The Venture X guide to Santa Fe
Where to eat, explore, shop and stay in New Mexico’s high-desert capital.
January 11, 2022 20 min read
Santa Fe is a living crossroads. At 7,000 feet above sea level, it has a blend of Native American, European, Old Mexican and even Wild West traditions. And they form a uniquely New Mexican culture, found in the city’s adobe architecture, world-class art scene and trailblazing cuisine.
And while Santa Fe’s historic landmarks and renowned restaurants remain big draws, a new wave of artisans, chefs and entrepreneurs is reshaping the place that still earns its nickname, “The City Different.”
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Planning your trip to Santa Fe
Not sure when to visit? The good news is that Santa Fe is a kaleidoscope of changing colors all year long.
In spring, lilacs bloom against adobe walls and snow-capped mountains. The summer brings dry heat, blue skies and tents housing the city’s renowned art markets. Yellow aspens and roasting chiles signal fall is in the air, while the festive winter season means the sight of paper lantern farolitos flickering along streets, sidewalks and even rooftops.
Whenever you plan to visit, the small Santa Fe Regional Airport currently supports daily nonstop flights from Phoenix, Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth. Or, many travelers fly into Albuquerque, rent a car and drive the hour to Santa Fe.
Having wheels will come in handy if you’re interested in outdoor activities, just outside the city. From hiking to horseback riding, there are plenty of options. And although most of Santa Fe’s sites and restaurants are within walking distance, limited ride-share options and the temporary halt of the city’s free shuttles make renting a car a smart move.
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Where to stay in Santa Fe
With a choice of hotels ranging from approachable to luxe, the main choice in Santa Fe is whether to stay in town near the Plaza or outside the hustle and bustle. Either way, hotels book up quickly June through September during market season, so be sure to book ahead.
This hotel was one of the first in the nation where visitors could experience the Wild West, after the automobile began delivering tourists to Santa Fe in the early 1900s.
Originally the summer home of the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, this landmark at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains has recently been transformed, with several new adobe-style buildings spread out below the restored wooden chapel. The guest rooms channel a Southwestern spirit with wooden beams, plastered walls and geometric New Mexican-style textiles, plus a well-stocked bar cart.
The adults-only Kiva Suites display the best views of the piñon-scented hills with private patios, fire pits and plunge pools. The 12-bedroom bunkhouse featuring a huge great room, game tables and a two-story fireplace is also a great option for groups.
And not to worry, there’s plenty to keep you busy for days. Check out the large seasonal swimming pool, fly fishing and trail rides through 317 pristine acres, plus watercolor and cooking workshops.
Even the hotel’s SkyFire restaurant, serving superb tostadas and Colorado elk, with sunset views of the Santa Fe National Forest, may tempt you away from town, which you’d never know is only 10 minutes away.
Named for the patron saint of Santa Fe, this historic landmark hotel is the oldest in the city and conveniently located just off the Plaza.
The chic lobby is decorated with Spanish Colonial devotional art and monastic furnishings, which are illuminated at night with flickering pillar candles. The theme carries over to the spare yet tasteful rooms, with handcrafted wooden furniture and custom linens.
The hotel is also home to the well-regarded Market Steer Steakhouse and two worthy watering holes. The Secreto Lounge is known for its craft cocktails like the Infamous Monk, with saffron-infused mezcal, aperol, yellow chartreuse, lemon juice and red chile oil. The hotel is also home to the Gruet tasting room featuring New Mexico’s acclaimed sparkling wines.
This classic midcentury motor lodge on old Route 66 has been whimsically reimagined by Alison and Jay Carroll, founders of hip California olive oil brand Wonder Valley.
The rooms that line the property and the adjacent Spanish Courtyard have a contemporary Southwest vibe, with a mix of striped blankets, exposed ponderosa beams, original art and midcentury modern light fixtures.
The entry-level rooms are basic yet comfortable, with touches like Tivoli radios and pour-over coffee kits. And many of the upper-level suites and casitas have kiva fireplaces and terraces.
El Rey is a mile from the city’s center but feels like a central hub of social activity. You won’t want to miss the seasonal retro-chic pool area. Meet some locals when they turn up for live music on Wednesdays at La Reina, El Rey’s whitewashed bar, and for pizza night on the lawn Thursday through Saturday evenings.
Where to eat and drink in Santa Fe
Santa Fe is a food-centric city, with a mix of cultures that focus on New Mexico’s beloved chile pepper. A legacy of innovative Southwestern cuisine has sealed the city’s reputation for fine dining, while traditional homestyle favorites are joined by newcomers with international flair. Here are the essentials, from breakfast to late-night.
This lively downtown spot has anchored Santa Fe’s food scene for more than 40 years. People line up at 8 a.m. for dishes inspired by both old and new Mexico, in a room of brightly tiled walls and painted murals by Oaxacan artist Leovigildo Martinez.
You can’t go wrong ordering a breakfast burrito made with organic eggs served with red or green chiles. Make it “Christmas” by getting both. Or try the griddled polenta with smoky sauteed chorizo and roasted corn. Dinner features favorites like chicken mole enchiladas with cilantro rice, or grilled carne asada.
The breakfast menu at this sunny café/mercantile features unique takes on old favorites. Bowls of brothy greens and avocado toast are featured. Plus a selection of “modcakes,” a healthy twist on flapjacks, like the standout roasted red pepper Sonora cakes with sweet pepper syrup.
Wash everything down with fresh coffee or a health shot, and browse the shelves for sustainable-chic items like vegetable brushes and handmade baskets.
A seat in this industrial, plant-filled space is a perfect spot to fuel up before exploring the Railyard Arts District. Try the meaty sautéed mushroom toast with Tuscan kale and fontina, or a wholesome bowl of posole verde with organic chicken, hominy and tomatillos in a green broth.
The extensive tea menu explores faraway realms, with a delicious turmeric spice blend from India and wild-crafted teas from the jungles of Southwest China.
This bright brunch spot with Eastern European influences has become a local favorite. It’s known for its pillowy langos, a Slovakian street-food of fried bread with tomato confit and gooey burrata. Another popular go-to is the hearty Hungarian goulash flavored with homemade lamb bone broth.
For a sweet snack, order a slice of freshly baked flaky strudel or a plate of Mexican wedding cookies with a jar of lemonade made from fresh turmeric, ginger and lemon juice.
This specialty chocolate shop offers authentic and historically accurate chocolate elixirs. A rotating list of recipes spans the millennia, from Pre-Columbian, Mayan and Aztec drinking chocolates through old-world European, colonial American and modern hot chocolate traditions.
Walking in, you’ll catch the aroma of the warming pots behind the counter. Spices, herbs, flowers and chiles mixed with deep and rich chocolate make an incredibly rich brew. A few sips may be all you need.
But be sure to take home truffles in flavors like cherry-chili, prickly pear and mezcal, or try one of the many homemade ice creams.
This quaint spot at the eastern end of Canyon Road is a favorite for seasonal salads and hearty paninis, enjoyed in the Teahouse’s cozy rooms or sun-dappled garden.
But the star is the tea list with blends from China, India, Sri Lanka and even New Mexico. The list of choices includes the honeysuckle-perfumed Silver Needle white tea and the rare Hairy Crab, a green oolong with peach notes. The perfect pick-me-up before exploring local galleries.
This down-to-earth bar and eatery in the Railyard Arts District is a slice of the American West. Decorated in fun kitschy cowgirl memorabilia, it serves up seriously good barbecue brisket and ribs. There are even vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. On a dare, try the Salsa Diablo sauce made with high-heat habaneros.
With live music daily, 24 beers on tap and free-flowing margaritas, it’ll be hard to resist swinging your partner around the floor.
Situated in an adobe home built in 1756, Geronimo has been a pillar of the city’s culinary scene for more than a quarter century. It’s adored equally for its casually refined ambiance created by kiva fireplaces and its Southwestern-fusion menu.
Arrive early to enjoy the lively bar with an Aperol spritz made with yuzu and St. Germain. Maybe even snack on the standout Hawaiian ahi tuna, sashimi and tartare. Just be sure to save room for the main course. While the ultra-tender Tellicherry-rubbed elk tenderloin with roasted garlic mashed potatoes gets all the glory, the seasonal four-course vegetarian tasting menu is also a winner.
Either way, you’ll want to ask the sommelier to help you navigate the meticulously curated wine list of more than 200 bottles.
When chef Eduardo Rodriguez took over a modest casita near the Railyard Arts District mid-pandemic, he was realizing a long-held dream. With years of experience in two of Santa Fe’s most celebrated kitchens, Geronimo and Coyote Café, he now looks homeward to his native Zacatecas and his mother’s moles.
An always popular choice is the fall-off-the-bone, slow-roasted pork cochinita pibil with poached pears, a pillowy tamale and mole coloradito. Or try the chunky chilaquiles with mole negro, verde or rojo.
With Rodriguez’s sister, son and daughter working the room, and a popular brunch service, a meal here is a feel-good family affair.
A pop-up turned locals’ favorite, Paper Dosa turns out deliciously light South Indian dishes from its casual open kitchen.
The peppery vada sambar—a lentil and vegetable stew with donut-shaped lentil fritters—and gently perfumed coconut-curry prawn moilee are menu standouts. Be sure to try a dosa, too. These paper-thin rolled crepes made from fermented rice and lentil batter—some of them nearly a foot long—come with spiced ground lamb keema or classically spiced masala, with a flight of sauces and chutneys for dipping.
On the roof above the renowned Coyote Cafe is a more relaxed spot perfect for lunch, drinks or a boozy dinner.
In an indoor-outdoor space decorated with street-style murals and bright Mexican oilcloths, the Cantina is a popular place for groups to congregate for rounds of margaritas.
Try the Norteno, made with Hatch green chile. Part of the fun is the shared plates, such as the delicious BBQ duck quesadilla, tempura shrimp with horseradish crema or the appetite-busting Mama Schutz’s Frito Pie.
Set in a semi-industrial space near the Railyard Arts District, Radish & Rye draws loyal diners for its farm-to-table dishes and one of the country’s largest American whiskey selections.
The kitchen presents inventive takes on American classics. Think corn chowder with smoked bone marrow and green chile. Or fried quail and buttermilk thyme waffles with rye whiskey molasses and pickled corn relish.
Save room for the popular bourbon pecan pie with crème anglaise. And consider a Kentucky Tea made with bourbon, cynar, lemon and honey as the locals file in to hang out after dinner.
A standout in Santa Fe for its authentic Spanish cuisine, La Boca channels a night out in the old country with live Spanish folk music on Friday and Saturday nights. It features a small dining room as well as a large gastropub, Taberna.
Order from the tapas-style menu—zesty grilled artichokes, patatas bravas, or shrimp sauteed in white wine, butter and spicy tree chiles. Or go all in with a shareable classic paella.
Be sure to also explore the long list of Spanish wines and sherries, from floral Manzanillas to nutty Amontillados.
Born in Mexico City, chef Fernando Olea opened Sazón in 2015 as an upscale take on Mexican cuisine, focusing on one of its most essential flavors: mole.
Begin each meal with a tasting of four mole sauces, then order your favorite with a protein, such as Muscovy duck with mole coloradito or white seabass with mole verde. Regional dishes include the Oaxaqueños, baby grasshoppers served over avocado on a corn tortilla, and Xochimilco, corn truffle with queso fresco in mini tortillas—best with a handcrafted tequila or mezcal.
Look for chef Fernando working the room each night in his signature black hat.
This family-run institution has been hosting hands-on and demo classes of regional cuisine for more than 30 years.
Try your hand at making red chile pork tamales in a New Mexican-focused workshop or trout baked in clay with blue-corn gnocchi “arrowheads” in a Native American cooking class. Or dive into a Contemporary Southwestern take on smoked pork tenderloin in red chile glaze with apple-piñon chutney.
Sign up at the beginning of your visit so you’ll know what to look for when eating out!
What to see and do in Santa Fe
Home to over 250 art galleries, major museums, and countless resident artists and artisans, Santa Fe hums with creative energy. Explore historic neighborhoods and feel the layered history of America’s oldest capital city spring to life.
Santa Fe Plaza and Loretto Chapel
Any visit to Santa Fe should begin on the Plaza, the city’s literal and symbolic center bordered on the north by the Palace of the Governors.
Built in 1610, this traditional adobe structure houses the informative New Mexico History Museum. Native American artisans sell handmade jewelry and pottery under its block-long portal daily. In warmer months, performers busk by the Plaza’s open bandstand.
Nearby, the Loretto Chapel is also worth a visit. The first Archbishop of the New Mexico Territory built it in 1873 as a girls’ school in a Gothic style reminiscent of his favorite Parisian church, Saint-Chapelle. Added later, the “miraculous staircase” hangs in defiance of gravity with two unsupported, 360-degree turns, though its builder remains shrouded in mystery and legend.
This cluster of must-see museums, just 10 minutes from the city’s center, is an eye-opening introduction to New Mexico’s artistic traditions.
The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art features artifacts from the 16th century to present. Pieces include Spanish Viceregal-era paintings brought to New Mexico to decorate missions and churches, and Puebloan textiles traded with New Spain, as well as tinwork, jewelry and santos.
The Museum of International Folk Art boasts the largest collection of folk art in the world, including an incredible collection of toys, textiles, prints and carvings from more than 100 countries in an installation by architect-designer Alexander Girard.
The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian gathers traditional and contemporary Native American art in an eight-sided building that’s an homage to traditional Diné (Navajo) homes, with sparkling solo shows by living artists.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, home and studio
Artist Georgia O’Keeffe famously fell for the northern New Mexico desert landscape, especially the rust-colored cliffs and bluebird sky of her Ghost Ranch home near Abiquiú.
The intimate Georgia O’Keeffe Museum near the Plaza traces the iconic artist’s journey from her start in New York to her radical nature abstractions beginning in the 1920s.
It’s also worth booking ahead to visit O’Keeffe’s studio in Abiquiú, the adobe hacienda where she lived starting in 1949. It contains the rock and bone collections that inspired her paintings.
Her summer home sits within the 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch, where a day pass admits you to the museums of paleontology and anthropology.
While her home isn’t open to visitors, you can book a Landscape Tour or In O’Keeffe’s Footsteps Tour to see a restricted area of Ghost Ranch, where the artist painted some of her most renowned works. Or saddle up for a trail ride across the red-rock scenery, including the soaring spire of Chimney Rock.
Spend an afternoon walking along Canyon Road, a picturesque half-mile lined with brightly painted adobe shops, restaurants and more than 100 art galleries.
Pop into Nüart Gallery, where you’ll find pieces by local and international contemporary artists under one roof, like the hauntingly stylized portraits by Texas artist Erin Cone or the coal works by William Carson.
Down the road, Chiaroscuro features contemporary Native American works by artists such as Rose B. Simpson and Emmi Whitehorse, and shares a yard with Gebert Contemporary, which showcases both international mid-career artists alongside emerging talent.
In warmer months, exhibit openings, complete with champagne, are often held on Friday evenings along Canyon Road.
Come winter, Christmas Eve marks the Canyon Road Farolito Walk with hundreds of flickering paper sack lanterns in one of Santa Fe’s most cherished holiday traditions.
You’ll find a more avant-garde side of Santa Fe in this former industrial area south of the tracks. It’s now home to a hub of art galleries, restaurants, shops and a 13-acre greenway.
Its anchor is the contemporary arts space SITE Santa Fe, a former beer warehouse. Its free contemporary visual art and design exhibitions have featured artists such as Cannupa Hanska Luger, who created an interactive science-fiction narrative about human migration.
Numerous fine and digital art galleries line S. Guadalupe Street. Worth a stop is Form & Concept, which features up-and-coming multidisciplinary artists like local sculptor/printmaker/painter Thais Mather. Not to mention its sister gallery Zane Bennett, showing postwar and contemporary artists like Olafur Eliassen and Sam Gilliam.
Blue Rain is the go-to for contemporary Native American art. Look for works by Preston Singletary, who brings Tlingit iconography to his glass sculptures, and Starr Hardrige, whose paintings look and feel like beadwork.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the Railyard Arts District springs to life with the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market.
Where to shop in Santa Fe
By the 1800s, Santa Fe had become a major trade hub, with goods coming in from New Spain (Mexico), routes extending west to the Pacific and the first trains reaching the city in 1880. Things of beauty and value have long been bought and sold here, and today is no different. You’ll find a huge number of skilled artisans and collectors, and some of the best vintage shops in the country.
Built in 1610, the Palace of the Governors on the Plaza features the Native American Artisans Program. Run by the New Mexico History Museum, it’s been operating for more than 60 years. Vendors from New Mexico’s 23 tribes, pueblos or nations sell pottery, clay and jewelry made of silver, turquoise and coral. Buying directly also allows you to chat with the artists and learn about their techniques, some of which are generations old. And quality is assured—all participants must prove mastery of their chosen craft, and materials must be genuine.
Owner Jed Foutz, raised on the Navajo Nation in a prominent family of Indian art traders, maintains his staggeringly beautiful collection of Southwestern artwork in a light-filled gallery over the Plaza. The rooms are filled with vintage and contemporary Navajo rugs and blankets, jewelry, pueblo pottery, basketry and folk art. If you’re considering investing in a 19th-century woven geometric Chief blanket worn by plains tribes, a 100-year-old painted Santo Domingo Pueblo pot, or a silver bracelet with lapis, coral and turquoise inlay by contemporary Navajo/Hopi artist Jesse Monongye, you can rest assured that everything is of the highest quality and authenticity.
Visvim founder Hiroki Nakamura takes an anthropological approach to his footwear and apparel designs, which have long influenced the Japanese streetwear scene. With a passion for traditional craftsmanship, Nakamura reinterprets skills that have long been taught by hand. Just one example is the Japanese sensibility infused in his FBT, a leather moccasin-inspired upper stitched onto a Vibram sole.
Most of the pieces in this museum-like womenswear boutique are hand-constructed, from dry-denim jeans to a mud-dyed bomber jacket dipped into rice fields near Kyushu, Japan.
Selling authentic Native American and Hispanic arts and crafts since 1945, this narrow shop is just off the Plaza, every inch packed with Pendleton and antique woven blankets, silver handcrafted bracelets, concho belts and pueblo-made pottery. The back room—previously the secretive office of Dorothy McKibbin, the renowned gatekeeper of the Manhattan Project—is dedicated to a massive collection of photographer Edward S. Curtis’ Native American gold tones and portfolio images.
This family-run business has been custom shaping hats since 1979. There’s no head they can’t fit using their precision sizing tool. With countless styles to choose from, they’ll help you find the crown, brim, color and material that suit you best.
O’Farrell’s hats are handmade on premises from beaver or beaver-blend felt, and designed to last a lifetime. Although orders can take weeks to fulfill, there are a few off-the-rack hats to choose from. And, of course, no style is complete without a hatband to make a personal statement. Horsehair, beaded, leather and feather name just a few choices.
This unassuming little house harbors one of the world’s largest collections of fetishes, tiny stone animals carved by Native American artists.
Established in 1981 as a co-op for artists in Zuni Pueblo, the shop has deep ties with the carvers and jewelers who make crafts in the gallery. Visitors are encouraged to handle the pieces to find the one that speaks to them, be it a serpentine bunny with turquoise eyes, a travertine mountain lion or a marble zebra-bear.
The friendly staff can tell you about individual artists and the traits each animal is thought to possess in its relationship with nature.
As the name implies, this shop on Canyon Road showcases handmade objects by New Mexican and Mexican artists working in printmaking, ceramics and jewelry. This might include patterned ceramic bowls and plates by Oaxacan collective Mogote Ceramica or delicate beaded earrings by Native American maker Hollis Chitto, whose pieces have been worn by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. Also not to be missed are woodcut prints by Daniel Salazar.
With a mission to engage the community, the owner hosts live printmaking demos and hands out free prints.
Opened by a New York transplant, this storefront is a warm repository of thoughtfully curated, sustainable home goods with an emphasis on local designers. Think indigo-dyed blouses, wall weavings and handwoven baskets. These, along with a host of clean beauty products and healing arts including astrological therapy, breathwork and meditation, are all bookable online.
You’ll want to plan ahead to visit the by-appointment-only showroom of this vintage clothing emporium.
About 20 minutes south of downtown, the warehouse contains one of the largest collections of Americana in the world, a go-to for Hollywood costume designers. Teo Griscom keeps the massive shop stocked with vintage denim, rugged workwear, Western pearl-snap shirts, biker tees, suede fringe jackets, bandanas and cowboy hats. Not to mention unexpected scores like antique silk slips and ’70s puffers.
This cheerfully crammed Western wear outpost has supplied clothing to movies like Brokeback Mountain and Walk the Line. They carry thousands of vintage, used and new boots. You’ll find classic Tony Lamas and hand-tooled Rocketbusters, as well as pairs by T.O. Stanley, who made boots for Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. There’s also a wide selection of vintage shirts for just $12 unless otherwise marked.
The city’s only antiques mall is a treasure trove of more than 30 dealers. Be prepared to find everything from local estate collections to antique furniture and saddles to old maps. Plus, there’s a good selection of railroad and Southwestern treasures like vintage Mexican curios, squash blossom necklaces and pueblo pottery, usually at far more favorable prices than you’ll find near the Plaza. This spot is ideal for those who love the thrill of the hunt.
There’s not much here you can pack in your carry-on, but this thoughtful selection of antiques largely from Mexico and Central America is hard to resist. The individual pieces of 19th-century devotional art are stunningly detailed, while large clay vessels from Michoacán and carved wooden chairs from Guatemala feel surprisingly modern. Fortunately, the owners are helpful about shipping things home for you, so you won’t have to book an extra airline seat.
Beyond Santa Fe’s city limits
The mountainous landscapes of Northern New Mexico have even more to explore. Storied roads like the Old Santa Fe Trail and Route 66 beckon you beyond city limits to hike, ride, ski or soak in an outdoor hot spring.
Many of Santa Fe’s most famous sights and activities lie a few miles outside the city, so you’ll definitely need a car.
Locals love to pick favorites when it comes to hiking. The most convenient local hiking option is Atalaya, a six-mile-out-and-back trail whose views of the city make the steep section near the end worthwhile. Park in the visitor’s lot at St. John’s College and follow signs to the trailhead.
Ski Santa Fe is just half an hour northeast of the city. There the Wilderness Gate trail is lined with sweet-smelling juniper and piñon trees. There are also the soaring cliffs of Diablo Canyon in the Santa Fe National Forest, a 40-minute drive away.
New Mexico’s ancient hot springs are another local tradition. A beloved pastime just four miles from town is a soak at Ten Thousand Waves, a tranquil spa modeled after Japanese bathhouses. The spa has adapted to the times, so all of the onsen pools are private, with a hot tub, sauna and changing room. Start or end your soak with a shiatsu massage. Then refuel at Izanami, the property’s izakaya (bar-style) restaurant, which serves a changing menu of sashimi to sustainably sourced wagyu with flavorful rare teas and sakes.
A night at the opera, at which both classical and new works are performed, is a must in the summer, even for opera newbies. The building has stunning, 360-degree views and a backdrop of endless landscape. Each night, the sunset lights the stage with its orange glow. Be sure to come early for the pre-opera tailgate, an elegant tradition in which locals whip out tablecloths and champagne flutes from their trunks.
Ballooning is a storied tradition in New Mexico. For nine days every October, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta turns the skies above the desert city into a candy-colored mass ascension, with viewing tickets available to the public safely on the ground.
For those who want the experience of going up—at any time of year—Rainbow Ryders offers seasonal private and group rides at sunrise, with views of the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Landscape Ride within the painted desert of the 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch is one of the most extraordinary trail rides in the area. The stable’s experienced and patient wranglers lead groups on O’Keeffe-focused tours, pointing out geological formations from some of her most prized paintings, such as the Cliffs Beyond Abiquiú and Dry Waterfall. This might also be your only chance to lay eyes on O’Keeffe’s summer home, which isn’t open to the public.
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Looking for a more curated itinerary? Check out Capital One’s article Three Ways to See Santa Fe.