Affordable Santa Fe: Five Free Things to Do When You Visit

Santa Fe is known for a lot of things – its Pueblo-style architecture, amazing weather, vibrant arts scene, and scenic (as in “a view around every corner”) landscapes. While it can seem like a destination that might stretch your wallet, there are plenty of ways to explore our cultural gem of a city without breaking the bank. Here are five budget-friendly activities that will let you experience the best of Santa Fe without spending a fortune.

And keep in mind that these are the sort of activities locals enjoy every day. If you’d like to live like a local, start here!

Santa Fe Plaza Summer Flower Baskets

1. Discover the Historic Plaza

In the heart of Santa Fe lies the historic Plaza, a central gathering spot that has been the city’s social hub since the early 17th century. Strolling through or sitting in the Plaza is free. You can people watch, listen to local buskers making music, and admire the beautiful adobe buildings that surround it, including the Palace of the Governors, which is the longest inhabited municipal building in the nation.

The Plaza is almost always filled with local artisans selling unique handcrafted goods, from hanging art to jewelry. Across the street on Palace, Natives sell under the Palace of the Governors portal daily, weather permitting.

Don’t miss the opportunity to window-shop or pick up a small souvenir to remember your trip. And keep in mind that the artisans selling under the portal have to be from a local pueblo or tribe. When folks ask me the best place to buy authentic turquoise or silver jewelry, this is where I send them. You meet the artist and you support someone whose livelihood may depend on these sales.

And because they don’t pay rent for that space, there’s no overhead for these artists other than the long drive from home. I’ve bought many gifts from friends from someone who drove in for the day from Santo Domingo or San Felipe Pueblo, and I bought a bracelet for myself from a Navajo silversmith. These purchases may not fall under the affordable heading, but they’re absolutely unforgettable.

If you’re looking for an affordable and authentic lunch, drop in the Five and Dime for a Frito Pie. They’ve been making this chile since the 60s, and contrary to what Anthony Bourdain said here, it’s a great way to enjoy lunch on a Plaza park bench, soaking up the Santa Fe sunshine.

2. Visit the Santa Fe Railyard

The Santa Fe Railyard is an area revitalized to preserve the city’s historic rail connections while serving as a vibrant public space. Here, you can explore art galleries, shops, and enjoy the park-like setting. It’s also home to the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market, which is held every Saturday and Tuesday mornings.

There’s a great playground at the Railyard Park for the kids if you’re traveling with your family. The newly remodeled Santa Fe Depot is home to the Railrunner (catch an inexpensive ride to Albuquerque and points south) and Sky Railway, one of my personal favorite activities (note – Sky Railway is not inexpensive, but it’s well worth the ticket price to experience something you won’t find elsewhere in town).

The Railyard hosts a variety of events, including free concerts and markets, especially during the summer months. It’s the perfect place to experience the local vibe, enjoy some people-watching, and maybe even catch a free performance or two.

3. Explore the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

This iconic cathedral is a must-visit for anyone interested in architecture, history, or spirituality. Located just a block from the Plaza, it’s another great place to explore while downtown.

Construction began in 1869 and continued until completion in 1887. The new church was built around the old adobe church, which has origins in 1610 (the same year Santa Fe was founded). The original adobe church was replaced in 1630 by a larger one, which was destroyed by the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680. So, it’s a landmark that’s been rebuilt several times.

Seven archbishops, including Santa Fe’s first Bishop, Father John Baptiste Lamy of France, who arrived in 1850, are buried in the sanctuary.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi stands as a testament to Romanesque Revival architecture and houses some remarkable works of art. Entrance is by donation, so it’s a great opportunity to admire this historic building and its serene surroundings without spending much.

If you’re ever on the Plaza and hear the Cathedral bells ringing nonstop, hang around. There’s a chance there was a wedding inside, which means that the wedding party will likely circle the Plaza, and frequently they’ll be led by a local Mariachi Band.

4. Hike in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Sangre de Cristos in the fall

For the nature lovers, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains offer numerous hiking trails that cater to all levels of experience. One of the most popular and accessible trails is the Atalaya Mountain Trail, which provides stunning views of Santa Fe and the surrounding area.

Hiking is free, and it’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of New Mexico. Remember to bring water and a hat, wear appropriate footwear, and check weather conditions before you go.

Check out the Dale Ball Trails, an almost 25-mile set of natural surface foot and bike trails throughout the area. The system is named after Dale Ball, a Santa Fean who was instrumental in the conception, design and construction of the trails. Trails are well-marked and were updated, refurbished, and expanded in 2016 by trail volunteers working with the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.

5. Enjoy the Art on Canyon Road

Canyon Road is a narrow lane less than a mile long that boasts more than a hundred art galleries. While purchasing art might be out of the budget, wandering through this area and window-shopping is an experience in itself. Most galleries are free and open to the public, allowing you to appreciate a wide range of art from traditional Native American pieces to contemporary works. Even if you’re not an art aficionado, the colorful street filled with sculptures and paintings, makes for a fun and picturesque walk.


Santa Fe offers an array of experiences that cater to budget travelers looking to soak in its rich culture, history, and natural beauty. These five activities provide just a glimpse into the affordable adventures that await in this enchanting city. Whether you’re meandering through historic streets, admiring local art, or exploring the great outdoors, Santa Fe proves that the best experiences don’t always come with a hefty price tag.


As a local, Bunny Terry has other great ideas to make your trip a success. And if you’re considering becoming a local, give her a call at 505-504-1101. She’s a highly-reviewed Realtor as well!


Bunny Terry 505.504.1101

20 Vereda Serena Santa Fe, NM 87508