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.
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?
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.
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?).
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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 Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.