Top 9 Things to See & Do in Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is one of the top destinations in the American Southwest.

A city that embraces its natural environment, Santa Fe is a city whose beautiful adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape. A city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals. Santa Fe draws those who love art, natural beauty, and those who wish to relax.

Any walking tour of the City Different starts at The Plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any walking tour of the City Different starts at The Plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are the 12 best things to see and do in Santa Fe.

The Plaza, the Heart of Santa Fe

As the heart of the city and the place where Santa Fe was founded, the Plaza is the city’s most historic area. Surrounded by museums, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and endless shopping, the Plaza is the place to start understanding Santa Fe.

Canyon Road

Santa Fe has more than 250 galleries and has been rated the second largest art market in the country, after New York City. Canyon Road is a historic pathway into the mountains and an old neighborhood that has become the city’s center for art with the highest concentration of galleries.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

A visit to the O’Keeffe Museum offers insight not only into the artist’s paintings, but also her creative process and the light and landscape that inspired her. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to the O’Keeffe Museum offers insight not only into the artist’s paintings, but also her creative process and the light and landscape that inspired her. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Georgia O’Keeffe museum is a showcase not only for O’Keeffe’s work but also for that of her many contemporaries. It features more than 3,000 works, including 140 of the famous artist’s oil paintings and almost 700 of her drawings.

The museum also preserves her home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico, about an hour away. You can visit this by appointment.

Museum Hill

In a town with many museums, Museum Hill is a collection of four of its most interesting: the Museum of International Folk Art, the ​​Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. With a wonderful plaza, expansive views, footpaths connecting each museum, and a convenient cafe, Museum Hill is a day trip right in town.

Palace of the Governors Native American Vendors

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every day, dozens of artists from around Santa Fe and the Southwest sell their work under the long portal that fronts the Palace of the Governors. This is a regulated program that ​ensures that high-quality, authentic artwork is sold by the artists or their family members. The palace itself is the state’s history museum and the oldest public building in the U.S., making it a perfect setting.

Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA)

Contrasting to the more traditional art forms sold at the palace and at many of Santa Fe’s shops and galleries is this museum dedicated to contemporary American Indian art. The museum is an arm of the IAIA college that teaches art to native peoples.

St. Francis Cathedral Basilica of Assisi

A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest example of non-adobe style architecture in the city, the Romanesque St. Francis Cathedral dominates the downtown cityscape. The cathedral is a religious center for Santa Fe and the home to La Conquistadora, a centuries-old statue revered within the city.

New Mexico History Museum

This museum is conveniently located on the Historic Plaza in Santa Fe next to the Palace of the Governors. This new museum has permanent and rotating exhibits, as well as archives. The exhibits are interesting, vibrant and interactive.

Loretto Chapel

The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder.

The staircase in the Loretta Chapel—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The staircase in the Loretta Chapel—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. Without presenting any bill for payment, he disappeared as suddenly as he had come.

The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. The identity of the builder remains unknown.

Worth Pondering…

I’m in love with Santa Fe;

Like it better every day;

But I wonder, every minute

How the folks who aren’t in it

Ever stand it, anyway.

Not to be in Santa Fe.

—Mae Peregine, 1915

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