The curve of adobe against cobalt skies; the spicy scent of pinyon smoke curling from kiva fireplaces; the exuberance of colorful art and sculpture adorning every corner of the city; the quiet calm of centuries-old cathedrals and missions; the delicious chile-laced cuisine—Santa Fe is an intoxicating feast for the senses. It truly is, as the New Mexico license plate proclaims: “The Land of Enchantment.” I love this city.
Unique And Beautiful Santa Fe
Situated at 7,000 feet at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe is the highest and oldest capital city in the U.S. But what makes it really distinctive is the melding of Pueblo Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo cowboy heritage. All three bring their traditions and celebrations to the cultural milieu, giving rise to the art, architecture, and cuisine that is uniquely Santa Fe.
We’ve visited Santa Fe many times, and I route our cross-country trips so that we pass through at least every year or two. Eric always enjoys our visits, but this is one of those situations where he would stay a few days, and I would stay for a month. Or three. On our most recent visit, we planned for five days, added two more (the seventh day at the RV park is free!), and then added two more when inclement weather on our route forced us to stay put (much to my delight).
I love wandering the historic Plaza and the narrow adobe-lined side streets, exploring the colorful galleries on Canyon Road and discovering new favorite sculptures and paintings, devoting a day to one of the fascinating museums, lingering over a meal in a cozy café, browsing the bookstores and small shops downtown, hiking in the nearby hills, and simply being immersed in the vibrancy of this unique crossroads of cultures.
On each trip to Santa Fe, we revisit favorite places and explore a few new ones. Here, the highlights of our most recent Santa Fe sojourn:
The heart of downtown Santa Fe for nearly 400 years, the Plaza is a good place to begin exploring the city. Here, you’ll find the Palace of the Governors (the oldest public building in the U.S.), where local Native American artisans gather daily beneath the portico to sell their handcrafted wares. A short stroll takes you to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, a lovely place for a moment of meditative repose.
The light, landscape, and culture of New Mexico have lured artists since the 1920s. Back then, Santa Fe was an inexpensive place to live and artists settled into old adobes along Canyon Road, opening their studios to the public and displaying their art on the street.
Today, Santa Fe is one of the top art markets in the world, and the tradition of Canyon Road continues (although I doubt the artists are trading for groceries, as they did in the early days). Wandering the narrow, winding street and enjoying the sculptures, galleries, courtyard gardens, and beautiful adobe dwellings is an art experience unlike any other.
Nedra Matteucci Gallery
Of all the galleries in Santa Fe, this remains our favorite. Housed in a rambling classic adobe within walking distance of Canyon Road, the Nedra Matteucci Gallery displays an extensive, museum-quality collection in a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere. We especially enjoy browsing works by early Santa Fe and Taos artists and the charming sculpture garden. (Be sure to cross the street afterward for a cup of drinking chocolate at Kakawa Chocolate House.)
I’m always dubious about Santa Fe itineraries that advise spending “an hour or two” exploring Museum Hill. Seriously? There are four fabulous, world-class museums on Museum Hill (as well as several very good museums on the Plaza downtown). We choose one (or two) each time we visit Santa Fe, and spend the entire day in the museum, taking a break only to have lunch at the Museum Hill Café (the salmon tostadas are excellent).
This time, we visited the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, where we were fortunate to catch a temporary exhibit of sculptures by Native American women. A highlight of the museum is a permanent exhibit that traces the lives of Native Americans, designed with the help of tribal elders and artisans.
The Capitol Building
The artistic flair of Santa Fe extends to their attractive state capitol building. Designed to resemble the Zia sun symbol when viewed from above (the same symbol used on the New Mexico state flag), it’s the only round capitol building in the U.S. The building houses not only the legislative offices but also a wonderful collection of art representative of New Mexico culture and history.
Breakfast at Café Pasqual’s
Named for the patron saint of Mexican and New Mexican cooks, Cafe Pasqual’s is one of our favorite restaurants. Located just a block from the plaza in a historic adobe, breakfast here makes a great start to a long day of wandering. The atmosphere is cozy and colorful with hand-painted murals and tiles, and the food is locally sourced and perfectly prepared. Poached eggs with smoked trout and tomatillo salsa…I could eat this every day. This place is popular, small, and they don’t take breakfast reservations—go early to avoid a wait.
Tapas at La Boca
We really like tapas restaurants, and this is one of the best. La Boca serves fantastic Spanish cuisine in a cozy, romantic adobe just a block from the Plaza. We shared two tapas platters—one vegetarian, one seafood and meat—and every bite was divine (Oh my God, can you believe this shrimp? The grilled artichoke is the best…No, wait till you taste this Spinach Catalan…). This lovely restaurant is on our can’t-wait-to-return list.
Fun, colorful, and loaded with chiles—this down-home neighborhood restaurant far from the plaza is a favorite with locals. The Tune-Up serves up tasty and generous portions of New Mexican favorites with a Salvadoran twist (banana leaf-wrapped tamales, yum).
Santa Fe Spirits
A small distillery with a downtown tasting room, Santa Fe Spirits offers creative, handcrafted cocktails in a cozy, candlelit adobe—it’s a nice vibe, like being in a friend’s living room.
Kakawa Chocolate House
A stop at Kakawa Chocolate House provides respite in a day of gallery browsing (and it’s conveniently located right across the street from the Matteucci Gallery). They serve up tiny cups of drinking chocolate based on authentic Mesoamerican recipes—lightly sweetened with coconut sugar and infused with herbs and spices (including chiles, of course)—so tasty, and nicely energizing.
The Farmers’ Market
Open year-round on Saturday mornings, this is one of our favorite markets anywhere, especially in the fall when the smell of roasting peppers wafts through the air. The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market is festive and fun—good music and people-watching in addition to an array of local, mostly organic foods. We came away with fresh roasted poblano peppers, red chile raspberry jam, local eggs, feta made by the local Waldorf school, pastured pork, and heaps of beautiful locally grown produce.
Hiking In Santa Fe
We spend hours walking in Santa Fe, but when we want a real hike (mostly when Eric needs a break from galleries and wandering in town) we head to one of the nearby trailheads, just a couple of miles from downtown. There are many choices: We always visit the pretty Randall Davey Audubon Sanctuary (at the top of Canyon Road) and walk the trails above the center, as well as hiking the nearby Canyon Preserve Nature Conservancy trails and the Dale Ball network of trails.
Shidoni Bronze Foundry
Even if you think you’ve seen enough sculptures on Canyon Road and in downtown Santa Fe, you still need to make the trek out to Shidoni Bronze Foundry, in nearby Tesuque. Located in an old apple orchard, the picturesque compound houses a foundry, gallery, and fabulous sculpture garden free for the wandering. On Saturdays, you can witness a bronze pouring–something we’ve yet to see, but is on our list.
Santuario de Chimayo
More than 300,000 people journey here each year to petition for healing, to give thanks for answered prayers, and to scoop up a bit of the red dirt that is believed to have miraculous curative powers. Through a long and somewhat complicated history of legend and avowed miracles, Santuaria de Chimayo (now a National Historic Site) has become known as the “Lourdes of America.”
The sanctuary, built in 1816, is lovely. In an annex is the “holy dirt room,” where you can help yourself to a scoop or two (the church replaces the dirt from nearby hillsides, for a total of about 25 tons per year). Adjacent to the holy dirt annex is a room filled with a poignant display of thousands of photos of those asking for blessings, along with canes, crutches, eyeglasses, and other reminders of the human condition.
About The RV Park
The last three times we’ve been in Santa Fe we’ve stayed at the Trailer Ranch RV Resort; we enjoy the in-town convenience, the amenities (good internet, laundry, full-hookups, propane on-site), and the friendly and helpful staff. Nestled behind adobe walls, the park is cozy and attractive. There is some traffic noise and lights, but with blackout shades and our sound machine, we sleep well (and I’m a finicky sleeper). We always request a site away from the main road and have been very happy. The cost is $42-47 per night, with the 7th night free.
What a beautiful post Laurel. As you know, Santa Fe is one of my all time favorite places and you’ve shown me things I haven’t seen….I guess that is one of the reasons I enjoy it there so much….one can never see everything.
Thank you, Sue. :-) Santa Fe is definitely one of my all time favorite places, too — I already have plans to return….
All I can say is: “I wanna go!”
Sheila, I wish you could meet us there sometime! We would have so much fun wandering the galleries together.
We have been there twice and like what Sue said, we can never see everything. Beautiful and colorful captures of a colorful and vibrant city.
Your second paragraph, a rhapsody was beautifully written, Laurel.
Thanks, Mona Liza — Santa Fe is so beautiful, it’s easy to photograph and write about!
It has been a long time since I was in Santa Fe. We only passed by a couple of years ago when we were in New Mexico and I looked longingly eastward. You reminded me how much I loved that city, better than the supposedly cool Taos! When we get back that way I will search out your blog again and read up on what I shouldn’t miss.
Sue, that sounds like me — looking longingly in the direction of Santa Fe as we pass by. :-) I’m already plotting a return visit in the spring.
I needed this excellent guide in October! Chocolate…and I missed it! You clearly know all the best spots and I’ll just have to save this excellent post for next time we come through town. Great round-up!
Nina, I’m happy this might be helpful for you! There’s enough to keep you occupied for days and days….I look forward to your explorations when you get back there.
Hey! We know that RV park! :>)
Haha! Yeah, we meet the best people there. :-)
Santa Fe is always a delight with so many unique sights to explore. You’ve listed some familiar and some I’ll need to make note of for a future visit. It was our original intent to visit this past October (and Tent Rocks which I’ve been dying to get to) but when our daughter dropped the move bomb shell, we went into Plan B mode. Thanks for a fantastic tour that’ll hold me over until I can get there again.
Thanks, Ingrid — I’m glad you enjoyed the tour! There’s never a shortage of beautiful and interesting sights in Santa Fe, as you know. Perhaps you’ll visit with your daughter! Wouldn’t that be fun!
who wouldn’t love Santa Fe, we’d go back just for the food!
Yes, the food alone is a big draw! We save up for our splurges in Santa Fe.
We are currently in Florida but your post has me pining for Santa Fe.You highlighted all my favorite places! Haven’t tried the RV park yet but will file that away for future visits.
Thanks for commenting, Patricia. While writing this post I found myself pining for Santa Fe, too! Hope you’re enjoying Florida.
I’m sure we will enjoy our month here. A week in Anastsia st pk. Before we move to Fort de Soto for a couple of days-then up the coast through Cedar Key and Manatee Springs. We plan to stop for a week or so in the pan handle before heading west for the rest of the winter.
That sounds fantastic! You’re heading to all the best places. :-)
Fabulous shots of this beautiful city! You’ve given me several new places to explore the next time we return to Santa Fe. The food shots made my mouth water!
Thanks, Lisa — I’m happy you enjoyed the photos. Santa Fe is such a great place for photography. Glad I could offer some new places for you to explore and some new restaurants to try. :-)
We’ve only visited NM on a motorcycle trip which included only a two night stop in Sante Fe. We’ve wanted to return to this area in the MH, and I think this might be the year!! I am thinking maybe heading this way in early June might work:) Thanks so much for all the wonderful ideas. You will keep us busy for awhile.
Pam, I think you’ll really enjoy Santa Fe. In addition to all of the fabulous culture, there’s lots of great hiking (including some very challenging hikes) in the mountains close by — that wasn’t our focus, but we did enjoy the in-town hikes. And you’ll love Tent Rocks, coming up next!
We will need to spend some time in this area to see all of it, including the hiking:) I have Tent Rocks on my radar, as well!
This blog was particularly meaningful to me as Tom and I drove his Corvette from Indiana to Santa Fe and back for our twenty-fifth anniversary in 1977. The photos brought back some nice memories, even though all of the pictures were not familiar–it was almost 40 years ago. We loved the area as much as you do. We volunteered at a medical clinic in the desert on the Navajo reservation for a two week term a few years later. Thanks for the wonderful memories.
Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories, Barbara. What a grand adventure your road trip must have been! And your experience on the Navajo reservation sounds fascinating. Wishing you all the best in this new year.
The architecture, the art, the food, the colors, the culture! How I love Santa Fe. Your photos are wonderful – the Moo and the clothesline are so fun!! We’re in New Mexico in a few weeks, hoping to have plenty of time to spend seeing more of this beautiful city.
Thanks, Jodee! The Moo and the clothesline were two of my favorites. Have a fabulous time in New Mexico. I’m kinda jealous. :-)
This just sounds so fabulous particularly the Native American museum you visited. Love the details on the food although will they let me visit if I honestly don’t like chiles? Too hot for my tender mouth. Your love for this place comes through so loud and clear in your beautiful descriptions of it. As always I just love your photographs. They are art themselves. Love the gallery door picture, the cathedral, the theater, the picture of Eric “somewhere down the trail”. The food looks too beautiful to eat. This post will be my Bible if I can get to Santa Fe and they will let me stay given my bad chiles attitude.
Haha, yeah, even with a “bad chile” attitude, you can still enjoy Santa Fe! Chiles come in a wide range of “hot” including some that are very mild. I think you guys would enjoy Santa Fe, Sherry — especially the Pueblo Indian culture. Thanks for your nice comment on our photos. :-)
OK,Ok, I am meeting you here in your next visit!
Your travel photojournalism is sensual, tantalizing, and a loving tribute to life and to the places you share with us. Such a delight.
Winn, you really must meet us in Santa Fe — we would love to share adventures in this beautiful city with you! Thanks for commenting on our blog, dear friend. oxoxo
Looks like you guys know ALL the best places in Santa Fe. I’m afraid we didn’t do it justice. I would like to tag along with you – you might teach me a little something about culture and sophistication. Ha!
Loretta, you guys definitely need to go back to Santa Fe for more exploring. Would be fun to meet up with you there sometime!