The Ultimate Guide to Santa Fe, New Mexico: What to Do, Where to Stay & How to Eat Like a Local

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If you thought New Mexico was all high temps, tumbleweeds and UFOs, think again. There’s so much more to this southwestern locale than meets the eye, and at the center of it all is Santa Fe: a bustling town just north of Albuquerque (that also happens to be the state capital). Combining Hispanic, Puebloan and American cultures, Santa Fe has over 400 years of cultural blending, with influences that can be seen throughout its art, architecture, traditions and cuisine. With a year-round travel season and no shortage of activities (ahem, skiing), Santa Fe is the ideal vacation spot for food lovers, art enthusiasts and nature-seekers alike.

Ready to plan your next big trip? Here’s our ultimate guide to visiting Santa Fe, from the famous art galleries you won’t want to miss to how to order chile like a seasoned pro.

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What to Do in Santa Fe

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Tourism Santa Fe

For the first-timer...

No trip to Santa Fe is complete without a visit to the Plaza, the heart of the city filled with boutique shops, art galleries and home decor stores stocked with local fare and foreign creations. Best explored on foot, the Plaza is a great place to kick off your New Mexico vacation. Peruse the outdoor vendors offering handcrafted items from Puebloan artisans along the Palace of the Governors, then make your way over to the oldest church still in use in America, the San Miguel Chapel. Grab a coffee and a donut at 35˚ North Coffee and Pastelaria as you window shop along W San Francisco Street, enjoying the vibrant, decorative ristas (dried red chiles) that adorn every window, door and lamppost around town.

what to do in santa fe railyard arts district
Tourism Santa Fe

If you’re in the mood for something a bit more modern, hop in your car and head west to the Santa Fe Railyard Arts District, the self-proclaimed “new gathering place” for locals and visitors alike (think of it as the younger, cooler cousin of the Plaza). From a year-round indoor and outdoor farmers market to a state-of-the-art movie theater, there are plenty of things to enjoy at the railyard.

Stop by for a pint at the Second Street Brewery or the soon-to-be-opened Nuckoll’s Brewing. If spirits are more your speed, head across the train tracks to Altar Spirits and take a distillery tour with the co-founder and master distiller, Caley Shoemaker. Featuring vodka, gin and aperitivo (and a highly anticipated whiskey coming summer 2023) Altar spirits are uniquely distilled with malted barley and New Mexican desert botanicals like juniper and piñon. After enjoying some well-earned cocktails, top off the evening with a hearty meal at Restoration Pizza where you can imbibe in pizza pies and salads at a place that puts community first, providing an inclusive work environment and career opportunities for people with varying disabilities.  

what to do in santa fe meow wolf
Tourism Santa Fe

For the art enthusiast...

It's no secret that Santa Fe is an art lover’s dream. (The quirky town is considered the third largest art market in the U.S. with more than 250 galleries and dealers in town.) And the headline-making Meow Wolf is by far the most popular, offering an immersive and interactive multimedia experience that will “transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of story and exploration.” With just three installments across the country (Santa Fe, Las Vegas and Denver) Meow Wolf features a rotating cast of both staff and local artists responsible for creating sculptures, paintings, digital art, writing, film and so much more.

Another must-see gallery for the traveling art historian is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum located in downtown Santa Fe just steps away from the Plaza. Affectionately called the “mother of American modernism,” O’Keeffe was known for her paintings of New Mexico landscapes, enlarged flowers, white-washed bones and abstract clouds. The museum and gallery honor both her life and art, with unique exhibitions that vary seasonally.

Catrina Yohay

If visiting these galleries have you inspired to get your hands dirty, head over to one of our new favorite spots the locals don’t want you to know about: Tumbleroot Pottery Pub. Newly opened in 2023 by a husband-and-wife duo, Angela and Jason Kirkman combined their individual passions of pottery and booze to create a 21-and-up version of Color Me Mine (except so much better). For $5 you can get your own mound of clay to mold, paint and admire as you catch up with friends and sip on a Tumbleroot brewery beer or specialty-crafted cocktail housed in mugs, carafes and martini glasses handmade by local potters. P.S. If you love what you see, you can stock up on ceramics to enjoy at home—talk about a stellar souvenir.

Ski Santa Fe

For the adventure seeker...

There’s no shortage of outdoor activities throughout Santa Fe, from hiking and mountain biking to seasonal Rocky Mountain skiing (yes, skiing!). Surrounded by national forest and just 16 miles from downtown, Ski Santa Fe has some of the best skiing in the Southwest thanks to epic runs, fewer crowds and reasonably priced lift tickets. With a mix of easy greens, wideset blues, daring black diamonds and three freestyle terrain parks, there’s something for everyone at this family-owned ski area.

Ski Santa Fe

If you find yourself blessed with a bluebird day, the views of the valley from the top of the 12,075-foot mountain will leave you breathless (or is that the altitude?). As you head back down, be sure to hit up Totomoff’s Bar and Grill for a hot toddy and a green chile cheeseburger. This mid-mountain hotspot serves up all the après-ski vibes you know and love without a single whiff of pretension.  

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Tourism Santa Fe

For those looking to unwind...

If you prefer the spa to the slopes, the recently renamed Ojo Santa Fe Spa and Resort just 20 minutes outside of the city is a perfect way to wind down after a busy day of exploring. With both overnight accommodations and day passes, Ojo Santa Fe (and its more remote sister site Ojo Caliente near Taos) offers a healing respite from the modern world with therapeutic rituals and spa treatments.

Take in the tranquil surroundings as you unwind in the spring-fed thermal pools. Partake in morning yoga, an afternoon hike or some onsite animal therapy with a visit to the Puppy Patch where you can snuggle up with rescues from a local shelter (all open to adoption!) or the Chicken Chat for a run-in with the property’s silkie chickens that are soft, playful and love mingling with guests. For a truly unique experience, guests can partake in the sacred Puebloan temazcal renewal ceremony, an immersive and cleansing guide-led experience that will leave you feeling renewed, grateful and introspective.

Where to Stay in Santa Fe

Bishop's Lodge, Auberge Resorts Collection

If you’re traveling as a family or with a group of friends...

The Bishop’s Lodge, Auberge Resorts Collection will not disappoint. First settled 150 years ago by Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, the property boasts 317 acres of historic lodging, complete with a heated swimming pool, spa, horse stables and an on-site fishing stream (not to mention unparalleled views of the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains). After undergoing a lengthy restoration and refurbishment, Bishop’s Lodge was named the No. 1 resort in the West by Travel + Leisure in 2022—and we can see why.

Bishop's Lodge, Auberge Resorts Collection

Each guestroom on the property is adorned with traditional Santa Fe artwork, artifacts and textiles, in addition to a kiva fireplace inspired by southwestern pueblo architecture. With massive rainfall showers and inviting copper tubs, we wouldn’t blame you if you never left your room. But when hunger strikes, the lodge’s on-site restaurant SkyFire featuring authentic southwestern cuisine will treat you to a first-class meal just steps away from your casita.

With numerous multi-bedroom residences that include a private living room, dining room and kitchen, you and your family can settle in and feel right at home. Just 15 minutes from downtown Santa Fe, 30 minutes from Ski Santa Fe and surrounded by numerous hiking trails, Bishop’s Lodge checks off all the boxes for the bougie traveler with a sense of adventure.

If you prefer to stay closer to the heart of the city...

Hotel Santa Fe will put you right in the middle of all the action. Just steps from the railyard and a quick walk to the central Plaza, Hotel Santa Fe is the only Native American-owned hotel in downtown Santa Fe. Owned by the Picuris, one of the largest tribes in the region, Hotel Santa Fe offers guests the opportunity to be fully immersed in the Pueblo spirit.

In addition to spacious rooms and a top-notch spa (plus some adorably friendly dogs at check-in), Hotel Santa Fe is a living, breathing art gallery. Every hallway, wall and outdoor opening is adorned with Native American pottery, art and sculptures. The collection itself is worth millions, and as a guest, you get a front-row seat to it all. In addition to the award-winning art collection, Hotel Santa Fe also features an outdoor pool, spa and private teepee dining at the onsite restaurant, Amaya.

Where to Eat in Santa Fe

Blue Heron, Ojo Santa Fe

For upscale dining...

There’s no shortage of world-class cuisine in Santa Fe, from fine dining to local watering holes and everything in between (including the infamous Margarita Trail). If Ojo Santa Fe piqued your interest, plan to end your night of relaxation with a farm-to-table meal at the waterside restaurant, Blue Heron. Showcasing native produce grown at the Ojo Caliente farm, the Blue Heron offers the freshest ingredients infused with local flavor. Nosh on the complimentary blue cornbread as you peruse the menu filled with customer favorites like the pan-seared salmon en mole verde, quinoa chile relleno and the double dipper appetizer, featuring house-made hummus, local honey and toasted pepita.


If you’re feeling fancy, you’ll find another upscale dining option in downtown Santa Fe at Sassella, serving fine Italian food in the heart of New Mexico. With numerous awards under his belt, executive chef Cristian Pontiggia brings his culinary artistry to new-world cuisine, marrying traditional Italian cooking with a new-age flair. His creations are just as much a delight to the eye as they are on the palette, creating thought-provoking illusions amidst symphonies of flavors. Start with the composizione di pere, move on to the lobster risotto and end with the tiramisu duo for a meal you won’t soon forget.

For something a bit more casual...

Try The Shed or Tia Sophia’s for a no-frills lunch full of flavor. Like the New Mexican version of an east coast diner, Tia Sophia’s offers timeless classics in hearty portions. Locals love the green chile stew or breakfast burrito smothered in “Christmas” (more on that later), but no matter your main, an order of sopapilla for the table is a must. This puffed, fried dough is a New Mexican staple, best served piping hot and drizzled in honey—and it’s to die for.

Now, back to Christmas. New Mexicans take their chile preferences very seriously (“red or green?” is the unofficial state question, after all), so if you want to blend in with the locals, you need to know how to order it. According to local lore, the term Christmas, a combination of both red and green chile, was first coined at none other than Tia Sophia’s when a former waitress encouraged undecided diners to get a little bit of both. Though both options actually come from the same pepper, characterized only by ripeness, the differences in flavor are there and many people in the Southwest have strong opinions.

If you’re hoping to eat like a local, go for Christmas (and while you’re at it, pick up some biscochitos for the plane ride home).

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Executive Managing Editor

Catrina oversees content production across all PureWow verticals. When she's not managing editorial schedules, digital issues or newsletter production, you can find her...