The city of Santa Fe sits in the Sangre de Cristo foothills and is the fourth largest city in New Mexico. With a population of over 85,000, Santa Fe is renowned for its unique Pueblo-style architecture and for drawing artists from around the globe.
Founded as a Spanish colony in 1610, a traditional Plaza sits in the heart of old town Santa Fe, with an array of tiny, winding streets, that jut out from the city center, making up the whimsical historic district.
To help you make the most of your visit to New Mexico’s capital city, here’s my ultimate guide to Santa Fe!
Top 10 Things To Do In Santa Fe
A few years ago, I was on a plane flying from LA to New York when the kind-eyed man next to me leaned over and started gushing about how he was going to propose to his girlfriend in Fanta Fe. He told me she wanted to stay in Santa Fe for a long weekend and attend a hot air balloon festival in nearby Albuquerque.
He realized this was his chance, so he got to work on planning a surprise trip for her, complete with his goal to propose once they were up in the clouds on a hot air balloon ride above New Mexico!
This cute story always stuck with me and fixated New Mexico in my mind as a romantic, magical destination in the United States that I just had to visit. I hope you’ll feel the same way after reading this guide and discovering all there is to do and see in Santa Fe!
1) Fiestas de Santa Fe
Fiestas de Santa Fe is a festival held every autumn (usually the first week of September) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The cry of “Viva la Fiesta” has been reverberating through the streets of Old Santa Fee every autumn for 306 years and is a celebration not to be missed!
There are parties, dancing, parades, traditional food, and fun events. You can learn about the history of Fiesta de Santa Fe and see a schedule of events at SantaFeFiesta.org.
2) Santa Fe Indian Market
The Santa Fe Indian Market is an annual art market held in Santa Fe every August. The event draws an estimated 150,000 people to the city from all around the world. The market offers diverse art, textiles and sculptures from a selection of today’s most exciting indigenous creators.
In addition, hundreds of gallery openings, art shows and related events take place during the weekend of the Santa Fe Indian Market and during the two weeks prior to it. Indian art collectors and artists from around the world make the pilgrimage to Santa Fe for this special event.
3) Santa Fe Bandstand Music Festival
Santa Fe Bandstand is a free, annual summer music festival at the Santa Fe Plaza and at SWAN Park on Santa Fe’s Southside. Santa Fe Bandstand has been voted “Best Community Event” in the Santa Fe Reporter’s annual Reader’s Poll every year since 2013 and draws a fun lineup of musicians.
Santa Fe Bandstand is produced by Outside In Productions, a nonprofit, community-based group established in 1995, to bring free, live performances, presentations and workshops to people confined to shelters, residential treatment facilities, nursing homes, correctional facilities, and any other institutions or human services programs where people would otherwise not have access to the arts.
4) Albuquerque International Balloon Festival
If you’re like me, you’ve been seeing those hot air balloon photos from Turkey for years and feeling quite jealous. But there’s no need to leave the United States to have that same kind of magical experience.
Every October you can take part in the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival where the skies of over New Mexico come alive with sparkling color from hundred and hundreds of hot air balloons! Albuquerque is just a one-hour drive from Santa Fe, making this a great festival to take part in during your stay.
5) Stroll Santa Fe Plaza
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Santa Fe Plaza is a historic landmark in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. The plaza (with its grass, trees, and benches and a performing arts stage), was and is still to this day, the center gathering place in town, known as “the heart of Santa Fe”.
This town square attracts tourists interested in Spanish, Native American, and Mexican cultures, and is home to annual events including Fiestas de Santa Fe, the Spanish Market, the Santa Fe Bandstand, and the Santa Fe Indian Market.
6) Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a museum for those interested in art history, dedicated to the artistic legacy of Georgia O’Keeffe, her life, American modernism, and public engagement. It opened on July 17, 1997, eleven years after the artist’s death.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum comprises multiple sites in two locations: Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Abiquiu, New Mexico. The museum is open daily 10am-4pm, except for Wednesdays when it is closed.
7) Visit Loretto Chapel
The Loretto Chapel, known for its unusual helix-shaped spiral staircase, is a former Roman Catholic church that is now used as a museum and a wedding chapel. The Sisters of Loretto credited St. Joseph with its construction.
Visitors say Loretto Chapel has an interesting story and is a great historical site to explore.
8) Hot Springs and Geysers
New Mexico is blessed with some of the best hot springs on earth, and these hot springs span the gamut from long hikes in the wilderness to luxurious spas.
New Mexico’s hot springs bring in many out-of-state visitors who are specifically looking to experience natural hot mineral water.
9) Walking Tours
Santa Fe is a great walking city and offers an array of walking tours. From food tours to architecture tours, to beer and art tours, there is a walking tour to suit every visitor’s desire.
10) Bird Watching
Santa Fe is home to many unique varieties of birds like the Juniper Titmouse. There are fewer than 200,000 Juniper Titmouse birds alive today so visiting this area provides a unique potential to see them. While in Santa Fe you can visit the Randell Davey Audobon Society, which is a great place for birding.
Where To Stay In Santa Fe
Santa Fe has many great hotels and resorts. Here are 10 of the best hotels in Santa Fe:
- Inn & Spa at Loretto – At the end of the historic Santa Fe Trail amid the enchanted vistas of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this modern Santa Fe lodging is infused with art and soul.
- Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi – Offering 3 restaurants on site. All rooms feature a kiva fireplace and free Wi-Fi. Santa Fe Plaza is 200 yards from this property.
- Eldorado Hotel & Spa – Featuring the full-service Nidah Spa, this hotel is a 6-minute walk from the historic Santa Fe Plaza. On-site dining, rooftop heated pool and Southwestern-style rooms.
- Hotel Santa Fe – Located in Santa Fe’s Railyard District, this Native American-owned hotel features on-site spa services and gourmet dining options.
- Las Palomas – Near Santa Fe’s historic Plaza, home to shops, restaurants and attractions such as the Loretto Chapel, this property offers affordable accommodations with all the comforts of home.
- Guadalupe Inn – This hotel is 10 minutes’ walk from Georgia O’Keefe Museum. All rooms are equipped with a satellite TV, free continental breakfast daily and free WiFi.
- Drury Plaza Hotel in Santa Fe – Featuring a seasonal outdoor pool and free hot food and cold drinks, Santa Fe Plaza is just a quarter mile from this hotel.
- Santa Fe Motel & Inn – This motel is 10 minutes’ walk from Georgia O’Keefe Museum. All rooms feature a flat-screen cable TV, and English breakfast served daily.
- Villas de Santa Fe – Within walking distance to many of Santa Fe’s main attractions, this condominium-style property offers spacious accommodations and thoughtful amenities.
- Inn of the Governors – Located in downtown Santa Fe, Inn of the Governors features rooms with free Wi-Fi and southwestern design, plus a full, hot breakfast each morning and free parking.
You can also check out our top Airbnbs in Santa Fe article!
Santa Fe Neighborhoods
A few decades ago, Santa Fe could be defined by about a dozen neighborhoods and many of the roads were still gravel. Today, with growth in all directions a comprehensive Santa Fe neighborhood list is elusive but here are the main ones:
- Downtown Santa Fe – The Plaza area (historical epicenter), bounded by Palace Avenue on the north, Old Santa Fe Trail on the east, San Francisco Street to the south, and Lincoln Avenue on the west.
- Santa Fe’s Eastside – Santa Fe’s Eastside is a precious piece of real estate historically, geographically, and financially. This one square mile area was the city’s original barrio with a mix of small homes on narrow dirt lanes.
- Tesuque – Tesuque, named for a Native American tribe that survives today, is a distinctive rural, pricey neighborhood on Santa Fe’s northside. Here you’ll find Bishop’s Lodge, the Tesuque Market, Shidoni Gallery and El Nido restaurant, and adobe homes, ranch-style properties, and older, unassuming homes.
- South Capitol – South Capitol lies south of the capitol rotunda, offers charming streets of early twentieth-century architecture (Midwestern or early California), distinguished by porches and small lawns rather than high walls and gates.
- Guadalupe District – The Guadalupe District was originally a farming community and contains the Santuario de Guadalupe, the oldest existing shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the US. Built in the late eighteenth century, this sacred site was where travelers petitioned the patron Saint of Santa Fe for a safe voyage.
- Triangle District – The Triangle District is the most diverse and affordable neighborhood left within the Santa Fe city limits. It contains Casa Linda, Young’s Park and Hopewell & Mann.
- Southeast Santa Fe – Southeast neighborhoods lie east of St. Francis. Lot sizes vary from one-half acre to more than five. There’s a quasi-country feeling here with dirt roads, piñons and junipers.
- Southwest – The city’s Southwest is an area of condos, townhomes, condos, and single-family dwellings that is perhaps more like most other U.S. cities. Roads on the southwest are paved, streets have sidewalks, and houses have garages.
- North Hills – North Hills refers to an area between Paseo de Peralta and the Old Taos Highway on the west, the Santa Fe River to the east, and Tesuque on the north. Ten Thousand Waves, one of the city’s most popular spas, is tucked in here.
- Northwest – Northwest Santa Fe is the site of the city’s first luxury subdivisions, like La Tierra and La Tierra Nueva, and newer ones like Las Campanas, with two eighteen-hole Jack Nicklaus golf courses.
Where To Eat In Santa Fe
Santa Fe is a culinary destination in itself! Here you’ll find local Native American fry bread-style sopaipillas, posole, and slow-cooked beans, and many traditional and new-age dishes made with red and green chilli peppers like the green chilli burger.
Santa Fe offers an array of upscale eateries. Here are 10 of the best restaurants in Santa Fe:
- Geronimo – Eclectic New American fare, elegant, minimalist decor in an old adobe home.
- Sazon – Elevated Latin American cuisine & specialty cocktails, dimly lit, Mexican-themed space.
- SantaCafe – Iconic, contemporary American, one block north of the downtown Plaza.
- La Boca – Tapas and small plates.
- Sasella – Upscale Italian
- Market Steer Steakhouse – Upscale steak house, charming, unique setting.
- La Plazuela – Southwestern food, old-world charm.
- Osteria D’ Assisi – Italian, opened in 1995, in the Heart of Santa Fe, owner is from Lake Como.
- Paloma – Vibrant Mexican-inspired restaurant and bar, lively, modern dishes.
- Santerapa Cafe – Laid-back, classic Venezuelan comfort fare with colorful surroundings & a terrace.
The Best Bars In Santa Fe
On a single block in downtown Santa Fe, you’ll find upscale cocktail lounges, dive bars, and breweries. Santa Fe is casual, so no need to worry about a dress code when you are bar hopping. Here are 12 of the best watering holes in Santa Fe:
- Bar Alto – High above the city on the roof of the Drury Hotel with great views.
- CrowBar – Half dive, half cocktail spot, creating a unique mix of local color and high-end drinks.
- Gruet Tasting Room – Gruet, champagne-style sparkling wine, gem of New Mexico’s viticulture scene.
- The Matador – Classic cash-only dive bar.
- Root Cellar – Speakeasy, gastropub, and taproom.
- Dragon Room at the Pink Adobe – Located in Pink Adobe Restaurant, heavy on eclectic charm.
- Duel Brewing – Hidden away on Parkway Drive, Santa Fe’s own Belgian brewery and taproom.
- Evangelo’s – Old school lounge vibes upstairs, downstairs is “the best pool hall in town.”
- Staab House – Upscale, old school.
- New Mexico Hard Cider Tap Room – Neighborhood bar where everyone is welcomed as a regular.
- Santa Fe Spirits – This distillery has gained a reputation for its award-winning house spirits.
- La Reina – Cute bar with good mezcal, located in El Rey Court Hotel
How To Get To Santa Fe
Santa Fe is very accessible. You can fly into Santa Fe Regional Airport, which is ten miles southwest of Santa Fe. Or you can fly into nearby Albuquerque International Sunport – the primary international airport serving New Mexico.
If you fly into Albuquerque, you can rent a car there, and then it is just a short, one-hour drive to Santa Fe. Alternatively, you can drive to Santa Fe from almost anywhere in the USA.
When Should I Visit Santa Fe?
The best time to visit Santa Fe is between September and November. During this time of year, temperatures range from the high 20s to high 70s and November is the most affordable month to book accommodations in Santa Fe.
Springtime has a similar climate with similar hotel rates, but the festivals make fall the best time to visit. June through August is peak season in Santa Fe. Average high temperatures in the summer are in the mid-80s, with infrequent afternoon showers and cool nights.
Santa Fe Ultimate Guide Wrap Up
Santa Fe is a town rich in history and culture, with much to do and see. I hope you’ve found my Santa Fe guide helpful and it has inspired you to visit this magical city.
If you have any questions, or if you have Santa Fe or New Mexico tips to share with our readers, please leave these in the comments below. We’d love to hear about your experience!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Santa Fe. If you have any questions about this destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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