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Santa Fe Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Smack dab in the heart of the Southwest, Santa Fe, New Mexico has an abundance of rich cultural heritage, stunning landscapes, and endless artistic flair. Whether your a nature lover, art enthusiast or history buff, Santa Fe has something for you. In this comprehensive Santa Fe travel guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know before you go – from the best time to visit to must-try local foods and everything in between.


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Time Zone

MST (Mountain Standard Time) / UTC-7

Best Time to Visit Santa Fe

The best time to visit Santa Fe, New Mexico depends on your preference and what type of experiences you might be looking for. However, the city’s climate makes it a year round destination, with each season having distinct advantages. Here’s what you can expect:

Spring (March-May)

Springtime in Santa Fe brings mild temperatures and blooming flowers. A perfect time for exploring outdoors activities, cultural events, A Spring highlight is the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, which showcases local produce and crafts.

Summer (June-August)

Summer, not surprisingly, is the peak tourist season. Warm temperatures and many festivals such as the Santa Fe Opera, Spanish Market, and Santa Fe International Folk Art Market are just a few of the events that draw visitors from around the world.

Fall (September-November)

Fall is a wonderful time to visit Santa Fe. The weather is pleasant and the landscape is full of changing colors. The aspens are an especially lovely backdrop to all of your sightseeing, hiking, and other outdoor explorations. And equally as delightful are the city’s smaller crowds during this time.

Winter (December-February)

While winter in general might not be anyone’s preferred time of year to visit most places, this season does have its own special magic in Santa Fe. More quiet. More intimate. The city’s iconic adobe architecture dusted with snow creates a charming, picturesque setting. And since there are less outdoor activities available, it is perfect for indulging in the already-cozy vibes of Santa Fe, and taking in art galleries and museums, along with the delicious local cuisine. 

Getting to Santa Fe

a colorful semi-desert like landscape off the side of a road in New Mexico. A large butte of sorts is in the near distance with the horizon far in the background. dramatic orange and grey clouds fill the sky. the ground is heavily covered with orange-y and dark green bushes.
©2023 Stephen & Andie

You should have no problem getting to Santa Fe by any means of transport, as it is conveniently accessible all around.

By Air

Santa Fe Regional Airport (SAF) is the closest airport to the city, offering domestic flights. Alternatively, Albuquerque International (ABQ) is about 60 miles away and has a wider array of flight options.From either airport you can rent a car, take a shuttle or rideshare to get to Santa Fe.

By Car, Campervan, RV, etc.

As van-lifers, this is our preferred method, and boy, did we enjoy the scenic drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Interstate 25 is the primary route running north to south, and Interstate 40 runs east to west. Keep an eye out for roadrunners!

By Train

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route runs between Chicago and Los Angeles. The Rail Runner Express, a commuter train, connects Santa Fe to Albuquerque. Rail travel is a great way to relax while enjoying the landscapes and scenery of the Southwest.

What to Do In Santa Fe

a painting on the side of an adobe building in Santa Fe, New Mexico depicts a person in a robe and cloak, with large wings and a longhorn steer skull for a head
©2023 Stephen & Andie

Explore the Historic Districts

Santa Fe’s historic districts, including Santa Fe Plaza and Canyon Road, are a treasure trove of adobe architecture, art galleries, and charming boutiques. Stroll through the cobblestone streets, admire the centuries-old buildings, and immerse yourself in the unique atmosphere that defines Santa Fe.

Santa Fe Plaza

A National Historic Landmark, Santa Fe Plaza was a witness to over 400 years of New Mexico history, including two major liberation movements – the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the War for Mexican Independence that ended in 1821. In 1846, an American general, standing in the plaza, proclaimed that New Mexico was a United States territory. The heart of downtown Santa Fe – the Plaza – is still the central part of the city, hosting Indian and Spanish markets, community events, concerts, and other annual events.

Canyon Road

If you’re drawn to Santa Fe for its arts scene, Canyon Road is the city’s most famous art district. There are approximately 80 galleries – yes, 80! – within the three quarters of a mile stretch between Paseo De Peralta (at the bottom) and The Teahouse (at the top). You can explore on your own, or for a more curated experience, consider booking a guided small-group tour with an art historian. Museum hours vary – some are open daily, some are closed on Sundays and Mondays, and some are by appointment only, so you’ll want to check online, call ahead, and plan accordingly.

Visit Some of Santa Fe’s Many Museums

art sculptures at the top of an adobe building in Santa Fe New Mexico, which is part of one of the museums on Museum Hill. Native in style, it features three people, each holding different items such as bow and arrows
©2023 Stephen & Andie

With nearly 20 museums in Santa Fe, you’re sure to find at least a few that speak to your tastes. Two of the most popular are located right near Santa Fe Plaza:

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum:

Featuring a comprehensive collection of the iconic American modernist artist’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures, the museum also provides insight into O’Keeffe’s life and artistic evolution. The museum is located about a block and a half from the historic Santa Fe Plaza. 

The New Mexico Museum of Art:

Just off of Santa Fe Plaza on West Palace Avenue, this museum offers a glimpse into the artistic heritage of the region, showcasing a diverse collection of Southwestern art, from traditional to contemporary works. 

Museum Hill – Four Museums, One Hill

Museum Hill sign with a landscape setting surrounding it, at the entrance to Museum Hill in Santa Fe, New Mexico. a moutainous hill is in the background along with trees and tall grass
©2023 Stephen & Andie

If your stay in town isn’t terribly long, you can visit four different museums, all in one magnificent place called Museum Hill. Located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Museum Hill is home to the following museums:

The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art:

The Spanish Colonial Arts Society showcases the cultural heritage of Hispanic New Mexico and its living traditions. Fun fact: It’s the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to Spanish colonial art.

The Museum of International Folk Art:

Renowned for its extensive collection of folk art from around the world, this museum celebrates the creativity and cultural diversity of global communities. Exhibits include traditional textiles, ceramics, and other crafts, providing a rich tapestry of artistic expressions.

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian:

Dedicated to Native American art and culture, the Wheelwright Museum showcases an impressive collection of jewelry, textiles, and pottery. The museum also offers insights into the spiritual and ceremonial aspects of Native American life.

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture:

Focused on the Native American heritage of the Southwest, this museum explores the art, history, and culture of indigenous peoples. Exhibits feature artifacts, pottery, textiles, and contemporary artworks that highlight the contributions of Native American communities.

During your time up on Museum Hill, you can also enjoy the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, the International Folk Art Market, and the Museum Hill Cafe.

Check Out the Railyard

a scene at the Railyard in Santa Fe, New Mexico. a large elevated water tank with "Santa Fe Railyard" and a ladder on it sits next to railroad tracks and in the foreground, with several buildings in the background. a large flying saucer sculpture can be scene on its side, leaning against one of the buildings
©2023 Stephen & Andie

The historic Railyard district is a modern day cultural epicenter that blends the city’s rich cultural history with contemporary energy. Originally a bustling hub for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railways, the historic Railyard retains its distinctive character with weathered brick buildings and vintage railroad remnants. And trains aren’t just a thing of the past at the Railyard – the New Mexico Rail Runner offers commuter service 7 days a week between the Railyard in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Belen. Home to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, the Railyard district also boasts a green space known as Railyard Park, an eclectic mix of art galleries, shops, and restaurants, as well as community events. It’s a great place to spend a leisurely afternoon taking in the vibes.

Hike the Trails

woman hiking on a path in New Mexico with autumnal colors and leaves on the ground. trees are arching over her from the left
©2023 Stephen & Andie

Nature enthusiasts will love the hiking trails surrounding Santa Fe. The Dale Ball Trails and Atalaya Mountain Trail are two of the most popular choices for hikers of all levels. The diverse landscapes, from high desert terrain to mountainous vistas, are sure to give any outdoor adventurer a breathtaking perspective of Santa Fe.

Attend Cultural Events

Santa Fe hosts loads of cultural events throughout the year. The Santa Fe Indian Market, the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, and the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta are just a few examples. These events showcase the city’s rich cultural heritage and also provide a platform for artists and artisans to display their talents.

Attend a Traditional Pueblo Feast Day

Immerse yourself in the local Native American culture by attending a traditional pueblo feast day. These celebrations often include dances, ceremonies, and communal meals. Check the schedule in advance and respectfully participate in these events to gain insight into the rich cultural heritage of the region.

Day Trips from Santa Fe

landscape photo of Taos Pueblo multi-storied adobe dwellings with trees and mountainous hill in the background
Taos Pueblo ©2023 Stephen & Andie

If you’re spending long enough in Santa Fe, the city is also a great springboard for many different types of day trips that showcase the region’s diverse landscapes and rich cultural tapestry even further. Here are just a few we highly recommend, all within an hour or two from Santa Fe.

Taos

landscape photo of Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, the church is in the center
Taos Pueblo ©2023 Stephen & Andie

Just a 90 minute drive from the city, the historic town of Taos beckons with its adobe architecture and the iconic Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pueblos are one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States. Once you arrive at the visitors center and pay the admission, we highly recommend jumping on one of the guided tours, which run every 20-30 minutes and are led by locals of the village. Bring cash, as the tour guides are volunteers and are not paid an hourly wage, plus, some of the local shops and restaurants are cash-only. If there is only one day trip you make from Santa Fe, this should be the one.

Drive the Enchanted Circle

This is something to add to your visit to Taos. If you’ve got enough time, make your Taos day trip a two-day trip. Spend one day doing the town and another day driving the scenic Enchanted Circle. This route spans approximately 83 miles, weaving through the Southern Rockies and the Moreno Valley, presenting travelers with a breathtaking array of natural wonders and cultural gems. As you venture along, the road winds through the Carson National Forest, with panoramic views of the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Make a pit stop in the charming town of Questa, surrounded by pristine wilderness, and continue your drive to the alpine resorts of Red River and Angel Fire. These mountain retreats beckon with opportunities for outdoor adventures, from hiking in the warmer months to skiing in winter. Whilehe drive itself takes approximately 2-3 hours, the numerous views, activities, and attractions you might stop for make it ideal for at least a half, if not a full day excursion.

Bandelier National Monument

man climbing very tall handmade ladder of the cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico
Bandelier National Monument ©2023 Stephen & Andie

For both nature and history enthusiasts, Bandelier National Monument unveils ancient cliff dwellings and hiking trails amidst the rugged beauty of the Jemez Mountains, and it’s barely an hour from Santa Fe. The significance and impact of these amazingly preserved cliff dwellings cannot be overstated. Visitors can even climb into some designated areas to get a closer look and feel for what life might have been like hundreds of years ago. If you’re really brave, the climb up into Alcove House consists of four wooden ladders and many stone stairs. Bandelier is a very close second to Taos, as far as must-do day trips from Santa Fe. 

Valles Caldera

The Valles Caldera National Preserve is a geological marvel and a natural wonder. This massive volcanic crater, spanning 13.7 miles in diameter, was formed over a million years ago and is surrounded by lush meadows, dense forests, and meandering streams. Home to diverse wildlife, including elk, bears, and a variety of bird species, the caldera provides an immersive outdoor experience. Whether you’re hiking the trails, admiring the wildflowers, or simply taking in the panoramic views, Valles Caldera is an awe-inspiring testament to the dynamic forces that shape our planet.

What to Eat and Drink in Santa Fe

No Santa Fe travel guide would be complete without covering the food. Santa Fe’s culinary scene is a fantastic fusion of flavors influenced by Native American, Spanish, and Mexican cuisines. From traditional dishes to modern interpretations, here are some culinary delights you’ve gotta try while in town.

Green and Red Chile

No trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico is complete without trying the iconic green and red chile dishes. Whether smothering enchiladas, served in stews, or as a topping for burgers, the spicy and flavorful chiles are a staple of New Mexican cuisine. Many restaurants offer green, red, or “Christmas” – which is both!

Navajo Tacos

Navajo tacos are a fusion of Native American and Mexican flavors. These tacos feature fry bread as the base (instead of tortillas), and are topped with beans, ground meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. Each bite is a delicious journey through the diverse culinary influences of the region.

Fry Bread

Just in case the above-mentioned fry bread is a new one for you, we’ll give it its own mention here, as it is a must-try in the region. It basically is exactly what it sounds like. Hot tip: a native of Taos Pueblo – whose in-home restaurant was where we had our first fry bread, which she made fresh to order – told us to try it her favorite way, with honey and chili powder. We can attest, YES!

Blue Corn Pancakes

Start your day with a Santa Fe breakfast classic – blue corn pancakes. Made from blue cornmeal, these pancakes have a unique texture and flavor. Top them with local honey or piñon butter for a delightful morning treat.

Piñon Coffee

Sip on a cup of piñon coffee to experience the rich and nutty flavor of pine nuts. This unique coffee blend, often enjoyed with breakfast or as an afternoon pick-me-up, reflects the distinct flavors of the Southwest.

Restaurants in Santa Fe (Recommended by Locals)

Tomasita’s

sign on the outside of Tomasita's restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico
©2023 Stephen & Andie

You know a spot is good when it comes recommended on different occasions, by different locals, in different areas of New Mexico. Located just around the corner from the Railyard, Tomasita’s is a Santa Fe institution, and we quickly learned why. Ask for a sopaipilla to start things off. Of Latin American heritage, sopaipilla is a pillow-shaped fried pastry dough, similar to Native American fry bread. Top with butter, honey, and enjoy! Tomasita’s is where we were introduced to “Christmas” – both red and green chili smothering one of our entrees, which was a veggie burrito. If you’re indecisive, this is a great solution. Everything was wonderful at Tomasita’s, from the food to the staff. You should go. 

Pasqual’s

the sign on the outside of Cafe Pasqual's in Santa Fe, New Mexico
©2023 Stephen & Andie

Pasqual’s also comes highly recommended by locals. Full of charming Southwestern ambiance, the restaurant effortlessly blends traditional adobe architecture with a warm, inviting atmosphere. And the friendly staff goes above and beyond in making you feel like family, too. But most importantly, the food is the true star here. Pasqual’s takes pride in sourcing fresh, local ingredients, resulting in a menu that showcases the vibrant flavors of the region. From their signature blue corn pancakes to savory green chile stew, every dish celebrates the area’s rich culinary heritage. If you’re looking to savor a true taste of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Pasqual’s is a must-visit, offering a delightful blend of flavors, culture, and hospitality.

Where to Stay in Santa Fe

Choosing the right accommodation is crucial to enhancing your overall Santa Fe, New Mexico experience. The city offers a range of lodging options, from historic adobe inns to luxury resorts.

Historic Inns and Bed & Breakfasts

Immerse yourself in the charm of Santa Fe by staying in one of its historic inns or bed and breakfasts. These accommodations often feature adobe architecture, authentic Southwestern décor, and personalized service. The Inn of the Five Graces and the Antigua Inn are excellent choices for a cozy and intimate stay.

Boutique Hotels

Santa Fe’s boutique hotels provide a blend of style and character. Choose from a variety of unique properties that offer a personalized and intimate atmosphere. La Fonda on the Plaza and Hotel Santa Fe are popular boutique options, each with its own distinctive charm.

Luxury Resorts

If you’re a “little extra,” Santa Fe also offers a selection of upscale resorts with spa amenities, fine dining, and breathtaking views. The Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado and the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi are renowned for their world-class hospitality and attention to detail.

Tips for Visiting Santa Fe

bunches of chilis hanging from an adobe building in the sun in Santa Fe, New Mexico
©2023 Stephen & Andie

Respect the Local Culture

Santa Fe has a rich cultural heritage, and it’s important to respect the customs and traditions of the local communities, including (and especially) Native American Pueblos. Be mindful of photography and videography restrictions, participate respectfully in cultural events, and support local artisans.

Embrace the Local Pace

Santa Fe operates at a relaxed and laid-back pace. Embrace the opportunity to slow down, savor the moment, and just chill.

Pack Layers

The weather in Santa Fe can vary throughout the day, with cooler temperatures in the morning and evening. Pack layers to stay comfortable and be prepared for temperature fluctuations.

In Conclusion

Santa Fe is a destination that leaves a lasting impression. Rich in culture, artistic soul, and stunning landscapes, the city is a true Southwestern gem. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, Santa Fe’s unique charm and vibrant energy is sure to win you over. 


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