IT DIDN’T TAKE US LONG to realize why Santa Fe is dubbed, The City Different. For starters, it is an old city — older than the USA itself. And, at 7,000 feet, the nation’s highest state capital. Here, the history of the American West thrives alongside contemporary sophistication. Then there’s the jaw-dropping, 360-degree, mountain views. With more than 300 days of glorious sunshine per year, the fabulous high desert climate includes warm days, cool evenings and dry air. The blend of three cultures — Native American, Hispanic and Anglo — shapes the gentle rhythms of everyday life. Dedicated to safeguarding its rich heritage, a building code restricts structures to three stories, preserving the traditional ‘long and low’ architectural signature. Its population sits comfortably at 85,000. Here are just some of Santa Fe’s many charms…
The Historic Heart
Exploring this district on foot is surprisingly easy. Strolling through the quaint, meandering streets of the downtown’s landmark Santa Fe Plaza, we discovered a mecca for art, food, history and New Mexican culture. We marvelled at the sun-baked adobe architecture, the 400-year old Palace of Governors, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis and the historic La Fonda hotel. Even without chain stores, the downtown retail scene is thriving. The area is chock-full of trendy boutiques selling handwoven textiles, Navajo rugs, Acoma Pueblo pottery and armloads of silver jewellery, inlaid with turquoise and coral. Shiprock Santa Fe showcases the finest Southwestern and Native American Art, both new and vintage. Being on the second floor of a building on the plaza, it also feels a bit hidden and secret.
Probably the first thing visitors realize – this is an art town. Contemporary, traditional, folk, Native American artifacts, and fine crafts all thrive here in abundance. With over 200 easily accessible galleries, the city rivals the world art centres such as Paris and New York.
- Museum Hill: This is home to a quartet of outstanding museums. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture has a 70,000-piece collection with examples that range from ancestral artifacts to contemporary Native arts. The Museum of International Folk Art, a family favourite, is packed with delightfully quirky traditional art. The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art offers a glimpse into daily life in colonial Santa Fe.
- Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: Here you will find the world’s most extensive and comprehensive collection of the artist’s work and explore her legacy in American Modernism. (I could have spent an entire afternoon in the intimate galleries of the rambling 20th century adobe building.)
- The Capital Building: You can wander – unescorted – through empty halls and legislative chambers to enjoy the display of nearly 600 works by local artists. Colourful Canyon Road: Lined with chestnut trees, this winding thoroughfare is home to the highest concentration of galleries in the country. Centuries-old adobe dwellings, which now house galleries, share the community with families who have lived here for generations.
Hoop dancer, Santa Fe Indian Market
One thousand folk artists from 100 countries will gather for the International Folk Art Market in July 2020, while August will mark the 99th-annual Indian Market – the largest and most prestigious juried Native art show in the world. The Contemporary Hispanic Market, held this year July 25-26, provides an opportunity to shop for exquisite original artwork in a variety of mediums. And then there’s the Saturday Farmer’s Market. One of the oldest, most prestigious and most successful in the country, this is a locavore’s paradise.
Meow Wolf – once a bowling alley in an industrial part of town and reinvented as a massive art and entertainment collective – will amuse the whole family all day. You have to see it to believe it.
Hiking Sun Mountain
The Great Outdoors
Whether you’re a Google Trekker, a mountain biker, an anything-goes adventure seeker or simply a lover of the outdoors, the city, surrounded by 1.5 million acres of unspoiled national forest is a great jumping-off point for exploring the area’s mountainous terrains, and stark desert landscape.
Food Glorious Food
In addition to a red-hot art scene, visitors discover Santa Fe has a fiery cuisine.
The best way to learn about the culinary traditions and secrets of Northern New Mexico is to book a demo at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. For any foodie, this deserves top spot on a to-do list.
When the Spanish arrived here in the 16th century, they changed the way New Mexicans cooked, so we signed up for a three-hour, Authentic Spanish Tapas class.
We watched, asked questions, and took notes while the engaging chef prepared six dishes, including shrimp with almond and pine nut sauce and grilled beef with sea salt caramel. Then came the best part – tasting. The school also serves up a gourmet food shop and hosts an online market specializing in the best foods of the American southwest.
Santa Fe School of Cooking
The Shed: A must for visitors, The Shed has been owned and operated by one family since 1953, in the same 1692 atmospheric adobe. Its iconic New Mexican recipes that ‘have never wavered’ have earned a James Beard Award. Be sure to try the green chili stew.
Cowgirl BBQ: The local go-to for new-fashioned BBQ classics such as brisket and ribs, burgers, steak and a variety of eclectic menu items. Guests can also enjoy creative cocktails and craft brews.
Written by Anna Hobbs for Cruise & Travel Lifestyles (Winter/Spring 2020).