For those lucky enough to find themselves in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the possibilities are endless. A rich multi-cultural history is apparent in everything from the city’s distinct architecture to the myriad flavors and spices of its cuisine—influenced by a blend of Native American, Spanish and Mexican traditions, among others. Art has also played a central role in shaping the city’s cultural character, spanning from traditional crafts to contemporary works by world-renowned artists, like Georgia O’Keeffe. The area’s majestic topography and stunning vistas continue to beckon to intrepid travelers.
Nicknamed the “City Different”, explore why Santa Fe is a city unlike any other. From its legendary history and culture to its dazzling art and gallery scene to its award-winning cuisine, read on to learn how Santa Fe is a destination that delights in its contrasts.
History & Culture
More than a decade before the arrival of the Mayflower pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a small cluster of European dwellings were already established in Santa Fe. Soon, the area would transform into the seat of power for the Spanish Empire north of the Rio Grande River—becoming the oldest capital city in the United States.
History enthusiasts will relish the city’s complex history, dating back to as early as 1050 A.D. when Santa Fe was originally inhabited by a number of Ancestral Puebloan villages. In the centuries to follow, Santa Fe underwent six distinct historical periods—changing hands over the centuries from Indigenous peoples to the Spanish Empire to Mexico before eventually attaining statehood in 1912. Its early inhabitants have left an indelible mark on the city’s architecture and planning, making Santa Fe among the most significant historic cities in the American West.
In 1958, Santa Fe enacted a modern zoning code mandating the city’s Spanish-Pueblo architectural style. Today, visitors will find an unprecedented number of ancient landmarks and historical structures that maintain the unique charm and traditions that contribute to the city’s priceless cultural heritage.
Catch a glimpse of the area’s historic past by simply walking through town. The Plaza and Downtown is unarguably the most historic area in the city. Start exploring at the four-century-old Palace of the Governors, originally erected in 1610 by order or the Spanish Crown; it’s the oldest continuously used public building constructed by European settlers in the continental United States. The area is highly walkable, filled with quaint side street boutiques, restaurants and galleries, ideal for taking in the delightful contrasting styles; the area maintains the feel of a traditional Spanish plaza with a distinct Old West flavor. Nearby, local Native artisans continue a time-honored tradition of selling their wares beneath the palace’s portal—providing buyers an opportunity to interact with the artisans themselves.
To delve deeper into local history, many dynamic museums are a short walk or drive away. At the New Mexico History Museum, exhibitions explore the last 400 years of Santa Fe and New Mexico history. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture highlights the artistic and cultural achievements of the diverse Native peoples of the Southwest. And El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history museum on 200 acres of rural farming valley just beyond Santa Fe, provides a taste of 18th and 19th century New Mexico life.
Santa Fe also has numerous historic sites, like the Bandelier National Monument, an Ancestral Pueblo site; Loretto Chapel, a Gothic-Revival chapel; and the Santa Fe Southern Railway, now called the Sky Railway, a working historic railroad that still offers rides.
Perched 7,000 feet above sea level at the foothills of the majestic Sangre de Cristo mountains, it is no surprise that art (and its creators) has always played a significant role in the city’s character. Art lovers will find a visual feast here, including traditional and contemporary painting, photography, pottery, sculpture, textiles, and even immersive experiences like Meow Wolf—an award-winning multisensory interactive exhibition.
Santa Fe contains one of the country’s largest art markets with over 250 galleries and dealers to explore—the legendary Canyon Road containing more than 80 galleries, studios and designers, alone. For contemporary art, the Railyard Arts District, just several blocks south of the downtown plaza, is an up-and-coming destination named one of the “10 Best Art Districts” by USA Today’s readers.
During the summer, three huge art markets take place in Santa Fe, offering a special treat to art lovers and collectors, alike—the International Folk Art Market, the Indian Market and the Spanish Market. Besides perusing the creativity of master artisans and global artistic traditions, attendees can take home a piece of New Mexico by shopping for some of the featured folk art.
The town also boasts major museums like: the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts and the New Mexico Museum of Art, both are can’t miss stops for art lovers. And, perhaps no artist is better known for finding inspiration in the architectural and landscape forms of northern New Mexico than Georgia O’Keeffe. At the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, visitors can gain insight into her life and art by observing some of the more than 3,000 works in its collection.
Art comes to life each night through the city’s plethora of performing arts offerings. Since the 1950s visitors have been drawn to the Santa Fe Opera, where innovative work is presented in a unique adobe theater. And the annual music festival calendar of Santa Fe is always packed, from the Chamber Music Festival to the New Mexico Jazz Festival and many more in between. This area also boasts a special flamenco tradition, which visitors can check out with performances by dance companies like Entreflamenco, EmiArteFlamenco, or at Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant, well-known for live music and dancing, El Farol.
Stunning Cuisine & Vistas
If all of that touring around leaves travelers peckish, Santa Fe comes to the rescue with more than 400 restaurants and a cuisine unlike anywhere else in the world. Stop by the Santa Fe Farmers' Market to explore the raw ingredients that go into the town’s dishes and look out for the “three sisters”—corn, beans and squash—a regional staple often elevated by the cherished red and green chile, resulting in the signature, flavor-packed Santa Fe cuisine. This area is also famous for its margaritas with more than 40 varieties along the Santa Fe Margarita Trail.
Before departing, be sure to leave time to get a broader view of the area by visiting some of the gorgeous lookouts located in and around the city. Work off the world-class cooking with memory-making hikes on the many trails around Santa Fe, like the Picacho Peak Trail and Atalya Mountain. Catch the vibrant sunset at La Fonda Bell Tower Bar over handmade cocktails.
Santa Fe is a buffet for the senses, from historic treasures to artistic and culinary traditions and unforgettable vistas. Once you book your visit, the only challenge is choosing which treasures to explore.