Cartogramme’s Must Lists are mercilessly vetted micro guides to places we’ve been. It’s what we send our friends when they ask, “Hey, got any recommendations for [fill-in-the-blank]?” Heck yeah, we do. Our cheat sheets are never influenced by advertisers or freebies; everything we include is something we believe is genuinely awesome and worth your time.
Desert ‘scapes and rattlesnakes, mystical slot canyons and sun-baked adobe facades, chili ristras hung like Christmas lights and Native American textiles galore. Santa Fe is a high-desert Disneyland for fanny-packing retirees, Goop spiritualists, and the Instagram set. Just 84,000 people live here (including George R.R. Martin), yet the city is hemorrhaging with tourists. Everyone wants a piece of what Georgia O’Keeffe saw, but is there anything real left?
WHEN TO GO
Santa Fe is dry and sunny much of the year. Temperatures are mild—ballpark 45° to 65° Fahrenheit—from October through April. They jump into the 80s and higher between June and August. The summer months are also peak tourist season; expect hotel rates to soar. September and October are lovely—warm in the day time and shoulder-wrap chilly at night. Snow is rare in winter, unless you seek it out at the ski resorts in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Many travelers time their visits to one of Santa Fe’s trillion festivals, like the Currents New Media Festival in June, the International Folk Art Market in July, the Native Treasures Indian Arts Festival in May and September, and the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival in October.
THINGS TO DO FOR FUN
❇︎ Slide down the rabbit hole at Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. The interactive art installation is trippy and bizarre but gets annoying when it’s overrun with selfie-snapping teens.
❇︎ Catch a classic movie screening (The Big Sleep, East of Eden, etc.), live music event, or book signing at Jean Cocteau Cinema. The 1976 theater was revitalized by Game of Thrones novelist and local boy George R.R. Martin and is a big source of hometown pride. Midnight movies are screened every Friday and Saturday starting at 11 p.m. Violet Crown Santa Fe, meanwhile, plays bigger Hollywood flicks but still has its indie chops. Seating should be reserved in advance. Plus: free parking validation!
❇︎ Pop by SITE Santa Fe, the city’s newly expanded contemporary art museum. It’s housed in a former beer warehouse and routinely stages most progressive shows. General admission is $10, but free on Fridays and from 10 a.m. until noon on Saturdays. Note: The museum is near the Santa Fe Farmers Market, which is open on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Go on the weekend to two kill two birds with one stone (and save some $$$).
❇︎ Browse the collection at the Museum of International Folk Art—it’s one of the world’s largest and most diverse (130,000 objects from 100 countries). Indian textiles, Turkish ceramics, Northern New Mexican weavings, Japanese woodblocks—lord have mercy. Admission is $12 for non-residents.
DIVERISONS FARTHER AFIELD
When you get a load of how touristy downtown Santa Fe is, especially around the Plaza, you’ll be itching to jump town. Fortunately, the area has numerous day trips worth the getaway gas.
❇︎ Top of our list is Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in Cochiti. It’s an easy-to-access slot canyon with spectacular views of the towering hoodoos. It’s an hour’s drive from downtown.
❇︎ If taking the NM-14 state road (a.k.a. Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway) at some point, make a pit stop at Connie’s Photo Park in Madrid. For a suggested donation of $2, you can stick your face in the cut-out holes of more than a dozen hand-painted wooden scenes. Picture yourself as an alien in a spaceship! As Wyatt and Billy in Easy Rider! It’s stupid but fun.
❇︎ Also off the NM-14, a little over an hour southeast of Santa Fe and half an hour from Albuquerque: Tinkertown Museum, a hobbyist’s fantasyland of miniatures, dolls, clowns, creepy carnival paraphernalia, and Wild West memorabilia. The museum operates seasonally, from April 1 through October 31.
❇︎ Artist Ra Paulette has devoted his life to cave digging. Tour his only legally accessible masterpiece, the Windows of the Earth Cave Sanctuary, and learn about the area’s unique cryptobiotic soil at Origin at Rancho de San Juan in Ojo Caliente.
❇︎ Pay a sunset visit to Camel Rock Monument in Tesuque. It’s a rock… shaped like a camel.
WHERE TO SHOP
❇︎ If you visit just one store in Northern New Mexico, make it the by-appointment-only showroom at Santa Fe Vintage. It’s located in an industrial park about 20 minutes from downtown Santa Fe and it’ll make all of your vintage dreams come true with its racks of military gear, armloads of turquoise and silver jewelry, and walls hung with African indigo mollycloths.
❇︎ Taking the High Road to Taos? You’ll pass right by Nambe Trading Post in Pojoaque. It’s a real-deal Native American trading post about 16 miles from Santa Fe. The owner is the Emmy Award-winning costume designer behind such films as Dances With Wolves and Last of the Mohicans. Several of her hand-beaded costumes are on display, so you can check them out while browsing shelves of affordably priced weavings and pottery made by artisans in nearby pueblos.
❇︎ Kowboyz is the “home of the $99 boot.” Go here for a huge array of kicks, vintage Westernwear, and time-tested chambray.
❇︎ Photo-eye Bookstore shares a parking lot with the more mainstream Garcia Street Books, but that’s where the similarities end. The focus at Photo-eye is on cool, rare, or unusual photography-driven tomes—stuff like Daido Moriyama’s Tokyo. Weirdly, Photo-eye’s offices are located in the actual bookstore, forcing shoppers to browse shelves squeezed behind workers’ desks. Awesome selection, awkward setup.
❇︎ Santa Fe Stoneworks is one of our top picks for unique Southwestern souvenirs, specifically beautiful pocket knives, chef’s knives, and bottle openers inlaid with turquoise or rare woolly mammoth tusk.
❇︎ Shiprock Santa Fe is bursting with incredible Southwestern and Native American merchandise; the rug room alone will leave you speechless. Unfortunately, so will the prices.
❇︎ Shalako Indian Store, tucked inside the Plaza mini-mall, offers a bozonkers selection of new and used sterling silver and turquoise jewelry, decorative concho belts, lapis, coral, and more. Dream catchers, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK
❇︎ The Santa Fe Farmers Market in the Railyard District runs Tuesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m. On weekends, it’s slammed by 9 a.m. The produce is ace, but the prices are higher than farmers markets in New York City. Expect busking musicians, tables laid with bundles of sage and dried beans, and rainbows of fresh-cut flowers. If you’re hangry, Whoo’s Donuts does crazy-good blue corn, blueberry, and lavender doughnuts and these unreal treats called “Snik Snaks,” made with sweet-tart sour cherries and other local fruit. The good folks at Intergalactic Bread Company and Space Sauce, meanwhile, bake excellent bread and tubs of sprouts hummus.
❇︎ Paper Dosa is good for an upscale South Indian dinner. The atmosphere isn’t “cool” or anything, but the food is really tasty. The mango habanero chutney is pure fire, the dosas are as big as a newborn baby (try the lamb masala!), and the seasonal specials—like a watermelon salad with grilled paneer and raw mung beans—are well worth a look.
❇︎ Jambo Café is a locally beloved African restaurant started by a transplant from Kenya. It’s famous for its very cinnamon-y, very gamey goat stew, served with your choice of roti or rice. The black bean and sweet potato soup and coconut lentil soup with roti are also excellent.
❇︎ Bang Bite Filling Station is a food truck, currently parked on West Water Street in Santa Fe. Its signature burger is the Bite burger: a roasted five-chili blend with bacon, avocado, pepper jack cheese, and jalapeño aioli. It’s divine, but there are nearly a dozen other burgers to choose from if that doesn’t rock your boat. Our hand-cut fries were good but over-salted. Oh, and the workers are the nicest.
❇︎ For beer, you can’t go wrong with the Santa Fe Brewing Company. It’s the oldest craft brewery in town. Try the Happy Camper, a floral, spicy, bitter number.
❇︎ For a solid coffee break, check out Iconik Coffee Roasters. There are two locations, but we prefer the larger one for getting work done. The internet is blazing-fast.
❇︎ Fire & Hops Gastropub keeps a fine roster of award-winning IPAs on tap. The food is good, too: high-quality ingredients and creative execution. The staff is nice enough, but the ambience is kinda meh—tables are shoved in the random rooms of an old house and the space lacks cohesion. Parking is also scarce. If you made reservations, go early; you’ll probably have to hunt for a spot in the street.
WHERE TO STAY
Sad to report, but we had a lousy Airbnb experience in Santa Fe. If we had it to do over, we’d reserve a room at the 150-year-old adobe estate, Inn of the Turquoise Bear. Accommodations range from $95 to $340 per night and pets are welcome for an additional $25 a day. There aren’t enough heart-eyed emojis to capture how visually arresting the interior and grounds are. Casa Cuma Bed & Breakfast (from $169), El Farolito (from $160), and El Rey Court (from $80) also look promising.
THE HUNCH LIST
On every scouting trip, there are places we don’t make it to—mostly because we run out of time or we learn about a potential spot after we’ve left. So here, we present to you the places we haven’t been ourselves but still have a pretty good feeling about. Some have been recommended by in-the-know locals; others came from traveler friends whom we trust implicitly.
❇︎ Scott Corey, owner of the aforementioned Santa Fe Vintage, passed us the number of his friend, Anthony Whitman, who runs the private showroom Provenance/Ten Four Warehouse. He described Whitman’s merchandise as “great… but weird,” and said he specializes in props and furnishings from TV and film sets. We’re still mad we missed this one. Whitman’s showroom is by appointment only; call 505-501-3363 to schedule a visit.
❇︎ Got real bucks to spend on authentic Navajo jewelry? Seek out Silver Sun Santa Fe. The shop/gallery was founded by two retired school teachers in 1979 and they only deal in legit pieces, including collectible American turquoise (Bisbee, Royston, etc.) and hand-carved Zuni fetishes.
❇︎ Dr. Field Goods calls itself farm-to-table New Mexican fusion. Fittingly, the menu is all over the place. You’ve got Christmas enchiladas with green chili chicken and red chili buffalo, bone-broth pho, bulgogi hoagies, goat tortas, fish and chips, roasted vegetable arancini, wood-fired calzones, even onion rings. People rave.
❇︎ Tune Up Cafe for El Salvadoran pupusas, from-scratch chile rellenos, and sangria.
❇︎ Secreto Lounge at the Hotel St. Francis for locavore cocktails and its dog-friendly patio bar. Sample drink: a $12 smoked sage Margarita with a hickory-smoked salt rim.
❇︎ Modern General checks all the Instagram boxes: bright, airy, photogenic. They sell fresh-pressed juices and kolaches but flapjacks are the thing to order here. The gluten-free purple acai teffcakes are made with teff flour, acai, cinnamon, and vanilla and topped with maple syrup and coconut oil. If you wanna get weird, try the prosciutto and robiola cheese corncakes with horseradish kefir and a fried egg. For shoppers, the cafe store sells hairbrushes, rolling pins, and gardening supplies. All very aesthetically pleasing, of course.
❇︎ Gunstock Hill Books is a promising used bookstore with more than 8,000 titles covering the American West, exploration, travel, science, natural history, and medicine. Rare and collectible, that’s the drill.
❇︎ IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is the only museum in the country focused exclusively on work by living Native American artists. Video works, fiber art, black and white photography, printmaking, abstract paintings—they cover it all. Admission is $10.
❇︎ Yes, you do want to visit a working alpaca ranch. At Que Sera Alpacas, about 15 miles south of the Plaza, you’ll befriend Dooley, Broonie, and Scarlett, among others. You can learn all about fiber processing, like how the raw fleece is spun and felted, or just take a million duckface shots with the alpaca teens. Up to you. The ranch is open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4/5 p.m. or by appointment. It’s free to visit but donations are accepted in the gift shop.
❇︎ Might be worth poking your head into Santa Fe Double Take, a long-running consignment shop. They buy all manner of Southwestern clothing and decor, including boots, chaps, hats, Indian baskets, inlay rings and cuffs, pottery, and rugs.
❇︎ The Santa Fe Honey Salon & Farm Shop sells sweet bee juice in every form: raw honey and bee pollen, honey infusions, honey soaps, beeswax candles… you get the point. Good for souvenirs.
❇︎ If you’re into Route 66 Americana or vintage signage, visit the Classical Gas Museum in Embudo, New Mexico. The roadside attraction, built by enthusiast Johnnie Meier, is about 45 minutes north of Santa Fe and a half hour south of Taos on NM-68. Meier’s collection includes old gas pumps, neon signs, rusty rides, soda machines, and a preserved 1960s diner.
STUFF TOURISTS LIKE
Every guidebook, magazine, and blog will tell you to check out the historic Plaza, specifically the row of Native American vendors selling traditional pottery and turquoise jewelry outside the Palace of the Governors. They’ll send you gallery hopping along Canyon Road, the densest such concentration in the world, and over to the New Mexico History Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe Botanical Garden, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, including a tour of her home and studio in Abiquiu. They’ll urge you to tour the world-renown Santa Fe Opera and see the oldest Madonna statue in North America at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and to photograph the Miraculous Staircase at the nearby Loretto Chapel. By all means.
If you want to take a cooking class, they’ll send you to the Santa Fe Cooking School. For a Mexican breakfast, it’ll be Tia Sophia’s or Cafe Pasqual’s; for a Greek breakfast, Plaza Cafe. Burritos at The Shed, green-chili cheeseburgers and lavender shakes at Shake Foundation, second-wave coffee from resting-on-its-laurels Ohori’s (#sorrynotsorry), sipping chocolates from Kakawa Chocolate House, picnic plates from Cheesemongers of Santa Fe, a spare-no-expenses meal at Geronimo, fireplace cocktails at The Dragon Room Lounge at Pink Adobe, and live music at Cowgirl, a.k.a. the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, come up again and again (and again). French café Clafoutis also makes most Santa Fe lists and we have no idea why: The parking is a nightmare, the service atrocious, and the brunch mediocre at best.
On the shopping front, basic Bs love recommending Jackalope, a sprawling Southwest-themed shop with multiple vendors and a glass-blowing studio in its center. (Tagline: “Home decor as unique as YOU are.” Oy.) The place is okay if you want to pick up an anthropomorphized metal lawn ornament for your “quirky” aunt, but you’ll find better prices on Mexican rugs and strings of treated turquoise beads elsewhere. Many also namecheck Ortega’s on the Plaza for its locally made jewelry. It’s fine if you’re jewelry shopping for your well-heeled suburban mother, but it didn’t move us. Also: The salespeople were on us like white on rice. Can’t a girl just browse anymore?
The go-to spa pick is the Japanese-style Ten Thousand Waves, but we’d urge you to read some of its 1-star reviews before ponying up. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, near the aforementioned Origin at Rancho de San Juan, also has mixed reviews. Overcrowding, noise, and dirty facilities are the biggest issues plaguing both.
Other popular, oft-recommended diversions include the Valles Caldera National Preserve for hiking, fly fishing, and backcountry camping; doing a leg of the 11.5-mile Aspen Vista Trail, especially when the leaves are turning; Bandalier National Monument (specifically the Main Loop Trail and Alcove House); Santuario Chimayo, where some believe the dirt well can heal any ill; and the Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which deep dives on America’s history of nuclear warfare, missiles, etc. Perhaps more relevant than ever?
THE ONLY MAP YOU’LL NEED
Everything we’ve mentioned above is plotted 👆. Sites are color-coded for quick reference, so you can scan everything at once or sort by activity (restaurants are purple, shops are green, etc.).
❇︎ Parking is a bitch in Santa Fe. Even when a place has a parking lot, it’s usually tiny and demands a feat of vehicular acrobatics to get in and out of a space. It’s also expensive. Parking in public lots costs $10 to $15. On the street, a nickel buys you one minute and a quarter only seven! BYO loose change to pump into the meters, as none of them are modernized enough to accept credit cards. Don’t test this, either. The meter maids are out in droves, writing tickets like happy little beavers, especially around the Plaza and Railyard District.
❇︎ Santa Fe is too damn crowded. Like other small but idyllic towns (Sedona, Asheville, etc.), its tourism has blown up. There are too many tourists and snowbirds and the cramped infrastructure of yore can’t handle the boom.
❇︎ When shopping for authentic Southwestern jewelry, especially turquoise, know the difference between “handmade” and “hand-crafted.” More than semantics, the latter may indicate that someone local assembled the jewelry by hand but used parts shipped from overseas. (NBD if you don’t care and just want a deal.) It’s important, however, to understand that America’s supply of domestic turquoise is nearing depletion. Imposter stones are rampant, though not illegal if they are clearly labeled as such. Natural stones, which are unadulterated and come directly from mines, are the most valuable. Poorer-quality turquoise is usually stabilized with epoxy or color-treated with chemicals. These are words to look out for—or inquire about—when shopping.
❇︎ There’s a fantastic radio station out of Albuquerque called Ed FM. You pick it up in Santa Fe and it plays the best songs: Journey, Outkast, Billy Idol. It’s like Throwback Thursday every day.
❇︎ Here’s the latest “36 Hours” from the New York Times, published in November 2014. More recently, the paper ran a piece titled “Beyond Santa Fe, a Different World.” It covered Valles Caldera, the Puye Cliff Dwellings, Chimayo, San Ildefonso Pueblo, and the Pueblo of Picuris.
❇︎ The team behind Meow Wolf has put together a good hometown guide of its favorite places to stay, eat, and play.
❇︎ The Guardian listed its Top 10 art and architecture sites in Santa Fe.
❇︎ In February 2017, Vogue published this: “Haunted Inns and Desert Dreams: The Seductive Charms of Santa Fe.”
❇︎ In April 2016, Imbibe published a short list of places to drink in Santa Fe.
❇︎ Here’s Eater on “7 Must-Visit Spots in Santa Fe to Eat Green Chile.”
❇︎ Design*Sponge produced a robust design/shopping guide to the city in 2010. Double-check the info before setting out though, as some of the featured spaces have closed.