhibition and market of its kind in the world.
In the city’s central square and on the surrounding streets, there are endless stalls selling everything from beautiful beading and basketwork to gleaming jewelry, weavings, and sculptures.
In addition, you will be able to visit studios and open galleries and attend musical, cinematographic, and cultural events of the natives, whose most exquisite works are awarded in competitions with a jury.
13. Museum of International Folk Art
An incredible place to visit, the Museum of International Folk Art has a captivating collection of some 135,000 objects that hail from more than 100 countries. It is the largest and best museum of folk art globally, and its stimulating artifacts and exhibits are just a short drive south of the city center.
Since its opening in 1953, its colossal collection has grown steadily, and today incredible toys and textiles are on display alongside colorful carvings, ceramics, and costumes from around the world.
In addition to displaying a great deal of splendid local Hispanic art, the excellent museum also features some charming scenes and exhibits depicting everyday life in different societies.
14. Chapel of San Miguel
Although it looks like a relatively straightforward structure at first glance, St. Michael’s Chapel is believed to be the oldest surviving church in the entire United States. Although the current chapel dates from 1710, an earlier version stood in the exact location for nearly a century before being burned and destroyed during a revolt.
Initially built by Franciscan friars and Tlaxcalans, the charming chapel now displays attractive adobe architecture and is adorned with a small, simple bell tower.
In contrast to its earth-colored exterior, its interior is painted white with unique artwork and an impressive altar on its walls. It is worth visiting for its historical and religious importance. The Chapel of San Miguel is located in the historic heart of Santa Fe.
15. Cathedral Basilica of San Francisco de Asís
One of the most important and impressive historical places in the city is the charming Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, located right in the center of the town.
Built between 1869 and 1886 in a dazzling Romanesque style, its fantastic façade is flanked by two towers and features a great rose window above a pretty entrance.
Despite being quite austere inside, its nave is bordered by colossal Corinthian columns, and on either side are charming tiny chapels. A small statue of the Virgin Mary stands out, known as La Conquistadora, the oldest sculpture in the country.
16. Palace of the Governors
On one side of the pretty and pleasant Plaza de Santa Fe is the Palacio de Los Gobernadores, built impressively in 1610. As the oldest public building in the country, it served as the seat of state government for centuries. Today, it is protected as part of the excellent New Mexico Museum of History.
It is filled with fabulous period pieces and furniture. Its ancient artifacts offer an exciting look at the history of the building, the city, and the state. The simple one-story structure is now a National Historic Landmark featuring excellent adobe architecture.
17. Skiing in Santa Fe
To the northeast of the city are the sensational snowy slopes of Ski Santa Fe, one of the area’s most accessible and attractive resorts. In total, it has 88 magnificent slopes and a tantalizing terrain park for you to try out, with plenty of scenery and mesmerizing views to enjoy from high.
Suitable for beginners, intermediates, and experts, its snowy slopes have an absolute difference of about 500 meters and have seven lifts. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, visitors can enjoy great mountain shops and restaurants, as well as epic hiking and mountain biking trails nearby.
Frequently Asked Questions: Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico
What is Santa Fe best known for?
Nicknamed “The City Different,” Santa Fe has always been known for marching to the beat of its own drum. Its story stretches back to the 1600s, giving this Southwestern hub multiple centuries to grow into its imaginative, artistic self.
Is Santa Fe New Mexico worth visiting?
One of the oldest cities in the United States, New Mexico’s state capital Santa Fe has a rich history and heritage for you to delve into. While plenty of galleries dot its streets, Santa Fe is also an important center for the performing arts and hosts lots of great cultural events and festivals.
How many days do you need in Santa Fe New Mexico?
Three days isn’t enough time to get the full experience of this area. If you’re thinking of coming to Santa Fe, I would recommend trying to schedule in at least four or five days so that you can enjoy an easy pace and have a wider variety of experiences.
Is Santa Fe or Albuquerque better?
I would not consider Santa Fe a ‘better’ city than Albuquerque… each city has its virtues. Santa Fe is a more beautiful city in the southwestern tradition. Albuquerque is a more affordable option both for residents and travelers (Check out my post on things to do in Historic Old Town Albuquerque).
What is the best time to visit Santa Fe?
The best time to visit Santa Fe is between September and November. During this time, temperatures range from the high 20s to high 70s. One can argue that springtime has a similar climate with similar hotel rates, but the festivals make fall the clear winner.
Is Santa Fe romantic?
Santa Fe is a year round romantic destination that’s famous for its art, culture and food scene. It’s also a romantic destination with some top-rated hotels that go all in for couples. Here are seven of our favorites.
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