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12 Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Early Native Americans called Santa Fe the “Dancing Ground of the Sun.” Founding frontiersman referred to it as “The City Different.” But what is it that truly sets this city apart from others within the continental U.S.?

Many believe it’s Santa Fe’s living history. As the oldest state capital in the country, it’s built on Tewa Puebloan land and fully embraces its Native American cultural roots. Legendary history and culture abound in every corner of the city. 

Anyone who’s spent time in Santa Fe will tell you that this Southwestern gem has a unique and unforgettable vibe. Though it may be New Mexico’s capital city, it exudes much more of a small-town feel. Its iconic adobe and pueblo-style architecture are second-to-none. Add in its rich history, world-class art galleries, charming inns, alluring markets, authentic cuisine, and wide-open spaces and you have a spirited town that celebrates its culture and heritage in an impressive way.

There’s a lot to see, do, and experience here. Here are some of our top recommendations for a truly enjoyable time here.

Visiting other destinations in New Mexico? Check out our other delicious guide:

The 12 Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Stay at La Fonda on the Plaza

100 E. San Francisco St. // 505-982-5511

This 100-year-old historic hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America, is in an idyllic location right in the Plaza Square, ideal for exploring the downtown’s incredible shops, galleries, and restaurants. La Fonda has long been Santa Fe’s landmark hotel, celebrating its tradition, arts, and a storied past.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: La Fonda On The Plaza

Old-world charm and authentic New Mexican style blend harmoniously with its massive collection of impressive artworks, handcrafted furnishings, luxury amenities, and gracious hospitality. Though we’ve stayed at other lovely properties in Santa Fe, La Fonda is our absolute favorite. Guests can also take advantage of complimentary historical tours offering fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of the elegant property. If only these walls could speak.

Experience Meow Wolf

1352 Rufina Circle // 866-636-9969

Meow Wolf is an art experience unlike any other. Founded in 2008, the venue was financially supported by Game of Thrones creator, George R.R. Martin. 

A group of exceptionally talented, out-of-the-mainstream Santa Fe artists launched this mind-blowing multiverse entertainment venue in which visitors are transported through secret passages within the House of Eternal Return. All passages lead to phenomenal surreal dimensions “on the other side.” And how does one get to the other side? Through the refrigerator, of course. 

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Experience Meow Wolf

It’s so immensely popular, that a similar venue opened in Denver, with another planned for Las Vegas. Bottom line is that you just have to do it!

Visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

217 Johnson St. // 505-946-1000

A life well-lived. This describes Georgia O’Keeffe to a T. The iconic great American artist is one impressive American story that plays out beautifully at the Georgia O’ Keefe Museum in historic Santa Fe.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Recognized as the “Mother of American Modernism,” O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in the summer of 1929. The stark beauty of its landscape drew her like a moth to a flame. Her Southwest landscapes along with other inspirational works are on display here. The collections also include personal property and a significant archive of documents and photographs showcasing this fascinating artist’s life.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

131 Cathedral Place // 505-982-5619

Franciscan friars built the first church on this site at the time of the city’s founding in 1610. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1714 after the Pueblo Revolt and named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Santa Fe. A few structural changes have occurred but the adjacent small adobe chapel dedicated to Our Lady of La Conquistadora still features a statue that is the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the U.S.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Open for daily mass as well as for visitors to explore, the Romanesque Revival style structure is an impressively beautiful and massive cathedral, located in the heart of the historic downtown. You can’t miss it and shouldn’t. It’s that magnificent!

Museum Hill

704-710 Camino Lejo (off Santa Fe Trail) // 505-476-1269

Home to four distinctly different museums, Museum Hill, located in the foothills of the picturesque Sangre de Cristo mountains, is where visitors can explore some of the region’s greatest collections and Native works of art.  

We were thrilled with our visit to the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture which highlights the complexity and diverse nature of the area’s Native Americans. The museum features several current exhibits including pieces of ancestral Pueblo pottery and the impressive “Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined in Glass.” 

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Museum Hill

Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the oldest non-profit New Mexican independent museum is fully devoted to Native American arts. The museum is renowned for its focus on little-known genres and for solo shows by living Native American artists. A visit here is an indigenous art-lover’s dream.

Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery

100 W. San Francisco Street // 505-986-1234

You can find pottery shops and individual vendors selling Southwest pots all throughout Santa Fe. But nothing can compare to this incredible fine pottery gallery. 

Lovers of high-quality works will be blown away by the amazing pieces from indigenous tribal artisans that radiate the magic and beauty of the Southwest. Each handmade, hand-painted treasure speaks of the culture, beliefs, and lifestyle of Native American Puebloans, all organized and displayed by individual tribe. Pieces date from the 1880s to the present. 

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery

It’s not unusual to see one of these artisans in the shop with the very engaging Andrea. Much to our delight, we had the chance to meet and talk with Thomas Tenorio, whose impressive traditional Kewa pottery is showcased in the gallery.

Loretto Chapel

207 Old Santa Fe Trail // 505-982-0092

It’s one of New Mexico’s very special places. Located in the heart of historic Santa Fe, the Loretto Chapel is renowned for its miraculous staircase. This impressive architectural feat, a helix-shaped, winding staircase constructed in the Gothic style, was made with no central column or support beams, nails, or glue. Only wooden pegs secure the spiraling stairs.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Loretto Chapel

Today, the former Roman Catholic church with its spires, buttresses, and lovely stained-glass windows serves as a museum and wedding chapel. This should definitely be on your to-do list when visiting Santa Fe.

Learn about Turquoise at Keshi: The Zuni Collection

New Mexico has 23 Native tribes whose languages and customs can be very different. I admit a fascination for the Zuni, a Pueblo Indian group native to the Zuni River Valley. They are a somewhat mysterious people, known for their beautiful artwork, sculpture, pottery, and dishware.

Their jewelry-making is unique and synonymous with high quality and uncompromised integrity. Keshi is the only store in Santa Fe specializing in Zuni works. They carry an impressive collection of jewelry in addition to Zuni pottery, kachinas, and fetishes (animal carvings) that help discover, enhance, or renew a connection with nature.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Keshi The Zuni Collection Turquoise Jewelry

Spending time with the amazing staff provided an eye-opening experience to the turquoise crisis as many mines within the U.S. have been depleted. Because of this, turquoise, a sacred stone, has become increasingly rare. As a result, some outlets throughout the U.S. are not selling the authentic stone. At Keshi, however, while turquoise lovers may pay a premium price for these rare jewelry pieces, they are the real deal…and they are gorgeous!

Watch Lightning Boy Foundation on the Plaza

No matter what visitors to the Santa Fe Plaza are doing, they stop on a dime and gather in the center of the plaza for a performance of artistry in motion by the hoop dancers of the Lightning Boy Foundation. This group was established to nurture and build confidence and integrity in its young Native Americans through the artistic expression of their magnificent cultures.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Lightning Boy Foundation on the Plaza

The foundation was named for “Lightning Boy” Valentino Tzigiwhaeno Rivera, a young, enthusiastic, and extremely talented hoop dancer who died from a spinal cord and brain injury sustained in a car accident.  

Many tribal groups across North America used the hoop in traditional healing ceremonies and have long regarded these hoops as sacred. Here, young artists tell the story with native costumes and a multitude of colorful circles that weave tales about life connectedness through the use of symbols. 

There’s nothing like it. And you’ll find yourself like many others in the crowd asking, “How do they do that?” 

Arroyo Hondo Open Space Trail

Arroyo Hondo Road // no phone number

The Santa Fe region has a mystical vibe that can best be experienced one-on-one with nature in a place of solitude. Talk about getting off the beaten path… this is it.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Arroyo Hondo Open Space Trail

Arroyo Honda Open Space Trail is a 1.8-mile loop trail not far from the heart of downtown Santa Fe. It’s popular for hiking for all experience levels, and horseback riding. This is a fairly easy trek with just enough up and down levels to keep the heart rate going. We love the picturesque open vistas of the basin, peaks, and hills of this desert brush and pinion/juniper backcountry. Though there are so many other hikes to take in the Santa Fe region, this is a great starter.

Santa Fe Schooling of Cooking

125 N. Guadalupe St. / // 505-983-4511

There’s nothing that excites me more about a destination than learning about its unique food and culture. Santa Fe School of Cooking provides the perfect experience with its hands-on and demonstration-only classes. It’s your call as to how much you want to be a part of the final product.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Southwest Cusine

We loved the traditional New Mexican class with its spicy tastes and tantalizing aromas celebrating Santa Fe’s Southwestern cuisine. Classes typically feature a variety of enchiladas with green and red sauces, chiles rellenos, calabacitas (green chile, squash, corn), sopapillas, posole, and a dessert.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Southwest Peppers

Chefs are engaging and excited about their craft, the atmosphere is colorful and festive, and the food is divine!

Institute of American Indian Arts

83 A Van Nu PO // 505-424-2300

So many renowned Native American artists have graduated from this prestigious public tribal land-grant college. IAIA, as the locals call the institute, is the birthplace of contemporary Native American art. This year, they’re celebrating 60 years of educating innovative and successful artists, sculptors, writers, filmmakers, and community leaders.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Institute of American Indian Arts

Visitors can book a guided tour of this esteemed center of learning and explore the awe-inspiring works of art created at the institute. Here, guests can observe students in action creating their soon-to-be-masterpieces. Though the majority of students attending the college are from indigenous tribes throughout the U.S., the institute is open to anyone inspired by Native American art studies.

Just walking through its hallowed halls and strolling the campus with its picturesque setting is an eye-opening experience. There’s something very special about this magical place on 140 stunning acres surrounded by the immense natural beauty of Santa Fe.

New Mexico is indeed the “land of enchantment.” And Santa Fe is its crowning jewel. 

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