There are SO many reasons to discover Santa Fe, New Mexico. In fact, Santa Fe’s nickname is “The City Different.” That’s a huge clue into why people flock to Santa Fe and why you need to see it too. Santa Fe is a true gem of the American Southwest and I’m going to give you what I consider to be the TOP 5 reasons to discover Santa Fe!
Reason #1 to Discover Santa Fe: The Plaza
Right in the center of the historic district of Santa Fe, you’ll find the Santa Fe Plaza, which is among the 88 locations in Santa Fe listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To this very day, The Plaza is the central place of gathering the people for various events. There are huge festivals held on the Plaza at different times of the year. There is the Fiesta de Santa Fe held in September, the Santa Fe Indian Market held in August, and many, many more. These are festivals and markets that rank with the best of the best in the U.S.
In the summer months, there is always music and dancing on the Plaza. This summer, I was lucky enough to be there on the night the Santa Fe Opera apprentices performed. They were absolutely superb! I’ve heard all kinds of music on The Plaza from rock to country, to Mariachi. I’ve NEVER been disappointed in the performances I’ve been to over the years. And the dance, from locals dancing to the music on stage to performances by the various local groups, there is always some type of dance going on! Everyone loves to kick up their heels Tuesdays through Fridays and some Saturdays in the Plaza.
Reason #2 to Discover Santa Fe: The Art
There are more art galleries, public art, and art museums in Santa Fe than you will ever be able to see in just one visit! If you are a lover of art, you simply cannot miss Santa Fe! And much of it, you can see for FREE!
There are art galleries both in the center of town and a short stroll away on Canyon Road. Canyon Road itself is a half mile of galleries displaying art from jewelry to massive sculptures and everything in between. All of the galleries are within walking distance of the hotels within the historic district. While you can see the art for free, it is extremely difficult to pass up that special piece of art which strikes a chord and resonates within your very being. That piece that seems to actually speak to you. I can honestly say that I have never been able to leave Santa Fe without at least one piece of pottery, jewelry, or woven art that I’ve welcomed into our home end enjoy every day!
I remember my first time to discover Santa Fe, sixteen years ago. I was going through a divorce, and it was an especially difficult time in my life. I was visiting the Native American vendors in front of the Palace of the Governors on the Plaza when I spotted a simple ring with a bear imprinted all around. I immediately thought about how the bear represented STRENGTH to me. I tried it on and to my delight, it fit perfectly! To this day, I wear it every single day to remind myself to continue being strong in the face of adversity.
Then there is the public art around the town. I am especially drawn to the pieces inside the courtyard of the Santa Fe Convention Center. They are by Allan Houser (Haozous), one of the most celebrated Native American sculptors and painters of the 20th century. He was a Chiricahua Apache artist, born in Oklahoma, and drawn to Santa Fe for art school. Most of his work is abstract and timeless, speaking volumes to those who view it, including me.
And finally, there are the art museums with nominal entry fees. There is the Georgia O’Keefe Gallery, New Mexico Art Museum, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, and numerous others. There is even a new type of museum, Meow Wolf, an immersive, interactive art experience through a narrative story, transporting audiences to magical realms, secretive passages, and amazing art exhibits.
Reason #3 to Discover Santa Fe: The Culture
There are rich cultural experiences awaiting those who are willing to discover and embrace them. Native Americans were here in this area long before others arrived. They are the indigenous people of the Santa Fe area. There are nineteen pueblos around Santa Fe, the most famous of which is the Taos Pueblo. About a mile from the historic town of Taos is the multistoried adobe Pueblo. Artisans still sell their pottery and other forms of art here, some marketing it from their family homes. The Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a day trip from Santa Fe. It is a wonderful place to get to know a little about the local indigenous peoples whose families have lived here for over a thousand if not thousands of years. And don’t forget to visit the town of Taos, a thriving artist community with a historic plaza to explore and more.
There are other Pueblos to discover as well. Many of them welcome visitors to their communities on festival days and Pow Wow days where you’ll see Native American dances, unique events like the pole climb, arts and crafts fairs, and other events. Some pueblos have different offerings such as golf resorts and fleas markets. Here is a link to a list of pueblos north of Santa Fe and those south of Santa Fe. Explore a little bit to find the type of Pueblo you might want to discover on your visit to Santa Fe. Just remember that each Pueblo has its own rules to follow and make sure you follow them when you visit. After all, we are guests in these places where the culture is different from our own. You may make wonderful friends if you are respectful of the rules. For instance, some Pueblos and events held there do not allow us to take photos. Respect their rule. Instead of photographing, take the time to immerse yourself in the experience and think about what it means to these people. Living in the moment is a far greater experience than a photo could ever be.
The culture of Santa Fe is not only about the indigenous peoples living in and around the city. It is also about the Spanish who discovered this special place long before you and I discovered it and the Mexicans who introduced the beautiful colors and rich cuisine to the city. Santa Fe itself is a spectacular blend of cultures with unique festivals such as ZoZoFest culminating in the Burning of Zozobra, “Old Man Gloom” on the Friday before Labor Day. This is the day that Santa Fe celebrates the end of their worries and a new beginning! The Fiesta de Santa Fe in early September has been celebrated for over 300 years. There are numerous events such as the Fine Arts and Crafts Market and The Mariachi Extravaganza. All the festivals in Santa Fe involve delicious food, art, music, and special cultural experiences. You just can’t miss out on the fun when you discover Santa Fe during festival time!
Reason #4 to Discover Santa Fe: The History
This summer I had the opportunity to visit the original Spanish mission in Santa Fe, the San Miguel Chapel. It is the oldest church in the U.S., established in 1610 (as was Santa Fe itself), and has experienced severe damage and destruction caused by various events. The most memorable event being the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 when the Spanish were driven out of the area. When the Spanish returned in 1693, the Spanish governor, General Don Diego de Vargas ordered the restoration of the chapel which was completed in 1710. Today, the chapel is owned and maintained by St. Michael’s High School and Cornerstones Community Partnership.
To learn more about this chapel go to their website at www.sanmiguelchapel.org or simply visit it on your own when you come to see all that Santa Fe has to offer. Other beautiful historic churches can be found in Santa Fe, such as Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and The Loretto Chapel, each unique and spectacular in their own ways.
The Palace of the Governors, located right on the Santa Fe Plaza, is the oldest, continuously occupied public building in the U.S. It was established in the early 17th century, like the other “oldest” buildings in Santa Fe, as the seat of the Spanish government in our Southwest. Today it is a part of the New Mexico State History Museum and a National Historic Landmark containing collections of artifacts, photos, and historic documents related to Santa Fe and New Mexico. You’ll find items from the different periods when New Mexico was ruled by Spain and Mexico until it was a U.S. Territory, and finally, gained U.S. statehood.
Since Santa Fe represented the end of the Santa Fe Trail, famous in American history, it is only fitting to mention the oldest hotel corner at the end of the Santa Fe trail. City archives note that the first inn in Santa Fe was located at this very corner of E. San Franciso and Shelby, right at the corner of the Plaza.
Today, this corner is occupied by the renowned La Fonda on the Plaza, a fabulous hotel, that was once known as a Harvey Hotel, known for its hospitality and high standards. From its guest rooms complete with handcrafted wooden furniture and original artwork to its more modern rooftop Bell Tower Bar, this hotel is filled with lovely furnishings and artwork with a uniquely southwest flair. The atrium-located, La Plazuela Restaurant with a fountain in the center, is surrounded by glass-paned doors, hand-painted with original artwork. And of course, the service in this hotel remains impeccable. Even if you don’t stay at this spectacular hotel, it is well worth a visit just to experience it.
Reason #5 to Discover Santa Fe: The Peaceful Ambiance
One of my favorite things about Santa Fe is it’s quiet, peaceful ambiance found among the many layers of Santa Fe life if you choose to look for it.
Just off the Plaza is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis. To the left of the courtyard in front is a labyrinth that always summons me to walk it. In case you’ve never walked a labyrinth, I’ll explain. A labyrinth may look to you like a maze but it is very different. The maze is a type of puzzle to be solved with some paths ending abruptly forcing you to retrace your steps in order to eventually find your way out. A labyrinth has only one path, purposefully meandering to the center and then back out again. It is a metaphor for finding your center and then back out into the world again.
Labyrinths can be walked as a form of meditation or prayer or even as a method of solving a personal problem. The labyrinth at this site is modeled after one of the most famous labyrinths found inside the nave of the Chartres Cathedral in France. The Chartres labyrinth, built in the early 13th century, was and is today a part of the pilgrim’s quest on the journey to the holy lands. I love the labyrinth in Santa Fe because it is outdoors and can be walked at any time the grounds are open. I prefer to walk it alone which is why this year I walked it during a short rain. It was as peaceful and serene as it could be.
This year I walked everywhere I went in old Santa Fe, pausing to take photos of interesting outdoor sites along my way. I walked alone and breathed in the air of serenity as I traveled.
There are public parks and prayer gardens where one can sit and be still for a moment while pondering thoughts that matter. On the other hand, there also spas one can slip inside for an afternoon of peaceful indulgence. Spas can be found in some of the hotels in town and just outside town. Here’s a link to information about the area spas.
Reasons to Discover Santa Fe
I’ve given you MY top 5 reasons to discover Santa Fe. Santa Fe is steeped in history and rich in culture. It is filled with stunning art and a peaceful ambiance. And right at the center of it all is The Santa Fe Plaza where YOUR exploration can begin. Santa Fe is a not-to-be-missed city, on your travels. Discover Santa Fe for yourself, “The City Different.”
Subscribe and get your Free Travel Planner!
Subscribe to get your freebie and our latest content by email.