Santa Fe Travel Guide
When planning a dream vacation, Santa Fe, New Mexico isn’t always the first destination on our list. However, we have found this rich landscape has a deep history through the settlers who established Santa Fe and the indigenous peoples in the surrounding countryside. Santa Fe promises adventure unlike any other city.
Nestled in the Southwestern United States, Santa Fe (known as the Dancing Ground of the Sun by indigenous peoples of yesteryear, as well as The City Different by more modern folk) was first established in 1610. Founded by colonists from Europe, this city is the third oldest city in the entire country. The two older cities are Jamestown, VA and St. Augustine, FL. The “Kingdom of New Mexico” was overtaken by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado for Spain in 1540, and Santa Fe soon became its capital city.
The oldest church in the contiguous United States is the San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe, built at the time of the city’s founding in 1610. Santa Fe is also the home of the oldest government buildings in the country, as well as the Palace of the Governors, built between 1610 to 1612.
Missionaries from Spain attempted to convert the local Pueblo Indian population to Christianity, however by 1680, the Pueblo Indians had enough and staged an uprising. They held the city until 1693 when Spanish control was reestablished. Over time, the people of Santa Fe formed a truce with the Pueblo Indians, which helped keep peace in the region and further protected the city from other indigenous peoples such as the Comanche, the Navajo, and the Apache.
Once Mexico won its independence from Spain, Santa Fe came under Mexican control. The year 1846 marked the first year the American flag flew over Santa Fe during the beginning of the Mexican-American War, and in 1848, Mexico ceded both California and New Mexico to the United States.
With the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad, the region enjoyed an economic boom. New Mexico didn’t become a state until 1912, however Santa Fe has continued to remain its capital. The famed Route 66 once ran through Santa Fe, however was eventually rerouted with a more direct route between Santa Rosa and Albuquerque. Today, Santa Fe stands as a testament to the centuries of regional history and a witness to the once Wild West. For anyone who wants to experience a desert landscape, a different culture, and deep echoes of the past, Santa Fe is the perfect destination for your next adventure.
What to Do in Santa Fe
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum - One of the most popular draws of Santa Fe would have to be the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which houses the collection of one of the most well-known painters of flowers, skulls, and landscapes in the region, perhaps even in the United States. In fact, O’Keeffe is one of the most well-known American painters the world over. O’Keeffe died in Santa Fe in 1986, and her abstract desert-inspired paintings have made her beloved by the locals. Don’t miss this exhibit if you’re ever in town.
Museum of Indian Arts & Culture - The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture aims to preserve the breathtaking art of various indigenous peoples in and around the region of Santa Fe. This museum preserves the art and culture of these peoples from prehistory all the way to modern times. If you’re interested in learning more about their history, you won’t want to miss this fine collection.
New Mexico Museum of Art - The New Mexico Museum of Art was built in 1917 and houses various pieces of culture, art, and history from around the region of New Mexico. The building itself is constructed to resemble old adobe churches yet is built with more modern materials. Called “Pueblo Revival,” this style of architecture was envisioned by William Morris Rapp and Isaac Hamilton after a similar building they had constructed in San Diego. This museum houses paintings, sculptures, and even a gift shop.
Santa Fe Botanical Garden - If you’re a nature lover, the Santa Fe Botanical Garden is a must see. This garden is full of all kinds of botanical wonders, from your average flowers to local desert blooms and flora. Three main areas mark the garden, the Orchard Gardens, the Ojos y Manos: Eyes and Hands, and the Piñon-Juniper Woodland. Delectable fruits grow in the Orchard Gardens while various colorful and robust plant-life thrives in the other two sections. These plants were specifically chosen due to their ability to flourish in the climate of Santa Fe.
Santa Fe Children’s Museum - If you have children of all ages, come on down to the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, a whimsical and fantastical place to learn, wonder, and marvel at the world all around us. Inquisitive play is highly encouraged, and all kinds of environments are available for children to have the time of their lives while also learning about how things work through the arts, the sciences, and humanities. From animals to plants, from dirt to water, and from imagination to deep curiosity, even parents will have a great time watching their children discover the magic of play.
Taos Pueblo - If you’re inclined to take a short road trip about twenty-five miles up the highway, you’ll come to an amazing sight - the Taos Pueblo. Still inhabited today, this impressive adobe structure—much like an ancient apartment building—has passed down through generations of the indigenous Pueblo people for over a thousand years. Many still live within the pueblo, but there is plenty to do and see here. For total immersion in the history of the Pueblo Indians as well as the surrounding area of Santa Fe, you won’t want to miss this native wonder of New Mexico.
Santa Fe Margarita Trail - For the adults visiting Santa Fe, you’ll want to experience the Santa Fe Margarita Trail at least once. Get yourself a “passport” at any tourism visitor center and you’re ready to get started. The trail is self-guided through the city streets as you meander to and fro among participating locations that boast some of the best margaritas in the world. Participation in the trail allows you to save $1 on the margaritas each location features, and you’ll also earn a stamp in your passport. Passports can only be stamped twice in a twelve-hour period, however, you’re eligible for prizes depending on how many stamps you’ve been able to accumulate. For a little fun and flair, enjoy the many flavors of Santa Fe’s tasty local margaritas.
Palace of the Governors - The Palace of the Governors is one of the oldest government buildings in Santa Fe, originally constructed in 1610. Today, it is a historical museum and tourist draw. However, tourists come to visit the portal, a block-long collection of shops where Native American artisans sell their hand-crafted wares, such as jewelry and other items. The Palace has been recognized as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2015.
Santa Fe Cuisine
The food in Santa Fe will likely be some of the most unique and delicious food you’ll ever eat. Known for its red and green chile, Santa Fe cuisine is a cultural mix of Spanish, Mexican, Pueblo, and American dishes. Described as flavorful and hearty, Santa Fe certainly has a distinct palette, and many of the locals believe it’s the best food on earth.
The beating heart of every chef in Santa Fe resides in the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Farmers in New Mexico are dedicated to their agriculture and the way the land has been farmed for hundreds of years. Due to this, fruits and vegetables in New Mexico, and especially the Santa Fe area, are rich, plump, and juicy. Various colors and aromas abound, spicy and sweet, succulent and savory, whatever your preference, you’ll find it here in Santa Fe.
Most people assume they’ll be eating enchiladas, burritos, and the average Mexican fare, however, traditions handed down from the Pueblo Indians as well as the Spanish have not left the region, thus making for an eclectic offering of dishes that will satisfy any passionate foodie. Chefs in Santa Fe have found a way to merge their Southwestern flair with cooking techniques from all over the world, thus giving their food a unique and fabulous flavor.
Certain specialties include green chile burgers, traditional slow-cooked beans, posole, Frito pie, carne adovada, chili rellenos, green chile chicken enchiladas, huevos rancheros, blue corn, and so much more.
For fantastic recommendations on where to eat in this Southwestern melting pot, try Geronimo, Sazón, Sassella, Plaza Cafe Southside, Jamba Cafe, Pantry Restaurant, TIA Sophia’s, Cafe Castro, Palacio Restaurant, or Clafoutis.
Did You Know?
Celebrities who live, or have lived, in Santa Fe include such movie stars as Val Kilmer, Julia Roberts, Gene Hackman, Shirley MacLaine, and author of the Game of Thrones series, George R. R. Martin, just to name a few. Celebs born in Santa Fe would include Adrian Grenier, America Young, and Aaron Turner.
Residents and tourists alike will tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt that Santa Fe is haunted by many ghosts. Several locations within the city claim to be haunted, such as the Old State Penitentiary, Hotel Parc Central, Kimo Theater, St. James Hotel, La Fonda Hotel, County Courthouse, and the Double Eagle Restaurant. Most stories involving hauntings are usually due to this city being one of the oldest towns settled in the United States. So much history has happened in and around Santa Fe, it’s no wonder some spirits have stuck around to hassle the locals.
The stories of the Double Eagle Restaurant hauntings have been so prevalent, the popular show Ghost Hunters filmed an episode within its walls in 2017.
Many people visit Santa Fe for its bountiful offerings during ski season. Most people don’t think of Santa Fe when it comes to skiing, but arguably, this town is quite possibly known more for its ski slopes than its desert hills.
Santa Fe is so deeply entwined with the arts, that one in every ten jobs are within the arts sector. Due to this amazing statistic, Santa Fe became the United States’ first city designated as a UNESCO Creative City, thus making history. In fact, the arts are so prevalent here, it would literally take you months to explore it all, from local painters and artisans, to indigenous offerings as well, and museums with exhibits and displays of the arts from antiquity. Santa Fe also boasts one of the largest art markets in the country.
Because of the artistic background of the region, local chefs have also made an art out of food. Eating in Santa Fe is more than satisfying your hunger, but rather being a part of a larger story of the arts in this city.
Due to the arts being a massive part of Santa Fe culture, it’s no wonder this city is also known as one of the most romantic cities in the US. Beautiful vistas mixed with iconic architecture, excellent food, intoxicating atmosphere, and deep historical roots are the draw of many friends and lovers alike. The vibe in Santa Fe is unlike any other town in the American Southwest. Santa Fe openly embraces its past and weaves its dramatic history into its art, its food, its buildings, and its very fabric.
There are over 250+ art galleries in this one city alone, with about half of them being on the half-mile stretch of Canyon Road, allowing you to take a stroll through the offerings of local artists and artisans to find that perfect souvenir or to admire the creativity of those who live here. In fact, Santa Fe was named one of the 10 Best Cities for Art Lovers, and the world’s best city for galleries and museums in 2021 according to the website money.co.uk.
There is so much to do, see, and explore in the region, you’re guaranteed to have a great time here. For anyone who’s been looking for that volatile cultural mix that only the Southwestern United States can give, do not overlook Santa Fe. Many might think of Arizona or Texas for their Southwest adventure, but you would be remiss to overlook New Mexico and Santa Fe in particular. The pueblos are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, the food is out of this world, and the environment is so extraordinary, you won’t find the likes in Dallas or Phoenix.
There can be no doubt that a trip to Santa Fe would be more of an experience than a vacation. If you’re in the mood for sun, sand, good food, good vibes, amazing history, and amazing architecture, look no further. Once you visit the Dancing Ground of the Sun, your heart will belong to this gem of the Southwest, and you’ll eagerly count the days until you return.