One of the oldest cities in the United States, New Mexico’s state capital Santa Fe has a rich history and heritage for you to delve into. Home to a mesmerizing mix of cultures, its age-old streets are a treat to explore with attractive Native American adobe buildings and charming Spanish colonial churches alongside magnificent Mexican missions.
Besides being renowned for its cultural diversity and interesting historic tourist attractions, the city is also famed for its extraordinary arts scene. While plenty of galleries dot its streets, Santa Fe is also an important center for the performing arts and hosts lots of great cultural events and festivals. Other things to do in Santa Fe include visiting marvelous museums and exploring it’s scenic setting at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
17. El Rancho de las Golondrinas
Set just twenty minutes’ drive to the south of the city center is El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a huge, historic ranch that is now a living history museum. Home to lots of beautiful old buildings, orchards and vineyards, the sprawling site offers up an invaluable look at the history, heritage, culture and traditions of eighteenth and nineteenth century New Mexico.
Once a rest stop on the Royal Road that ran from New Mexico to Santa Fe, the fortified residence that is the ‘Ranch of the Swallows’ now instead welcomes tourists and school groups to its scenic site. A very educational and interactive place, it has lots of delightful displays and demonstrations that highlight how farmers, blacksmiths and millers used to live and work during Spanish colonial times.
16. Santa Fe Farmers Market
Since being founded way back in 1968 by a small group of farmers, the Santa Fe Farmers Market has grown to include over 150 local growers and vendors. A lovely lively yet laidback place to visit, it is located just a stone’s throw away from the city center in the Santa Fe Railyard.
Besides perusing its endless stands and stalls that are laden with fresh produce and colorful foods, visitors can also shop for souvenirs, sample some local treats and stop off for a coffee or a snack. While its Saturday morning market is the most popular and has live music and bands playing, there are also smaller markets to stop by on both Tuesdays and Sundays.
15. Ski Santa Fe
Nestled away just to the northeast of the city are the sensational, snow-coated slopes of Ski Santa Fe which is one of the most accessible and attractive resorts in the area. In total, it has 88 terrific trails and a tantalizing terrain park for you to try out with lots of spellbinding scenery and views to be enjoyed from up high.
Suitable for beginners, intermediates and experts alike, its snowy slopes have a total vertical drop of some 500 or so meters and are serviced by seven ski lifts. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, guests can also enjoy some great shopping and dining on the mountain with some epic hiking trails and mountain bike paths to be found nearby.
14. Museum of Indian Arts & Culture
A very interesting and impressive place to visit, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture offers up a fascinating look at the origins, history and traditions of the Southwest’s Native American people. Set just to the south of the center on Museum Hill, its captivating collection includes an astounding array of incredible artworks, artifacts and archaeological findings.
Founded all the way back in 1909, the magnificent museum protects, preserves and promotes the various peoples and pueblos’ history, culture and heritage. As well as perusing all its phenomenal pottery, photographs and permanent exhibitions, visitors can also attend delightful dance, music and storytelling events.
13. San Miguel Chapel
While it appears to be quite a simple structure at first sight, the San Miguel Chapel is remarkably thought to be the oldest surviving church in the whole of the United States. Although the current chapel dates back to 1710, an earlier version stood in the same spot for almost a century before being burned and destroyed during a revolt.
Originally built by Franciscan friars and Tlaxcalan Indians, the charming chapel now exhibits lots of attractive adobe architecture and is adorned with a small and simple bell tower. In contrast to its earth-colored outside, its interior is painted white with unique artworks and an impressive altar on its walls. Well worth visiting for its historic and religious importance, San Miguel Chapel lies in the historic heart of Santa Fe.
12. Palace of the Governors
Lining one side of Santa Fe’s pretty and pleasant plaza is the Palace of the Governors which was impressively built way back in 1610. As the oldest public building in the country, it served as the state’s seat of government for centuries. Today, it is protected as part of the marvelous New Mexico History Museum.
As it is full of fabulous furnishings and period pieces, the palace is a treat to explore with its ancient artifacts offering up an interesting look at the history of the building, city and state. Exhibiting some excellent adobe architecture, the simple, single-story structure is now a National Historic Landmark.
11. Santa Fe Indian Market
Every year in August thousands upon thousands of artists, vendors, tourists and collectors pack into the city for the superb Santa Fe Indian Market. Featuring over a 1,200 of the best Native American artists from more than 220 tribes and pueblos, the colorful and chaotic cultural celebration is the largest such show and market of its kind in the world.
Set up in the city’s central plaza and surrounding streets are a myriad of stands and stalls that sell everything from beautiful beadwork and basketry to glimmering jewellery, textiles and sculptures. In addition to this, you can also visit open studios and galleries and watch Native music, film and cultural events with the most exquisite artworks receiving prizes in juried competitions.
10. New Mexico History Museum
Home to an astounding array of interesting artifacts and exhibits, the New Mexico History Museum can be found just behind the Palace of the Governors in the center of the city. Well worth visiting if you have the chance, it offers up a fascinating look into the people, cultures and communities of both the state and the Southwest.
Only opened in 2009, the magnificent museum has three floors of photos, prints and archaeological findings for you to peruse. These look into everything from indigenous life in the state, to Spanish colonization and important events from the twentieth century. In addition to this, you can also buy some great souvenirs from the fantastic facility’s daily Native American arts market.
9. New Mexico State Capitol
Just a short stroll from Santa Fe Plaza is the New Mexico State Capitol which is the state’s seat of government. A unique and unusual building, it is informally known as the ‘Roundhouse’, as its arresting architecture is designed to look like the circular emblem of the Zia Pueblo which is also the state’s symbol.
Built in 1966, it exhibits a delightful mix of Territorial Revival and Neoclassical architectural styles with its remarkable Rotunda and its stained-glass ceiling undoubtedly being the highlight. As well as seeing the House and Senate chambers from above, visitors can also check out all the excellent art that is dotted about which represents the history and culture of the peoples of New Mexico.
8. Museum of International Folk Art
An incredible place to visit, the Museum of International Folk Art boasts a captivating collection of some 135,000 objects that come from more than a hundred countries. The biggest and best folk art museum in the world, its exhilarating artifacts and exhibitions lie just a short drive to the south of the city center.
Since opening in 1953, its colossal collection has continued to grow with terrific toys and textiles now on show alongside colorful carvings, ceramics and costumes from all around the globe. As well as showcasing lots of splendid local Hispanic art, the marvelous museum also has some lovely scenes and displays that depict daily life in different societies.
7. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Situated right in the city center is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum which is dedicated to the life and legacy of the world-renowned artist. In total, its gorgeous galleries house over a thousand of her fabulous paintings, drawings and sculptures with countless other artworks by contemporaries also being on display.
As well as perusing the largest O’Keeffe collection in the world, visitors can watch a film on her life and artistic achievements and see some of her personal items and memorabilia. Located in what was once an adobe Baptist church, the museum certainly warrants a visit for its wonderful watercolor works and pretty pastel pieces that depict the life and landscapes of New Mexico.
6. Loretto Chapel
While it is most famed for its ‘miraculous’ spiral staircase, the lovely little Loretto Chapel has lots of other fine features for visitors to enjoy. Built way back in 1878, it exhibits lots of attractive architecture with beautiful buttresses, superb spires and stunning stained glass windows also on show.
Inside the glorious Gothic Revival church, however, is its standout sight – the striking spiral staircase around which so many myths and legends swirl. Appearing as if it is unsupported, the unique and unusual staircase stands out delightfully against the white walls of the charming chapel. Now both a museum and wedding venue, Loretto Chapel can be found in the historic heart of Santa Fe.
5. Meow Wolf
An extraordinary interactive and immersive art installation, the mesmerizing Meow Wolf certainly promises to be unlike anything you’ve seen or experienced before. Located in what was once an old bowling alley, its surreal scenes and settings are lots of fun to explore and appear decidedly otherworldly and unique.
As you search for clues and crack codes relating to the disappearance of a Californian family, you wander mysterious hallways, find hidden doorways and pass through portals to other worlds and dimensions. Along the way, you come across lots of breathtaking artworks with magical music ringing in the air. Opened in 2016, the House of Eternal Return, as it is known, lies just fifteen minutes’ drive to the southwest of the city center.
4. Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
One of the city’s most important and impressive historic sights is the lovely Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi which lies right in the center of town. Built between 1869 and 1886 in a ravishing Romanesque Revival style, its fantastic facade is flanked by two towers and sports a wonderful rose window above a pretty portico.
Despite being quite austere inside, its nave is lined by colossal Corinthian columns with charming little chapels to be found to either side. One of its standout sights is a small statue of the Virgin Mary which is known as La Conquistadora and is the oldest such sculpture of its kind in the country.
3. Santa Fe Plaza
The historic heart of the city, Santa Fe Plaza has been at the center of life in town for more than four hundred years. Lying right in the center of the city, the scenic square is surrounded by lots of age-old adobe buildings and historic houses with magnificent monuments and museums dotted about.
A lovely, lively yet laidback place, the ‘Plaza’ as it is simply known to locals has lots of excellent art galleries and boutiques with many vendors selling Native American art and crafts. As it regularly hosts markets and music events, parades and festivals, there is always something to see or do. With many souvenir shops on offer, restaurants to try and museums to explore, it is impossible to visit Santa Fe without passing through the plaza at least once or twice.
2. Santa Fe Opera House
Nestled away just to the north of the city is the state-of-the-art Santa Fe Opera House which puts on world-class opera performances each and every summer. As it is partially open-air, the phenomenal venue also offers up spellbinding views out over the Jemez Mountains which act as a breath-taking backdrop to its sweeping stage.
Established as recently as 1998, the opera house exhibits some incredible architecture with its sail-like ceiling reflecting sounds from the stage to the audience. Every season it hosts a myriad of spectacular shows and spectacles with up-and-coming opera singers performing alongside firmly established stars. One of the best and most memorable places to catch a performance in the Southwest, the Santa Fe Opera House is definitely worth checking out if you have the chance.
1. Canyon Road
A popular and picturesque place to visit and explore, Canyon Road is remarkably home to over a hundred art galleries, studios and workshops. Set just to the southeast of Santa Fe’s center, the artistic area really is an art lover’s dream with everything from contemporary crafts and quirky clothing to glittering jewels, sparkling silverware and stunning sculptures on show.
Exhibiting stunning and evocative Native American arts, crafts and artifacts, its galleries are a treat to peruse with many being located in attractive buildings. While some of the artists are renowned internationally, others are famed locally for their fantastic folk art which highlights the history and heritage of the region. With lots of great restaurants and cafes also to be found along the route, Canyon Road is not to be missed for its appealing arts, architecture and ambience.