Visit Santa Fe

A 3-Day Itinerary and Guide to New Mexico's Enchanting Capital

by and - last updated on 7/7/2024

What is there to do in Santa Fe, New Mexico?

Santa Fe offers a blend of cultural, artistic, and outdoor experiences. Visitors can explore the city's historic adobe architecture and vibrant arts scene, which includes numerous galleries, museums, and the renowned Santa Fe Opera. The city is also known for its unique cuisine, blending Native American, Spanish, and Mexican flavors. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking and skiing in the surrounding mountains, while the historic Santa Fe Plaza provides a lively area for shopping and dining.

Sitting at an elevation of approximately 7,199 feet (2,194 meters) above sea level, Santa Fe is one of New Mexico's prettiest towns. The city’s distinctive adobe architecture, vibrant arts scene and stunning mountain backdrop contribute to its appeal. Santa Fe has been on our list of places to visit for quite some time and it did not disappoint. In fact, we ran out of time while we were there and would like to return to see what we missed and to repeat a few amazing experiences.

In the sections below we provide background information and details about what there is to see and do in Santa Fe. We also provide an itinerary as a guideline for you to plan your own trip.

This was our base camp for day 5 through day 9 of our Southwest Road-Trip. Our game plan calls for us to remain in this area while we visit various local destinations - some as a day trip, some as a half-day outing.

Santa Fe, with its charming downtown and central location, makes a fantastic base camp for exploring New Mexico's diverse landscapes. Head north to Bandelier National Monument and marvel at cliff dwellings carved by Ancestral Puebloans. South awaits the otherworldly rock formations of Tent Rocks National Monument, perfect for a unique hiking adventure.

Santa Fe has a very dry, high desert climate with intense sunlight. On average, the city experiences more than 300 sunny days per year. However you are at 7,199 feet in elevation (third highest city in the USA), so getting sufficient oxygen can be problematic as you encounter stairs or uphill walks.

Before we go any further, we wanted to tell you about the place we rented in Santa Fe; a very nice Casita via VRBO - just 2 blocks from Old Town Santa Fe and the restaurants, museums and other attractions that can be found there. We would highly recommend this rental property to anyone who is going to visit Santa Fe. Click here to view this property on the VRBO Website.

 Quick History Lesson 

Santa Fe was founded in 1610 by Spanish settlers and it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the United States. In fact, it serves as the capital of the Spanish Kingdom of New Mexico and became a key outpost in Spain’s colonial expansion. In 1821, following Mexico's independence from Spain, Santa Fe became part of the Mexican Republic. In 1846, during the Mexican-American War, the United States occupied Santa Fe, and it became part of the New Mexico Territory following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.

Interesting Facts About Santa Fe, NM 

Here are some interesting facts about Santa Fe, NM that we discovered during our trip research;

  • Oldest Capital City in the US: Santa Fe holds the title of the oldest capital city in the continental United States. Established in 1607, it boasts a rich history dating back even further with settlements in the area as early as 1050.
  • City Different: Santa Fe is nicknamed "The City Different" for its unique blend of cultures, art scene, and historic charm. It's a vibrant city where you'll find Native American influences alongside European and Hispanic architecture, creating a truly distinct atmosphere.
  • Home to Oldest Church in the US: History buffs will appreciate visiting the San Miguel Chapel, recognized as the oldest church in the United States. This Spanish colonial mission church, built in the early 1600s, has witnessed centuries of history and is a beautiful example of early colonial architecture.
  • High Altitude: Santa Fe is situated at a cool and refreshing elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level. This high altitude contributes to its sunny climate with over 310 days of sunshine annually.
  • UNESCO Creative City: Santa Fe is distinguished as the first UNESCO Creative City designation in the United States. This recognition highlights the city's vibrant cultural scene, particularly its focus on folk and traditional art forms.
  • Art Mecca: Art lovers will find themselves in paradise in Santa Fe. The city boasts over 200 galleries and museums, showcasing everything from contemporary art to traditional Native American crafts. Santa Fe also holds the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, a renowned event showcasing Native American art and culture.
  • Foodie Destination: Foodies can tantalize their taste buds with Santa Fe's unique cuisine. The city offers a delicious blend of New Mexican and Southwestern flavors, featuring ingredients like chiles, blue corn, and fresh local produce. Don't miss the opportunity to try a traditional "red chile" or "green chile" stew.
  • Skiing and More: While Santa Fe might not be the first place that comes to mind for skiing, it offers a fantastic ski resort just outside the city limits. Ski Santa Fe provides winter sports enthusiasts with stunning mountain views and exciting slopes.
  • Margarita Trail: Santa Fe offers a unique twist on sightseeing - the Margarita Trail! This self-guided bar crawl takes you on a journey through the city's historic Plaza and trendy districts, all while sampling delicious margarita variations at participating restaurants.
  • Land of Enchantment Nickname: Santa Fe is located in New Mexico, nicknamed "The Land of Enchantment." This nickname perfectly captures the state's captivating scenery, rich cultural heritage, and unique blend of natural wonders and historical charm.
 
Our Santa Fe, NM Explorations
Click the above image to view a larger Google Map

Click any item in the list to go to that section of this page.

  1. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
  2. Museum of Indian Arts & Culture
  3. Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort
  4. Bradbury Science Museum - Los Alamos
  5. Bandelier National Monument
  6. Nambé Falls
  7. Meow Wolf
And some other things to do in Santa Fe
Click the above image to view a larger Google Map

Click any item in the list to go to that web page.

  1. Santa Fe Plaza
  2. Palace of the Governors
  3. New Mexico Museum of Art
  4. Loretto Chapel
  5. Museum of International Folk Art
  6. Santa Fe Opera
  7. Railyard Arts District
 
Santa Fe Itinerary: A 3-Day Guide to Exploring New Mexico’s Capital - Click here to Print Itinerary

The following is a suggested itinerary based upon places & ideas that we came up while exploring Santa Fe;

Day 1: Arrive and Explore the Heart of Santa Fe
  • Santa Fe Plaza: Start your day at the historic Santa Fe Plaza, the heart of the city. Stroll through the plaza, visit local shops, and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.
  • Palace of the Governors: Located on the Plaza, this historic building houses a museum that offers insight into Santa Fe’s history.
  • New Mexico Museum of Art: Just a short walk from the Plaza, this museum features a diverse collection of Southwestern art.
  • Loretto Chapel: Visit this chapel to see the famous Miraculous Staircase, a marvel of carpentry and engineering.
  • Dinner at La Plazuela At La Fonda - Picturesque gardenlike restaurant in La Fonda Hotel serving sophisticated New Mexican cooking.
Day 2 Morning: Dive into Culture and Nature
  • Breakfast at Plaza Cafe Downtown: Retro spot for classic diner fare along with Southwestern comfort food in a family-friendly setting. Enjoy a delicious and hearty breakfast at this beloved Santa Fe institution.
  • Georgia O'Keeffe Museum: Start your day at this museum dedicated to the life and works of the famous artist Georgia O’Keeffe. (Be sure to get reservations in advance online).
Day 2 Afternoon:
  • Museum Hill: Spend the afternoon visiting the museums on Museum Hill, including the Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.
Day 2 Evening:
  • Santa Fe Opera (Seasonal): If visiting during the summer, attend a performance at the Santa Fe Opera. The open-air theater provides stunning views and world-class performances.
  • Or Consider:
  • Meow Wolf: Return to Santa Fe and visit the immersive art installation, Meow Wolf. This unique experience is great for all ages. Kids and kids at heart will love it.
Day 3 Day Trip - Morning: Outdoor Adventures, Science, and Relaxation
  • Bandelier National Monument: Take a short drive to Bandelier National Monument to explore ancient cliff dwellings and beautiful hiking trails.
  • Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos: If you love history and military history and science head over to Los Alamos and learn about the Lab’s beginnings during the Manhattan Project and the Lab’s continuing work.
Day 3 Evening
  • Relax at Ojo Spa: For a relaxing end to your trip, visit Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-inspired spa, for a soothing soak in their hot springs.
Optional Activities to Consider
  • Railyard District: Explore the Santa Fe Railyard District, home to galleries, shops, and the Santa Fe Farmers Market.
  • Nambe Falls: Go for a hike at Nambe Falls. A beautiful waterfall with two hiking trails each only ¼: the lower trail leads to the lowest pool of the waterfalls and the other climbs up the hill ending in a spectacular view of the waterfalls from above. The lower hike can require a bit of hiking in the river or over rocks if the water flow is high.

Explore Santa Fe, New Mexico's vibrant arts scene, discover the top attractions and get a detailed 3-day itinerary to make the most of your visit to this beautiful city located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Image property of John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons using the CC BY 3.0 license

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum    Map

This Santa Fe museum is dedicated to Georgia O'Keeffe's life's work. This intimate museum offers a unique chance to delve into the mind of this iconic American modernist painter. Explore thoughtfully curated galleries showcasing O'Keeffe's paintings across various periods. Witness her early works and teaching years, followed by the bold abstractions inspired by the New Mexico landscape she adored. The museum doesn't just showcase art; it brings O'Keeffe's world to life.


Explore Santa Fe, New Mexico's vibrant arts scene, discover the top attractions and get a detailed 3-day itinerary to make the most of your visit to this beautiful city located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Museum of Indian Arts & Culture    Map

Explore the coolest Native American stuff at Santa Fe's Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. Forget dusty displays – this place is all about bringing the Southwest's Indigenous cultures to life. Their new exhibit, "Here, Now and Always," is like a treasure hunt through time. Check out hundreds of objects, from pottery to paintings, each with a story to tell.


Explore Santa Fe, New Mexico's vibrant arts scene, discover the top attractions and get a detailed 3-day itinerary to make the most of your visit to this beautiful city located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort    Map

Soak in the natural wonders - their claim to fame are the multiple pools and tubs fed by mineral-rich hot springs. Choose from the serene outdoor setting of the communal pools, or indulge in a private soaking experience for ultimate relaxation. The warm waters, ranging from 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, are known for their therapeutic qualities. Breathe in the fresh mountain air and let your stress melt away.


Explore Santa Fe, New Mexico's vibrant arts scene, discover the top attractions and get a detailed 3-day itinerary to make the most of your visit to this beautiful city located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Image property of Blueag9 via Wikimedia Commons using the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos    Map

Take a trip through scientific discovery! This free museum unlocks the secrets of Los Alamos National Laboratory's fascinating history and cutting-edge research. Explore over 60 interactive exhibits that bring science to life.


Explore Santa Fe, New Mexico's vibrant arts scene, discover the top attractions and get a detailed 3-day itinerary to make the most of your visit to this beautiful city located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Bandelier National Monument    Map

This park is like a real-life time machine. Hike through canyons and mesas that were home to the Ancestral Puebloans way back when. Imagine their lives as you check out cliff dwellings carved right into the rock walls. Some even have ladders you can climb for a closer look!


Explore Santa Fe, New Mexico's vibrant arts scene, discover the top attractions and get a detailed 3-day itinerary to make the most of your visit to this beautiful city located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Nambe Falls    Map

This is a really nice area just 28 miles north of Santa Fe

Managed by the Nambe Pueblo, this recreation area offers a refreshing adventure for all. Choose between two trails, each a quarter-mile trek. The upper trail rewards with a breathtaking panoramic view of the cascading waterfall.


Explore Santa Fe, New Mexico's vibrant arts scene, discover the top attractions and get a detailed 3-day itinerary to make the most of your visit to this beautiful city located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC

Meow Wolf    Map

Unfold a rabbit hole of wonder at Meow Wolf Santa Fe. This isn't your typical museum; it's an immersive art experience that explodes with creativity. Prepare to be transported into the bizarre and beautiful world of the "House of Eternal Return," a sprawling, multi-room exhibit. Explore a curious Victorian home filled with hidden passageways leading to fantastical dream landscapes.


Two good Restaurants in Santa Fe we Visited 

OK so there are way more than two restaurants in Santa Fe, these two are just the ones we ate at and enjoyed. Your mileage may vary;

 
 
 

More Info for Santa Fe, NM 

  • Santa Fe, NM Wikipedia Article
  • Santa Fe, NM Google Images Set:
  • Santa Fe, NM Restaurants via Google Search Results
  • Santa Fe, NM Accommodations via Google Search Results
  • Our Santa Fe, NM Plaza Cafe Downtown Image Gallery
  • Things to do and see in Santa Fe on the "Santa Fe" Website
  • 25 Best Things to do in Santa Fe on the "Travel & Leisure" Website
  • Our Youtube Channel
 

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