If you’re looking for a place where you can enjoy picturesque buildings with somewhat different architecture, loads of sunshine and just a relaxed way of life in general, then coming to Santa Fe is the right move to make. This fascinating town will not overwhelm you with its size but allow you to chill out and recharge your batteries. It really is an excellent place for a change of scenery, especially if you just need a quick break from your everyday life. That’s why one day in Santa Fe will always be just what the doctor ordered, since there are plenty of things to do and enjoy here.
What’s the best time to visit Santa Fe?
The weather around here is somewhat peculiar because the summers are fairly hot, whereas the winters can get quite cold. Because of that, the best time to spend a day in Santa Fe would be somewhere in May (maybe early June) or September if you want to avoid extreme heat or cold. July and August are also the wettest months, which is also something to keep in mind.
One of the most notable events in the city is the Gathering of Nations, an annual event held on the last weekend in April where representatives of hundreds of tribes of Native Americans come and showcase their culture. If you’re lucky, you can attend one of Pueblo Feast Days, which are often sacred to the Native people. Inform yourself if you’re going – there are strict rules that need to be obeyed! Finally, should you be in town in June you’ll be in for a treat because Rodeo De Santa Fe is held during the last week of that month.
A few facts about Santa Fe
Santa Fe (Spanish for “holy faith”) is the oldest state capital in the United States, with its roots going back to the early 17th century. More precisely, in 1607 Don Pedro de Peralta, a Spanish governor, established the city and gave it its full name: La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís. Today, the town is estimated to have about 85,000 people.
Over the course of its history, Santa Fe was under Spanish, Mexican and finally U.S. rule. This has left quite a mark on the town through which Spanish and Mexican influence is still very much visible.
The nearby river, the Santa Fe River, is considered to be the most endangered river in the whole country, and the area around it was settled by the native Pueblos back in the 10th century.
One Day in Santa Fe Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the best sights and things to do on your one day in Santa Fe.
Start your day on Canyon Road
You’re here to relax, right? Well, spending the first part of your day sipping coffee and soaking up the vibe of Canyon Road is one of the best things you can do here about that. This is the town’s art district where you can browse through literally dozens of galleries and it simply has to be a part of your Santa Fe itinerary.
Of course, the place is full of nice cafes and restaurants, so you can take it nice and easy while you’re visiting. See some Pueblo pottery, abstract works and even digital art. It’s all here!
Visit Loretto Chapel
Once you’re done with the art, it’s time for some architecture. Head west towards the city centre and find Loretto Chapel, a lovely little church from 1878 which now serves as a museum. However, the church has a secret – a beautiful spiral staircase whose construction is attributed to St. Joseph himself. Some interesting legends surround this staircase, but the church itself is also quite charming and very much worthy of your time.
Have lunch at Santa Fe Plaza
It’s getting close to lunch, so head to the Plaza, the main town square. The place exudes Spanish influence, and before you sit down and eat take a moment to enjoy the architecture. The locals adore this place and it has become a symbol of this town, always bustling with life and activities thanks to the vicinity of many interesting places. Simply put, a day in Santa Fe is not complete if you don’t come here.
After strolling around for a bit, you can start looking for a place to eat. La Plazuela is a great place to sit for lunch if you want to enjoy some good Southwestern cuisine in a beautiful environment. The restaurant is located in the La Fonda Hotel and its dining room has a lovely atmosphere and even a couple of trees growing inside. But there are also other options, like the Plaza Cafe, the oldest restaurant in town and another great example of American cuisine. This is as good of a diner as they come.
Explore the Georgia O’Keefe Museum
Slightly north-west of the Plaza is the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, and visiting that is one of those things in Santa Fe everyone should do. Georgia O’Keefe is considered to be the mother of US modernism, so you are in for a treat. There is plenty to see in there, and you can even download an app to guide you. And the place is really not very big, so you won’t have to spend a big chunk of your one day in this town. Well worth the visit!
Go inside the cathedral
On the side of the Plaza opposite to the O’Keefe Museum stands the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. If you remember, St. Francis is also mentioned in the full name of the town (La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís) and the cathedral here really does him justice.
A beautiful Romanesque building from the late 19th century, it is a fascinating piece of architecture and the bright and colorful interior should be seen, as well. An incredible church!
Experience Meow Wolf
Yes, Meow Wolf definitely has to be experienced and you’ll need all your senses for that. A mixture of various types of storytelling, this is a place that will set you on a unique adventure full of exploration and interactive pieces.
Plenty of different environments will test you as you try to get to the bottom of it all. Children will love it, and this is certainly one of the best things to do in Santa Fe with them. It’s not exactly close to the Plaza, though, so having a car is recommended.
Visit the Museum of International Folk Art
If you have a car, the Museum of International Folk Art is another great place to visit. It has quite literally thousands of pieces from all over the world depicting scenes from more than 100 countries. Now that’s impressive!
There is always some kind of interesting exhibition going on, plus you can take up a couple of different tours (docent and multi-media tours are available) while there to help you find your way around this huge collection. Add to that the fact that children up to the age of 16 can enter for free, and you have something for the whole family.
Where to stay in Santa Fe?
Old Santa Fe Inn
201 Montezuma, Santa Fe, NM 87501
One of the best things to do for accommodation in Santa Fe, especially if you’re looking for great value for your money, is to book a room in Old Santa Fe Inn. Not only will you be in the city centre, but you will also enjoy visually attractive and well equipped rooms. Of course, you get a full breakfast here, and fitness and business centers are also available. A great stay!
Inn of the Governors
101 West Alameda Street, Santa Fe
Inn of the Governors is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a place to stay after a day in Santa Fe. It is right in the city centre, with a heated outdoor pool and buffet breakfast. You’ll be amazed by how many flowers there are on the balconies, and the rooms (and the rest of the interior) will attract you with a lot of beautiful wooden details.
Rosewood Inn on the Anasazi
113 Washington Avenue, Santa Fe
For those who really want to live it up, Rosewood Inn on the Anasazi in the city centre is a perfect choice. This five-star beauty boasts beautiful architecture and the rooms here come with a fireplace! Not only that, but you will have three restaurants to choose from, a wine cellar you can rent out to host an event and guests can even enjoy a library if they want to catch up on their reading. This is luxury at its very finest.
460 West San Francisco, Santa Fe
Slightly outside the city centre, but still well within walking distance, Las Palomas is another hotel in the city providing great value for your money. The warm colors of its interior will make you feel right at home, and the breakfast here is really very good. And after spending a whole day in Santa Fe, you may be interested to know that you can get a spa treatment at Hotel Santa Fe if you book a room here.
Day trips from Santa Fe
New Mexico is a fantastic state to visit, so if you ever have the opportunity to set up some day trips from Santa Fe, you should go for it. Don’t know what to visit? Never fear, we’ve got you covered!
Bandelier National Park
Bandelier National Park should be visited for several reasons. First, it has some absolutely fascinating Anasazi ruins which can be climbed into and explored first-hand. Second, you can actually go and visit a volcano, Valles Caldera, which is about two million years old. Apart from that, the park is absolutely stunning, so you will without a doubt enjoy a day out in this part of the United States.
Rio Grande rafting
Looking for some adrenaline to get your blood flowing? Then head on to Rio Grande and book yourself a rafting tour of this mighty river. This is one of the most exciting day trips from Santa Fe you can make, no doubt about that. Rio Grande will take you through some breathtaking landscapes while at the same time providing plenty of excitement. However, while exciting, Rio Grande is not a particularly demanding river in this respect, so if you’re a rookie you’ll be able to have fun too. Even whole families can go!
Pecos National Historical Park
If you’re looking for something educational, Pecos National Historical Park is the place to go. This day trip from Santa Fe will take you to the ruins of Pecos Pueblo, where you will learn a whole lot about the people who used to live here. The natives were encountered by the Spanish, as witnessed by a beautiful Spanish mission located near the ruins. If you’re looking for a short day trip to a place just out of town, this is most certainly it.
Chimayo & Puye Cliff Dwellings
Puye cliff dwellings are the ancient home of the people who today live in the pueblo of Santa Clara. As a matter of fact, the natives are more than willing to act as your guides here. The dwellings are considered to be a National Historical Landmark, so you know there is stuff to see here. Furthermore, you can go and visit the nearby town of Chimayo and its church known for its miraculous healing powers.
Extra tips for visiting Santa Fe
– If you’re planning to explore places outside the downtown area, your best option is to rent a car if you don’t have one with you. Uber is also available in the city.
– Wi-Fi is available in a big part of the town. Make the best use of that!
– Again, if you’re visiting some of the Pueblos, especially on a Pueblo Feast Day, learn how you should behave! You probably won’t be allowed to take photos of the ceremonies, for example. Be humble and respectful because these are sacred events. Act like you’re in a church.
– When it comes to tipping, between 15% and 20% is the norm here, although it may be closer to 20%.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).