Santa Fe in a Day: Culture, Food, and Outdoors

New Mexico Road Trip: Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave
Traveling Route 66: Visiting Amarillo, Texas

Following our quick pit stop in Amarillo, Texas, my mom and I continued our epic Houston-to-Los-Angeles road trip by heading to New Mexico. Our route took us directly through Albuqurque, but we decided to deviate a bit and drive north to Santa Fe. It’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit, and I was glad to finally have the opportunity!

Southern New Mexico definitely left a lasting impression on me with the beauty of White Sands National Monument, and I was excited to see what the northern part of the state had to offer. Turns out, quite a lot! Of course, the entire time I was there I had the song “Santa Fe” from RENT stuck in my head.

We had to tackle Santa Fe in a day, which is easier said than done. It’s not a huge city, but there are a ton of options. Still, with limited time at our disposal, we felt as though we hit most of the highlights.

Santa Fe in a Day Pin

Visit Santa Fe’s Museum Hill

We ended up climbing to the top of Museum Hill a bit by accident thanks to a confused GPS. Eventually I gave up on technology and we simply followed the brown signs until we ended up in a parking lot surrounded by museums — never a bad thing by our standards!


Museum Hill is the home of four distinct areas that you can explore: The Santa Fe Botanical Gardens, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. There is also a cafe and a large central area that is used for festivals.

We didn’t have time to visit all of the museums, but we did stop in the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. Photography wasn’t allowed, so I don’t have any images of the interior, but the exhibits (which rotate on a regular basis) led us through the culture and history of the Native American tribes that call this region home.

Grab BBQ at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame

Outbound Adventurer was reimbursed for its meal at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. All of our opinions on the food, service, and entertainment are entirely our own.

Lunchtime saw us to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, a great barbecue spot well-located near the Railyard (lots of shopping!).


Serving barbecue and traditional American fare, the food and beer here is pretty phenomenal. I highly recommend going the BBQ route, though they do have other options. My mom and I split brisket, ribs, and coleslaw and it was all delicious.

And dessert. How could we forget dessert?


The real reason to stop by is the atmosphere. We scored a seat outside on the patio, where we were able to enjoy a cold one and get in some serious people watching, all while enjoying live music.


The Cowgirl Hall of Fame is dog friendly, and we saw a number of patrons with their pups in tow. It was a hopping spot, especially for a Sunday, and it was obvious why it’s such a popular place. The food was good, the music was great, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.


Stroll through the Santa Fe Plaza

As downtowns go, Santa Fe’s is certainly unique. It has a Southwestern vibe that, oddly enough, conjures up memories of Florida and Saint Augustine. The Spanish influence evident in the architecture and artwork makes the entire historic area pleasant to walk through.


The history here is incredibly varied, and the plaza has been the hub of Santa Fe for more than 400 years. There are several museums here, Native American markets, and historical buildings. Additionally, you can visit the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, a beautiful church that has one of the most colorful iterations of the Stations of the Cross I’ve ever seen.


Many of the historical references in the plaza are expected. Plaques explain the Santa Fe trail and the influence of various Native American and Spanish cultures, dating back hundreds of years. But, tucked away in the back of a shop, was a plaque indicating a much more recent historical event.


This may be common knowledge to World War II history buffs, but I had no idea that the scientists behind the creation of the atom bomb passed through these doors!

Take a hike

There are a ton of different hikes in the Santa Fe area (a search on my AllTrails app brings up dozens of results). We opted for the Atalaya Trail, which appeared to be one of the more popular choices. It was rated as easy, but also promised great views of Santa Fe and the surrounding area.


At 7 miles round trip (with a bit of an incline) it was a bit lengthy, so we didn’t do the entire hike. Instead, we ascended to a height that afforded some of the promised views and then retreated back to the parking lot. It’s also worth noting that “easy” by Alltrails standards is still a bit of a haul. We were definitely huffing and puffing!


The parking lot for the trail is easy to find. It’s located at the St. John’s College campus with plenty of signage to help you find your way. Since it’s a popular trail, and the lot is small, I recommend planning your hike for either early in the morning or late in the afternoon/evening. You don’t want to be hiking in the heat of the day anyway — it can get quite hot!

What’d we miss?

Santa Fe was a bit of a whirlwind, and I’m sure there’s a ton to do that we missed. If you’ve been, let us know where to go next time in the comments!

New Mexico Road Trip: Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave
Traveling Route 66: Visiting Amarillo, Texas
  • You accomplished so much in a day! Amazing. I’d love to tackle one of those hikes. Thanks for sharing everything to do Santa Fe in 1 day! 🙂

  • You make me want to go back to Santa Fe, mostly because I only had half a day to look around and loved it, but also for the barbecue!

  • I’ve been to New Mexico briefly, but didn’t have time to explore Santa Fe. The historical square and the church look great. The Native American perspective is such and interesting piece of our history. I love learning more about this.