This list of things to see and do was primarily written up for my friends visiting Santa Fe --- because I spent most of my free time climbing, hiking, eating and drinking with friends, this list will reflect this. Moreover, I was a grad student, so I was, for the most part, broke when I lived in Santa Fe. Thus the list excludes high-brow, high-class stuff that is everywhere in and around Santa Fe. I was never really a tourist in Santa Fe, and didn't do many of the tourist things, so this list is more a list of the places one might go if one lives in Santa Fe.
Getting around: To get around Santa Fe you will need a car, or a bike and strong legs and good lungs. The city is rather old (1600's), and is built in the standard Spanish style with a plaza in the center, a road going around the city center (Paseo de Peralta, commonly referred to as Paseo), and a lot of streets going every which way. I have not found a map of the city that is really accurate, all the maps I have used have some serious mistakes; this is somehow typical for New Mexico as a whole. My brother once spent a hour with a map trying to figure out how to get someplace because many roads that were marked as thru street were not. Anyway, it will be a bit confusing, but not more confusing than, say, Prague or most old European cities (or Madison for that matter).
New Mexican Food: A primary ingredient in most New Mexican food is either red or green chili sauce. For many people not acquainted with spicy foods (e.g., those from the Midwest, or Europe), this chili sauce will seem "hot." There is no universal way of knowing whether the red or green sauce will be hotter, it really depends on the restaurant, so if this concerns you, just ask which will be more mild. Anyway, most food comes topped with chili sauce. Some primary foods include: sopapillas which is a type of fried dough that can be stuffed with meat or beans or can be eaten as a dessert with honey, chili rellanos or green chiles stuffed with cheese and breaded (these are my favorites), variations on standard Mexican food such as enchiladas (burritos are an exception, the are very common in Mexican food, but very rare in New Mexican cuisine), chalupas (these are usually served WITHOUT chili sauce), green chili cheeseburgers, etc, all often served with Spanish rice and refried beans. My favorite foods were a chicken stuffed sopapilla with a sopapilla for desert at Diegos, or the chili rellanos at Dave's not here.
How to eat spicy food: The spicy element of a spicy pepper is contained in the oil of the pepper. Because it is an oil that contains the "spice," water, Coke, and most other drinks will only make the food taste more hot. In other words, if your mouth is burning, water will only make it worse. As my mother would say, to get rid of oil, you need to emulsify the oil in the same way a detergent handles oils in dirty pans after cooking. However, since putting soap in your mouth sucks, there are several other options for coping with food that is spicy for you. The best option is to eat the spicy food with a bread product because this will absorb and wipe away much of the oil that makes your mouth burn. Another option is to drink milk with fat --- the fat and lactic acid in the milk will help remove and sooth the oils in your mouth. Eating your food with sour cream or guacamole will also help out quite a bit; if you use enough sour cream you might not even taste the spice.
Restaurants: I will just list some of my favorite haunts with vague directions. Of course, if you look them up in a phone book, you can find the exact addresses.
Diego's Cafe: this is my brother's favorite place and has my brother's favorite red (chili) sauce (it is probably my favorite place too); it is located in this DeVargas Mall, but do not let this turn you off. Diego's is a locals joint with lots of very good, cheap (for Santa Fe) food. In particular, let me recommend the stuffed sopapillas, the chalupas, and the enchiladas are awesome. The iced tea is nice, and served without sugar thankfully. It is easy to find as DeVargas is the mall where the northern Albertsons grocery store is located, and has two prominent corners, Guadalupe and Paseo de Peralta, and St. Francis and Paseo de Peralta.
Dave's Not Here: this place is a Cuban/New Mexican joint on Hickox road. It is a locals dive, but has great food in general, and has the best chili rellenos in the city (a chili rellano is a breaded green chili filled with cheese and fried; Todd Kaplan used to call them "Mexican corndogs."). This is sorta out of town, but is one of the places you have to get too --- it was one of my very favorite joints.
Cowgirl Cafe: this place is an institution. They serve American bar food at it's best (or worst, depending on how you feel about bar food). You can order other stuff, but everyone I know usually ordered some type of a burger. They have beef, ostrich, or buffalo, maybe chicken... Most often folks seemed to order a buffalo burger with all sorts of stuff on it, fries, and some sort of beer. This place and Diegos are the two places I ate at the most; eating at this place is one of my first memories of Santa Fe, and was a place we often went after we got done climbing or out of the backcountry.
Tiny's: this is a local's resturant/bar at the intersection of St. Francis and Cerrillos. It is a somewhat strange place, but they really have good food and it is a great place to hang out. In particular, if you are looking for a locals place to get a margarita, this might be your place.
El Farol: this is a very old place on Canyon Rd. (the road with all the art galleries) and is not particularly cheap for food, but is a great place for drinks. They serve Spanish style tapas, so it is a good place to order a tapa and then drink yourself into a happy state. This is one of those places you have to get to, maybe after walking down Canyon road looking though the Gallery's. I spent a lot of nights here. The imfamous game theory problem devised by Brian Arthur called "the El Farol" game was named after this bar.
Blue Corn Cafe: this is a great middle of the road hang out in the middle of the town (the one off of Water St. is the one to go to). The burritos are good, the corn soup is good, the New Mexican food in general is good.
The Chocolate Maven: this is one of the best breakfast places I have ever been to --- but it does not serve New Mexican cuisine. The french toast (both varieties) are awesome, filling, full of sugar and fat, and taste amazing; everything else on the menu is awesome too.
India Palace: this place is on Don Gaspar officially (but where Don Gaspar hits Water St.), right across Water St. from the Catamount. This is really really good Indian food (not Native American food, but food from India). It is sorta expensive, 12-25 bones a dinner, but worth it in my estimation if you like Indian food. It was one of my favorite places in the city.
Cafe Pasqual's: this is a great place for breakfast on an great corner in old town. it was my friend cate's favorite place for breakfast, and aside from the chocolate maven (which is not new mexican), the only place i would bother with for breakfast unless you live in santa fe.
Upper Crust Pizza: the first time was here was when I was 15 and on a trip with my mother, stepfather, and brother. It is a great place for American style pizza and is in a cool part of town next to the oldest buildings in the city. I have spent many nights arguing about all sorts of stuff, drinking beer, and eating pizza very happily. It is basically right next to some of the oldest buildings in Santa Fe, including the church that was built in 1609 or something and is suppose to be the oldest church in the States. This puts the location on Old Santa Fe Trail, which is part of the old Santa Fe wagon trail and is now just a really old road.
Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza on W. San Francisco: this place has great wood fired pizza. It is good, and I had a lot of fun nights eating at it, but I wouldn't go out of my way to go there. It is a locals place, so there aren't a ton of tourists there.
Gabriels: Old Mexican food... there aren't a lot of places in town where you can get old Mexican food, and Gabriels is one of those places. It is located out of town on the highway between the Pojaque Pueblo and Santa Fe. It is not a cheap place, but the food can be extremely good. In particular, the guacamole is made fresh in front of you, and the sea food is great. This is a place I usually went with guests, and it was always well liked.
La Chosa: this is a great locals place for New Mexican food if you can find it. It is sort of behind everything at the "corner" of Guadalupe and Cerrillos Roads, and was a place I went rather frequently. It is like Diegos with more of a New Mexican atmosphere, but the food isn't quite as good in my opinion.
Baja Taco: this place has probably the best green chili cheese burger in town. It is sort of a dump, you can't eat inside, but it is pretty awesome nonetheless. It is located in a shack in Cerrillos road --- just drive from downtown toward I-25 (out of town) and watch for it on your right.
Burt's Burger Bowl: this place claims to have the FIRST green chili burger. I have no idea about this though. Really, it is a slightly higher class version of Baja Taco and is located near old town, on Guatalupe. It is a locals fast food place that we went to once in a while and is a good place for a junk food lunch.
Atomic grill: overpriced and sorta bad in my opinion, however it is the only thing open in the city center later at night that serves food. I always went to the Village Inn or the Denny's out on Cerillos instead.
This is a short list sorta of, there are a lot of other places I ate, sometimes with some frequency, but this should be a pretty good selection. Really, more often than not we went to Diegos or the Cowgirl.
Bars: Pink Adobe Dragon Room Bar, El Farol, B-Bar, Catamount Bar (this is the place I frequented the most later at night), Cowgirl cafe (this is probably where I went the most around dinner time), Swig (this is a Martini bar, I went there very infrequently), Second Street brewery (a nice place to hang out outside). Usually we hung out, outside at somebody's apartment since the grad fellows were always being put up in such amazingly beyond-our-means places with great porches. However, I would say that if I went out, it was either to the Catamount (we usually played pool there too), the Cowgirl, or more occasionally El Farol, or the B-Bar.
What and how to drink: Margaritas are the drink of New Mexico (and Mexico of course) --- order them on the rocks. There are lots of micro-brews that range from amazing to not so good --- the stuff from Colorado is usually, but not always, better than the New Mexican stuff. We drank a lot of cheap Mexican beer, Dos Equis (2 X's), Pacifico (which is better than Corona), Tecate, and Modelo. The Mexican stuff (aside from Pacifico) is all about the same, swill, but somehow the right stuff to be drinking very often. Of course, so are the micro brews --- but these change so frequently you will have to experiment with them.
Cafes: there isn't much of a cafe culture in New Mexico, at least not by Euro standards, but there are still places to hang out.
Aztec Street Coffee House: it is located on Aztec St. between Cerillos and Guadalupe St. It is the best approximation of a European-style cafe (sans the cigarettes thank god) that exists in Santa Fe. I went there reasonably frequently, but not as often as the downtown subscription.
Downtown Subscription: this place is on West Garcia St. and is a locals place for coffee and assorted other coffee shop like items. It is where I went, and where most folks I knew went for coffee and for news. The place as all the news you could imagine; a ton of magazines that you can read in-house if you want.
Dana's Afterdark: open really late, I have heard it is a cool place from various friends, but I haven't been there because it showed up after I had left town (or near the time when I left town).
Coffee shop reviews
Outdoor stuff: There is nearly endless hiking in northern New Mexico. My favorite hikes require a 4 by 4 to get to the trailhead, so I will just list some nice ones that are possible to get in a car and are very close to Santa Fe.
Hiking the Pecos wilderness is great and can be easily done from the Santa Fe ski basin that can be found by driving up Artist/Hyde Park road. To do hikes up here, get a map at a local shop like the Sangre De Cristo Mountain works on Montezuma and follow your nose. There are months of hiking that can be done here. From the back side of the wilderness, I might suggest the Stewart or Katherine lake hikes. Again, make sure you have a map to do all the hikes here, especially the hikes on the back side.
Bandalier National Monument is a must see. It has Anasazi and Pueblo ruins, easy hikes, and is really cool. It is very near Los Alamos and is really easy to find with a road map.
The Valles Caldera is an awesome Caldera (old volcano crater) that can be viewed on HWY 4 between Los Alamos and Jemez Springs, a cool town with hot springs that is worth driving too can checking out.
The White Rock overlook is well worth the drive as it looks north at the Black Mesa, and overlooks the Rio Grande River and the desert. The outlook is in the town of White Rocks, a small town very near Los Alamos, directions can be found here. (It is also a nice place to rock climb. If you hike around, keep an eye out for snakes, there is nothing to be afraid of, just don't step on one.)
A nice book to try to check out is the Falcon guide called "Hiking New Mexico."
A short list of wilderness areas in northern New Mexico: Pecos, San Pedro Parks, Wheeler Peak (Taos), Sandia (near Alburqueque), Chama River, Dome Wilderness (in Bandalier). A complete list of New Mexico wilderness areas can be found here.
Native American stuff: the native Americans in northern New Mexico are Pueblo. There are many Pueblos ("Indian reservations") in the Santa Fe area, many of which are worth a visit.
Bandalier National Monument of course is very worth visiting if you are interested in native Americans in northern New Mexico.
Here is a list of the Pueblos. If you want to know which Pueblo to visit (I think Nambe or Tesuque are probably the best ones), I would ask Laure Ware (if you are at SFI).
Art: I was broke when I lived in Santa Fe, so I don't know much, but here is what I do know.
Canyon Road is the primary art district in Santa Fe and is a main road in Old Town. On Friday afternoons there are gallery openings, it is worth taking a couple hours, walking the street, walking through the galleries and drinking the free wine and eating the free snacks. (In my grad student days, this was often where we got a free dinner.)
The Georgia O'Keefe museum is in downtown Santa Fe (217 Johnson Street) is and well worth a visit.
The Shidoni foundry is a super cool metal art studio that is work take a tour of; it is located in Tesuque very near Santa Fe.
The Tesuque Flea Market rocks and with worth checking out on a Saturday morning. It is a great place to check out honey, hats, random art, and all sorts of other cool stuff. It is suppose to be one of the best flea markets in the U.S.
The Lensic is an old theatre that shows a lot of art films. It is officially the Jean Cocteau on 418 Montezuma Avenue, Santa Fe, NM 87501 United States
The Santa Fe Opera is one of the best operas in the world, and if you are into such things, I highly recommend it.