Sitting at 7,000 feet above sea level at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe is a bustling little city that is as unique as it gets. The stand-alone nature of the state capital of New Mexico is even reflected in its nickname, The City Different, which proudly declares that Santa Fe is in a league of its own. From its age and its architecture to its iconic western location and cultural clout, this is evident to anyone who spends some time here.
Founded in 1610 by the Spanish, Santa Fe is the third oldest colonial city in the U.S. The city was built on the ruins of a Native American village, and the influence of native peoples has always been apparent. This is most obvious in the buildings of Santa Fe, which are based upon the adobe design that was used by the Pueblo tribe. The oldest buildings in Santa Fe were all built in this style but then this type of design went out of vogue for a while. However, in the early 20th century adobe building began to be embraced throughout the area once again and since the 1950s a building code has mandated construction in this style.
Because of this history, Santa Fe is now full of streets lined with flat-roofed, earth-colored houses that have an out-of-this-world ambiance. Couple that with incredible access to beautiful mountains, a rich cultural history, and a plethora of wonderful museums, shops, and restaurants, and it’s obvious why this is such a popular vacation destination.
With so much going on, the hard thing about a trip to Santa Fe is whittling down your activities. Here are some suggestions for what to put on your Must-Do list.
Visit the Plaza and Explore the Local Wares
The Plaza in Santa Fe was one of the first locations constructed in the city, as was the Palace of the Governors, a government building that sits adjacent to it. At this building you will find the portal, where Native American artisans continue the tradition of selling their handmade crafts. Wander further from the Plaza and you will find a maze of streets filled with unique boutiques, stores, and restaurants.
Make Time for Some Museums
Despite being a small city, Santa Fe has an incredible art scene, a fact reflected by the many museums you can find here. Head to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to learn about the life and legacy of one of the founders of modernist painting. At the Meow Wolf Museum, you will be taken into another world through a series of whimsically connected, interactive art installations. There are also plenty of places to learn about the history of the area, including the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.
Explore Outside of the City
A big part of what makes Santa Fe so special is the area that surrounds it. Here you will find the epic peaks of the Rockies, the mighty Rio Grande, and a stunning alpine desert that expands across miles of wilderness. Take a day trip out of the city to see the geologic formations at Tent Rocks National Monument or hike into the past to view the Pueblo dwellings in Bandelier National Monument. Another incredible place to visit is Taos Pueblo, an adobe village that has been continuously occupied for the past 1,000 years and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are currently 150 residents living in the adobe pueblo, and many more living on Taos land.
If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore this beautiful and unique city, it definitely belongs on your travel bucket list! It can easily be combined with a trip to other parts of New Mexico and even Colorado. Let me know if you are ready to venture there, and I will help you plan you make it happen.
Kira Gartner is the owner of Blue Sky Destinations, a boutique travel agency specializing in river cruises, luxury expedition cruises and customized European vacations. For years she has helped curious travelers plan vacations that allow them to unwind, reconnect, and immerse themselves fully in a destination. Reach out to her for a free consultation - and let her start designing your dream vacation!