By Anastasia Mills Healy
More than 400 years old but home to a cutting edge arts collective that’s taking the tourism industry by storm, Santa Fe is a blend of historic places and hip hangouts that blend Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures.
Santa Fe’s clear blue skies, ideal natural light, expansive landscapes, and ease of living have drawn artists for years. In fact, it’s the country’s third largest art market. Here’s an overview of the city’s 20 museums, 300 galleries, and destination-worthy opera house.
Santa Fe’s number one attraction is House of Eternal Return, a trippy, sci-fi funhouse created by a team of artists called Meow Wolf. Since opening in 2016, more than a million people have explored this Victorian home built inside a former bowling alley secured with the backing of Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin. Not an ordinary house, here you can walk into a refrigerator, dive into a clothes dryer, and duck into a fireplace to discover enormous fuzzy aliens or a tree house and play a laser harp or free arcade game. The concept has been so successful that it’s being expanded to other cities.
Meow Wolf was formed to create art encounters different from Santa Fe’s traditional and justly famous art spaces. People tend to conflate Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico, so the biggest revelation for many visitors to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is that she was from Wisconsin, lived two decades in New York City, and traveled widely, even circumnavigating the globe in 1959. The small museum has wonderful examples of her iconic flower and skull paintings but you can also see skyscrapers and Machu Picchu filtered through her inimitable lens. Don’t miss the introductory film shown in a room whose walls are covered in a timeline of her life.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is part of the Downtown Arts District, which also includes the New Mexico Museum of Art, art galleries, and the jewelry, pottery, and crafts sold by Native Americans in the walkway of the Palace of the Governors/New Mexico History Museum facing the Plaza. Museum Hill is home to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art, among others.
One of America’s most famous art destinations is Canyon Road, a picturesque, winding street lined with art galleries, artists’ studios, and jewelry and design stores. Flowering trees, cactuses, and sculptures enhance the beauty of the hundred-year-old adobe buildings. Works for sale include not only paintings but sculptures, photography, ceramics, jewelry, metalwork, and textiles.
An urban planning triumph, the Santa Fe Railyard development includes an arts district as well as a farmers’ market, children’s play area, park, plaza, and rail trail. It’s still an active train station with service between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
On the radar of opera buffs around the world for the quality of its productions as well as its scenic setting, Santa Fe Opera presented its first season in 1957. The open air theater sits on 155 acres commanding views of two mountain ranges and has a season that runs June through August.History
European history began in Santa Fe in the 16th century but Indigenous people lived in the area thousands of years earlier. Spanish explorers built the Plaza and Palace of the Governors—both still standing today—in 1610. The Spanish were expelled in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 but returned and held the area until Mexico won its independence in 1821. Santa Fe then became capital of the province of Nuevo Mexico until the end of the Mexican-American War when the region was turned over to the U.S. The American possession became the 47th U.S. state in 1912.
To delve more into the city’s layered history and colorful characters, spend some time in the New Mexico History Museum and/or take a guided history-focused city tour.
If it’s never occurred to you that there’s skiing in Santa Fe, you’re not alone. It comes as a surprise to many that the city sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet, making it the highest capital city in the United States (Denver is 5,280 feet). Only 16 miles from the city in the Santa Fe Forest, Ski Santa Fe is open from Thanksgiving through Easter and rarely has lift lines. Mountain biking and hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, fly fishing, white water rafting, golf, and horseback riding are other outdoor draws.Santa Feans take their food and drink seriously. The city has 400 restaurants, allowing plenty of opportunities to taste test local red and green chiles, artisanal coffee and chocolate, and regionally produced wine and craft brews. For a deeper dive, take a restaurant tour or cooking class offered by the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Dedicated margarita drinkers will want to pick up a Margarita Trail Passport and make their way through the 30 listed spots.
Santa Fe hosts 80 major annual festivals and events. Some highlights:
August 31-September 8
Fiestas de Santa Fe
Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta
Santa Fe Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration
Historic Canyon Road Paint and Sculpt Out
SWAIA Winter Indian Market
Canyon Road Farolito Walk
Pueblo Feast Days and Dances
Santa Fe Film Festival
Santa Fe Restaurant Week
Kids Free Spring Break
Rodeo de Santa Fe
Santa Fe International Folk Art Market
Santa Fe Art Week
Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival
Inn of the Anasazi is a luxury Rosewood property just off the Plaza.
The 219-room El Dorado Inn and Resort has a spa and a rooftop pool.
For more space, Villas de Santa Fe offers apartments in a resort setting.