Widely known for its arts, culture, and diversity, Santa Fe is home to hundreds of galleries, top museums, cultural arts centers, great shopping and a rich historic past. With so much to experience and a pleasant climate, visitors flock to Santa Fe year-round.
Downtown Santa Fe is fairly compact and highly walkable. A stroll through the area with its bright colors set against crisp blue skies is a perfect way to get to know Santa Fe. One block may have sidewalk musicians entertaining, on the next an arts and crafts market may be in progress, and on the next, you may happen upon a boutique with their wares spilling out onto the sidewalk.
A casual city, the pace is slower and the appreciation for creativity is evident throughout. The city firmly embraces its nickname, “The City Different,” adopted in celebration of the mix of Native American, Spanish, and Anglo cultures, and one of the primary contributors to Santa Fe’s thriving tourism industry.
Rich in history, Santa Fe was founded in 1610 and is the United States’ oldest capital city at over 400 years old. Since the 1800s, the city has been known as a center for trade, as the end of the Santa Fe Trail. Today, shopping continues to be a major attraction, as visitors explore Santa Fe’s eclectic boutiques, markets, and galleries.
Shopping & art galleries
Santa Fe Plaza
At the heart of Santa Fe is Santa Fe Plaza, a cultural hub that dates back to when the city was founded. A bustling center of commerce and culture, visitors and locals congregate at Santa Fe Plaza to shop, dine, drink, and socialize.
From turquoise jewelry to cowboy hats to fashion, the boutiques of Santa Fe Plaza overflow with Southwest goods. In addition to the shops and boutiques, markets selling pottery, crafts, and jewelry line the sidewalks across from the plaza. Intermixed with the boutiques, galleries are located in the plaza area, offering an array of paintings, textiles, pottery, and glassware.
Heading east from downtown, Canyon Road is one of the country’s top art districts with over 100 galleries, artist studios, boutiques, and restaurants. Originally a farming community, Canyon Road has less of a commercial feel and more of an artist community vibe.
Artist studios line Canyon Road, many of who invite the public to watch them as they create. The styles, which include abstract, contemporary, traditional, Native American, and others, are as varied as the mediums.
Browse the galleries and shop for paintings, sculptures, glassware, jewelry, antiques, rugs, crafts, and wearable art. In addition to the galleries and artist studios, Canyon Road is home to several restaurants and is a great place to take a walk admiring the patios and gardens or simply find a bench and do some people watching.
Churches and cathedrals
The oldest church in the United States, San Miguel Chapel
The oldest church in the continental United States, San Miguel Chapel, was built around 1610 to serve the Tlaxcalan Indians, laborers, and Spanish soldiers who lived in the area.
Over the 400 years since, the church was destroyed, rebuilt, and restored numerous times. The interior includes an altar screen from the late 1800s, one of the oldest in New Mexico, and a statue of San Miguel that was carved in Mexico around 1700.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
Built in 1887, Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is one block east of the Santa Fe Plaza and sits on the site of earlier churches, the first being built at the time Santa Fe was founded in 1610, which was replaced in 1630 with a larger one that was destroyed in the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680.
In 1714, a new church was built on the site in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. When Santa Fe’s first Bishop, Father John Baptiste Lamy, arrived in 1850, Bishop Lamy ordered a new Romanesque church be built. Construction began in 1869 and continued until 1887.
A beautiful church, Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was elevated to Basilica status in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI, a designation honoring churches of importance in the history of spreading Catholicism.
After Bishop Lamy arrived in 1850, he began a letter-writing campaign encouraging others in the Catholic faith to come to Santa Fe and the first to accept were the Sisters of Loretto, who sent seven sisters in 1852. Five of the Sisters survived the journey (the Mother Superior died and one Sister grew ill and returned to Kentucky).
The Sisters started the Academy of Our Lady of Light in 1853 and grew the school to over 300 students and 10 buildings. While the architects for Saint Francis of Assisi were in Santa Fe working on its construction, Bishop Lamy had them also design the Loretto Chapel. Completed in 1878, Loretto Chapel has since undergone numerous additions and renovations, including the St. Joseph Staircase also called The Miraculous Staircase, which is constructed using only wooden pegs and has two 360 degree turns with no visible means of support.
With such strong support for the arts, it’s no wonder that Santa Fe has 16 museums with exhibitions rivaling collections of museums in large metropolitan areas with ancient pottery, photography, paintings, folk art, silverwork, and more on display.
New Mexico Museum of Art
With an impressive collection of over 20,000 works, the New Mexico Museum of Art is a premier repository of works by Southwestern artists, with an emphasis on New Mexico. The museum’s permanent collection includes the largest collection of American printmaker and painter, Gustave Baumann, as well as works by Georgia O’Keefe, Fritz Scholder, Ansel Adams, and the Jane Reese Williams Collection of women photographers.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Dedicated to the legacy of Georgia O’Keeffe, who adopted New Mexico as her home and used it as inspiration for much of her work, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum contains the largest collection of her art with over 3,000 works.
With a collection that includes over 140 oil paintings, nearly 700 drawings, and hundreds of additional works, the museum also provides an understanding of O’Keefe’s creative process, background, and life.
Santa Fe’s creativity extends beyond art, with a wide selection of innovative restaurants offering Southwestern-inspired dishes. While restaurant options include excellent choices ranging from Italian to Asian to French, in a land where “Christmas” means “I’ll have it with both red and green chile sauce,” burritos and enchiladas rule the day. Maybe it’s my imagination, but southwestern fare never tastes better than when enjoyed against an adobe backdrop with dried chiles on the wall, a brilliant blue sky overhead, and flowers overflowing from pots on the patio.
Bandelier National Monument
About an hour outside of Santa Fe near Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument offers a glimpse into the lives of the people who once called the region home. Home to the Ancestral Pueblo people between 1150-1550, Bandelier’s 33,000 acres contain cliff dwellings where the Pueblo people built homes in the rock cliffs, petroglyphs, and evidence of even earlier life when nomadic people occupied the land over 10,000 years ago.
Hot Air Ballooning
Internationally known as the hot air ballooning capital of the world, New Mexico is an ideal location to take flight on a hot air balloon adventure. Soaring through the skies in a hot air balloon in the early morning sun, floating over the beautiful New Mexico landscape with the Sandia Mountains in the distance, is an unforgettable experience.
Day Trip to Albuquerque
Just an hour away from Santa Fe, Albuquerque is a perfect day trip. Take a stroll through Old Town Albuquerque, visit San Felipe de Neri Parish, take a hike with 24,000 petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument, and if you are visiting in early October, watch 500 hot air balloons take flight at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
Know before you go
Stay hydrated and wear sunscreen. Santa Fe’s elevation is 7,199 feet (2,194 m) feet and the climate is arid, so staying well-hydrated will decrease the likelihood of altitude sickness and help your body adjust. Also, remember to reapply sunscreen often as the UV rays are stronger at elevation.
Dress for changing temperatures. Summer temperatures can exceed 90°F/32°C in the afternoon and then cool off to around 50°F/10°C in the evening. In the winter, Santa Fe normally receives snow multiple times per year (skiing is about an hour away) and day temperatures are normally in the 40sF.
A car is probably required & parking is in short supply. In the downtown Santa Fe area, it is best to walk because parking is hard to find. However, a car is required to venture to many of the attractions in and around Santa Fe. Other alternatives include city-wide taxi service, the public bus system, Santa Fe Trails, and the trolley service, Palace Express.
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