14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Santa Fe
Santa Fe, the New Mexico capital, lies on a tributary of the Rio Grande on the southwestern slopes of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The fun and fascinating city gains its particular atmosphere from the mingling of Native American, Spanish/Mexican and Anglo-American cultural influences. Its picturesque streets and lanes, low adobe houses, beautiful Spanish colonial churches as well as the profusion of Native American arts and crafts and contemporary art have long been a sightseeing attraction for tourists.
In the forest-covered mountain country around the town, the visitor can discover a number of fascinating Native American pueblos that are still occupied. During the last 20 years, excellent winter sports facilities have been developed in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe.
See also: Where to Stay in Santa Fe
1 Canyon Road
Canyon Road was once a trade route leading to the community of Pecos on the eastern slope of the mountains. Today it hosts numerous artists' studios, galleries and craft workshops as well as cafes, tea-houses and restaurants. All kinds of art, from sculptures and paintings to jewelry and pottery, are for show and sale along the road - most of it with a southwestern flair. When you are done strolling around, there are also plenty of restaurants and places to relax.
2 El Rancho de Las Golondrinas
Located 10 minutes south of Santa Fe, El Rancho de Las Golondrinas is a living history museum located on a former Spanish ranch dating back to 1710. It contains 33 historic buildings on 200 acres. The museum focuses on the heritage and culture of Colonial New Mexico.
Admission: Adults $6, Seniors (62 and over) and Teens $4, Children 12 and under free
3 Farmer's Market
More than 150 local growers and vendors converge every Saturday morning at the refurbished Santa Fe Railyard for the Santa Fe Farmer's Market. The market itself has been in operation since 2002 with an ever-expanding array of products from dried beans and peas to squashes, apples, corn, breads, breakfast burritos and coffee. Local musicians and other artists also perform at the market adding to the excitement. The market's parent association requires all items to be local grown. Eighty percent of the ingredients and materials used in processed products are likewise expected to come from northern New Mexico.
4 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe has the world's largest collection of O'Keeffe's work with over 1,100 of her painting and drawings. Different parts of the collection are available to the public throughout the year making every visit a unique experience. The museum also hosts special exhibitions of O'Keeffe's work or that of other modernists such as Pollock, Warhol and Levine.
Hours: Open daily 10am-5pm
Admission: $12, New Mexico Residents $6, Seniors over 60 and Students $10, Children under 18 free
5 La Fonda Hotel
At the southeast corner of the Plaza in Santa Fe is the elegant adobe La Fonda Hotel. The location has held a hotel for several hundred years, as it was the terminus of several old trade routes including the Santa Fe Trail. The current La Fonda Hotel was built in 1922 on the site of the previous buildings. Famous guests have included Kit Carson, Errol Flynn, and John F Kennedy.
6 Loretto Chapel
In 1850 Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy requested that the Sisters of Loretto send seven members from Kentucky to Santa Fe to help him grow the struggling New Mexico educational system. In 1853, the sisters opened the Academy of Our Lady of Light for 300 girls and Lamy rewarded them by constructing this touching Gothic Revival-style chapel. Designed by French architect Antoine Mouly, the spires, buttresses and stained-glass windows of the chapel soar the spirit. The chapel is also home to a unique spiral staircase made entirely of wood and supported by a hidden central column that gives the structure the appearance of hanging free in the air.
Hours: Open Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10:30am-5pm
Admission: By donation
Address: 207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe
7 Museum of Indian Arts and Culture - Laboratory of Anthropology
One of the centerpieces of the entire Southwest, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture was founded in 1909 with the mission to preserve the material culture of the Native Americans of the region - a people who at that time were enduring major transition and perhaps extinction. In 1947 the museum was combined with JD Rockefeller's Laboratory of Anthropology, an institution dedicated the ongoing study of the cultures of the Southwest. Today, the museum hosts impressive collections of pottery, jewelry, basketry and saddle blankets as well as regular performances of Native American music, dances, storytelling and other traditions.
Hours: Open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm
Admission: $9, New Mexico residents $6
8 Museum of International Folk Art
Established in 1953, the Museum of International Folk Art has the largest collection of international folk art in the world, including baskets, textiles, wood carving and ceramics. The collections are divided up by geographical region: Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Contemporary Hispano and Latino, European and North American, and Latin American. There are also sections covering Spanish Colonial, and Textiles & Costumes.
The foundation of the collection comes from Florence Dibell Bartlett, who founded the museum. Many other individuals have made sizable donations to the museum and the collection has expanded greatly over the years. The museum features a number of temporary exhibitions each year as well as events. Check the calendar to see about upcoming features that include music, films, lectures, and other programs.
Hours: Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm
Admission: $9, New Mexico residents $6
9 Palace of the Governors
The Palace of the Governors is one of four Santa Fe museums collectively known as the Museum of New Mexico. The building housing the main portion of the museum is the 17th century Palace of the Governors, an adobe structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This building is part of a larger complex, which includes the Palace Press, the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library and Photo Archives. Despite its historic appearance, the museum has adopted a modern philosophy that focuses not only on presenting historical exhibits, but also on education and engagement with the community.
The New Mexico History Museum chronicles the history of New Mexico from the 16th century onwards, with period rooms, permanent displays, and temporary exhibitions. The Palace Press is also worth visiting. This showcases the first printing press in New Mexico, and offers a live demonstration with working equipment.
Hours: Open Tues-Sun 10am-5 pm
Admission: $9, New Mexico residents $6
The busy hub of the town's life is the Plaza, a market square built by the Spaniards where the Santa Fe Trail ended. Here, Native American traders offer local arts and crafts for sale. This is a lively place surrounded by numerous shops, galleries and restaurants. It's the perfect place for excellent people watching.
11 Randall Davey Audubon Center
The 135-acre Randall Davey Audubon Center, on Upper Canyon Road in Santa Fe, has bird watching tours and nature walks. It is a peaceful setting with a little history to it as well. Set in the Santa Fe River Watershed and surrounded by forest, the Center sees approximately 130 different species of birds. Visitors can wander the trails on their own or take a guided walking tour to learn about the environment and its inhabitants.
The complex, which maintains several buildings, is home to the historical Randall Davey House. This unique building was originally a sawmill, which Davey turned into his home and art studio. He died in 1964 and his family later donated the property to the National Audubon Society for use as a sanctuary and cultural center. Visitors can tour the house, which is today a museum, and see his artworks, the studio, and furnishings.
Hours: Open Mon-Fri 8am-4pm
12 Santa Fe Botanical Garden
The Santa Fe Botanical Garden is a 35-acre wetland preserve that began as a vision by a small group of gardeners, botanists and environmentalists. The garden offers lectures about plant selection and conservation techniques, field trips, and garden tours. It's a beautiful place for an easy stroll.
Hours: Open daily 9am-5pm (spring and summer); Wed-Sun 10am-3pm (winter)
Admission: $5, Seniors over 65 $4, Students $3.50, Children under 12 free
13 San Miguel Chapel
One of the oldest religious buildings in the United States, and the oldest of its kind in Santa Fe, the chapel of San Miguel was originally built in 1636. It was later burned and rebuilt at the start of the 18th century. It contains a number of fine statues and a high altar from 1798, with the likeness of St Gertrude. The adobe structure, which seems to change color throughout the day when the sun strikes it at different angles, features an open bell tower with a cross jutting from the top. The interior has white walls and wood beams on the ceiling, and is decorated with unique works of art.
14 Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
The Wheelwright Museum focuses on the arts and crafts of the Native Americans of the American Southwest. In addition to a great variety of cultural objects, woven fabrics, silverware and sand paintings, it has a collection of old writing and even some documents inscribed in clay. The exhibits include contemporary works as well. The museum is named for Mary Cabot Wheelwright, who established the museum in the 1930s with the help of Hastiin Klah, a Navajo "medicine man" with whom she had long been a friend. Hours: Open daily 10am-5 pm
Where to Stay in Santa Fe for Sightseeing
While Santa Fe is large and spread out, many of the attractions are located in the quaint, old city center, near the historic Plaza. This is the best place to stay for sightseeing and general ambience. Below is a list of some of the highly-rated hotels and inns in this area of the city:
- Luxury Hotels: In the heart of Santa Fe is the iconic La Fonda on the Plaza, built in 1922, and located on the site of the city's first inn, which stood here in the early 1600s. This adobe style building features uniquely designed rooms and suites, some with fireplaces, and an outdoor pool. One of the finest hotels in New Mexico, Inn of the Five Graces is a boutique hotel set in a group of restored adobe structures, with exquisitely furnished rooms and spaces. Two blocks from the Plaza, near the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, is the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza, with southwestern décor and a lovely outdoor pool area.
- Mid-Range Hotels: The Old Santa Fe Inn, with a charming southwestern style and atmosphere, is a good mid-range option within walking distance of the downtown attractions. The Las Palomas Hotel is another well located property with a great ambience and beautifully designed rooms, including some with fireplaces. The quaint Inn of the Turquoise Bear is an 11-room bed and breakfast in a historic adobe mansion, surrounded by gardens, and within walking distance of downtown and the major attractions. Rooms are all individually designed and stays include a complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea.
- Budget Hotels: Less than a mile from the Plaza, the Guadalupe Inn is a reasonably priced, quaint little B&B with lots of charm. Garrett's Desert Inn offers basic accommodation but a central location in the city center. For more budget options it's best to head outside the downtown area. About a 15- to 20-minute drive from the city center are the Econo Lodge Inn & Suites and the Santa Fe Comfort Inn, both with reasonable rates and comfortable rooms.
History of Santa Fe
In 1542, the first Spaniards arrived to find a populous Native American village. It was abandoned soon after. In 1609 the Spanish founded a town, which became the religious and administrative center of the province of New Mexico. In 1680 the Spaniards were driven out by the Native Americans, but returned twelve years later.
After Mexico broke away from Spain in 1821, Santa Fe remained the capital of New Mexico and built up a lively trade with the Americans. The principal transport route was the Santa Fe Trail, which ran through the valley of the Rio Grande to reach the Missouri at Kansas City. Another important route was the Old Spanish Trail, which led to Los Angeles in California.
In 1846, during the Spanish-Mexican War, Santa Fe fell to the United States without any serious fighting and later became capital of the US territory of New Mexico. In 1862 the town fell briefly into the hands of the Confederates. The economy of the town and surrounding area was given a boost by the opening of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1880, and since the early part of the 20th century, Santa Fe has been a hub for artists of all stripes.