Santa Fe is a city for art lovers. They call it the “City Different” because it’s quirky and eclectic. It has a strong personality distinct from any other city. Outdoorsy people and foodies will love it too, but there is a strong emphasis on art with over 250 galleries and a ranking as the third largest art market in the US, after New York and Los Angeles. Santa Fe is the oldest city in New Mexico, the second oldest in the US and a vibrant melting pot of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo cultures. It has the highest concentration of artists of any American city its size, and it’s no wonder. The place is exploding with character and everywhere you look, there’s a beautiful vignette just waiting to be photographed or expressed through visual arts. Here are ten fun things to do while you’re there.
If you want to feel like you are staying in an art gallery, La Posada is your hotel. With over 600 pieces of art on display and available for purchase, you are surrounded by works from all genres. It’s in a convenient location, just a couple of blocks from the Plaza and offers a complimentary shuttle service for when you want to venture out a little farther. It’s an especially good choice for those who don’t want to rent a car.
La Posada is also a great hotel for getting support while you’re adjusting to the altitude. Santa Fe has a 7000 ft. elevation and sometimes it can take a little while to adapt for those coming from sea level. The spa offers an Altitude Adjustment massage as well as a quick oxygen treatment to help with acclimation. For a more decadent treat at the spa, try the Chocolate Chili Wrap and Massage. It’s just what it sounds like—they wrap you up in a dark organic chocolate-chili mixture and let the antioxidants do their job before following up with a coco butter massage.
Breakfast at La Posada is excellent. A gorgeous patio with a big fire pit, bistro lights hanging above and tables with bright red umbrellas is festive and inviting. Don’t miss the Huevos Rancheros ordered Christmas style (with red and green chili sauce), and the buttermilk pancakes.
At La Posada, one of Starwood’s Luxury Collection hotels, you have diverse room options to choose from. You can stay in the Victorian part of the hotel which was formerly part of the historic Staub House, one of the casitas that were once built to host artist guests, or one of the more contemporary rooms. No matter which you choose, you’ll have a fireplace, comfortable furnishings and colorful art. This hotel definitely captures the mood of Santa Fe’s artful spirit. And speaking of spirit–like many hotels in town, this one has a ghost legend. It’s said to be haunted by the ghost of Julia Staub and if you stay at La Posada, you are sure to hear stories about her antics.
Canyon Road and The Compound
Canyon Road has the most concentrated art galleries in Santa Fe. It’s walkable and lined with galleries on either side, making it a great place to stroll and pop in and out of places that strike your fancy. While you’re there, stop by The Compound, a landmark restaurant that feels like an art gallery itself. Some fascinating and quirky details like ceiling tiles made from old Braniff Airlines seat cushions and Navajo rugs, a big rainbow on the wall and a whimsical snake on the ceiling give the place a unique atmosphere. And if you’re a fan of westerns, ask for the corner seat that was John Wayne’s favorite.
Santa Fe’s heart resides in the Plaza. Art galleries, shops, and restaurants with authentic New Mexican cuisine abound. It’s a place full of color and great shopping. The Plaza square anchors several blocks of independent local boutiques, restaurants and more galleries. Shiprock Santa Fe Gallery is known for having cutting edge art and designs including turquoise jewelry, mid century modern furniture, Navajo rugs, folk art and fine art by leading Native American artists. You can also find turqoise jewelry at the Native American art market held at the Palace of the Governors, and many shops that feature local designers.
Stucco buildings with cascading flowers, smells wafting through the air, and interesting people watching make the Plaza a fascinating place. You never know what you’ll see, maybe sombrero wearing Chihuahuas on the back of a bike, or women and men decked out head to toe in turquoise jewelry and western wear. The Plaza is even more magical at twilight when the shops are still open, the sky is a purple-blue, and the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is lit up and glowing.
Located just on the outskirts from town about 10 minutes from the Plaza, Four Seasons Rancho Encantado is the place to stay if you want to focus a little more on the outdoors. Once a 57-acre dude ranch and stomping ground for western movie stars practicing their horseback riding skills, the resort feels like a secluded hideaway. John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Redford, and even the Dalai Lama were all guests of the “Enchanted Ranch.”
Industrial cowboy chic décor dazzles with high ceilings, concrete floors, light and dark wood and materials from the old dude ranch that were incorporated giving the place character and a sense of history. It’s modern and luxurious but rustic and perfectly captures that Santa Fe vibe of being contemporary while still embracing tradition. Rooms are large and cozy yet minimalist with wood burning adobe fireplaces, soaking tubs, and patios. Sweeping views of the Rio Grande River Valley, Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains are seen from all over the property and are particularly enjoyable from the restaurant and lounge where you can sit outside and enjoy excellent food and drink by a big fire pit.
Complimentary Mercedes Benz convertibles as well as SUVs that function as shuttles offer luxurious transportation while you’re there. It’s perfect for those wishing to avoid renting a car. Even more convenient — on site adventure partners provide your choice of excursions, like hiking at the Tsankawi prehistoric site at Bandelier National Monument where you’ll see ancient petroglyphs and a guide will teach you about the area.
Post-hike, head to the pool where the soothing dark gray bottom makes it feel tranquil like a cool lake in the middle of the desert. Then go to the spa and get a unique massage inspired by Native American rituals, like the Mountain Spirit Initiation, a purification ritual involving smudging of sage, a clay body mask, followed by a massage to connect with heaven and earth. They use juniper-sage oils that are indigenous to the area and the spa itself is designed to reflect the kiva rooms used by Pueblo peoples for spiritual ceremonies.
Most people know American Modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) for her magnified flower paintings, cattle skulls, and southwestern landscapes. The museum offers over 1000 pieces of O’Keeffe’s work including paintings, drawings and sculptures in a changing selection, as well as displays of her art supplies and even her bookshelf containing her books.
O’Keeffe moved to New Mexico in the 1940s. She was a minimalist who liked to wear black and practice organic gardening. If you want more O’Keeffe after GOKM, and you probably will because she was a fascinating person, head to Abiquiu for a tour of her studio, and Ghost Ranch where she had a house in the setting that inspired her most. Her New Mexican landscapes garnered so much appreciation people call the area “O’Keeffe Country.”
Take a break from delicious but heavy New Mexican food at Vinny’s where you can load up on healthy salads, juice, and meals made with care and mostly organic local ingredients. You can really feel the love at this place and the atmosphere is colorful and comfortable. Dine alfresco on the patio or inside the cozy restaurant.
In such an artful city, it’s appropriate to take the kids to a place where they can express their creativity too. Santa Fe’s Children’s Museum offers a learning environment filled with fun interactive exhibits and a big space for movement. It’s colorful and invites exploration and a sense of wonder.
The stucco pueblo exterior wins you over right away as you pull into the entrance of the Inn and Spa at Loretto. It’s a perfect picture of what you’d imagine a Santa Fe inn to look like. This is a great hotel if you enjoy pool time. The pool is long enough to swim laps and the atmosphere is beautiful with striking views of the adobe architecture and the tiptop of the Loretto Chapel steeple. Rooms are cozy and there’s a big fireplace in the lobby flanked by leather couches for relaxing. The hotel is right next to the Loretto Chapel, famous for its “miraculous” staircase.
If you’re in Santa Fe for business, chances are you’ll find yourself at the El Dorado Hotel. It’s an AAA four-diamond hotel popular with those attending conferences and guests with dogs, as it’s pet friendly. The El Dorado is in a great location near the plaza and just a block form the Performing Arts Center. Be sure to ask for a suite facing the plaza as you want the beautiful views, outdoor space, and the wood burning adobe fireplace.
Leah DeAngelis is Editor of Best Travel Gear.