Shopping around the Plaza
Santa Fe is a very walkable city, especially around the main historic plaza and downtown area. There are so many boutiques in a small few block area, selling jewelry, clothing, outdoor gear, home goods, pottery and local food products. Like any touristy area, some of the shops are pretty junky but many of them are high end and carry quality products that you can’t find anywhere else. Also, there is a local artisan market where indigenous artisans sell jewelry work, including turquoise and silver. Each artisan has to be certified as an indigenous person local to the area and that their work is authentic (no fake silver, etc…and it’s all handmade).
Enjoy some great margaritas and chile dishes
New Mexico is known for its Hatch Chiles, which are grown mostly in and around the town of Hatch, New Mexico. These are green chiles that are similar in size to a poblano but they range from mild to blow your head off spicy. They are served in a more Tex-style here, which means the dishes usually have quite a bit of melted cheese on them (very yum but not the healthiest). The chiles may be served as green, red or “Christmas Style” meaning you get a little bit of each, red and green. I prefer it served as green chile sauce but that does tend to the be spicier; so, if you don’t like the heat, ask for red which have a smokier but more mild flavor. Of course, you need a great margarita to wash all this spicy goodness down. Go here for a list of my favorite places to eat in Santa Fe.
Walk Canyon Road and Look at Art
About a 5 minute walk from the Plaza is the start of Canyon Road, which is about a 1.5 to 2 mile stretch of road that is home to over 100 art galleries and outdoor sculpture gardens. Many of the artists are local so you may be able to meet them while wandering the galleries. Much of the art depicts local landscapes and western themes but if that’s not your thing, don’t worry. There are also plenty of modern and avant garde galleries and outdoor sculptures to see as well. Plan at least 2 hours to do this walk and there are also several good restaurants and cafes to stop and have lunch along the road.
Relax and Soak at Ten Thousand Waves Spa
I come here every time I visit Santa Fe. It’s a wonderful day spa located about 10 minutes from downtown and is tucked away into the hills on the way to the ski valley. It’s styled as a traditional Japanese onsen and has waterfalls and koi ponds all over the property. They have communal soaking tubs (a women’s private tub and a co-ed one) and multiple private soaking suites that you can rent for 60 to 90 minutes. Below are pictures of the two different private soaking suites that I have rented and they are all spotlessly clean (the water is 100% recirculated and filtered every 30 minutes) and the private suites have saunas and cold plunges as well. I usually book an hour soak to relax and then follow that with a nice massage treatment.
Visit the Historic Plaza and Churches
Santa Fe is the second oldest city in the U.S. and was founded in 1607 (only St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565 is older). It was settled by the Spanish and has both the oldest residential structure in the U.S. but also the oldest church. There is plenty of shopping to do in and around the plaza but be sure to stop by some of the historic churches which are all within 5 minutes or less from the plaza. The Loretto Church is home to the “Miraculous Staircase” which is a helix wooden staircase that was built without a single screw or nail and appears to float without any central support. San Miguel Mission is the oldest church in the U.S. and has a lovely interior.
Immerse Yourself in the Crazy Meow Wolf Art Show
I wrote about my Meow Wolf visit with my cousin here. It’s a huge immersive art show and exhibit and is quite the surreal experience. You go through a series of rooms by entering various “portals” and each one takes you to a new or different dimension as imagine by the individual artists. We went through tree houses, caves with neon dinosaur bones, giant rabbit sculptures and even slid through a psychedelic washing machine. It’s very fun but I recommend going on a weekday or early morning because it’s popular with families and can get very crowded with kids going beserk on the weekend.
Tour the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and Hike Ghost Ranch in Abiqui
Two blocks off the plaza is the Georgia O’Keefe musuem. She moved to the Santa Fe in the 1930’s after falling in love with the natural beauty of the desert while visiting her friend, Mabel Luhan Dodge. She eventually bought a small ranch property and built a modest house, garden and studio near the town of Abiqui, which is about an hour away, that she dubbed “Ghost Ranch.” The museum in town has some wonderful exhibits about her life, her painting style over the years and has an excellent collection of her paintings. After visiting the museum, I highly recommend heading to Ghost Ranch, which is located in a beautiful desert spot full of red rocks, hoodoos and rock formations. You can also visit her old ranch house and garden and learn even more about her spartan and tough life.
Drive the High Road to Taos and the Low Road Back
There are so many scenic drives in this area but my favorite so far is the High Road to Taos, which I wrote about in detail here. The drive to Taos via this scenic byway takes about 2 hours from Santa Fe and gives you some stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. You’ll wind through several small towns where you can stop to see other art galleries or historic churches or you can drive straight through to Taos. I recommend leaving around 11:00am and then having lunch in Taos at one of its many saloons or New Mexican restaurants. Taos is a big ski town so it has a lot of charm and great mountain views. For the drive back, take the low road which dips down into the gorge cut by Rio Grande River and you follow the river the whole way back – we frequently see river rafters going over the rapids of the river and during autumn, the foliage is stunning.
There are so many more things to do in this area as well. During winter there is Ski Santa Fe, located about 40 minutes north of town. The ski area also has tons of hiking, which you can do in spring, summer and fall. You can also visit ancient Indian sites, including Bandelier and Tent Rocks, which are each located about an hour outside of town, and are home to ancient Indian pueblos and pictographs. Finally, there are multiple scenic drives in the area, including to Los Alamos where the nuclear labs are located and the Enchanted Circle Drive near Taos. We’ve been coming here for several years now and still haven’t managed to do everything we want.