This post was originally published in January 2017 and updated in June 2021 after a return visit to Santa Fe.
My first visit to Santa Fe was actually for my bachelorette party. When I decided to travel to Santa Fe for my bachelorette party, a lot of people gave me weird looks—it’s not exactly a popular place to spend a weekend partying. But partying wasn’t what I wanted out of my bachelorette party. Exploring a new destination, getting in some relaxation, and eating good food was what I wanted out of my pre-wedding celebration. When I returned with my husband a few years later, I actually saw a number of bachelorette groups. Apparently I am just a trend setter, haha.
Santa Fe is a desert haven for art, wellness, and natural beauty, making it an appealing destination for travelers looking for something a little different. This New Mexico hot spot is a wonderful weekend getaway for couples, groups and families thanks to it’s small footprint, abundance of activities and delicious restaurant scene. I thoroughly enjoyed the two 48 hour visits I’ve had in Santa Fe and I am here to share my favorite things with you!
Morning: Historic Downtown Santa Fe
For your first day in town, plan to explore downtown Santa Fe on foot. This is the area where you will find many of the city’s timeless sites, and it will give you a strong sense of place as you get to know New Mexico’s capital city. Start with breakfast and coffee at Iconik Coffee Roasters on Guadalupe street. Their espresso is perfect, and the short but great menu will give you exactly the fuel you need for exploring Santa Fe.
A few of the cultural highlights worth seeing downtown include the famed Santa Fe Plaza. Designed in classic Spanish style, the popular central town square typically has street musicians and artists spread out around the tree-lined paths and fountain. All along the edges, you’ll see galleries and restaurants to pop into! The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis is another highlight of a downtown Santa Fe walking tour. This Victorian-era cathedral started construction in the 1800s but was never finished because the project ran out of money and the ornate two towers were never finished. The San Miguel Chapel on Old Santa Fe Trail is the oldest church structure in the United States, dating back to the 1600s. Inside, you’ll find an extensive collection of restored art.
Early Afternoon: Take a Cooking Class
I have taken cooking classes during previous travels, so I thought it would be so much fun to take a New Mexican cooking class during our 48 hour stay in Santa Fe! Alongside four of my gal pals, we attended the “Contemporary Southwest I” course at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Michelle Chavez was our teacher and she is a badass female chef! By the end of the course, we all had crushes on Chef Michelle! She started the class by giving us a history lesson of Santa Fe, walking us through the local culture and indigenous ingredients that make up New Mexican cuisine.
The class itself was more of a presentation/demonstration style course rather than interactive, which I didn’t realize ahead of time, but came to really enjoy. We got to sit back, learn and enjoy all the smells emanating from Michelle’s stove top. The kitchen is stunning and is well set up for classes with TV screens, mounted mirrors and a large table for the guests. Plus, Chef Michelle did an amazing job of explaining everything she was doing as she was doing it.
At the end of the class, of course, we got to enjoy the freshly cooked meal. On our menu was roasted tomato soup, green chile mac & cheese, chile-rubbed flank steak and flan for dessert. The green chile mac & cheese was definitely the crowd favorite. It was rich, homey and slightly spicy. I can’t wait to make this recipe at home! We arrived a few minutes early to explore the gift shop that is attached to the classroom. It is filled with unique cookbooks, earthen cookware and delicious local ingredients, perfect keepsakes or gifts to bring a little bit of New Mexico home with you.
Late Afternoon: Gallery Hopping
Santa Fe has an unrivaled native, folk and indigenous art scene. There is so much handmade beauty to see and appreciate in Santa Fe, so I would recommend dedicating at least a few hours to hopping between galleries and art fairs. Appreciating the incredible artistic talents was one of my highlights from our 48 hour visit to Santa Fe! Most of the galleries are clustered around Santa Fe Plaza and the nearby streets, so it’s easy to park and explore by foot. Most of the art pieces are pretty expensive but it is nonetheless fun to wander in and out of the galleries seeing all the different art styles and curation tastes.
If you plan your trip intentionally around art visits, you’ll want to check the city’s events calendar to see if you’ll be there at the same time as an art market! These are a local highlight in Santa Fe and bring in flocks of visitors every year. There are lots of folk fairs throughout the year, and we happened to be there on the weekend of Indigenous Fine Art Market. We didn’t even bother going into most galleries, because the streets were basically galleries! There was some incredible work from Native American artists, who are typically very underrepresented in the fine art world. It was so inspiring to see their work and I even came home with the handmade mandala you see below.
Evening: Take in the Amazing Meow Wolf
Meow Wolf describes itself as “an arts production company that creates immersive, multimedia experiences that transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of storytelling. Our work is a combination of jungle gym, haunted house, children’s museum, and immersive art exhibit. It is home to Meow Wolf’s first permanent installation, House of Eternal Return.” Having visited, a stop at Meow Wolf is an absolute must-do activity during a two day visit to Santa Fe.
The installation offers a lot of stimuli so you’ll need to take a decent amount of time to explore it all. I’m not even convinced I saw it all and we were there for over 2 hours! The installation wraps around itself and there are tons of little secret passageways to explore, so it’s easy to get lost or stumble upon something new around each corner. It’s best not to be rushed. We went at night when there was a concert happening inside the installation, so the music permeated throughout the 20,000 square feet area.
Morning: Railyard District
The Railyard District is a cool neighborhood area south of the main tourist circuit in central Santa Fe. It centers around Railyard Park, a reclaimed park area with nice walking paths and seating areas for outdoor gatherings. With cafes and coffee shops abound, this neighborhood is a nice area to start your second day in Santa Fe. Don’t miss a picture in front of the decommissioned train painted with the state flag of New Mexico.
Home to the twice weekly renowned Santa Fe farmers market, try to time your visit with the Saturday market because it is one of the best in the country thanks to its abundance of local, seasonal and unique ingredients native to this region of the world. You’ll be sure to discover new produce you’ve never seen before and snack and delicious food from around the region.
Consider grabbing brunch at Amaya, a restaurant specializing in Native American cuisine. It is housed inside the Hotel Santa Fe, which is the city’s only Native American-owned hotel. For a quicker option, the Sage Bakehouse has an abundance of great local breads and pastries which you can pick up or eat dining in. If you’re more inclined to come to this area around lunch time, don’t miss New Mexican cuisine at La Choza. It is the sister restaurant to The Shed, the famed downtown eatery, with a more casual vibe and typically has a significantly lower wait time.
Early Afternoon: Visit a Museum (or Three)
Because of the long and storied history of Santa Fe, it is probably unsurprising that the city has a lot of museums to offer. Whether it is history, art, or indigenous culture, there is surely a museum for you in Santa Fe! A few of the notable museums include the New Mexico History Museum, the Palace of the Governors, and the New Mexico Museum of Art. Your days could get very long if you plan to visit all of these spots, so I would recommend choosing one or two that are really important to you and aim to hit those all afternoon.
There are two museums worth a special call out in this 48 hour itinerary. The first is the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts which is one of the most highly rated museums in the entire United States, thanks to it’s legendary collection of Native American art. It has the largest contemporary collection of Native art in the world, making it the only museum of its kind in existence. It was started as a student program and blossomed into an incredible collection that is well worth a few hours of your time.
The Georgia O’Keefe Museum is the most popular museum to visit in Santa Fe and I found it to be quite memorable. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum is housed in a modern yet traditionally built Santa Fe adobe house just off the main street in town. It is entirely separate from her home + studio in Abiquiu which are also open to the public, so don’t get them confused. The museum catalogs the life and creative process behind one of the USA’s most influential female artists, proving to be an incredible inspiration to me. I loved seeing her sketches, early work, and more obscure pieces, as well as some of her most famous works.
Late Afternoon: Relax at Ten Thousand Waves
One of the nicest spas I’ve been to in the United States, Ten Thousand Waves is well worth the high price tag—it was a major highlight from my 48 hours in Santa Fe! Only 10 minutes from downtown Santa Fe, Ten Thousand Waves itself is inspired by the traditional Japanese onsen. Having been to Japanese onsens in Japan before, I can confirm that Ten Thousand Waves is the real deal. It is fed by local hot springs and overlooks a national forest. The setting couldn’t be more serene & beautiful! They did an amazing job integrating the spa environment into the natural environment.
From the second you walk in, you’ll feel more peaceful. Ten Thousand Waves offers a full selection of spa treatments including facials, massages and skin treatments. My massage was in a private Japanese cabana overlooking the mountains, making for a relaxing ambiance. Another highlight of my afternoon here was the bathing pools. There are communal pools, private pools and women-only pools. I spent most of my non-treatment time in the female-only pools hopping between the sauna, hot pool and cold pool. With a good book at my side, this was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
Evening: Dinner and Drinks
Fully relaxed for your afternoon at the spa, it is time to enjoy the restaurant and nightlife scene that Santa Fe has to offer. We had a hard time choosing our meals in Santa Fe because there are so many wonderful places to choose from! Most of the cuisine is focused on local + regional cuisine, particularly Southwestern and modern Mexican.
Santa Fe isn’t really known for its nightlife, and you’ll find that it gets a little sleepy at night. But there are a few notable places worth checking out for a cocktail or sunset drink. The buzzy rooftop patio at Coyote Cantina has really good mezcal cocktails (as well as excellent people-watching).
The craft cocktail bar Secreto Lounge inside the Hotel Saint Francis specializes in “Garden-To-Glass” cocktails, making use of the fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and bitters that come from New Mexico.
For a slightly fancier vibe, cozy up in the 1920s themed Tonic. Adorned with Prohibition-era chandeliers, the ambiance is perfectly suited for a late night drink and live jazz music.
Where to Stay in Santa Fe, New Mexico
There are a number of good hotel options in Santa Fe, so it really comes down to your price point and the location. Eldorado Hotel is a large adobe style hotel just a few blocks from the Plaza with comfortable accommodations and a bunch of amenities including a rooftop pool and spa. If spas are your thing, then splurging on a few nights at Ten Thousand Waves or the Inn at Loretto are both good options. For something more boutique and stylish, the slightly further away El Rey Court is a top choice. This place has very good vibes and an excellent Instagram aesthetic.
Where to Eat in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe has a delicious restaurant scene with lots of great options clustered all around the downtown area, so you are guaranteed to be eating well during your 48 hours here.Most of the cuisine is focused on local + regional cuisine, particularly Southwestern and modern Mexican. Some good dinner spots include Geronimo, Luminaria, or Sazon, but for a full rundown of my favorite dining experiences in Santa Fe, please check out my full Santa Fe restaurant guide.
How to Get to Santa Fe
Flying into Santa Fe can be a little expensive, since it is a small regional airport. If you’re looking to save your dollars to spend elsewhere during your 48 hour visit to Santa Fe, I would recommend flying into Albuquerque. There are daily shuttles from the ABQ airport to Santa Fe, so you don’t need to rent a car if you don’t want to. If you’d prefer the flexibility of a car, it’s an easy one hour drive from the ABQ airport to downtown Santa Fe if you rent a car. Parking in the city is not a problem, and it is pretty nice to have the option to drive rather than walk in the hot desert sun.
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I could not resist commenting. Very well written!
Thank you Joanna! I appreciate the compliment 🙂
You never mentioned turquoise shopping😜I have been times and it is truly the land of enchantment!
Oh that’s a great point! I spotted some at the Native American art festival that I went to, but I didn’t buy any. I guess I’ll just have to come back and shop for Turquoise 🙂
Nout @ SandpaperKissesBlog
I’ve never been to Santa Fe. It looks amazing!
It’s a great little gem! I loved it 🙂 You’ll have to add it to your bucket list!