Experience Santa Fe and discover the sizzle of this New Mexico gem.
A trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, had been at the top of our travel wish list for some time. Tourism has been booming in New Mexico for years, and friends had been telling us we had to go.
We went and quickly realized that it was a great decision. The small-town vibe of this historical city was everything we’d expected and more. As you may know, Santa Fe is the oldest state capital city in North America, and much of the original architecture is preserved in very walkable urban centers. The town is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at an altitude of nearly 7,200 feet above sea level, almost 2,000 feet higher than the “mile-high” city of Denver, Colorado! As we rolled into town, the orange adobe homes set against fields of yellow mustard plants with mountains in the distance were worth our many stops for roadside photos.
Here are five reasons to visit Santa Fe.
1) New Mexican Cuisine
Red chile ristras are the strung pods of dried red chiles that you see displayed on doors and windows all over New Mexico. Serving as a symbol of welcome, ristras are an iconic decoration of the Land of Enchantment.
Santa Fe has established a reputation as a “foodie town” and with good reason. With dozens of award-winning chefs and a wine region established in the 1600s — older than California’s wine scene — it’s no surprise that Santa Fe has become one of the country’s top culinary destinations. For those of you who can’t get enough spicy food, you’ve come to the right place: Hatch, New Mexico, is the Chile Capital of the World. You’ll find all kinds of chile shops in and around the city. We even bought roasted Hatch chiles from a roadside vendor.
New Mexican cuisine is a fusion of Mexican, Native American and Spanish. The distinguishing characteristic of a New Mexican dish is the use of the red or green New Mexico chile. The green chile can be described as being lightly pungent, similar to an onion. The red chile, on the other hand, brings the heat and provides an earthy flavor for great dimension to any spicy dish. If you can’t decide which flavor is for you, order your meal “Christmas style,” which includes both green and red chiles. Yum!
In New Mexico, a restaurant’s red chile sauce is an excellent indicator of how good it is. Since we were looking for great red chile sauce, The Shed was our destination. They have been in business since 1953 and the local food culture has recognized their red chile many times over in the last decade. Their sauce was tremendous, and so was the rest of our meal. If you’re a tequila lover, they have a great selection of añejo and reposado. We also loved their build-your-own margarita as the perfect complement to the spicy red chile.
2) Hike the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument got its name from the tentlike stone features that loom prominently throughout the area. The cone-shaped rock formations are the result of volcanic eruptions from millions of years ago that left deposits of pumice, ash and tuff over 1,000 feet thick. There is a small entry fee per vehicle, but if you are a National Parks pass holder, your entry is covered.
The hike itself comprises two smaller trails and totals just over 3 miles out and back. It’s a moderate hike, and there are some sections of steep, rocky climbs and narrow slot canyons. You will want to be geared up and carrying water, but it’s very manageable. Our 8-year-old twins made it to the top without much trouble and were glad they did because the views were amazing. If you want to see the rock formations that give Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks their name but aren’t up for a hike, you can spot them only a short walk in from the trailhead.
We recommend making this a morning hike, as it is a heavily trafficked hiking trail. There is parking and even a handful of RV-length spots, but visitors who arrive later in the day during the summer months should be prepared for a wait.
On your way out, plan a short stop at the Cochiti Visitor Center, 5 miles from Kasha-Katuwe. It’s not large, but the staff is friendly and there are cold drinks and snacks available to celebrate your hike! Enter into the monument between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Closing procedures begin at 3:30 p.m. to clear the monument by the 5:00 p.m. daily closing.
Home While We Roam Tip: Dogs are not allowed at the monument, with the exception of service animals. If you have a pup and want to hike, we suggest you give the folks at the Cochiti Visitor Center a call before you go. They will sometimes provide contact information for folks who live nearby who will board your pets for a small fee while you hike.
3) Hang out in the Santa Fe Historic District
Santa Fe really has a great downtown vibe and we would give it an A+ for walkability. The Santa Fe Historic District has loads of restaurants, bars, museums and shopping. Give yourself enough time to explore everything that makes this historic city so unique.
Start your walking tour of the downtown by heading to the city’s heart, Santa Fe Plaza. The plaza is a National Historic Landmark and has been the central gathering place since 1610! Today, this area is home to many local festivals and parades.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of New Mexico, check out the New Mexico History Museum, located next to the historic Palace of the Governors. This well-organized museum traces the history of New Mexico and surrounding states. You’ll learn about the early Native Americans, the Spanish explorers and settlers, along with the explorers and settlers from the United States. Learn about conflicts and treaties, some kept, many broken. It’s all part of what shaped the American Southwest. You’ll also be able to access the newly renovated Palace of the Governors, the country’s oldest continuously occupied public building, through the museum.
From the plaza, take a pleasant stroll to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The cathedral is a dramatic landmark that contrasts with the nearby adobe structures and is a great way to end your stroll downtown.
4) Take in the Art
As you walk the Santa Fe Historic District, you’ll experience Santa Fe’s vibrant art community. Native American and folk art galleries exist everywhere and offer art for every budget. This city has been recognized for having a world-class art community, and the town’s 200-plus galleries have attracted artists from all over the world. While the motif leans heavily Southwest, art can be found for every taste.
Home While We Roam Tip: The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was an unexpected find for us. The museum offers over 3,000 works from O’Keeffe and celebrates one of the most significant artists of the 20th century.
5) Stay at Santa Fe Skies RV Park
We made our base camp at Santa Fe Skies RV Park. This gem is located just south of downtown Santa Fe, resting on the top of a hill. We couldn’t have chosen a better spot to call home while in Santa Fe. Each day we enjoyed beautiful panoramic views of the area with unobstructed sunrise and sunset views from the Turquoise Trail. Perfectly situated just outside of town, our drive was short when we were ready to explore the historic city.
Home While We Roam Tip: Make sure to take in a sunset while staying at the park. Walk up to the antique engine display just before sunset and you will likely find lots of other campers gathered to take in the views.
Santa Fe — the City Different
Santa Fe lives up to its nickname, “the City Different.” Its unique mix of cultures allows visitors to enjoy a variety of experiences. We are sure any RV travelers on their way east or west across Interstate 40 will appreciate the short, northernly detour from Albuquerque. If you haven’t visited Santa Fe or haven’t been back in a while, consider a stop to explore this historic gem. If you are feeling brave, sample those red chiles — you won’t be disappointed.