Santa Fe is a colorful, artistic city, bursting with a rich history and plenty of festivals that celebrate it all. With a culture based on a variety of unusual ingredients, including Gothic cathedrals, a love for the great outdoors, chile-infused cuisine and a profound emphasis on the arts, this truly is the “City Different.” Santa Fe also preserves a historic feel – with Spanish-influenced architecture and buildings that date back to the 16th century – but one of the main reasons people visit is for its art. The works of artists like Georgia O’ Keeffe, Peter Hurd, Miro Kenarov and Gustave Baumann fill the galleries, pieces that were largely inspired by the city’s dramatic, vibrant and evolving landscape. Anytime you visit Santa Fe, you can find many of these renowned works along gallery-lined Canyon Road. For a taste of up-and-coming talent, swing by one of the artisan markets, check out The Railyard Arts District or stop in to see glass-blowing demonstrations at Liquid Light Glass. Santa Fe is home to several museums that celebrate its diverse art scene as well, including the Museum of International Folk Art and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Another part of Santa Fe’s artistic side? Its music. The Santa Fe Opera welcomes talented acts to its venue amid the mountains.
The same landscapes that spoke to O’Keeffe also call to adventurous types year-round. Active travelers hike the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, test the powder skiing at one of the nearby mountains and explore the 1.6 million acres of the Santa Fe National Forest. Need a way to round out your day? Santa Fe is also a great place to taste something different: Take your pick of one of the gourmet dining establishments scattered throughout the city.
How To Save Money in Santa Fe
- Look for collectors items Prices for artwork typically range from somewhat affordable to extremely expensive along Canyon Road or in the Railyard Arts District. For a truly memorable (and reasonably priced) keepsake, try the artisan markets.
- Avoid seasonal traffic Surprisingly, the biggest force in Santa Fe’s tourism industry is not just the weather. The full roster of festivals also helps determine peak seasons and, therefore, affects the hotel rates. Steer clear of them if you want a cheaper deal.
- Consider other extended stay options If you are staying for a weeklong festival, it might make fiscal sense to rent a small house or apartment, especially in summer when hotel rooms may be harder to come by.
Santa Fe Culture & Customs
Home to pueblo-style architecture, 17th-century churches and plenty of art galleries, Santa Fe is a feast for the eyes. If you’re looking for party central, this isn’t it. Santa Fe and its residents are sophisticated, taking pleasure in gallery window shopping and evenings out. Santa Feans are also often recognized as being among the nation’s friendliest people.
Because of the city’s size, Santa Fe exudes a small-town charm, complete with welcoming residents. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions – the crooked streets can be confusing – or engage in conversation. Dress is casual too, but make sure to bring light layers for sudden temperature changes, which are prone to occur.
Santa Fe Dining
Santa Fe’s restaurant scene is incredibly competitive and you’re likely guaranteed a great meal no matter where you eat. The city offers a wide variety of international cuisine but traditional Santa Fe fare is not to be missed. Gourmands flock to New Mexico to try the state’s flavorful red and green chiles, which are a staple feature on Santa Fe menus. (Red and green chiles are the same type of pepper, the coloring and flavor just depends on when they’re harvested.) Chiles can be used and consumed in numerous ways, from sauces smothered atop enchiladas and tamales to hearty stews filled with meat and other vegetables. If you’re wondering where you can sample this signature treat, travelers suggest The Shed for green chile stew and the “Shed Red” sauce, Santa Fe Bite for the green chile cheeseburger and Horseman’s Haven Cafe for green chile sauce (ask for it on the side, as this one is notoriously spicy). Those wanting to try a taste of both worlds should ask for the sauce “Christmas-style,” and you’ll get both red and green chile sauce combined.
Several famous chefs have opened top-notch (and slightly pricey) restaurants in the downtown area as well, including Eric DiStefano’s restaurant Geronimo on Canyon Road and John Sedlar’s Eloisa. What’s more, the Santa Fe Farmers Market is regarded as one of the best in the country, featuring stalls of fresh produce, cheeses, chile sauce and more. Other popular eateries that win favor with locals and visitors include The Pantry Restaurant (for comfort food), Palacio Café (for traditional Southwestern fare and great service), Georgia (for an upscale dining experience with an inventive menu) and TerraCotta Wine Bistro (for an extensive wine list, live music and tasty small plates).
When it’s time for something sweet, travelers say you should head to Kakawa Chocolate House to sample the historic drinking chocolate elixirs, homemade ice cream, agave caramels, truffles and more. The shop’s chocolatiers play with flavors and create confections with hints of chili, hibiscus and pomegranate, among other flavors.
Santa Fe also boasts a margarita trail, where travelers and locals can sample margaritas at more than 25 different establishments in the region and collect stamps in a Santa Fe Margarita Trail passport for each drink consumed (passports can only receive two stamps per day). Not only will visitors have the opportunity to taste the variety of spicy, sweet and tangy margaritas available, they’ll also be able to turn in their stamped passport to redeem a prize (like a T-shirt or other gift).