48 Hours in Santa Fe: The Ultimate Itinerary

Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Santa Fe is generally cast as a historic city with world-class culture. There’s plenty of reason: It’s the country’s oldest capital city, with more than 400 years of history overflowing from every crevice in its adobe-lined streets, and it has a visual art scene rivaling that of cities several times its size. But if you look past all that, there’s a trendy, even boundary-pushing side to this cultural capital that earns Santa Fe its quirky moniker as the City Different. To help you make the most of your weekend, we’ve compiled the spots you must check out in the city right now. From the best places to get your chile fix to the top art destinations, here’s how to have an unforgettable 48 hours in Santa Fe.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Downtown street with Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
ablokhin / Getty Images

8 a.m.: If you’re one of the lucky few to land at the Santa Fe Regional Airport, you’ll be able to drop your bags at the St. Francis Hotel within a few minutes. Since most travelers arrive at the Albuquerque International Sunport and take a train or shuttle to Santa Fe, the commute to the hotel can be a bit longer. Your first day in town, stick close to downtown Santa Fe, where many of the city’s timeless sites are located. After dropping off your bag, stroll a couple blocks to Tia Sophia’s for breakfast. The homey neighborhood joint wins hearts with its quintessential Northern New Mexico cuisine. Order a smothered breakfast burrito for a hearty fix of the state’s much-bragged-about green or red chile.

11 a.m.: You’ll travel through the Plaza, where the city was founded more than 400 hundred years ago, to your next stop. As you walk, take time to view the Palace of the Governors, one of the oldest continuously used public buildings in the U.S. and where territorial governor Lew Wallace wrote the classic tale "Ben Hur". The centuries-old building is now part of the New Mexico History Museum. Duck inside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. A French archbishop designed the grand Romanesque Revival style cathedral in the late 1800s, and it's a bit of an oddity when it comes to local architecture. It also houses La Conquistadora, the oldest statue of the Virgin Mary in the U.S., in a side chapel. A block away, explore Loretto Chapel, another of Santa Fe’s noteworthy religious sites.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer sculpture in Goseyun & Antropology Laboratory, New Mexico Museum, Museum Hill

 Richard Cummins / Getty Images

Noon: Kick off your lunch with a beer at the downtown taproom, aka The Breakroom, of Santa Fe Brewing Co. It helped kick of the state’s beer boom and still has a few local favorites, like the Happy Camper IPA. Lunch at Café Pasqual’s will feel like a fiesta thanks to colorful decor and Mexican-inspired dishes. This Santa Fe staple started using local food in its dishes far before it was popular.

2 p.m.: After lunch, head to Museum Hill, where you’ll have to choose your own adventure by selecting among four of the city’s top museums: the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, devoted to the Spanish colonial style and art forms; the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, which exhibits Native American artifacts and art; the Museum of International Folk Art, which displays art from more than 100 countries in its permanent collection; and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, which displays Native American art in an building inspired by a traditional Navajo hogan. If you’d rather shop than museum hop, spend the afternoon wandering Canyon Road, an arts district with nearly a mile-long stretch of traditional, Western, and contemporary art galleries.

5 p.m.: Santa Feans love a ‘rita, and the Santa Fe Margarita Trail will guide you to more than 30 different, and delicious, versions. Try a classic take on city’s signature cocktail at Coyote Cantina, a rooftop lounge that overlooks downtown. While you’re there, nobody would blame you if you grabbed a plate of the nachos topped with whiskey marinated pork before your dinner reservation.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Hervé Wine Bar entrance

Courtesy of Hervé Wine Bar 

6 p.m.: Amaya, at Hotel Santa Fe, focuses on seasonal ingredients prepared using pueblo culinary traditions. That’s fitting since Picuris Pueblo owns Hotel Santa Fe, making it the only downtown hotel owned by a Native American pueblo. Order off the Red Mesa Cuisine menu for dishes like San Juan red chile honey glazed quail or elk drizzled with chokecherry sauce. For dinner and a show, Canyon Road calls again. At least one night a week, El Farol hosts a flamenco dinner show. National Institute of Flamenco performers twirl and stomp through the restaurant showing why New Mexico has earned a reputation as one the best flamenco dance scenes outside of Spain.

10 p.m.: Before heading back to your hotel, have a nightcap at Hervé Wine Bar down a small alleyway just off the plaza. The bar serves selections from New Mexico winemaker D.H. Lescombs and stages live music most nights.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Santa Fe National Forest Sangre de Cristo mountains with green aspen trees in spring or summer and peak
krblokhin / Getty Images

8 a.m.: French country restaurant Clafoutis slid into Santa Feans hearts with its fresh baguettes and croissants. Grab your own to go or sit down for a savory crepe. If a nutritious meal is beckoning after a day of chile-laded dishes and multi-courses, Modern General is the eatery for you. You can peruse the cookbooks and garden tools while you wait for a green juice or a plate of mod-cakes (savory pancakes).

9 a.m.: After fueling up, drive into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Trails near Ski Santa Fe, which has a November to March season, and in Hyde Memorial State Park offer high-altitude hikes amid towering pines and aspens.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Part of Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return. There is an artifical tree with a couch nestled into the base. A staircase wraps around the tree to a second level. The second level has vines wrapped around the metal fence

Courtesy of Meow Wolf

1 p.m.: Back in town, it’s time to check out neighborhoods beyond the Plaza. The Railyard district is home to the twice weekly Santa Fe Farmers Market, but even when the market isn’t happening, Opuntia Café serves farm-fresh, healthy fare. The usual crowd is laptop-laden millennials and Gen Xers drawn here for hearty grain-and-protein bowls and piled-high avocado toast. If the addictive properties of chile are already working their magic and you find yourself in need of a fix, La Choza serves up the same award-winning sauces as The Shed restaurant, with half the wait times of its better known and more centrally located sister restaurant.

2 p.m.: Get in line for your reserved entrance into The House of Eternal Return. Set in a suddenly trendy industrial district, the 20,000-square-foot interactive art installation has shaken up the Santa Fe art scene since its opening in 2016. The Meow Wolf art collective created the attraction, which is part creepy fun house, part science fiction story, part neon-lit dreamscape. Wander fantastical realms like a multiverse travel agency or play plastic mushrooms like bongos in an unearthly forest.

4 p.m.: For an afternoon cocktail that goes down effortlessly, head to La Reina. Proclaiming it’s where “Fast Lives Slow Down,” the mezcal-centric bar in a former 1930s motor lodge (now the El Rey Court hotel) serves agave spirits perfect for sipping. Today, locals love hanging at the hotel bar and its swim club. If you need a caffeine boost rather than a cocktail, Iconik Coffee Roastery is your destination instead. It has three locations around town, but its southside Lena Street locale will be most convenient to get to from Meow Wolf. The industrial space is dripping with chandeliers and freshly made cappuccinos.

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06 of 06

Day 3: Evening

The Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe

Richard Cummins / Getty Images 

6 p.m.: Continuing your south side sojourn, drive to the city’s outskirts where Blue Heron restaurant at Sunrise Springs resort serves modern Southwestern dishes overlooking a spring-fed pond. Chef Rocky Durham, a longtime advocate of New Mexican cuisine and ingredients, prepares local-ingredient-laden dishes and makes an excellent green-chile cheeseburger. For more downhome takes on one of the city’s favorite dishes, try the recently reopened Santa Fe Bite. (It was long a city favorite; however, it was without a brick-and-mortar space for a few years). A burger from Shake Foundation, near downtown, will give your taste buds, and tear ducts, a run for their money with super-hot chopped green chile. At least at Shake Foundation, you can wash down your chile with a piñon caramel shake.

8 p.m.: Santa Fe’s visual arts may get top billing, but its stage shows are just as robust. Depending on the evening, at Lensic Performing Arts Center you might find performances from Santa Fe’s resident troupe of professional acrobats, a concert from the Santa Fe Symphony or NEA Jazz Masters, or lectures from internationally known thought leaders. Even if you don’t go inside, visiting the restored 1931 Moorish style vaudeville theater is a must. Jean Cocteau Cinema offers more bohemian evening entertainment. "Game of Thrones" visionary and Santa Fe resident George R. R. Martin owns the indie movie house, which screens off-beat flicks and film-fest darlings depending on the evening.

10 p.m.: Polish off your trip in one of two of Santa Fe’s favorited nightlife spots. (To be fair, the list is pretty short in this early-to-bed town.) Tonic, just off the plaza, evoked a jazz bar from the 1920s and offers live music several nights a week. If a rollicking scene is your style, opt for Cowgirl Santa Fe, where the uniforms are kitschy and the live rock, bluegrass, and folk music is loud.