Want an authentic western experience in a beautiful and convenient setting? Santa Fe is your answer! The beautiful capital of the US state of New Mexico is nicknamed ‘The City of Different’, and Santa Fe truly lives up to its reputation with legendary art and culture around every corner. At times it appears as if you’ve stepped onto a Hollywood movie set, with its striking red adobe buildings and historic plaza that make up the cityscape. This city hasn’t forgotten its storied past, with countless museums, reminding visitors of the history that is woven into the oldest capital city in the US.
Pretty in pink!
Historically the area of the city and surrounding areas were inhabited by indigenous Tanoan peoples, who lived in Pueblo villages along the Rio Grande. In fact, one of the earliest known settlements in downtown Santa Fe was founded sometime after 900 CE and was known as “White Shell Water Place”. When Europe began to colonize the Americas, the Spanish claimed the area in the 16th Century. Then in 1821, the city became part of Mexico, before becoming part of the United States in 1848. Santa Fe was an important city on the Santa Fe Trail in the 19th Century that led settlers west to settle. Today it is a vibrant melting pot of cultures in a stunningly beautiful landscape.
Most visitors touch down in Santa Fe Regional Airport, unless you’re driving in from another city like Phoenix or Las Vegas. The airport is around 16km (10 miles) from the city centre and is served by regional flights, so if you’re flying internationally, you will need to connect from a hub airport like Dallas or Denver. The easiest way to reach the city is by private taxi or Roadrunner Shuttle, both equally convenient and efficient.
The city is considered one of the world’s great art cities due to its many galleries, and is even recognized by UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. Art and culture are at the heart of Santa Fe, so to help you narrow down what to see in Santa Fe, here’s where I recommend you visit:
- The Plaza – A great place to start in downtown, this is the perfect spot for a lazy stroll wandering from museum to margarita. The 400-year-old plaza is the social heart of Santa Fe surrounded by boutiques and galleries all housed in historic buildings. The Plaza is where interesting festivals take place throughout the year, such as the Santa Fe Indian Market in August and the Burning of Zozobra in September.
- El Rancho de las Golondrinas – A living history museum that will make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. The ranch-like structure was once a rest stop for those travelling from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Actors in authentic period costumes allow you to immerse yourself in the life of the 1700s.
- Palace of the Governors – Originally constructed to house the first Spanish governor of New Mexico, Don Pedro de Peralta in 1610, this building is one of the oldest standing buildings in the USA. Nowadays, the building houses the New Mexico History Museum.
- Georgia O’Keeffe Museum – Georgia O’Keeffe was an outstanding early 20th Century artist and was recognised as the ‘mother of American modernism’. Her works are displayed at this gallery, with over 840 pieces in 10 beautifully lit galleries.
- Canyon Road – This mile-long stroll is one of the most picturesque sites in Santa Fe. Once a trade route leading to the community of Pecos, today it’s considered the district of art, and you won’t want to miss it.
- Crosby Theatre – This state-of-the-art, open-air theatre is an unmissable site. The architecture of this building means it has become famous for its beautiful acoustics. Catch a live opera performance here with panoramic views of the mountains.
- Meow Wolf – A beautiful art installation of 70 rooms make up this unique experience of colours, shapes, lights and sounds. The house holds a mystery, and using clues spread throughout the bizarre installations, you solve the case.
- Walking Tours – With so much culture and history come great food and drink consider taking a self-guided walking tour through the city along with the Brewery, Margarita, Coffee or Chocolate Trails.
- Pueblos – The Native American pueblos of New Mexico are super interesting. There are 19 unique pueblos in total, and each have their own traditions, customs and government. If you choose to venture out of the city, I recommend you pay a visit to:
Here’s another pro-tip: Winters can be bitter and even snowy in Santa Fe. The best time of the year to visit is between September and November when temperatures are warm during the day and cool at night.
All that exploring will leave you hungry, and the food scene in Santa Fe is a melting pot of culture due to the city’s unique history. Satiate your hunger and visit these amazing venues:
- Café Pasqual – Using organic and local ingredients the chef serves patrons traditional Mexican flavours with a modern flair. It has a colourful interior; it’s walls are lined with hand painted tiles and murals by Mexican painter Leovigildo Martinez.
- Kakawa Chocolate House – This artisanal chocolate shop and café has been named one of the most luxurious places in the world to drink hot chocolate. It caught my interest when I learned of how the chocolate is made using colonial recipes with both traditional (Pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican, Mayan and Aztec) and modern techniques.
- Geronimo – This warm and inviting fine-dining restaurant is wonderful. As you take in your elegant surroundings and the delicious smells, you can see why it’s won countless awards. It offers American and International cuisine at this high-end venue.
It can be chili in Santa Fe!
Santa Fe offers up all sorts of nightlife, whether you’re looking to have some elegant cocktails, listen to live music or dance the night away. Here are my top picks:
- Tonic – This elegant and sophisticated venue serves up unique and delicious cocktails to the sounds of live Jazz music. Try their Myrna Loy for a light and fruity cocktail, or Italian Lace for spicy and peppery flavours.
- Cowgirl – This lively bar looks like something straight out of a Western movie and offers some of the best live music in the city, from top local bands to touring musicians. It has a lovely patio space and over a dozen craft beers on tap.
- Secreto Lounge – Located in Hotel St Francis, this venue specialises in craft cocktails and wines with ingredients picked from their garden. It offers an award-winning drink made using green chilli called the Spicy Secreto.
- Buffalo Thunder Casino – Try your hand at the tables and slot machines, catch a show at 1,400-seat indoor concert venue, or dance the night away at the Gravity Nightclub & Lounge to Latin, Hip-Hop and EDM beats.
After all that adventuring, you can rest your weary head at some of my favourite accommodation options in the city:
- The Inn of the Five Graces – This high-end hotel is charming with the structure made up of historic adobe buildings with stone courtyards and flowing fountains. The rooms are ornately decorated with colourful textiles, antique furniture, and mosaic tiling. Its on-site spa and wellness centre in excellent.
- Hotel Santa Fe – This four-star Native-American owned hotel is the perfect spot to relax. The hacienda-style rooms embody the hospitality of the Pueblo people, from the staff service to the handcrafted natural pine furnishings. The hotel also features an on-site, award winning Native American art collection.
- Las Palomas – Enjoy the cosy warmth of this beautiful central hotel; a high-end option without a high-end price! The eclectically decorated rooms each have their own fireplaces, original artwork and sculptures are featured throughout the hotel. Las Palomas is certainly a unique and worthwhile stay just a few minutes’ walk from the Plaza.
If shopping was an Olympic sport, I’d take gold every time!
Santa Fe is unique and welcoming. You’re sure to relax in this authentic Western city with all of the grace and hospitality of an earlier time!