The dusty drive from Dallas, Texas, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, will run you upwards of about 10 hours and 700 miles. However, luckily for you and your fellow road trippers, there is no shortage of fascinating hotspots to visit along the way. This wayward drive not only promises travelers a scenic tour through America’s exhilarating southwest but a lifetime of memories. Tip your hat and set off into the sunset with this trusty list of must-see spots.
Departing from Texas’ heartland is always a bittersweet moment (but, trust, it’ll be well worth the ride). Head north on Highway 287 towards Amarillo, Texas, and take in the massive swaths of the green landscape—and savor them, because it’s bound to get dusty. Following a few hours on the road, you’ll want to make a stop just west of Memphis, Texas, at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, featuring the second largest canyon in the U.S. (you surely know THE largest).
With all of that driving and trekking behind you, stop for a plate at The Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery, home of the famous “72oz. Steak” (and a truly Texan experience—but maybe don’t eat THAT much meat if you’re driving). After the meal, check out the artful illustrations and roadside attractions at nearby Cadillac Ranch before jumping on the historic U.S. Route 66, which you can still catch just outside of beautiful Amarillo.
Cross the Texas-New Mexico border and head towards Tucumcari (too-come-carry) to visit the Tee Pee Curios shop where you can browse for knickknacks and local crafts. Then, hop on over to the rustic and quaint Blue Swallow Motel (you’ll recognize it from its iconic neon sign) and camp out for the evening while you prepare for the next leg of your journey.
Wake up early and take in the sunrise against the copious adobe brick buildings nearby and push off on your journey into Santa Fe proper—just 2½ hours away. While en route, have one of your road trippers call in a reservation for Luminaria Restaurant & Patio, home to fantastic local cuisine and one of Santa Fe’s most tranquil and inviting wooden patio spaces for dining al fresco. Meanwhile, once you pull into town, head straight for La Fonda on the Plaza Hotel for delicious pastries, crepes, and espresso at The French Pastry Shop. Better yet, take your coffee to go and stroll around the corner to experience the awe-inspiring Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and its sumptuous grounds.
Since you’re already on the go, take in the incredible layout of downtown Santa Fe—the stunning architecture, the vibrant colors, the friendly locals. And while you’re at it, keep the beauty coming with a gentle amble towards the Canyon Road Arts District, featuring over 100 charming galleries housed in historic adobe structures—unlike anything you’ve ever seen (and that’s just the OUTSIDE!).
Head back to the car while taking in some other can’t-miss historical sites, like the Palace of the Governors, the Casa Vieja de Analco—claimed to be the oldest house in America, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and, of course, the iconic Georgia O’Keefe Museum. It’s easy to fill an entire day of sight-seeing in Santa Fe, and you’re sure to be drawn in by the local charms and cosmopolitan setting. For however long you plan to stay, be sure to leave plenty of time for the return trip—with room for a little detour.
Santa Fe may be behind you, but you can still catch plenty of hotspots in New Mexico before you head back home to Texas. Climb north towards Taos (90 minutes from Santa Fe) for a final jog of great art, fine food, and must-see curiosities. The Inger Jirby Gallery is a great space for local art, as evidence by the artist’s vibrant watercolor paintings scattered throughout. And, if you feel like extending your stay, you can camp out in one of the gallery’s equally colorful guest houses.
But first, you’ll want to grab a quick bite at any one of Taos’ fantastic eateries—whatever you’re in the mood for: like the stark and beautifully decorated Cici’s Bean for coffee and pastries; La Cueva Café for authentic New Mexican cuisine (including those all-important agave wine margaritas!); Stella’s Italian Restaurant, for a zesty, southwestern twist on a classic trattoria; or the ultra-sophisticated The Love Apple (housed in a little catholic church that was built around the 1800s) for dinner, featuring regional and organic home cooking.
In between meals (there will—and should—be LOTS of eating on this trip), get lost inside Taos Plaza, a cultural landmark encompassing several city blocks and featuring everything from fine shopping, arts and crafts vendors, guided historical tours, outdoor recreation and so much more. Wander off down colorful Ledoux Street and bask in the brilliant flower gardens and expressive murals. And be sure to see the Kit Carson Home and Museum (just off Kit Carson Road), a Spanish colonial-style home built for the frontier expedition leader in 1825.
And if even more history is your thing, don’t miss out on the chance to discover Taos Pueblo, an ancient pueblo (settlement) belonging to the Taos-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people—one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the country. Or, visit the San Francisco de Asís Mission Church, the stunning architecture of which has been a paragon of the Taos community since the 1700s.
But it’s not all about history. Camino Real is a perfect outlet for anyone looking to bring a bit of New Mexico home in the form of southwest-style furniture, chile ristras, tin mirrors, jewelry, pottery, Talavera earthenware, and more. Or, buy a Cholla Cactus Cross, studded with turquoise (New Mexico’s state gem) from Native American vendors along the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
So much to do—and depending on the duration of your road trip, so little time. But with this helpful guide, you’re sure to have an incredible time exploring these rich, American cities. And every stop in between.