Saint Francis Cathedral in downtown Santa Fe. (Bruce Yuanyue Bi via Getty Images)

Outdoor adventure, cultural exploration, fine dining, and relaxation—The City Different has it all.

Hannah McKelson  –  Updated May 4, 2021

home tour logo

Santa Fe is an easy place to fall in love with.

The New Mexico haven of culture and history known as “The City Different” is renowned for a small-town aesthetic, despite population spikes over the years, that leaves an indelibly charming mark on those fortunate enough to wander its streets and admire its adobe shops and vibrant colors.

Now, with travel restrictions loosening according to expanded COVID-19 vaccination rollouts, the oldest state capital in the United States is perhaps just the place to stretch those unfamiliar travel legs.

Where to Stay

More Videos From Sunset

The Las Palomas Inn, conveniently located steps from the Santa Fe Plaza, features traditional New Mexican architecture and thoughtful details throughout each “casita,” which bears closer resemblance to an intimate personal apartment than a hotel.

On the grounds of Las Palomas. (Hannah McKelson)

Complimentary firewood is provided, as are fire starters and matches, so guests can make the most of the kiva fireplaces.

Due to pandemic precautions, a fresh breakfast of muffins, yogurt parfaits, fruit, and an array of breakfast sandwiches is offered via contactless delivery straight to your door.

For a hot beverage, head to the hotel lobby—the dining area features a soaring tree the hotel structure was built around—where staff will whip you up a beverage of choice. 

But First, Coffee

If you’re looking to enjoy top-notch coffee culture, you’re in luck. With myriad cafes to choose from, you’re bound to find drinks thoughtfully brewed by knowledgeable baristas, many of whom compete in the competition circuit (so you know you’re getting an impeccable cup of joe). 

Head down to the Railyard District and give Sky Coffee a try. One of the area’s newer spots, Sky operates out of a minimalistic space just steps from the District’s iconic water tower. Brewing with beans from a number of exemplary roasters, the cafe also offers a range of tea and pastries. Give the classic Latte a try—it’s a tried and true favorite for a reason. 

A view heading into downtown Santa Fe. (Getty Images)

For a quirky Santa Fe must-see, track down Bill at Holy Spirit Espresso. In a hole-in-the-wall scarcely big enough to hold one customer at a time, Bill brews every drink by hand, the same way he’s been doing it since the 90s. Self-described as fastidious and paying meticulous attention to detail, the magic is in Bill’s passion, skill, and personal coffee roaster (rumored to be from a Seattle company he’s been loyal to since ‘91). Visitors will be thrilled by Bill’s charm as much as their drink, and appreciate his eclectically decorated cafe with a sense of space as big as Santa Fe itself.

If you’re looking for the spot I would frequent if I were a local, look no further than Iconik Coffee. This modern, cozy cafe, complete with hardwood, string lights, and indoor plants, offers a variety of food and drink options, but don’t let that fool you: Iconik does coffee well. Order their cortado, an espresso-based drink that is barista Adrian’s specialty. (He also  hooked me up with their pour over—delicious—and a couple french press secrets, a testament to his presence in the competition circuit). 

The To-Do List

Having enjoyed breakfast and coffee, it’s time to adventure. Bandelier National Monument, which sits about an hour west of Santa Fe, is highlighted by unique cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and well-maintained trails. Make no mistake, though: Bandelier is by no means a backcountry jaunt; the trails are diligently maintained and its popularity renders it a guaranteed tourist hotspot.

Still, seeing a piece of Pueblo history and the iconic canyon caves may still make it worth a visit. If you decide to venture out there, go the extra mile— literally—and explore the Alcove House. A 140-foot vertical climb is split up into ladders and narrow stone stairways granting access to a cave that once housed up to 25 people. But be warned: This is certainly not for anyone with an insurmountable aversion to heights.

In terms of hikes, the less trafficked Falls Trail may provide the sense of adventure you’re looking for while still crossing Bandelier off your bucket list.

Cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. (Hannah McKelson)

If you’re looking for a complete alternative, cast your eyes southwest to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. While seemingly a short distance from Bandelier on a map, the Tent Rocks are, in fact, a significant driving distance away, making it unfeasible to hit both attractions in one day.

The monument features great hiking and remarkable geological features; however, it remains closed to the public due to the pandemic. Make sure to put it on your itinerary if you’re planning on visiting the Santa Fe area after restrictions are lifted.

(Check the status for Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks here.)

You’d be remiss if you didn’t visit a secret Santa Fe gem, the La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs. Drive 22 minutes from the downtown plaza through sprawling land at the foot of the Sangre de Cristos until reaching what appears to be the middle of nowhere. After parking, you’ll take a short walk and scramble up a rocky basalt hillside to the most remarkably well preserved Pueblo petroglyphs in the region. The absence of a barrier between visitors and the ancient art leaves it up to individual stewardship and care to “leave no trace.”

If you have the time and the know-how, visit the Zuni-Acoma trail. A hefty 2-hour drive from Santa Fe, this stunning 15-mile out-and-back trail traverses over lava rock and sparse desert flora under endless skies.

It’s important to note that the trail is marked predominantly by cairns that are easy to lose track of. Consequently, it’s suggested that most visitors shuttle a car to the other end before driving back to the trailhead—making it a one-way hike—or create a shorter out-and-back trail by turning back earlier. Still, the Zuni-Acoma trail has been a footpath for generations, and the rugged landscape is second to none for adventurers visiting New Mexico. 

Petroglyph sightings are abundant in the Santa Fe region. (Hannah McKelson)

What to Eat

I’ll come right out and say that I subsisted primarily on Las Palomas’ delicious breakfast, Santa Fe’s best coffee offerings, and a stash of GoMacro protein bars, so I may have ruled myself out as an expert of Santa Fe’s culinary prowess.

La Choza was recommended during a visit to Ghost Ranch, and for an array of baked goods and breakfast items, check out Dolina, known especially for its delectable cake and pie. 

The best food I had during my time in New Mexico actually came from a food truck in Albuquerque, where I grabbed a quick bite between visiting the Petroglyph National Monument and catching my flight.

La Sirenita may be the favorite of passing truckers passing, but their mouth-watering street food won’t be lost on anyone. My pick was their tacos de barbacoa, but all items on their menu appear to be a major hit.

For a quick list of top-rated Santa Fe restaurants, check out this compilation from out friends over at Eater.

Get There

With spring in full swing, trips are beckoning.

From solo treks to family outings, Santa Fe is a destination that guarantees a memorable experience.

Outdoor adventure, cultural exploration, fine dining, and relaxation—The City Different has it all.

So, why not give Santa Fe and northern New Mexico a try? You won’t be disappointed.


Read our 2021 “Waters of the West” Issue Right Here!

Get one year of Sunset—and all kinds of bonuses—for just $24.95.