Best Things to do in Autumn in Santa Fe

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Advisor - Nicole Bushhouse
Curated By

Nicole Bushhouse

  • Food & Wine

  • Arts & Culture

  • Adventure Travel

  • Active Travel

  • Wellness Travel

  • Santa Fe

  • New Mexico

  • Sightseeing

  • Outdoors

  • Relaxation

Ojo Pool Horz Poolside trees daytime
Curator’s statement

Santa Fe is a place that feels like a second home to me. I've been taking an annual road trip down there from Denver for close to 10 years now. I’ve convinced other friends to come along for the ride or meet me down there, and they have fallen in love as well. Hands down, my favorite season in the Land of Enchantment is in Autumn. With it being a little further south and a drier climate, Fall happens a little bit later than it does in Denver. I go down in late October to soak up the last of the sunshine and admire the shimmering yellows of the Aspen and Cottonwood trees. It is a time of year when there starts to be a chill in the evening air. But you still eat outside and wrap yourself in a cozy blanket. You smell the Pinon wood burning and feel the warmth from your Kiva.

Santa Fe is a place completely unique to itself, from the architecture to the food, art and landscape. It’s on my list of Top 3 North American Cities. When I visit, I’ve got my standbys that I must do and eat, but somehow I always find something new too.

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Things to do in Santa Fe

Daytime road view Aspen Road Horz

A Leaf Peeping drive in the Santa Fe National Forest. Head up the mountain and stop off at the Aspen Vista trailhead to take photos. The trail itself starts on a service road, so it’s not the most exciting hike, but there are plenty of spots to hang out. Pause for a roadside picnic and enjoy the views. If you’re looking for more of a hike, try the nearby Big Tesuque Trail, a 3.6-mile loop with limited elevation gain. Remember to follow Leave No Trace ethics, have water and appropriate gear.

Explore Art

This town is the home of the original Meow Wolf, the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, countless galleries and street art on every block. Plan at least a day to see some art while you’re in Santa Fe.

Vineyards

You might not know it, but in this dry place of New Mexico there are vineyards. Best of the best is the Gruet Winery founded in 1984. Inside the St. Francis hotel, in downtown Santa Fe, you’ll find the Gruet Wine Tasting Room. Make a reservation and enjoy a flight of Pinot Noir or sparkling wine and soak up some afternoon sunshine on their inviting patio.

Farmers' Market

Wander around the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Railyard, open year-long from 8am to 1pm. You’ll find local produce, cut flowers, snacks and packaged goods. At the same location, there is an Artisan Market on Sundays between 10am to 3pm. This is a great place to pick up holiday gifts.

Shop

There are plenty of places to shop around the Plaza. I can’t resist a stop into the Five & Dime, to stock up on those tiny incense burners, prickly pear candy and postcards. For vintage and western wear, you can’t skip the Double Take. They have a range of designer clothing, racks of vintage cowboy boots, glittering cases of turquoise and silver jewelry, housewares, art and more.

Spa

Soak in the thermal pools at Ojo Santa Fe Spa & Resort, about a 25-minute drive outside town. You can reserve a day pass at the resort and soak in the multiple communal tubs, swim in the salt water pool, steam in the sauna and access the locker rooms. I highly recommend also booking a private ‘Ojito’ tub for an hour. You get your own enclosed outdoor space with a wood burning Kiva and beautiful, private views. Day soaking is first come, first served, so get there on the early side.

Day trips

White Sands National Monument

If you’re staying for a week or more, it’s worth it to make the 4-hour drive each way to see this otherworldly site. Check hours and reservation requirements online. You can hike, sled/snowboard down the dunes and there are various educational programs running year round.

Taos & Ojo Caliente

If you’ve got a car, and are staying more than four days, it’s worth a drive to Taos. You can visit the Taos Pueblo, a Native American community where people have lived in the adobe structures for over 1000 years. Stop in downtown Taos and have New Mexican fare for lunch or dinner (and at least 1 specialty margarita) at Doc Martin’s in the Historic Taos Inn, known for their live music.

If you’re able to stay a night or two at the Ojo Caliente Resort, you absolutely should. The historic hotel included cottages and incorporates local design and materials. Or you can stop by for a few hours and soak in the communal thermal pools.

Ghost Ranch

You’ll need a car for this, it’s about an hour drive north near Abiquiu.

This is where Georgia O’Keeffe lived for a long period. You can take a sunset-guided horse ride around the property and see the vistas that she painted. A truly unique experience.

How to get there

From Denver - Drive 285 is about a 6-7 hour drive, but you go through gorgeous valleys and over summit passes, it’s one of my favorite driving routes. Stop in Alamosa for lunch and stretch your legs

From Santa Fe Airport, you’ll probably have to connect from a larger airport unless you live in the Western US. Depending on if you want to do a day trip outside town, you might not need to rent a car and could use car shares and walk around town.

From Albuquerque, rent a car and drive, it’s about an hour.

Places to eat & drink in Santa Fe

Adobe Horz place in Santa fee

Breakfast or Brunch

If you’re going to venture away from your hotel for brunch, make time for Cafe Pasquals. If you have a sweet tooth, try the semi-sweet cheese blintzes or the corn pancakes. On the savory side, the huevos barbacoa slow-cooked beef cheeks melt in your mouth. For vegetarians, their avocado toast (hold the bacon) is top-notch or the house-made tofu chorizo scramble.

If you’re near the Railyard neighborhood, swing by Sky Coffee for coffee and unique pastries. When I was last there, they had a to-die-for glazed blue corn cake donut.

Dolina Bakery & Cafe, is an adorable Slovakian-influenced cafe with a small amount of seating to grab your cappuccino and some of their incredible baked goods. The Makos Dios, Hungarian walnut cake is a highlight as are their savory sit-down breakfast options like Santa Fe Omelet or Langos, a Slovakian fried bread with tomato confit and accompanied with warm burrata.

Lunch

El Parasol is a take-away New Mexican gem. There are several locations now; I go to the Cerrillos Road location and get them to go (you can eat in your car) or take them to a park or back to your hotel.

If you’re walking around the Plaza and want to grab something quickly, there are a couple options, either grab a tamale from one of the pushcart vendors, or stop into the Five & Dime, walk all the way to the snack bar in the back and order a Frito Pie.

If you’ve got time to linger over lunch, and take a nap afterwards, check out La Boca, an intimate modern Spanish restaurant. Share high-quality, authentic tapas and paella, a glass of wine, gin and tonic or my favorite, a sherry flight.

Dinner

Ten Thousand Waves is like stepping through a portal into countryside Japan. There are only 13 rooms on site, so it can require booking a year or more in advance. If you can’t stay there, you can still enjoy an incredible meal at their restaurant, Izanami. They have an extensive and rare selection of sake. Put yourself in their hands and try a flight. Their menu is separated like the elements: cold, grilled, hot, fried and sweet, try something from every category.

If you’re looking for the gold standard New Mexican food in Santa Fe, look no further than La Choza and The Shed. Family-owned sister restaurants established in the early 1950s. This is where you need to know the answer to the all-important question, "What kind of chile would you like?" Your options here are: Red, Green or Christmas (a bit of both).

All of the recommended hotels have stellar restaurants onsite. Relax and put yourself in the hands of your onsite hospitality specialists.

Desserts

Visit Kakawa Chocolate House to get a history lesson on chocolate and try one of their elixirs.

Sip on an afternoon affogato, either with espresso or matcha, at The Teahouse Santa Fe.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Ashtin Robison guide, An Enchanted Land: A Santa Fe Travel Guide.

Advisor - Nicole Bushhouse

Travel Advisor

Nicole Bushhouse

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Santa Fe.