Looking for things to do in Santa Fe, New Mexico? Here are the best restaurants, Santa Fe hiking, Tent Rocks and Bandelier national monuments, and more.

What to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico | Tent Rocks National Monument

A few weeks ago we spent an extended weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I must say, it stood up to all the hype. This place is ultra foodie, breathtakingly beautiful, full of culture and art, and uber chill. The trip was an excuse for quality time in a fun location with my parents, and we left rejuvenated and inspired. Here are all the things to do in Santa Fe New Mexico: the best restaurants, places for Santa Fe hiking, and more! Ready for New Mexico travel?

Related: 8 Secrets: How to Take Better Pictures on Vacation

Where to stay

Our house for the weekend in Santa Fe was a VRBO called The Artist’s Retreat, a perfect home base for the week. It was in a neighborhood close to downtown, which we’d recommend for convenience. We’re big fans of online home or apartment rentals like Airbnb and VRBO, since they have so much personality and feel so much more homey than the typical hotel. (Check out the sweet little places we found in Alaska and Rome & Naples.) This was our base for all the following things to do in Santa Fe.

What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Where to stay
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | New Mexico travel

Santa Fe hiking

Bandelier National Monument

When we travel, Alex and I prioritize two things: hiking and food. We had heard great things about Santa Fe hiking, so couldn’t wait to dig in. Of the three separate hikes we did outside Santa Fe, each was more impressive than the next. First was Bandelier National Monument, full of natural beauty, dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs, and petroglyphs.

The best part was that we got to climb ladders into the cliff dwellings, which made us feel like big kids. The ladders were a little scary to be honest – Alex didn’t even attempt them! I kept remarking that the rocks reminded me of those in Santorini (search the word “Vlychada” in this this post — do you agree?).

What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Bandelier National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Bandelier National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Bandelier National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Bandelier National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Bandelier National Monument | Ladders to cliff dwellings

It looks easy from back here, but climbing down while suspended in mid-air without a view of your next foothold was a little unsettling.

What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | New Mexico travel
What to do in Santa Fe New Mexico | New Mexico travel | A Couple Cooks

Tsankawi Prehistoric Site

We did another quick Santa Fe hike after Bandelier (located here). The group of us agreed we enjoyed it even more than the first! Somehow it felt more intimate and much of the hike followed narrow channels worn in the soft rock (it almost felt engineered, like Disney Land). There were also petroglyphs and an incredible view. Don’t miss Tsankawi Prehistoric Site if you’re in the area.

What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Santa Fe hiking
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Santa Fe hiking
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Santa Fe hiking
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Santa Fe hiking
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Santa Fe hiking | New Mexico travel

Tent Rocks National Monument

Tent Rocks National Monument was undoubtedly the most impressive hike of them all! It’s truly one of the more stunning landscapes I’ve seen in the US outside of Utah (Arches + Monument Valley). The arch-shaped formations are completely natural. Alex and I felt like we were on the set of Star Wars (we’re pretty sure Luke Skywalker lived in here at some point). If you’ve got time for Santa Fe hiking, you must go to Tent Rocks National Monument. This is at the top of our list of things to do in Santa Fe!

What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Tent Rocks National Monument
What to do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Tent Rocks National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Tent Rocks National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Tent Rocks National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Tent Rocks National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Tent Rocks National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Tent Rocks National Monument
What to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Tent Rocks National Monument

Best restaurants in Santa Fe

Santa Fe is a dining mecca, so it was difficult to decide on just a few restaurants (since time was limited and many of our meals were hiking to go). Here are a few of what we found to be the best restaurants in Santa Fe:

Best restaurants in Santa Fe | New Mexico travel

Cafe Pasqual’s

The best dining Santa Fe dining experience hands down was Cafe Pasqual’s. When Alex and I try new restaurants, we look for places with soul — not white table cloth fancy or uber trendy, but places that have a story and a personality. Pasqual’s has the soul we look for: high quality farm-to-table food (a fusion of New Mexican and American cuisine), served up in a homey environment. Think menu items like queso fundido with sauteed shiitake mushrooms or salad of arugula, fennel, sugar snaps, and lemon-shallot vinaigrette on a golden polenta triangle, served up next to enchiladas with traditional rich, dark mole sauce. Our table shared the first two, which were crazy good. Napo’s Pupusa was my main dish, a corn masa cake with zucchini, corn, and green chili served with a roasted tomato-jalapeno salsa. Top that off with salted burnt caramel ice cream with chocolate-toasted pinenut toffee, and we were in heaven. And did I mention their agave wine margaritas? It was only photo I was able to snap; they were a perfect starter.

New Mexico travel | Best restaurants in Santa Fe | Agave wine margaritas

Kakawa Chocolate House

Another must visit is Kakawa Chocolate House, famous for its drinking chocolate. Drinking chocolate, you say? It’s rich, velvety, and the perfect afternoon activity in our experience. They also sell fancy chocolates, which we also tried a few of: the standout was the citrus chipotle truffle.

Best restaurants in Santa Fe | Things to do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Kakawa chocolate house
Things to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Chocolates
Best Restaurants in Santa Fe | The Shed | New Mexico travel

The Shed

The Shed offers traditional New Mexican cuisine in a homey atmosphere. I had the Christmas enchiladas (below), and they were solid; just spicy enough. This was a more casual setting and great for lunch.

Related: Watch us make our Christmas enchiladas recipe on the TODAY Show!

Things to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | Christmas enchiladas
Things to do In Santa Fe New Mexico | Izanami | Best restaurants in Santa Fe

Izanami

Eating Japanese cuisine is a little off the beaten path of things to do in Santa Fe New Mexico, but hear us out! Izanami is a Japanese small plates restaurant that’s outside the main part of Santa Fe at the beautiful Ten Thousand Waves spa hotel. Everything about it was soothing, from the smell of incense outside and the hushed atmosphere inside. Compared to my food experiences in Japan a few years ago, the flavors were spot on and I loved the American-French-Japanese fusion. A seemingly endless array of dishes arrived at our table; some highlights were fried Brussels spouts with sweet chile vinegar and bonito flakes, the pickle selection, the wagyu beef burger, and the dark chocolate tart with miso caramel. We went on a whim after reading a few reviews, and at the end of the night we were all believers! We’re still talking about our experience here.

Things to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico
Things to Do In Santa Fe New Mexico | New Mexico travel | Pueblo dance

Pueblo dance

Lastly, we had the very great honor to observe a pueblo dance. Some of the pueblos invite the community on special days to observe their dances, religious ceremonies that are passed down from generation to generation. It was a very special experience and we are so grateful to have been able to be a part. (Note: Photographs are not allowed at the dances.  This photo was not taken at that time but was captured by my mother at a cultural center where photographs were allowed; we added it here for a visual.)

Things to Do in Santa Fe New Mexico | New Mexico travel

For the three days we had in Santa Fe, we wouldn’t have changed anything about the way we spent our time. If you’ve been, let us know your favorite things to do in Santa Fe New Mexico! And if you’re planning New Mexico travel, let us know if you have any questions.

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About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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18 Comments

  1. Great post, pics, and tips! My husband and I are planning a trip to New Mexico in October that is a walking tour. 5 years ago, we went on a walking tour of Tuscany with the same company and enjoyed it very much. My only concern is the altitude. Although I walk a lot, I am not super fit and am in my 60s. Did you find the altitude had a big effect on your hiking?

  2. I spent my college years living in Santa Fe! Such a beautiful place and for an eastern girl like me, quite a different cultural experience. You hit some of the great spots. If you go again you MUST, MUST try the food at Geronimo. It is not only the best food in Santa Fe, but the best restaurant I have ever been to. It has more of a white-tablecloth-feel than what you mentioned being most attracted to, but it is really worth it. Thanks for sharing all of these photos…It was nice seeing those places again :-)

  3. Thanks for the info. I’m heading to NM next month for a 10 day road trip around the state and will have 2 days in and around SF. I plan to try several of your restaurant recos.

  4. Never thought I’d make Santa Fe a travel destination to be completely honest, but those hiking photos totally changed my mind. It’s on the list and hopefully I’ll get a chance to go before residency!

  5. I absolutely love Santa Fe! The food, people, landscape, sky, vibe … it’s the best! If you make it back out there I definitely recommend eating at Harry’s Roadhouse (http://www.harrysroadhousesantafe.com/). It is hands down my favorite restaurant out there! And, I totally agree … the hike at Tent Rocks will leave anyone with 2 working eyes completely speechless! Beautiful images! :)

  6. My mother and I go to Santa Fe every year and at different seasons, Christmas Eve being the best. Cafe Pasquals is great, as well as Restaurant Martin and just a little further up the road Gabriel’s has excellent guacamole and margaritas. Beautiful view outside of the sunset. We always stay at the Inn on the Alameda. It’s one block off the plaza and just one street from Canyon Road.

    1. Thank you so much for these recommendations! We’d love to get back to Santa Fe and we’ll absolutely check these out!

  7. Loved reading about your trip to Santa Fe. I’m headed there over the Thanksgiving weekend. I know your post is about two years old, but do you somehow remember how much time approximately it took to do the Slot Canyon Trail at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument? I was wondering if we could do this first thing in the morning and then get back to Santa Fe to spend rest of the day exploring/eating/shopping. On Thanksgiving Day, I’m planning to head to Taos Pueblo and Chimayo since almost everything in Santa Fe will be closed I’m assuming.

    Cheers
    Parul
    http://girlinchief.com

    1. I think we spent around 2-3 hours on the hike, so you could definitely still have an afternoon in the city! Have an excellent trip!

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