Choose from the arts, music, shopping, outdoor fun, or enjoy them all Santa Fe is a unique city that gets better with every visit, no matter how often you’ve been there. Like an intricately cut gem, this high-desert town of 65,000 has so many facets there’s no way to experience them all in a weekend or even a week. Nor would you want to. Santa Fe — steeped in history, rich in arts, overflowing with ambience — is a city to be savored in little bites, like an exquisite meal. So it’s smart to have a theme to shape your sojourn — whether it’s shopping, museum and gallery hopping, performing arts, outdoor fun, or a combination of these pleasures. But before setting forth on your Santa Fe circuit, stand on its Plaza for a moment, imagining the days when it marked the end of the Santa Fe Trail, which began in 1821. On this bustling main square, Spanish and Mexican traders, soldiers and priests exchanged wares and stories with Pueblo Indians, frontier scouts, prospectors, fur traders and pioneers heading west.
Santa Fe, New MexicoCraftspeople still sell their wares on this picturesque Plaza in the heart of town, and just across the street, under the shady portal of the adobe Palace of the Governors — constructed in the early 1600s as Spain’s seat of government for what today is the American Southwest — Native Americans from nearby pueblos layout their handsome turquoise and silver necklaces and other jewelry for sale. Santa Fe has been a major shopping destination for nearly 200 years. In fact, it’s almost impossible NOT to give in to Santa Fe’s myriad retail therapy opportunities, from upscale downtown stores to Canyon Road galleries and boutiques in the new Santa Fe Railyard development. Then there’s the outdoor Farmers Market (Saturdays and Tuesdays from 7 a.m. to noon at the corner of Guadalupe and Cerrillos streets), a great place for breakfast burritos and inexpensive gifts — local goat cheese, jams and jellies, flavored vinegars and crafts. Bargain hunters also make a beeline for the Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market on Saturdays and Sundays, which has everything from jewelry to pottery and antiques. If you’re in the market for hand-tooled cowboy boots, handbags and other fine leather goods, Desert Son and Back at the Ranch may have the answer. Clotheshorses won’t want to miss the casually elegant outfits at Zephyr, the outrageous ethnic clothing at Origins or the gorgeous wearable art at Santa Fe Weaving Gallery. Casa Nova carries home furnishings designed for those who aspire to live with art, while TAI Gallery/Textile Arts features sumptuous fabric creations and unusual Japanese bamboo sculptures. And if galleries are your focus, Santa Fe has more than 250 to explore. Matter of fact, art browsing is a local tradition on Friday and Saturday nights, when galleries along Canyon Road and elsewhere have openings with refreshments and sometimes even live music (look in the “Pasatiempo” section of the local paper, Santa Fe New Mexican, for a listing of current openings). Ceramics collectors find nirvana at Andres Fisher Fine Pottery.
Art lovers rarely stop at gallery hopping, however, when there are so many remarkable museums to explore in Santa Fe. Be sure not to miss the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and SITE Santa Fe, a contemporary art museum with cuttingedge exhibitions featuring top artists from around the world. And you could easily spend an entire day savoring the treasures atop “Museum Hill” — the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Museum of International Folk Art. If your kids are along, the Santa Fe Children’s Museum blends education and entertainment with dynamic indoor and outdoor interactive exhibits. In addition, “Many visitors don’t realize the State Capitol building has a fabulous collection of paintings by New Mexican artists, both old and new,” says Mary Lee Beauregard, a Denver resident with a second home in Santa Fe’s new Monte Sereno development. Free self-guided tours of the Capitol, dubbed the “Roundhouse” by locals, are available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday year-round, and from Memorial Day to Labor Day there are free guided tours Monday through Saturday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Santa Fe, New MexicoArt is a way of life in Santa Fe — all the more reason for art aficionados to organize a trip around a major art event such as the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in mid-July, Spanish Market in late July or Indian Market in August.
Another attraction Beauregard highly recommends is the Governor’s Mansion, which gives tours every second and fourth Tuesday from 1 to 3:30 p.m. “It’s a beautiful adobe home in the Territorial style,” she says, adding that a littleknown gem worth visiting as well is the Scottish Rite Temple on Paseo de Peralta, which has “an amazing collection of Tiffany lamps and costumes.” Santa Fe shines when it comes to the performing arts, too, especially now that the Lensic Performing Arts Center — a renovated 1931 movie theater — is open. “It’s absolutely stunning inside and has all sorts of wonderful shows,” says Beauregard. Hosting from four to six events every week, the Lensic is home to the Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus, which on May 20 performs The Music of Spain and Latin America. Summer is the time to see the renowned Santa Fe Opera (June 29 through Aug. 25) in its spectacular open-air roofed theater, as well as the riveting performances of the María Benítez Flamenco Cabaret at the Lodge at Santa Fe. More casual entertainment awaits visitors at some of Santa Fe’s restaurants and watering holes, such as El Farol, which often serves up jam sessions with its tapas. La Fonda on the Plaza has live music for dancing in its lounge, and La Cantina, next to La Casa Sena, has talented servers who belt out show tunes and opera arias as they dish up enchiladas and margaritas. WilLee’s Blues Club is a local favorite for energetic dance music, while Gig features top local and national musicians in an intimate setting (everyone has a good seat), though no liquor or food is served.
Denver resident Bernadette Jendrusch, who lived in Santa Fe seven years, says, “One of my favorite things to do in Santa Fe in the summer time was to go out on the Plaza weekday nights and dance to the live music played by various bands in the renovated bandstand. Sometimes we would go to the Ore House, adjacent to the Plaza, and have a margarita on their upstairs porch overlooking the Plaza. You could hear the music from up there and it was fun people-watching.” Santa Fe is known for its distinctive restaurants — Santacafe, Old House, Ristra, El Meson, Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen and Railyard Restaurant and Saloon are all good bets for dinner. Great lunch spots include The Shed, Counter Culture and the tree-shaded patio at La Casa Sena. Breakfast could be fabulous French pastries at Café Paris or a breakfast burrito at the Downtown Subscription — the latter a local hangout with a huge selection of newspapers from the United States and abroad.
Afternoon tea with little sandwiches and pastries at the St. Francis Hotel is another delicious option. True foodies may want to go beyond sampling Santa Fe’s eclectic array of eateries and take a few classes at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.
Santa Fe, New MexicoOf course, people come here not only for what’s in Santa Fe, but for what’s outside of it. The scenery that has inspired countless artists and writers — high desert, dazzling rock formations, mountains, forests — is still just a short drive from the Plaza. There are well-marked hiking and biking trails just off the road to the Santa Fe Ski Area, opportunities for guided horseback- riding outings at the Bishop’s Lodge, river rafting on the Rio Grande near Taos, and fly-fishing trips. In fact, the local outfitter Santa Fe Mountain Adventures offers a wide array of excursions in the great outdoors. And at night you could go on a stargazing outing with Astronomy Adventures.
Outside of Santa Fe you may also want to visit some of the eight Northern Indian Pueblos, many of which have feast days in spring or summer with ceremonial dancing.
It’s easy to see why artists and so many others gravitated to Santa Fe — the spectacular views, quality of light, clear air, refreshing climate, picturesque adobe architecture and the intriguing culture that mixes Native American, Spanish, Mexican, American and other traditions for a rich and resonant experience.
By MELANIE YOUNG