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Like many who got married during the first year of the pandemic, our plans shifted half a dozen times. The travel addict that I am, however, it was postponing my Santa Fe bachelorette that made me the saddest. So when it was finally time to make up that trip, I researched all the things to do in Santa Fe and added a few extra days so I had both solo tripping time as well as fun with some of my closest friends.
I’d chosen Santa Fe for my bachelorette because I wanted a place that was new to me, somewhat centrally located given where everyone was coming from, had a good mix of outdoors activities and culture and delicious food, and wasn’t a solely drinking and partying destination. And it didn’t disappoint.
I spent a little over five days in The City Different, and there are so many things to do in Santa Fe that I would’ve happily stayed for another week. Bucketed by category, here are my favorite experiences so you can pick and choose to create your perfect Santa Fe bachelorette party — or just any long weekend in Santa Fe!
Table of Contents
Where to stay in Santa Fe
When I got to Santa Fe for the solo portion of my trip, I wanted to make sure I was somewhere within walking distance to most of the main spots in town.
So I picked this darling spot downtown called The Parador. Set in a 200-year-old farmhouse and doubling as a non-profit artist space, the hotel was cozy and vibrant, full of life and spirit. (True to its artistic nature, the guest room also came with two art postcards that now adorn my fridge!)
When my friends came, we got a car so we could get outdoors and explore.
We originally booked a place downtown but had to move to a smaller place just outside of downtown when COVID changes made the group smaller than expected. We had a built-in DD though, so having to drive everywhere didn’t end up mattering.
If you want a lot of nightlife though or just don’t want to have to drive to get to all of the great things to do in Santa Fe, I’d suggest staying downtown.
When to visit Santa Fe
Despite popular belief, Santa Fe is not a desert. It’s actually a semi-arid steppe.
That means its got cold winters (snow included!) and warm though not blazing summers. Low winter temps typically stick to the high teens, while summer average highs are in the mid-80s.
In other words, you can visit Santa Fe basically any time of the year. When you choose to visit mostly depends on your preferences and what you’re looking for.
We went in the autumn, which is known as perhaps the best time to visit Santa Fe because of its pleasant weather, lower than summer hotel rates, and a calendar full of festivals.
We ended up missing Santa Fe festival season because there was only one weekend that worked for everyone after planning against a whole lot of postponed bachelorettes and weddings. I’d love to return one day though during one of its festivals.
Spring is similar to fall in terms of hotel rates and weather, while summer is more expensive and hotter (though it has some of the festivals, too!)
Winter offers a mild escape for those from the blustery Midwest and New England states and provides great snow sports opportunities in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Explore Santa Fe on foot
Okay, onwards to sharing my favorites among the many things to do in Santa Fe.
I’ve always been a fan of exploring new cities on foot, and it was no different with Santa Fe.
Walking around town is a great way to see the landscape, architecture, and flora that makes Santa Fe so distinctive. It’s nicknamed The City Different in large part due to its melange of cultures, ranging from its native roots to its Spanish and Anglo influences.
Take in the adobe-style homes that are synonymous with southwestern architecture, look for the bright red strings of hanging chile peppers — known as chile ristras — and check out the colorful native plants of the New Mexican steppe.
These are best explored if you wander a little outside of the main tourist areas. Strolling through the streets of Santa Fe, with only a general direction and no exact plans, I was reminded of a mix of places, including the colorful streets of Mexico City‘s Coyoacan and the leisurely pace of life in Seville.
Of course, if you prefer less roaming, there are plenty of places to explore on foot in downtown as well.
Like many cities with Spanish influence, Santa Fe is home to multiple impressive churches. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the main one, a towering church that you can’t really miss if you spend any amount of time in downtown Santa Fe.
Perhaps I’ve seen too many churches over the years, but this cathedral was not particularly impressive. It was, instead, Cathedral Park next door that I found more enticing.
Home to a sanatorium in the 1880s, the park is now a quiet refuge in the bustling downtown, with towering trees offering shade to those relaxing on the greens or on the benches that line the park. I found it a nice place to rest feet that had walked too many miles and to enjoy a snack while people watching.
If you are interested in churches, Loretta Chapel is known to be a better visit than the cathedral due to its helix-shaped spiral staircase. I skipped it though, again, having seen many a spiral staircases in churches elsewhere, helix-shaped or not. (There is also a fee to enter Loretta Chapel.)
Last and not least, make sure to find yourself the cute burros (donkeys) of Burro Alley, a homage to an animal long important in the region.
Immerse yourself in Santa Fe’s museums
I’m a huge fan of balmy, sunny days, but if it gets too hot (or too cold!), then it’s the perfect time to visit one of Santa Fe’s many museums. The art museums, in particular, are a part of Santa Fe’s identity.
I started my trip by visiting Santa Fe’s Museum Hill, making my way up there on foot via Old Santa Fe Trail. (During non-COVID times, there’s a Santa Fe Pickup Shuttle that goes up there. I found the two-mile walk, with a slight incline, to be really pleasant after breakfast.)
At the top of the hill sits the 4 museums that give it its name: the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. The Santa Fe Botanical Garden is also located there.
You could truly spend two full days up on Museum Hill if you wanted. As much as I love museums, I prefer to mix it up a bit instead of spending entire days at museums. So I picked two to visit, starting with the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture.
Unfortunately, one of the main exhibits was under renovation when I visited, but it was still really interesting to see the exhibits on new art from indigenous artists as well as historical silver jewelry from native nations.
The highlight of my visit was a special exhibit called Clearly Indigenous: Native Visions Reimagined in Glass. No photos are allowed, so I’d encourage you to visit and see it in person.
There are dozens of stunning glass artworks representing everything from animals important in native cultures to “woven baskets” — things you’d never expect to see in glass! All artworks are by indigenous artists, save for a few by the famous Dale Chihuly, who was key to introducing glass art to native communities.
Next up on my list was the Museum of International Folk Art.
I won’t lie, it was very different than what I expected. But it was so cool to see how different cultures around the world express themselves artistically in non “classically-trained” ways. It reminded me that art is for all people, not just those trained or recognized as artists.
There was even a very time-appropriate art exhibit featuring COVID-related art! 😉
I didn’t truly have interest in the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (because, colonizers), and simply ran out of steam to go to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.
If you’re more gong-ho on visiting all of them though, Museum Hill offers plenty of opportunities to take a break in between museums. Take a mindful breather walking the labyrinth or grab a bite or beverage at the Museum Hill Cafe. Or just sit on one of the benches dotting the Museum Hill plaza.
Of course, you can’t mention Santa Fe and museums without talking about the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which we visited on the last day of our trip.
Like many, I’d learned about Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous flower paintings, but her artistic spectrum was much broader than that. I really enjoyed the format of the museum — self-guided audio tours via your phone — as well as the layout that showed you her phases of artistic exploration as she went through various phases of her life. My favorites were probably her southwest-inspired pieces!
Perhaps less famous, though certainly one of the best things to do in Santa Fe, is a “museum” of a different type: Meow Wolf.
This immersive art experience allows you to become part of the art, feeling like a hands-on museum for adults (though kids are permitted except for special 21+ events). The psychedelic neon colors and varied art forms add to the experience, as does the storyline of the entire museum, which I admittedly did not completely follow or care to follow.
I chose this photo to give you a sense without giving away the highlights. Meow Wolf is truly an experience that is delightful in every way!
Meow Wolf has different installations in other cities as well, but the House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe is the original. Highly recommend reserving tickets ahead of time, especially on the weekends!
Hike the New Mexican landscape
One of the reasons I chose The City Different for my bachelorette was because there is good hiking in and near Santa Fe.
Two of the top options for hiking in Santa Fe are actually national monuments: Bandelier National Monument and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.
Tent Rocks has actually been closed during most of COVID, so we didn’t get to visit there. But Bandelier National Monument was my first choice anyways, and it was a fantastic place to visit.
Located ~50 minutes west of Santa Fe, Bandelier National Monument combines hiking with culture. There are more than 70 miles of trails across 33,000 acres of canyonland and mesa country for you to explore.
What drew me to it though is that it is also the site of ancestral Pueblo settlements. You can see and explore dwellings carved into the cliffs and view petroglyphs on the rock face.
On another day, we took our hiking out to the Rio Grande. We explored Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, checking out different trails and eventually finding our way down to the Rio Grande itself.
After, we went to look for one of the many natural hot springs in the broader Santa Fe region. Black Rock Hot Springs is near the John Dunn Bridge and houses three thermal pools at the edge of a crisp and chill Rio Grande. Relaxing in those hot springs made for a perfect end to our day before we drove back to Santa Fe.
Relax at a spa
If natural hot springs in the wild are less of your thing or you simply don’t have the time or a car to get outdoors, there are plenty of spa experiences in Santa Fe as well.
Thanks to COVID, I hadn’t had a massage for years by the time I got to Santa Fe. I had a few extra hours before my friends arrived, so I booked a massage and a body scrub at Absolute Nirvana Spa. Tucked away at the end of a residential street, the spa has a small garden area and treatment rooms dotting the property. It was heavenly and just what I needed.
I didn’t have a car that day and did not want to take two $60 Ubers, but if you wanted more expansive spas, there are two renowned options: Ten Thousand Waves and Ojo Santa Fe Spa Resort. Both are a little outside of town proper.
Ten Thousand Waves is about a 15-minute drive northeast of town, inspired by Japanese mountain hot spring resorts, while Ojo is about 25 minutes driving distance southwest of town, pulling spring water into their thermal pools and offering more of a New Mexican high desert vibe. Both offer day treatments and passes and are full-scale hotels that are perfect for a staycation.
Shopping is not something I like in general, but I do like the act of it when I’m in new places, even if I buy absolutely nothing. This is especially true in places full of flavor and culture, like Santa Fe!
Santa Fe has plenty of shopping options, from more mainstream stores around the Santa Fe Railyard to boutiques off of the historic plaza downtown. It also has two very special shopping experiences.
The first is Santa Fe’s Native American Artisans Portal Program. Each day, under the portal of the Palaces of the Governors, native artisans sell their handcrafted items. Jewelry is the most common, with pottery and textiles coming closely behind.
Everything is handmade by the vendors or their family members, and while a little haggling is OK, don’t expect to get jewelry pieces with precious gems for a fiver. These are authentic pieces, after all — and they’re definitely better priced than similar pieces in stores nearby.
The other Santa Fe shopping experience to note is Canyon Road.
Canyon Road is perhaps home to as many art galleries as non-art stores, though I suppose art shopping is still shopping. In a way, a stroll down Canyon Road is as much an art walk as it is shopping. One of my favorite spots was Kay Contemporary Art, where the origami sculptures of Kevin Box absolutely delighted me.
There are also plenty of food options on Canyon Road, plus a very peaceful wine tasting room.
I spent a lazy two-hour stretch at the Ahmyo Wine Garden, drinking New Mexican wine and reading my book. Tucked away from the main stretch of Canyon Road behind an art gallery, the spot offered me a chance to experience New Mexico wines without driving out to the wineries themselves, and it had a desert oasis garden with sculptures to boot.
Take a day trip from Santa Fe
Since we had a car once my friends arrived, we decided to make the most of it by taking a day trip from Santa Fe to Taos.
There are two ways from Santa Fe to Taos: on the scenic High Road to Taos and via the less scenic but faster Low Road. As you can imagine, we chose to take the scenic route on the way there and the faster route on the way home.
The High Road to Taos is gorgeous, a scenic drive through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The landscape changes from high desert to forests, with small villages dotting the path.
One town that we stopped at was Chimayo, roughly 40 minutes from Santa Fe. It’s home to El Santuario de Chimayo, a pilgrimage destination that is said to have healing powers much like Lourdes in France. (In fact, it’s sometimes called the Lourdes of the Southwest.)
The village is also known for its weaving families, the Ortegas and the Trujillos, though their workshops weren’t open when we visited.
Like I said earlier, I’ve visited more churches and cathedrals than I can count. In addition to the sanctuary, Chimayo is also home to the Santo Nino Chapel. Were they especially special to me? No. But I can still appreciate that this sleepy little town is special to so many and that its supposed healing powers have been held sacred by the Tewa Indians long before the churches were built.
If I’m completely honest, the actual town of Taos was a little bit of a letdown to me. It felt extremely touristy, and we decided to leave after a perfunctory walk around downtown. I would like to return to Taos one day to ski though!
While town itself was a bit of a bummer, there are gorgeous outdoors spots and activities even when it’s not ski season. Visit the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge or hike the Rio Grande del Norte lands and hit up a hot springs like we did.
Need other options for day trips from Santa Fe?
For active options, visit Bandelier National Monument or Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument like I shared earlier.
Big Georgia O’Keeffe fan and couldn’t get enough just at the museum in Santa Fe? Take a trip to Ghost Ranch, her home in Abiquiu. It’s about an hour and 15 minutes northwest of Santa Fe.
For those looking for more hot springs, perhaps the most famous is Jemez Springs. There, you can soak in the natural pools and experience local life and culture at the nearby Jemez Pueblo.
And of course, you can always check out Albuquerque. While New Mexico’s largest city isn’t as loved as the artistic darling that is Santa Fe, Old Town Albuquerque still deserves a visit, as does its museums and churches. We only had about an hour there before we had to head to the airport, but I’d love to return one day for its hot air balloon festival, which is held each October.
Feast at the best restaurants and bars in Santa Fe
It shouldn’t be a surprise that this last section among the best things to do in Santa Fe is also the most extensive. There’s nothing I love more than eating and drinking my way through a new place.
It was no different on this trip.
To keep costs manageable on this bachelorette, especially since our wedding was also a destination wedding, we made some meals at our rental. But when I was on my own and when we were in town, we made sure to check out some of Santa Fe’s best bars and restaurants.
Before I get to my recommendations, you should know before going to Santa Fe that chile is a staple in New Mexican food, and you’ll often be asked “red or green” when ordering a local dish. That’s red chile or green chile.
Neither is particularly spicy in my opinion, but rather smoky for red chile and herby for green chile. If you’re not sure which to choose, you can always order both by asking for “Christmas style”. I did that every single time — both is better than one, right?
Okay, here are the Santa Fe restaurants and bars that I’d recommend:
Best breakfast and coffee shops in Santa Fe
Looking for a light breakfast? Head to Sage Bakehouse. This tiny little bakery serves up fresh-out-of-the-oven sweet and savory goods. And when I say “light” breakfast, that’s if you can keep yourself to only consuming one thing on the menu.
While Sage Bakehouse certainly has coffee, head to Iconik Coffee Roasters if you want coffee to be the star of your breakfast. Iconik has plenty of healthy eats in addition to its drinks, and it doubles as a popular working spot.
If you want something a little heftier in the morning, I absolutely adored Cafe Pasqual’s. This little corner spot serves up hearty New Mexican and Mexican meals all day long but is especially beloved for its breakfast.
Once I tasted the huevos motuleños, which includes sautéed bananas in addition to the expected eggs, tortillas, beans, and chile, I understood why. It was absolutely scrumptious. (I know the bananas sound a little weird, but trust me, it works. It actually reminded me a lot of the food in Colombia and Cuba.)
The colorful decor inside and the communal tables also add to the vibe.
Best lunch and dinner restaurants in Santa Fe
For lunch and dinner, there are so so many options around Santa Fe. These are the ones that I ate at and would recommend, and there were so many that I simply did not have the time to try.
I tend to go for local flavors when I am traveling, hence the similarities below. But I’ll call out why each was special to me.
And before I forget, every single one of these places has both indoor and outdoor seating, so you always have a choice between air conditioned rooms or enjoying your meal under the New Mexican sun (I’m definitely a fan of the latter!)
First up: Paloma.
Paloma calls itself Mexican-inspired, and that it certainly was. From the decor to the delicious food, Paloma reminded me of Mexico City, which was the last place we visited before the pandemic hit.
Seeing huitlacoche on the menu brought me back to the streets of Mexico City, where I ate so much good food, including a lot of huitlacoche tlacoyos. The Diablo Margarita, with rayu mezcal, lime, cassis, and ginger, was also a standout. (P.S. Sit at the bar if you can!)
Another spot that made my heart and stomach ever so content was Tomasita’s. This is a Santa Fe staple, serving northern New Mexican cuisine for more than 40 years.
My entree was mouthwatering, though what made Tomasita’s stand out for me is that all entrees are served with a hot and fresh sopaipilla.
I truly don’t know how to explain how much I love bread of all sorts, and I was so excited to see this fried dough bread come with my food. I had a hard time finishing my entree thanks to having too many meals in as many hours, but you best bet I did not leave a single morsel of sopaipilla behind.
Tomasita’s is in downtown Santa Fe, but not in the heart of the historic plaza where more of the bars and nightlife are. If you want a spot there that serves great New Mexican food, check out La Choza.
Like Tomasita’s, La Choza has all the great New Mexican specialties. Whatever you order there though, make sure to get their queso. It’s bowl-licking good!
Not sure if you’re feeling Mexican or New Mexican? Zacatlan Restaurant serves up both. I went for a wet burrito smothered in Christmas chile just to make sure I got both.
If you want New Mexican cuisine but have picky eaters with you, Palacio Cafe is another great spot to check out. This tiny little family-owned cafe is across from the cathedral and has a menu of New Mexican favorites right next to hot and cold sandwiches and salads for those who don’t like or don’t want more New Mexican food.
Best bars in Santa Fe
While we didn’t go to Santa Fe just to drink, we definitely made sure to have our share of margaritas. And you can’t talk about drinking and bars in Santa Fe without talking about the Margarita Trail!
So where to on the Margarita Trail?
My favorite spot was Coyote Cafe & Rooftop Cantina. I actually had dinner here one day as well (great duck quesadilla), but it was the Hatch Green Chile Margarita and rooftop views and vibes that make the place.
For a more upscale experience, head around the corner to Secreto Lounge, where the Smoked Sage Margarita is not only a gustatory delight but also comes with a fancy bartending smoke show.
Want one place where you can try lots of different types of margaritas? Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen boasts more than 100 margaritas on their menu.
The aforementioned La Choza and Tomasita’s are also on the Margarita Trail, and you best bet I had some at both places!
Overall, Santa Fe was the perfect destination for my bachelorette. From great food and drinks to amazing culture and outdoors experience, I could not have asked for a better long weekend with my favorite ladies.
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