The oldest state capital in the United States, Santa Fe dates to the early 1600s. The community’s art, architecture, and cuisine reflect its diverse cultures.
Santa Fe, known as “The City Different,” draws a million visitors every year. At 7,000 feet above sea level, it is nestled in the Rio Grande Valley at the foot of forested mountains. Artists have long flocked to the area because of its stunning landscapes, azure sky, and famed quality of light.
Here is an overview of the most interesting things to do in Santa Fe.
1. Learn the Amazing History
Northern New Mexico has been home to pueblo Native Americans, Navajos, Apaches, Mexicans, and Spanish settlers. There are eight pueblos between Santa Fe and Taos, many of which operate cultural centers.
Archaeological sites provide glimpses into the ancient past. The best place to check out is Bandelier National Monument, with cliff dwellings and petroglyph rock art created in a beautiful canyon between 1150 and 1550.
Santa Fe boasts the third-largest museum system in the country. Don’t miss El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living history museum. Staffers dressed in period clothing demonstrate how people lived and worked in the 17th and 18th centuries. Some original buildings from the Spanish colonial period are still standing.
2. Check Out the Fabulous Arts Scene
Santa Fe is a major destination for art lovers, with more than 300 galleries and dealers. Native Americans sell their arts and crafts in shops, as well as on streets around the city’s central plaza.
The New Mexico Museum of Art, a lovely example of pueblo revival architecture, displays more than 20,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other works from the Americas and Europe. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum houses thousands of the iconic artist’s abstract paintings and drawings.
Several institutions celebrate native art. At the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, you will find exhibits of historic and modern arts and crafts; and the planet’s largest collection of Navajo and pueblo jewelry. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture displays textiles, pottery, baskets, and sculptures; plus archaeological artifacts from the 13th century. The Coe Center has 2,200 objects from native cultures around the world.
The Museum of International Folk Art is the biggest of its kind anywhere, with more than 130,000 items from more than 100 countries.
3. Admire the Inspiring Architecture
The historic buildings in Santa Fe range from adobe structures built hundreds of years ago, to those in the Spanish colonial style, to edifices honoring other European traditions. The magnificent Loretto Chapel, a gothic church erected in 1878, features the “Miraculous Staircase,” a spiral set of wooden steps.
San Miguel Mission, built by a native tribe in the early 17th century, is the oldest church in the United States. Another impressive house of worship, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, is a French Romanesque revival structure.
The adobe-walled Palace of the Governors, which traces its history to the early 1600s, is the nation’s oldest public building. A National Historic Landmark and an American Treasure, it is the official state historical museum.
4. Enjoy the Delicious Food
Santa Fe has more than 400 restaurants with cuisine for all tastes and budgets.
You can sample traditional and contemporary versions of corn, beans, and squash – staples of the early indigenous people’s diets. Be sure to also chow down on some Latin American dishes such as enchiladas, tacos, and burritos. Don’t forget to ask for chile sauce. It comes in several varieties, which is why the New Mexico Legislature made “red or green?” the official state question.
In addition, Santa Fe eateries serve Asian, French, Italian, Indian, and Middle Eastern meals.
5. Appreciate the Natural Beauty
New Mexico’s motto, the Land of Enchantment, is largely based on the stunning scenery. The Santa Fe area offers an array of jaw-dropping landscapes, from desert canyons to riparian corridors to soaring mountains.
Take a short drive to the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. It is the scene of a bizarre collection of conical stone monoliths that volcanic eruptions formed millions of years ago.
The Santa Fe Botanical Garden displays native and introduced plants in a serene setting. The institution’s Museum Hill consists of an Orchard Garden with fruit trees; as well as plants used for food, medicine, and textiles. A 35-acre wetlands preserve is teeming with marsh wildlife and vegetation.
6. Get Some Recreation
With about 320 days of sunshine per year, the Santa Fe area is perfect for those who like to exercise in fresh, clean air. You can explore the canyon and mesa country, raft the Rio Grande, and hike in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Among the many options are backpacking, horseback riding, bicycling, snow skiing, and fishing. Guided tours lead small groups on foot, bikes, and even llamas to places of natural splendor. There are Jeep tours, and hikes involving yoga and meditation. Some excursions take place after dark, to provide views of New Mexico’s incredible night sky.