This last Thanksgiving our travel plans fell apart pretty last minute, leaving us with the kids home from school for a week and The Husband on holiday for the same amount of time. While we could have pulled off a staycation, we decided to do a quick road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico…I’m so thankful we did. I’m totally crushing on this little town with a history stretching back to 1610 – there are so many things to do in Santa Fe, even when it snows. And, boy did it snow during our visit. (Sip in more with our New Mexico Wine Travel Guide.)
You would think being the Capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe would be a big, bustling city but it’s actually quite relaxed and laid back, making it a great weekend escape for city dwellers like myself. The heart of the city is its traditional Plaza from which numerous crooked streets wind past historic landmarks. You could spend hours just walking, and winding your way around the historic downtown. Yet, the art galleries, museums, upscale boutiques, Pueblo style architecture and amazing green chili make Santa Fe a mecca for art and food lovers. (I literally ate green chili at every meal for five days…it was heaven!!)
With so many things to do in Santa Fe I tried to narrow it down for you guys with some of my favorites. If you plan to head to area, I’d love to hear what yours are.
Carpe Travels Top Picks For Things to do in Santa Fe
Check out the Local New Mexico Wine Scene
Come on, this will nearly always be first on my list of things to do, and in Santa Fe it’s no different. While there aren’t any wineries here there are four tasting rooms in Santa Fe, making it a great way to sip-in the local New Mexico wine scene. If you like bubbles, a visit to the
Gruet Winery Tasting Room is must. However, if you’re limited on time you’ll be able to find several their wines at the local restaurants so you can sip it in there. Tip – The local green chili pairs well with the sparkling rose. I highly recommend you visit Herve Wine Bar, which features wines from D.H. Lescombes and plan to pair an appetizer or two with your flight of wines. This is the only Santa Fe wine tasting room that offers food, besides a small cheese plate. I personally loved the Petite Verdot, Petite Syrah and Mourvedre, which paired well with the bruchetta and the Semillon paired with the bacon wrapped dates. I do want to point out that the Herve Wine Bar is great spot for parents who want to sip (a little) with their kids. The other two wine tasting rooms in Santa Fe is The Wine Spot and Noisy Water Winery.
Have Hours of Fun in Meow Wolf
The intriguingly named Meow Wolf should be top of the top for visitors to Santa Fe. It’s an entertaining blend of interactive art installations and a crazy funhouse with otherworldly realms and mysterious tunnels that are all housed together in a former bowling center.
A visit to this giant play park is one of the most fun things to do in Santa Fe, whether you’re young, old or just young at heart.
Head up to Museum Hill
With more than a dozen museums dotted across the city, Santa Fe is a mecca for anyone who loves museums. However, with so many to choose from it’s hard to know where to start, so we suggest that you start at Museum Hill.
Not only does it offer stunning views over the city but there are four museums located in close proximity – the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the renowned International Folk-Art Museum and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.
You’ll also find the Santa Fe Botanical Garden up here too.
Gaze in Wonder at the Loretto Chapel
My kids go to a Catholic school run by the Sisters of Loretto, so per their request the Loretto Chapel was the first stop we made when we visited Santa Fe. To be honest, it was so fun to here Princess Two enthusiastically tell us the story of the Miraculous Staircase, one of the architectural highlights of Santa Fe, that I couldn’t wait to get there myself.
The historic chapel sits just off the Santa Fe Plaza. Legend has it, the Sisters of Loretto had been praying a novena to St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of Carpenters for nine days for help with completing the unfinished chapel staircase when on the last day of their prayers a mysterious figure named Joe knocked on the chapel door, offering to help. Working behind closed doors and using only simple tools and wooden pegs (no nails!), the carpenter constructed the Miraculous Staircase. He left in the late hours one night, before showing the sisters the completed staircase – and without payment. The sisters were convinced Joe was St. Joseph, sent as an answer to their prayers.
Santa Fe Plaza
The historic Santa Fe Plaza is a great place to get a sense of the history and feel for Santa Fe. With a number of restaurants featuring local cuisine – green chili is everywhere! – jewelry stores and the open market you can easily spend an afternoon sipping it in. While you’re in the Plaza, make sure to stop outside the Palace of the Governors where a number of local Native American’s sell authentic, handmade pottery and jewelry. (This is one – if not – the only place to buy these things.) If you’re looking for a few dining options around the Santa Fe Plaza, a few of my favorites include The Shed, Café Pasqual’s, La Plazuela at La Fonda and The French Pastry Shop & Restaurant.
Step Back in Time at the New Mexico History Museum & Palace of the Governors
If you want to learn more about the history of New Mexico, a visit to the New Mexico History Museum is a must-do. Packed with interactive displays, you’ll travel a timeline that begins with the Ancestral Puebloan people, charts the era of the Spanish conquistadors and Santa Fe pioneers and then brings you right up to date via the eras of the railroad, the Manhattan Project and the arrival of the hippies during the peace-loving 60’s.
The Palace of the Governors is also located within the grounds of the museum and is the oldest government building in the United States. Again, the best place to shop!!
Pick up Supplies at The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market
If you love Farmers’ Markets, you’ll love the bustling atmosphere of the Farmers’ Market in Santa Fe where dozens of farmers, ranchers, bakers and artisan cheesemakers come together to sell their wares. Open all year round, it has the awesome accolade of being one of the best farmers’ markets in the country and is a great place to pick up supplies or to enjoy some of the local food and drink. If you get the chance, try to stop at the booth for Vivac Winery. This is one the top New Mexico wineries and they do tastings each week at the Farmers Market.
Soak up the Atmosphere in the Canyon Road Arts District
No visit to Santa Fe would be complete without a stroll down the infamous Canyon Road, which is home to over a hundred galleries, artists’ studios, restaurants and shops. Whether you’re a complete art buff or you just love to soak up the local atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed with this popular street. I can say I wasn’t and neither was my 10-year-old daughter, Princess Two. We had such a great time exploring the galleries and everyone was so open to discussing the pieces of art.
Explore the Puye Cliff Dwellings
The Puye Cliff Dwellings were once home to 1500 Pueblo people during the period of 900 – 1580. Today, it’s a National Historic Landmark, and the descendants of the original inhabitants live 10 miles to the east on the Santa Clara Pueblo. There’s plenty to explore here, with a series of split-level cave and cliff dwellings together with mesa-top dwellings which are all connected to each other by stairways and paths hewn into the rock face.
Art of Chocolate
One of the tastier things to do is nosh your way along the Santa Fe Chocolate Trail. If you don’t have time to hit all four chocolate shops, I personally recommend you visit the Art of Chocolate Cocao Santa Fe and schedule the one-hour Chocolate Factory Tour, (Wednesday and Saturday’s at 11am.) I had no idea how much “art” went into producing chocolate!! My kids – and The Husband and I – loved learning the journey a cacao bean takes from the orchard to finished product, with a lot of tasting at various stages. Some of the tastings were better than others, but it was fun and interesting to taste the different stages a cocao bean goes through to get to chocolate. After the tour make sure to stay for one of the chocolate elixer drinks, or a good old fashioned hot chocolate that co-owner, Derek Lanter specializes in making. This is one of the things to do in Santa Fe that my entire family loved. It’s well worth the time.
Get Back to Nature in the Santa Fe National Forest
Three rivers, lakes and streams and acres upon acres of woodland make up the 1.6 million acres of Santa Fe National Forest. There are numerous opportunities for outdoor fun here whether you want to experience the thrill of whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande or ski the slopes of Ski Santa Fe in winter. The 1,000 miles of hiking trails that take you into the beautiful wilderness give you chance to explore the area on foot or on horseback.
Sit Back and Enjoy the Santa Fe Opera Festival
Once a year in the summer, the Santa Fe Opera returns to the stage. Since 1956, the opera has taken place in the grounds of a rustic ranch about seven miles north of the city. Both established and emerging opera stars perform a variety of classic and contemporary works at the festival each year so if you’re in town for this, be sure not to miss it.
Visit the Winter Wonderland of Ski Santa Fe and Ski Taos
If you’re here during the winter months, you won’t want to miss an expedition to New Mexico’s Rocky Mountains. Whether you’re a complete novice on the slopes or an experienced skier or snowboarder, the area is a winter sports enthusiast’s paradise and offers the best skiing in the Southwest. With an annual average of 225 inches of snowfall, there are 83 trails for skiers and snowboarders of varying difficulty and of course, the required après ski fun.
There are so many things to do in Santa Fe and we’ve only just scratched the surface. There is so much more to discover from the Santa Fe Railyard and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino. If you have any particular favorites, why not let us know? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.