Before touching down I can tell you I knew all of two things about Santa Fe: it was in New Mexico and I would definitely be eating Tamales at some point during my 3 day Santa Fe weekend itinerary.
I slowly opened the shade and blinked blindly into the full New Mexico sun.
I waited for my eyes to adjust first taking in miles of flat red landscape against the Sandia Mountains jutting from the earth.
I had 72 hours in New Mexico and we were about to hit the ground running for an exciting Santa Fe experience.
The Southwest US is an area that seems like it’s on another planet.
With deserts as far as the eye can see and mountains looming over everything else, visitors are always taken aback at how different it feels from home.
But one thing people quickly learn about this part of the country is that it’s not just dry land with nothing happening – oh no!
There are actually some incredibly exciting things to do in the Southwest, including exploring one of its most historic cities – Santa Fe.
Santa Fe New Mexico
This vibrant city is full of New Mexico history that can be traced back for centuries.
Santa Fe is a beautiful city in New Mexico famed for its many art galleries and museums. But, there’s so much more to see!
There are also some great hiking trails that lead you into the forest or offer sweeping views of the mountains and prairies.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could ski Santa Fe in the wintertime.
After my plane touched down in Albuquerque, my stomach rumbled as I traversed my way through the airport reminding me that I couldn’t wait to eat my weight in tamales, but Santa Fe had so much more in store for me.
With the perfect weekend itinerary, I was ready to be shown why it was called The City Different.
Here are just a few Santa Fe things to do that you must check out on your next visit.
I spent the first day relaxing and rejuvenating at Sunrise Springs Spa and Resort.
I’m a firm believer that every good vacation should be a mixture of relaxation and exploration so kicking off the first 1/3 of my trip at the spa was perfect.
Day two brought a cool and crisp morning in Santa Fe, which is the first thing I learned about the city.
It gets a bit chilly in the mornings and evenings – even in late summer.
So do as the locals do, dress in layers and carry bottled water everywhere, because, surprisingly, Santa Fe sits at an elevation of 7200 feet above sea level.
El Rancho de Las Golondrinas
By the time we reached El Rancho de Las Golondrinas the cold had burned away under the morning sun.
The history of El Rancho de Las Golondrinas is as rich and as varied as the history of New Mexico itself.
It began in the late 1600s as a self-sustaining independent enterprise where inhabitants could raise or create everything needed to survive.
Due to it’s location along Camino Real, the ranch was known as a paraje – an official rest stop for travelers but also a place to trade supplies and resources.
Although the lands were unable to withstand the test of time in entirety, the main grounds were preserved in the form of an educational museum.
Buildings that could be saved were, period pieces were erected and other historic structures were brought to the grounds.
It’s a great way to spend the early morning before the sun begins to beat down in the hot afternoon.
Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return
Afternoons are made to be spent at Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return.
What can I possibly say about Meow Wolf to do it justice? Words seem almost inadequate.
In fact, when tasked with finding a single word to describe Meow Wolf, I failed.
Located in Santa Fe, Meow Wolf is an art collaboration created by over 100 artists – think science fiction novel meets a grown-ups friendly children’s museum.
It’s immersive and interactive, rich in technology, art and play.
It’s a place where you can walk through a refrigerator, slide down a dryer shoot and create music along the skeleton of a dinosaur.
It’s filled with hidden passageways and mysterious rooms wrapped under the guise of a two-story colonial.
In short, it’s a must visit and one of the more popular things to do in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe School of Cooking
After Meow Wolf, we took a short ride to Santa Fe School of Cooking for a traditional New Mexican demo and lunch. Finally tamales!
Leading our class was Chef Deena Chafetz, a chef for over 30 years, Deena moved to New Mexico because she was fascinated with the cuisine and promptly fell in love with it.
In addition to sharing with us the beauty in Santa Fes bountiful cuisine, she also taught us how to make two different types of Tamales, both of which you can learn to create during a hands-on cooking class.
Do it – your stomach will thank you for it.
Tip: when given a choice, opt for Red Chile Chicken Tamales. You can thank me later.
Canyon Road Arts District
After lunch, it was time for some exercise as we strolled along Canyon Road.
Along the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is a half-mile stretch of road cutting through the Historic District of Santa Fe known as Canyon Road.
Its adobe buildings are home to sculptors, painters, media artist, and jewelers whose fantastic folk art is displayed in galleries, along narrow streets, throughout gardens and sprinkled through pebbled pathways.
Enjoying the Canyon Road arts is perfect for an evening stroll, but not too late – because as you will quickly learn, most businesses close by 5:00pm in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe has an active evening life where most daytime businesses close early so their inhabitants can enjoy time with friends, like an evening of food and Flamenco at El Farol.
Day three brought yet another brisk morning, perfect for strolling around “The Plaza.”
Santa Fe Plaza
At the heart of downtown Santa Fe for nearly 400 years, Santa Fe Plaza is recognized as a national historic landmark.
“The Plaza” is a community gathering place and hosts Indian and Spanish markets, a variety of locally owned shops, annual events, community gatherings, concerts and more.
Just steps from my door at La Fonda on the Plaza (the only hotel that can boast it’s ON the Plaza), I didn’t have far to travel for unique finds and interesting shopping.
A few of my favorite experiences included the Native American Vendor Program, The Patina Gallery, and Fairchild and Co.
Native American Vendors Program
On the north side of Santa Fe’s downtown Plaza you will find an adobe building known as the Palace of the Governors.
Along its outer wall, you will find a pavilion housing the Native American Vendors Program.
Each piece is handmade by the vendor selling it, or a close relative (sibling, spouse, or parent) and the pieces are absolutely beautiful.
You will find authentic indian arts like pottery, wood works, and hand crafted jewelry with prices ranging from around $35-40 into the hundreds.
Fairchild & Co
For beautiful turquoise jewelry, a signature of Santa Fe, I recommend swinging by Fairchild & Co.
Their pieces were stunning. They also have a healthy amount of Native American inspired pieces.
It’s where I picked up one of my favorite souveniers from the trip, a new charm for my Pandora bracelet.
The Patina Gallery
For a more artistic experience, The Patina Gallery is the place to go.
As I strolled along The Plaza streets, an amazing necklace caught my eye and drew me inside where I found even more unique treasures.
Like this super fun bracelet made of zippers.
Santa Fe Spirits
After touring museums and shops, it was only a matter of time before we experienced Santa Fe’s nightlife.
Our first stop, Santa Fe Spirits. I’m a big fan of “going where the locals go” and as one of Santa Fe’s hidden gems, this is definitely where the locals were.
Owned by local Colin Keegan, the spirits are distilled in-house and designed to capture the essence of Santa Fe.
They specialize in serving them to you straight in a tasting experience but aren’t above making a mean mixed drink either.
It’s never good to imbibe on an empty stomach so we hurried over to the rooftop of Coyote Cantina, where I proceeded to stuff my face with delicious shrimp skewers and still more tamales.
This is also where I had my first ever Aphrodisiac Shot.
It’s a passion fruit lemon drop shot topped with vanilla cotton candy. A little tart and a little sweet. A MUST order.
Be sure to save room for caramel stuffed churros. Your taste buds will love you for it.
Tip: Reservations are a must. This place was packed even on a weeknight.
It was the perfect last meal to wrap up my third day in Santa Fe and left me waiting for the day I could return.
Honestly though, a weekend just really wasn’t enough time to see and do everything I wanted to. So I’ve created a wish list of more ideas of things to do in Santa Fe for when I come back.
Santa Fe Farmer’s Market
Are you interested in exploring the food scene in Santa Fe? Look no further than their weekly farmer’s market which has something for everyone.
Whether you’re looking for fresh produce or homemade breads and pastries there will be plenty to choose from at this street fair-style event.
You can also enjoy live music while tasting different types of ethnic foods from local vendors.
The Santa Fe farmer’s market is an event that booth travelers and locals alike love to attend every week which makes it one not to be missed while in town.
The best part? Everything at the market is fresh and handmade by artisans so you’ll feel like you’re still exploring even when you’ve been there for hours on end!
With the market only open on Saturdays from 8:00 am – 1:00 pm, you can enjoy all of this wonderful food without having to worry about missing out on anything else in town.
Santa Fe Trail
The Santa Fe Trail is one of the most important and famous trails in American history.
The trail is a route between Missouri and New Mexico that was used by settlers to trade with Native Americans and explore the West.
The trail was created as an alternative to the Oregon Trail, which had become too crowded with settlers.
It’s long been used by traders, explorers, soldiers, immigrants and ranchers for more than two centuries.
Settlers would bring their livestock, crops, and other goods on the long journey westward to sell for a profit or exchange them for things they couldn’t grow back home.
Today we can still see some of these old trading posts along the route!
Wheelwright Museum of American Indians
The Wheelwright Museum of American Indians is a museum in the heart of Santa Fe New Mexico where visitors can see both artifacts and live demonstrations by artists who are still practicing their arts today.
It houses a variety of Native American art from the Southwest region.
The museum also offers educational programs for children and adults alike that explore Native culture, history, and contemporary life.
Visitors can learn about everything from medicine wheels to pottery making through audio tours or guided tours led by staff members with expertise in different subjects.
There are four permanent galleries at the Wheelwright. In addition to these galleries, there is also a gift shop.
The museum has events for visitors of all ages throughout the year such as family workshops, tours by reservation only with an expert guide (in different languages), and lectures on cultural topics like Navajo weavings or Native American storytelling.
There are also hosted gallery talks where staff members give more information about specific objects in that month’s exhibitions and concerts featuring traditional music from around the world.
Don’t miss the festivals celebrating New Mexico’s Hispanic heritage including artisans at work making crafts like pottery and leather items.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is one of New Mexico’s most popular attractions.
The museum is dedicated to the life and work of American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986).
Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the most famous female artists in American history, but her work has not always been appreciated.
With more than 50,000 visitors each year, this privately funded museum ranks as the number one visited art museum in New Mexico.
The focus of the permanent collection at the museum are her paintings from 1929 to 1934 which include her iconic large flower paintings.
These works were some of her first abstractions and paved way for her later explorations with abstraction that she became famous for worldwide.
Other highlights on display include photographs by Alfred Stieglitz that document their relationship; drawings by Pablo Picasso; and an extensive selection of her letterpress prints.
The museum also hosts a rotating schedule of temporary exhibitions throughout the year which are curated in collaboration with other institutions around the world.
In addition to its permanent collection, visitors can browse through one of four galleries on display or attend daily lectures and tours offered by docents who are experts on her life’s work.
Why Do They Call Santa Fe New Mexico “The City Different”?
As I easily walked the few blocks back to my hotel, I realized I had learned why it was called The City Different.
I live in a big city, one of the largest in the US actually, so I know what city life feels like. Santa Fe truly felt different.
It’s different because despite being a large city it gave off a distinct hometown feel.
Laid out in such a way that it’s easily walkable, yet just a 20-minute drive to desserts, mountains, museums, and spa retreats.
It’s a city where I could vacation with my family, with my girlfriends or run away with my husband and everyone would have a good time.
If you love art, food or simply enjoy learning about new cultures then this list will have something on it that interests you.
And once your time here is up? You may even find yourself coming back again later down the line.
My trip was hosted by Santa Fe Tourism. All opinions are my own.