Santa Fe’s Top Attractions
For a town so small, Santa Fe packs a huge cultural punch. Artists, writers, chefs, and composers have long found inspiration in the angular adobe buildings, the fragrance of sage and mesquite fires, the desert silence, and the vivid colors of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
217 Johnson St, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
Located in downtown Santa Fe, this perfectly sized museum is dedicated to the artistic life of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) and houses the single largest collection of the artist’s work in the world. Rotating exhibits often include O’Keeffe’s iconic desert landscape paintings alongside lesser-known gems painted in Lake George and Hawaii (where she was commissioned by the Dole pineapple company). Often, notable pieces from established peers and contemporaries like Ansel Adams, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol join hers on the walls.
301 Opera Dr, Santa Fe, NM 87506, USA
This brilliant, partially covered amphitheater offers views not only of the stage but of the stunning Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountain ranges in the distance. The world-renowned opera company presents five works in repertory each summer. Book well in advance, and don’t miss the elegant tailgating in the parking lot (some participants go as far as white table linens and sparkling wine) before the performance. A picnic can be ordered (at least 48 hours in advance) for pick-up two hours before performances, or you can cobble together your own basket of goodies from local restaurants. Tablecloths not included.
544 South Guadalupe Street
Head to the edgy Santa Fe Railyard District—just a 20-minute walk from the plaza—to browse the various contemporary galleries that have taken up residence there. Stroll through the small parks, enjoy a meal at offbeat Southwestern eateries like La Choza and Tune-Up Café, and of course, visit the bountiful farmers’ market to check out the local produce and, in season, the famous Hatch green chile peppers.
1606 Paseo De Peralta, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
The work exhibited in this progressive and edgy nonprofit space is a far cry from the art in the galleries along Canyon Road. SITE Santa Fe, which opened in 1995, hosts provocative biennials as well as a wealth of multimedia productions and notable international and contemporary art exhibits. After the building’s striking renovation and expansion (by the New York–based design firm SHoP Architects), its dramatic new glass facade sits beneath a triangular front, welcoming visitors inside.
107 W Palace Ave, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
A handsome pueblo revival adobe building with a peaceful garden and courtyard, the New Mexico Museum of Art mounts small, rotating exhibits from its impressive 20,000-piece permanent collection. It includes well-known artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Gustave Baumann, and members of the Taos Society of Artists (Ernest L. Blumenschein, Bert G. Phillips, Joseph H. Sharp), and noted 20th-century Southwest photographers like Ansel Adams. Don’t miss the special exhibits or the free Friday evenings (5–8 p.m.). The adjoining gift shop is a great place to pick up books, postcards, and jewelry.
207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
Some visitors to Santa Fe are surprised to find this Gothic revival structure in the middle of all of the adobe buildings in the historic district, like a piece of medieval Paris transplanted to the Wild West. The French connection is real—the 19th-century Loretto Chapel was designed by a French architect who modeled it after La Sainte Chapelle in Paris. According to legend, though, the plans failed to include access from the chapel floor to the choir loft. So, the nuns who ran the girls’ school for which this stone structure was built began praying, and after nine days, a mysterious carpenter arrived. Neither nails nor glue nor any visible external support were used in this doubly-twisting staircase, and no one ever found out the name of the carpenter, who left without seeking payment. It must’ve been St. Joseph himself...so goes the legend of “the miraculous staircase.” The physics of the structure can be explained by architects today, but that doesn’t stop about a quarter-million visitors every year from marveling at the elegant spruce spiral. Open to the public as a privately run museum, the Loretto Chapel hasn’t been a church for decades. It can, however, be rented: a spectacular setting for a private wedding.
105 W Palace Ave, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
The entire north side of Santa Fe’s downtown plaza is taken up by the 1610 Palace of the Governors, the oldest continually occupied public building in the United States. Its front adobe facade is completely shaded, and in this “portal,” the Native American Vendors Program has been operating for over six decades. A daily lottery ensures a rotating selection of artisans from the various pueblos throughout New Mexico. Yes, there might be some “finer” pieces available in the chic boutiques elsewhere in Santa Fe, but here, in the shade of a four-century-old adobe building, you can meet the artists and even haggle a bit. Be respectful, though—these are not cheap trinkets made in a sweatshop abroad: The crafts and the jewelry are usually made by the person with whom you’ll be conversing. (An interesting side note: The Palace was taken over in 1680 and occupied by Native Americans during the Pueblo Revolt until 1692, when the Spaniards returned. This is the only government seat in the U.S. to have ever been taken over by Native Americans. It then served as the residence of the governor during the Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. territorial regimes, until 1907. In 1912, New Mexico became a U.S. state. Today, the Palace serves as a museum.)
710 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87505, USA
Spend some time on Museum Hill visiting the Museum of International Folk Art with its awesome Alexander Girard collection, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and its stocked basement trading post of Native American wares, and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Unlike museum gift shops that sell replicas of artworks or mass-produced souvenirs, the museum shops here often carry original works of art for sale, so buying here can make you a collector, too. After all that culture, you’ll be famished, so swing by the Museum Hill Cafe for a light snack.
Santa Fe, NM, USA
In late 2017, the influential Japanese label Visvim opened its first womenswear boutique inside a charming and airy Victorian house. Designer Hiroki Nakamura’s chic, utilitarian wares include high-rise leather moccasins and timeless Zen-meets-rugged Native American craftwork. There’s also a mix of minimalist Japanese furniture, antique pottery, and tribal kimonos. The takeaway: Collections normally reserved for city slickers and celebrities (Kanye is a fan) now have a market among desert dwellers, too.
Upper Canyon Rd & Cerro Gordo Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
For an easy, tranquil hike close to town, try the Nature Conservancy Loop, nestled between the Santa Fe National Forest and Upper Canyon Road. Running through a former reservoir site, the gentle 1.5-mile trail offers a pristine and nature-filled walk through a 500-acre swath, home to indigenous birds, beavers, bobcats, and mule deer. The adjacent Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary (named after the late Santa Fe artist) exhibits a timeline of the area alongside local plant and pollinator gardens where you can view native beehouses. The center also hosts guided walks.
1105 La Cuchara Road
For a welcome reprieve from city life, steer to the northwest part of Santa Fe to find this network of 25 miles of easy, multipurpose trails. Simply stroll, take a long run, or hop on horseback to wind through a high-desert landscape dotted with wildflowers and sagebrush, under a vast blue sky. For the adventure seekers, there’s plenty of mountain bike terrain (for all levels), and for advanced BMX riders, a designated Trash Pit welcomes more technical freestyle riding and stunts.
632 Agua Fria St, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
This light-filled adobe space, which opened to the public in late 2017, is dedicated to encaustic art. Encaustic, which means “to burn or heat” in Greek, is the result of mixing colored pigments into heated beeswax and resin before applying to a surface with a brush or tool. Because the wax has body, it can be sculpted into shapes as well as painted and layered onto a canvas. The nonprofit gallery has over 300 encaustic works on display, most of which are for sale (70 percent of each sale goes directly to the artist).
Atalaya Mountain, New Mexico 87505, USA
Starting from a trailhead at the small campus of St. John’s College, the Atalaya Mountain Trail begins simply and then rises to a steep and challenging 5.4-mile hike that’ll leave you grateful for having made the effort. (Shorten the trek by setting out from the Ponderosa Ridge trailhead, if you prefer). When you make it out of the ponderosa pines and achieve the summit, you’re rewarded with expansive views of the city 2,000 feet below, as well as of the iconic big blue skies of the Southwest.
21 Ten Thousand Waves Way, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
Your stay in Santa Fe is not complete until you’ve visited the serene 20-acre Ten Thousand Waves. Though nestled in the high hills among Santa Fe’s piñons and junipers, the wooden walkways and lanterns will make you feel as close to Japan as if you’d hopped a plane. Splurge on the spa’s deep stone massage and salt scrubs, or opt for a warming herbal wrap with an add-on foot soak. Bliss is your reward. After you’ve had time to unwind, enjoy a meal at the on-site Izanami, which serves izakaya-style food using sustainably raised beef, pork, chicken, and organic vegetables. A note to the modest spagoer: All baths are clothing-optional except the communal tub in the hours after 8:15 p.m., when bathing suits are required.
53 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
Located on the historic Plaza, this venerable well-curated mainstay gallery-shop (est. 1984) run by Navajo trader Jed Foutz showcases historic and contemporary Native American wares, including an impressive selection of colorful, labor-intensive Navajo weavings and museumworthy Wide Ruins rugs. Other coveted objects include turquoise jewelry, textiles, pottery, and sculptural baskets alongside a chic vintage-modern clothing line. Regardless of purchases, you will want to tote your camera for the Instagrammable works in the gallery.
Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
The popular Dale Ball Trails system offers 23.4 miles of interconnected high-altitude desert trails in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where piñon and juniper forest greet sturdy ponderosa trees as you ascend to higher altitudes. The system passes pretty close to town, and navigation is simple thanks to clear trail markers. If you’re so inclined, follow the steepest path along the ridge to the top of Picacho Peak. The reward for your hike is a breathtaking 360-degree view.
1352 Rufina Cir, Santa Fe, NM 87507, USA
Fans of Stranger Things will undoubtedly gravitate toward the quirky Meow Wolf experience. A former bowling alley—a 20,000-square-foot space—becomes the House of Eternal Return, an immersive art-installation-storytelling experience influenced, no kidding, by the mind of George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) and operated by an art collective of almost 200 “creators.” Guests are encouraged to find clues of what happened to a missing family by sifting through various diaries and opening a series of doors—including those of appliances like a refrigerator and a washing machine. Don’t like audience participation? Worry not. Simply go along for the journey through an all-encompassing dream world complete with high-tech visuals: kaleidoscopic laser beams, jungle gyms, and musical treats, like a synthesizer made from dinosaur bones.