Things to Do in Santa Fe | Adventure Day Trips

Santa Fe is touted for being a romantic destination for couples and a place for incredible outdoor adventures. The high desert city, the capital of New Mexico, is surrounded by mountains and the Santa Fe National Forest, making it a perfect destination full of outdoor things to do.

The last time we visited Santa Fe was during the fall a few years ago. It was an incredible trip filled with plenty of outdoor adventures. The weather was perfect! The weather was not too hot or cold. Definitely pack clothing layers (more on what to pack below).

Keep reading to learn more about where we stayed, enjoyed delicious food, and played outside. Discover the best things to do in Santa Fe!

Also, if you find this article outside of the fall season, don’t worry! You can still do everything we recommend except seeing the fall foliage.

Bandelier National Monument

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Plan a Fall Weekend Getaway

Are you ready to plan an epic weekend to Santa Fe? There are so many exciting things to do in the area. We will walk you through everything you need to know to plan the perfect weekend getaway, including what to visit in town and out of town.

Keep reading! You don’t want to miss anything.

Flying into Santa Fe

If you are flying into Santa Fe, be prepared for a smaller plane and quaint airport. The airport is small, easy, and not crowded – just how we like it! Once you are at the airport, you can pick up your rental car.

Renting a Car

Like flying into Santa Fe, renting a car is easy. We usually book our plane tickets and car rental through or at the same time to save on a bundle discount.

We always get a car with 4WD so we can adventure!

The Santa Fe Plaza (downtown) is about 25 minutes from the airport. Again, we rent a car because we plan to adventure outside of the city. You might want to as well after you finish reading!

Stay on The Plaza in Santa Fe

Much of the romantic appeal Santa Fe offers is in the world-class accommodations, restaurants, art, and boutique shopping on the Plaza. Around every corner, you’ll be met with beautiful western décor, all kinds of art, fabulous stucco buildings, painted tile, world-class restaurants, and historic churches.

We love staying on The Plaza because, after a fun day of recreating outside, we like to be able to enjoy delicious New Mexican food, margaritas, and walks around town to explore.

La Fonda On The Plaza

Our favorite place to stay is La Fonda On The Plaza.

La Fonda On The Plaza is an incredibly charming 4.5-star historic hotel.

The grounds have a gym, spa, outdoor pool, and hot tub. The restaurant inside, La Plazuela Restaurant, prepares incredible New Mexican dishes. You can eat at the restaurant or enjoy room service. There is also a rooftop bar, Bell Tower, which makes for a fun sunset happy hour post hiking all day.

We especially love the rooms that have a kiva (fireplace) option and balcony. Soooo dreamy

As much as we looove this hotel, it books up in advance. Make sure to plan ahead!

Cozy room with a kiva, spa, crisp fall nights, hot tub… yes, please.

This hotel is really romantic and makes for a memorable couple’s weekend getaway. Just staying here adds to special things to do in Santa Fe.

There is a parking garage for your rental if you have one, which is nice because parking is sparse on The Plaza.

If you have trouble finding a room at La Fonda On The Plaza, there are many other beautiful hotels in the area (although we have not stayed at any others).

What to Do Near The Plaza

While visiting Santa Fe, be sure to take time to explore The Plaza.

Top sights to see and things to do on The Plaza include:

  • Loretto Chapel
  • The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
  • New Mexico History Museum
  • Do a walking history tour of Santa Fe
  • Do a food tour of Santa Fe
  • Check out the local stores for boutique shopping
  • Go art gallery hopping – check out the Canyon Roads Art District and the Railyard Art District (a little further from The Plaza)

Favorite Restaurants in Santa Fe

La Plazuela Restaurant

You already heard about La Plazuela Restaurant. Yuuuummm


Our other favorite restaurant is Tomasita’s. They have amazing New Mexican dishes and margaritas. Think red and green chili, enchiladas, tacos, pozole… Oh yeah, keep drooling

Every time I have ever been to Santa Fe to work or play, we eat at Tomasita’s.

If you like Tex Mex and New Mexican style food, this is your place.

There are so many restaurants to choose from. I bet you won’t be disappointed if you just pop in to explore one. Google is always your friend…

Tips on Saving Money During Your Trip

When we are out and about exploring, we pack snacks and take lots of water in our backpacks. We usually only eat dinner out. This is more convenient for our adventures and easier on the pocketbook.

We typically swing by a grocery store or gas station to stock up on supplies.

I also tend to fly my favorite protein and granola bars too.

Enough about food. Onto outdoorsy things to do in Santa Fe!

Outdoor Things to Do in Santa Fe

Bandelier National Monument

Now, we are at my favorite part of writing this article. Let’s talk about outdoor things to do in Santa Fe, New Mexico!

Santa Fe is loaded with impressive things to do outdoors, which is why renting a car comes in super handy.

Below are our top recommendations for Santa Fe day trips.

Drive the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway

Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway at dusk

It is fun to drive around and explore new places. The drive from downtown Santa Fe to the Ski Basin is called the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway.

The drive takes 1-2 hours, depending on how many stops you take for views and photos.

Ride the Ski Santa Fe Fall Foliage Chairlift

Ride the fall foliage chairlift

The ski resort runs its chairlift, so that you can see all of the Aspen trees changing colors. The Aspens transform into incredible yellow and gold shades, which makes for breathtaking photo opportunities against the forest and blue sky.

Colors usually peak around the end of September. However, Pablo and I have been here during early October, and the fall foliage was still incredibly colorful.

Drive the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway

Taos, New Mexico, is one of those places so many people have heard about. It is a bucket list destination for many reasons.

From Santa Fe, it is about 2 ½ – 3 hours to Toas with no stops. With stops, you could spend most of an afternoon (4+ hours).

First, the drive is breathtaking. You will drive through historical remnants of Spain.

Maybe you have even watched a TV show about Pilgrimages to Santuario de Chimayo and El Posito. The ground at the church is said to have a holy, sacred, and healing earth. It is truly a spiritual experience.

Second, the scenic byway is beautiful, and there are many towns and buildings to stop, take photos, and emerge yourself with breathtaking landscapes.

Visit Bandelier National Monument

You cannot miss visiting Bandelier National Monument.

One of my personal favorite parts of our trip was visiting Bandelier National Monument.

Heading out of Santa Fe towards Los Alamos, it will take about 1 hour to drive (each way). Plan to spend half a day at the park to hike and wander.

Upon parking near the visitor center, we were greeted by traditional drums beating. It was spiritual and powerful!

The most popular trails to walk, Pueblo Loop Trail and Alcove House Trail, take you along the canyon walls. It is here where you will find ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs.

Getting to the Alcove House requires climbing a ladder! It is way cool and kind of an adrenaline rush. I definitely do not recommend this hike if you are afraid of heights.

The view from the Alcove House is incredible (photo above with arch).

Be sure to check the main Bandelier National Monument website for park updates before you go. The trail maps are online as well.

Soak and Relax at Ojo Caliente Hot Springs

Ojo Caliente hot springs entrance

Wow, just wow…

If you have read any of our other posts about hot springs, like the one we wrote about our favorite hot springs in Colorado, then you know Ojo Caliente is going to be special. We really enjoy natural hot springs!

Ojo Caliente Hot Springs is 1 hour north of Santa Fe. Google will help you get there from wherever you are staying.

This magical place is worth a trip. The mineral springs resort has multiple hot springs pools outdoors, uncovered and open to the desert sky. There is one pool that is covered which is nice if it is raining. There is also a cooler temperature pool. AND… there is a mud bath.

Whhaat? Yeah, a mud bath!

You can slather yourself in mud, layout in the sun to dry, then wash the mud off. It is super fun and supposed to be therapeutic. Maybe avoid your white bikini on this trip (hehe).

Ojo Caliente has a spa for massages. You can book when you get there or book ahead of time.

We enjoyed a wonderful après soak lunch too. The restaurant was great.

You have to check this place out. It is absolutely relaxing and romantic.

Best Things to Do in Santa Fe

There are so many fun things to do in Santa Fe. It is a beautiful place to visit full of history, art, natural wonders, forests, desert, and culture.

Below is a quick summary of the top things to do in Santa Fe as well as the surrounding area:

  • Stay on The Plaza
  • Explore The Plaza
  • Drive the Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway
  • Ride the Ski Santa Fe Fall Foliage Chairlift
  • Drive the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway and stop at Santuario de Chimayo and El Posito
  • Visit Bandelier National Monument
  • Soak and Relax at Ojo Caliente Hot Springs

What to Pack for Santa Fe

For your trip, we recommend packing lots of layers to accommodate the mountain and high desert climate. Since you plan to participate in outdoor adventures and fun day trips, pack comfortable hiking clothes.

We recommend packing the following for hiking, exploring, and road-tripping along with the scenic drives:

  • Duffle bag – makes for a great carry on and it is water proof for other outdoor adventures later on!
  • Hiking shoes or boots – check out our favorite women’s hikers by Oboz, and favorite men’s hikers by Merrell
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Fleece layer
  • Short sleeve shirt
  • Maybe shorts (depending on when you visit)
  • Long pants
  • Hat
  • Windproof jacket
  • Light down jacket or heavy down (watch the weather)
  • Bathing suit + cover up for the hot springs
  • Water sandals – for the hot springs
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen – we love Sun Bum
  • Lotion (it is super dry there)
  • Personal toiletries
  • Day pack for hiking – we have an Osprey!

You might also want to dress a little nicer while exploring The Plaza. It is a relatively western casual town, so you don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to.

Thanks for reading! We hope you have a great trip to Santa Fe!

Ashlee & Pablo

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downtown santa fe as dusk, ojo caliente hot springs sign, girl hiking bandelier alcove trail wodden ladder

We would love to hear from you!

When are you going to Santa Fe?

If you have been, what were some of your favorite things to do in Santa Fe, NM?

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About The Author

Ashlee Fechino

I’m a travel and outdoor recreation writer with dreams to inspire happiness through an outdoorsy lifestyle. I want to help people live their best life by sharing free adventure guides. The USA has been my backyard most of my life, and it’s the place where you’ll find most of our escapades! I’m married to an expat Argentine, chihuahua Mom, and am passionate about the environment. I hold a BS degree in Biology and MS in Environmental Policy & Sustainability. We camp in our Aliner often, love road trips, hiking, and SUP’ing!


  1. Cristina Sala | 4th Nov 20

    Ashlee y Pablo, Me parecio un lugar muy pintoresco y alejado de la locura de las ciudades .
    Santa Fe con sus montañas y bosques. El arte, los edificios, las iglesias historicas.
    El camino del Bosque Nacional me parecio una belleza.
    Y subir a Alcove House por la escalera mmmmmm
    Me gustaron las aguas termales de Ojo Caliente
    Muy lindo paseo

  2. Cristina Sala | 4th Nov 20

    Ashlee y Pablo. Santa Fe me parecio un lugar muy pintoresco, lejos de la locura de las grandes ciudades
    Las montañas, el bosque. El arte y los edificios, iglesias historicas
    El camino del bosque Nacional bellisimo.
    Subir a Alcove House por escalera mmmmmmmm
    Las aguas termales de ojo caliente Que Placer,

    • Ashlee Fechino | 4th Nov 20

      ¡Hola Cristina! ¡Muchas gracias por el comentario! ¡Santa Fe es increíble!

      Hi Cristina! Thank you so much for the comment! Santa Fe is amazing!

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