‘Downtown’ Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Wikimedia Commons).
Santa Fe, capital of New Mexico, has a fascinating history borne of the intersection of Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and Anglo-American cultures, including the adobe architecture of many of its buildings. It is a vibrant arts center, and the blending of cultures has created a dynamic food destination. The visitor has a wealth of choices when it comes to things to do in Santa Fe, from great museums to intriguing art installations and galleries to opera under the stars.
Billing itself as the City Different, Santa Fe sits at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and also offers outdoor activities in close proximity from hiking and mountain biking to skiing in the winter.
Historic Santa Fe
Start with the rich history of the city, which was founded by the Spanish in 1610. Everything downtown centers around the historic Plaza, which is surrounded by shops, galleries, and restaurants. It is the site of a market square built by the Spanish at the terminus of the Santa Fe Trail that brought settlers west to the city. The Plaza and the adjacent Palace of the Governors, built in 1610, are National Historic Landmarks. Under the portals of the Palace are Native American vendors, who sell their arts and crafts here.
An exploration of the Santa Fe’s historic churches should begin where the city began, at the Plaza, where sits the adobe San Miguel Chapel, considered to be the oldest church in the U.S.
The Romanesque revival Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi sits one block east of the Plaza, and was constructed between 1869 and 1886. Among the art contained in the Cathedral is La Conquistadora, the oldest statue of the Virgin Mary in the U.S.
A visit to the lovely Gothic revival style Loretto Chapel is worthwhile to see the remarkable double helix spiral wooden staircase built in the late 1870s. The origins of this staircase are shrouded in mystery as to who was the carpenter who contributed this beautiful work of art and left without the sisters of the chapel being able to pay him. There are no nails used nor visible means of support for the structure.
Arts and culture
Canyon Road is the heart of the city’s art scene and has to rank near the top of things to do in Santa Fe. With more than 50 galleries, Canyon Road offers a fun shopping walk, passing adobe buildings and interspersed with restaurants and cafes. The range of art runs from jewelry to paintings, carvings to pottery, and artists can be seen working on their latest creations.
Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return is a wonderfully inventive art installation that visitors walk through and experience. The premise is that a family disappeared after conducting a forbidden experiment inside their home. Guests search for clues about solving the mystery through dozens of rooms and passages and interactive art, a truly immersive adventure!
The Santa Fe Opera House offers opera in its distinctive home, just north of the city with views of the surrounding mountains. Visitors can experience the local tradition of tailgating, where locals dressed in their opera-going finest snack on hors d’oeuvres prior to attending the performance.
Check out one of Santa Fe’s most trendy neighborhoods at the Railyard Arts District. Here is a collection of shops and restaurants plus the Santa Fe Farmers Market, where over 150 vendors gather on Saturday mornings to sell their foods and products.
A multitude of museum experiences
Among things to do in Santa Fe, high on the list must be the diverse collection of museums, representative of the many cultures that have created today’s city.
Learn about the multi-faceted history of the state at the New Mexico History Museum, located at the Plaza adjacent to the Palace of the Governors.
A cluster of four museums are conveniently grouped together just east of downtown on the so-called Museum Hill. The area also offers restaurants and dining, plus is the setting for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, when you need to have a walk outdoors after a round of museum visits.
One of the highlights here is the Museum of International Folk Art, which features household objects, toys, paintings and crafts made around the world reflecting daily life. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture seeks to preserve the Native-American cultures of the Southwest through its collections, but also through its staging of performances of storytelling, music, and dances. The other two collections here on Museum Hill are The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, also focused on Native-American arts and crafts, and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.
Georgia O’Keefe found inspiration in the dramatic landscapes of northern New Mexico, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum showcases the world’s largest collection of her work. The museum is housed in an adobe building that was formerly a Baptist church, and also features artwork by O’Keeffe’s peers. Those interested in seeing her studio and actual areas she visited and painted can travel an hour north to the Ghost Ranch, which offers a series of special O’Keeffe tours.
Those wishing to see more of the works of these talented local painters can also visit the New Mexico Museum of Art, the state’s oldest art museum, located one block from the Plaza. See works by the Taos Society of Artists, more by Georgia O’Keeffe, and photographer Ansel Adams, among many others.
Santa Fe is an intriguing combination of southwestern cultures, melded into a unique city that has a rich medley of historic sites and museums, delicious food and a dynamic arts scene. Visitors wishing to learn even more about things to do in Santa Fe can read a highlights article from CNN on the diverse attractions of this beautiful capital city.