The Top Things to See and Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico

By: James Stafford

Santa Fe may not be the biggest city in the United States, but it’s certainly one of the most interesting. It is the oldest state capital in the country, and this New Mexico gem consistently ranks as one of the top tourism destinations in the nation. Well-known for the natural beauty of the surrounding area, Santa Fe boasts one of the liveliest and most vibrant arts and culture scenes in the country, and it is also among the most diverse and welcoming cities in the American Southwest.

Get your visit started by checking out these 12 popular attractions:


12. Get Off The Beaten Path

The curious traveler can also take advantage of a long list of unique and lesser-known opportunities, from the pre-Columbian petroglyphs at La Cieneguilla to the De Vargas Street House, a one-of-a-kind building that claims to be the oldest home in the United States. Visitors can also see the stunning spiral staircase at Loretto Chapel, which is said to be held up by a miracle as it appears to defy physics, and the immersive House of Eternal Return, which is co-funded by Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin. 

11. Hit the Slopes

Santa Fe isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when you think about great American ski destinations, but the city is surrounded by mountains. Hidden way up in these peaks are some of the best ski slopes in the American Southwest, with elevations reaching a dizzying 10,000 feet. From there, you’ll enjoy stunning vantage points of the city and surrounding area, all while enjoying some healthy outdoor activity. Travel + Leisure magazine is among the Santa Fe skiing scene’s most enthusiastic endorsers.

Photo by: Ski Santa Fe Facebook

10. Go Golfing

Santa Fe is a golf enthusiast’s paradise. While it doesn’t have as high a profile on the recreational golf circuit as neighboring Arizona, this can actually be to your advantage. The courses are world-class, but tend not to attract crowds as thick as those seen in the next state over.

All in all, there are over 10 great golf courses in the area, with the Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe generally being considered the best of them. Characterized as a must-play course for golfers, the Marty Sanchez Links course and country club is located eight miles from downtown Santa Fe, and makes for an unforgettable sporting experience.

Photo by: Marty Sanchez Links de Santa fe Golf Course Facebook

9. Go Shopping, Southwest Style

According to readers at the travel rankings website, Santa Fe is the top shopping destination in the entire United States. This is largely due to its heavy presence of independent shops, eclectic boutiques, and owner-operated stores that sell hand-crafted goods you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

Santa Fe is particularly well-known for its furniture and fashion stores. If you’re looking for a unique piece to tie a room together or fancy a pair of authentic cowboy boots, you could hardly find yourself in a better city.


8. Sample Local Cuisine

Southwestern cuisine is distinctive, flavorful, zesty, and brought to life by tantalizing spice combinations. In Santa Fe, you’ll find plenty of options for all tastes, from locally inspired barbecue to vegetarian and vegan establishments. Locals will be more than happy to suggest places for you to eat if you can’t make up your mind based on your own research, and you’ll find an endless range of options to enjoy during your visit. Santa Fe also has an excellent fine dining scene.

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7. Catch a Show at the Santa Fe Opera House

The open-air Santa Fe Opera House has been a local institution since 1957, and is widely considered to be one of the finest such venues not only in the United States, but in the entire world. With enough capacity to hold about 2,200 spectators, the Santa Fe Opera House has hosted some of the greatest operatic talents of recent generations. Its performance season runs during the summer, so if you’re in town then, be sure to book your tickets early.

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6. Check Out The Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument is one of the best-preserved Native American historical sites in the continental U.S. For hundreds of years before Europeans arrived in the United States and settled the country, what is now the American Southwest was a loosely aligned group of independent city-states, which were populated by various Native American tribes. The monument houses the remains of one of these settlements, providing a rare glimpse into New Mexico’s ancient past. This is highly recommended if you have young children, as a system of ladders lead into explorable dwellings inside the caves, delighting kids of all ages.

5. Enjoy Local Fare at the Santa Fe Farmers Market

This welcoming and delightful farmers’ market is open year-round, and features dozens of local independent vendors offering perfect fresh produce, amazing cheeses, fresh-cut New Mexico flowers, and local delicacies like spicy salsa. You can also grab coffee and refreshments at a charming snack bar, but there are a couple of hot tips you should follow to enjoy a more relaxing visit. For starters, arrive early. The market tends to get extremely busy, especially in summer. On-site parking is convenient and affordable, but you can also take the free Santa Fe Pick-Up shuttle service, which stops close to the venue.

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4. Take Home a Treasure From Liquid Light Glass

This fascinating artsy shopping attraction merits mention in its own separate section. Open since 1986, Liquid Light Glass is a shop and gallery on Baca Street in the Arts District, which features an amazing collection of hand-blown, expertly crafted glass art. Vases, ornaments, sculptures, and trinkets are available for purchase, and the shop’s owner is a local icon who is more than happy to let visitors observe while he plies his trade.

Photo by: Liquid Light Glass Instagram


3. Channel Your Inner Art Lover

No visit to Santa Fe is complete without spending time in the city’s famously engaging museums. The city’s famed Canyon Road arts district is probably the best place to get started, but there’s a dizzying lineup of other options, including the Museum of International Folk Art, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the New Mexico Museum of Art, among others. These institutions house treasures created by both local and world-renowned heavyweights of the art world, and rival the best museums in the country.

While it isn’t an art museum, we’d also be amiss not to mention the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors, which also dates to the city’s 1610 establishment. The city has one of the most interesting historical stories of any settlement in America, and these venues provide great places to immerse yourself in Santa Fe’s colorful past.

Photo by: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Facebook

2. Head to Santa Fe Plaza for a Blast From the Past

Santa Fe Plaza is a historical treasure, and has been a major part of life in the city since its 1610 founding. The plaza has long served as a central focal point of cultural life in the city, and plays host to a long list of annual festivals and municipal events. Best of all, many of the city’s oldest and most famous architectural treasures either line the square or are located nearby, within easy walking distance.

Must-see architectural sites include the Palace of the Governors, San Miguel Mission, the Loretto Chapel, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, among others. These are some of the oldest and most beautiful churches and missions in the United States.

1. Take a Tour

There are dozens of walking tours available in Santa Fe, and they are an ideal way for first-time visitors to orient themselves after arriving in the city. Central Santa Fe is fairly compact, and is perfect for exploring on foot. Tours highlight themed attractions including the city’s beautiful architecture, fascinating history, artistic treasures, and haunted past.

If you’re interested in a creative alternative to walking tours, various operators also offer guided outings on horseback, Harley Davidson motorcycles, bicycles, and streetcars, among other options.