The Ultimate Santa Fe, NM Bucket List: 8 Ideas for Exploring the City

With exhilarating hiking trails and a vibrant artistic community, Santa Fe is a beacon of creativity and adventure, promising memorable experiences and opportunities for enriching self-reflection. When exploring and learning more about living in Santa Fe, It’s hard not to be captivated by the rich culture of this town and start to explore renting an apartment in Santa Fe or even buying a home in the city.

From taking a stroll down Canyon Road to look at the art galleries to visiting one of Santa Fe’s famous festivals, here’s Redfin’s ultimate bucket list for uncovering all that this Southwestern city has to offer. 

Downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is the capital of the state of New Mexico. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States and the oldest city in New Mexico. Santa Fe is known for world-renowned art galleries, southwestern food,music and fine dining and its scenic beauty

1. Get your blood pumping outside

The best way to get your bearings in Santa Fe is to explore the outdoors. The New Mexico capital is home to rugged hiking trails, exhilarating ski resorts, and adrenaline-pumping activities like skydiving. “What we love about Santa Fe is how it’s such a great place to be active,” shares Skydive New Mexico. “Close to mountain peaks and outdoor attractions, there’s often something exciting to do.”

And when it comes to Santa Fe, that couldn’t be more true. How does backcountry skiing sound? James Marc Beverly of Beverly Mountain Guides speaks on this wonder, “Seclusion, solitude, and solidarity are some choice words that can only describe backcountry skiing in New Mexico. Adventure awaits for those who seek the same.”

For Tommy Jackson of Yarrow Mountain Guides, spending some time taking in the unique and beautiful landscape is the best way to get acquainted. “From sweeping basalt canyons overlooking the Rio Grande to towering granite mountains, our New Mexican home offers an adventure in every season,” he says. “Solitude and beauty are easy to find here, and our complex landscape holds lifetimes of exploring.”

Julia Fullerton, founder of Chakra Girl Leggings, beautifully sums up the allure of Santa Fe. “I love that Santa Fe is a haven for wellness and a beautiful vortex of earth and sky,” she says. “The immense views of the high desert and mountains are truly unique with sunsets beyond compare. The atmosphere here lives up its nickname ‘City Different’ with old world charm and sensibilities mixed with eclectic art and world-class cuisine.”

A photo of the Santa Fe sunset. A gorgeous view and a must for anyone's Santa Fe bucket list

2. Connect with your inner child

If you’re still looking for some adrenaline-pumping adventure, stop by LiggettVille Adventure Center. Featuring two-story high ropes courses, zip rails, and climbing walls, there’s plenty to keep you busy while testing your physical and mental abilities. Feel free to bring your little ones, too! “We have a tykes-sized ropes course with zip rails located close to the ground, so chaperones can assist little ones as they gain confidence and conquer the challenges,” shares Gerah Dutkiewicz of LiggettVille Adventure Center.

3. Immerse yourself in Santa Fe’s rich art community

As a UNESCO Creative City, exploring the art community is a vital addition to any Santa Fe bucket list. “What I love about Santa Fe is how culturally rich a place it is while being so close to some of the most beautiful nature on the planet,” shares Ben Crosky of Tender Fire Kitchen. “While many places force you to choose between a day in nature and a day immersed in arts, Santa Fe is the seamless merging of the two.”

So after you’ve had your fill of adrenaline-pumping activities, it’s time for a stroll down Canyon Road to experience a few of the 100 galleries on this street alone, including Gerald Peters Gallery, Morning Star Gallery, Canyon Road Contemporary Art, The Longworth Gallery, and Nedra Matteucci Gallery.

If art galleries aren’t your thing, consider catching a show at any of Santa Fe’s theaters. “For a small town, Santa Fe has an extraordinary number of performance companies,” shares John Flax of Theatre Grottesco. “Because of the small population, they all perform in small theaters. So for $15 to $35, you can sit in the equivalent of the first six rows at a Broadway show or even at the Santa Fe Opera for $37 – $379. That up close, intimate experience, is remarkable.”

Early morning street scene in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

4. Visit the Santa Fe Plaza

At the heart of the city for nearly 400 years is the Santa Fe Plaza, and it is a must-do for any Santa Fe bucket list. “What I love most about Santa Fe is the historic plaza,” shares Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe. “It is and has been the heart of the city for more than 400 years. It is authentic, unspoiled and offers access to shopping in stores or directly from Native American artisans, dining, museums, galleries, music, and so much more.”

5. Catch a movie at the Santa Fe International Film Festival 

When in Santa Fe in mid-October, a visit to the Santa Fe International Film Festival (SFiFF) is a great addition to a Santa Fe bucket list. “SFiFF demonstrates the value of investing in the arts, creativity, and culture by showcasing the forward-thinking artistic spirit and energy of Santa Fe in a cinematic event that sets an example for the rest of the country,” shares Stephanie Love of SFiFF. 

SFiFF audiences are eager to see new films, foreign films, and filmmakers pushing new creative boundaries. Much of SFiFF is accessible not only to passholders but also to the general public. From exciting films to extravagant parties, the festival allows audiences to enjoy an unassuming environment where filmmaking is the focus.

Three people sit on a stage at SFiFF, discussing film.
Photo courtesy of SFiFF

6. Experience the local cuisine 

To explore all you want in Santa Fe, you need some food to fuel you along. When prompted, locals were excited to share their favorites. For traditional New Mexican food, check out La Choza. Other local favorites include The Shed, Jambo Cafe, Kakawa Chocolate House, and El Chile Toreado.

If you’re wanting a fine dining experience, there’s no better place than Geronimo. Located in a 1756 adobe-style home, the menu features high-quality dishes ranging from Wagyu beef carpaccio to a traditional grilled New York strip.

For Marja Martin, owner of Paloma Restaurant and Esquina Pizzeria, the highlight of the food culture in Santa Fe is the people. “One of my favorite things about Santa Fe is the quality of people it attracts, both locals and visitors,” she says. “Meeting and connecting with guests at my restaurant and bar is my favorite thing about my job. Many nights it feels like a magical vortex of community and connection.”

7. Try some of Santa Fe’s famous sparkling wines

You can’t be in Santa Fe and not try some of the wine – it’s an essential on any Santa Fe bucket list. Who better to give the recommendation than Christopher Goblet, director of New Mexico Wine, a non-profit focused on celebrating the hard work and determination of grape growers and craft wine producers in New Mexico?

“As the director of New Mexico Wine, it’s incumbent that I recommend a wine bar where visitors can enjoy New Mexico’s famous sparkling wines,” says Christopher. “Gruet Winery tasting room inside Hotel St. Francis is an absolute gem. This intimate tasting room has an effervescent vibe and a lovely patio, with bubbles that compliment any trip to Santa Fe. It’s walking distance to multiple James Beard-nominated restaurants, surrounded by dazzling boutiques, and minutes from the Plaza. It is the perfect way to relax after a day of skiing, hiking, shopping or soaking at one of the local spas.”

A bottle of sparkling wine is poured into a tall glass.

8. Learn about the people and cultures

Above all, locals cite the rich cultural diversity as their favorite part of living in Santa Fe. “Santa Fe is a great town for arts, culture, food, outdoor activities and architecture,” shares Justin Greene of Dashing Delivery, a local food delivery service in Santa Fe. “It has three major cultural bases in and around the city, with Native American pueblos, traditional Hispanic villages and contemporary Anglo cultures sharing the fabric of the community.”

The intersection of such vibrant cultures creates a city that’s a treasure trove of celebratory festivals. Justin provides an overview, “There are fantastic arts festivals such as the Spanish Market, Indian Market, and International Folk Art Market, food festivals like Wine and Chile Fiesta, music festivals including Santa Fe Opera, Desert Chorale, and Jazz Fest, as well as museums like Georgia O’Keefe, Site Santa Fe, and Winterowd Fine Art that offer a variety of collections to represent the best of Santa Fe.”

Jill Heppenheimer of TOKo Sante Fe adds, “We are a town of unparalleled ‘festivals’ with a dedication to creativity including Santa Fe Chamber Music, Chatter North, Santa Fe Literary Festival, and the Santa Fe Film Festival, just to name a few.”

Santa Fe promotes a culture of creativity and expression, coinciding with a passion for supporting local businesses. “As an upscale women’s boutique in Downtown Santa Fe, we cater to an international tourist market,” shares Jill, “but at our heart, it is the creativity of the local community that keeps shops like mine alive.”

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