Whether it's snow blanketing sensual adobe walls, spring flowers painting the historic Plaza a kaleidoscope of color, fiestas lasting long into warm summer nights or golden aspens coating the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe is a city for every season. Loving called the City Different, Santa Fe offers a weaving of history stretching from pre-Columbian contact to the nuclear age, and a beauty that draws visitors from all over the world.
La Villa Real de Santa Fe - the Royal Town of Santa Fe - was established by Spanish governor Don Pedro de Peralta in 1608, making the city the oldest continuous capital in what is now the United States. The site at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains was once home to an Indian Pueblo that had since been abandoned. Humble adobe buildings were built around a central plaza that is still the focus of the city today. One of those buildings, the Palace of the Governors, served as the capitol building for Spanish, Mexican and Territorial U.S. governors. Gov. Lew Wallace wrote his epic book Ben Hur while serving here.
One of the best ways to get to know Santa Fe is to visit the city's museums. Today, the Palace of the Governors is a museum (505-476-5100) and displays more than 15,000 artifacts from the Spanish colonial (1540-1821), Mexican (1821-1846) and U.S. Territorial (1846-1912) periods of New Mexico's history. Weapons, armor, documents, clothing, furniture and items of daily life from the Spanish through U.S. statehood in 1912 are proudly displayed. In fact, the museum itself is an archaeological site, with on-going excavations being conducted before a new annex is to be built. Items ranging from Pueblo pottery sherds to china dinnerware are being uncovered, attesting to the cultural and historic mix upon which Santa Fe is literally built. To think that just down the street is where scientists working on the top secret Manhattan Project at Los Alamos during World War II would report for duty can be heady for history buffs.
After learning a bit about New Mexico's founding history, visit the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art (505-476-5072), where the works of early Santa Fe masters underscore how the city earned its international reputation as a haven for art. In the 1920s, luminaries such as John Sloan, Andrew Dasburg and Russell Cheney trickled into Santa Fe based on word of mouth. The living was easy and the light spectacular. Georgia O'Keeffe is honored with her own museum (505-946-1000) that features her bold and redefining work. On Museum Hill, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (505-476-1250) highlights contemporary Native American art such as that of R.C. Gorman, and the Museum of International Folk Art (505-476-1200) features just that, amazing folk art from around the world, including the donated collection of Alexander Girard. An entire room is dedicated to his thousands of clay figurines that depict Pueblo dances complete with camera-wielding tourists, Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations and a scene of Heaven and Hell where even the devils look cheery. The nearby Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian (505-982-4636)and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (505-982-2226) display pieces from New Mexico's Native American and Spanish history. Don't miss the Governor's Gallery on the Fourth Floor of the current state capitol, where contemporary artists from across New Mexico are featured. The internationally acclaimed Santa Fe Opera (505-986-5900) and 1930s ornate Lensic Theater (505-988-1234) are just a few of the venues where the performing arts shine.
Does seeing all of this art and history make you want to take some home? Santa Fe is world renowned for its shopping. From pieces of hand-made Native American turquoise jewelry purchased directly from the artist under the Palace of the Governor's portal to exquisite sculptures and paintings found along Canyon Road, beautiful things abound in the City Different. Shops surrounding the Plaza sell Native American pottery and jewelry, fashionable Southwestern-style clothing, books and gifts. Make sure to explore the side streets beyond the Plaza, as many shops filled with treasures are tucked away waiting to be discovered. Galleries line narrow Canyon Road, perhaps the oldest street still in use in the country. The road follows a 13th-century Indian trail leading from the pueblo that Santa Fe was built upon to the mountains. The Spanish named it El Camino del Cañon - Canyon Road - and began building along it. Firewood was brought from the mountains to Santa Fe via this route. In the 1920s, artists began moving into the small, then-inexpensive houses, and the road's artistic heritage continues today. Gallery after gallery, many in historic buildings, offers some of the best artwork found in America, and has certainly helped Santa Fe solidify it's place as the third largest art market in the country. One of the best things serious shoppers can do for themselves in Santa Fe is to bring a good pair of walking shoes.
If all of this walking and shopping makes you hungry, that's not a problem. Santa Fe boasts many romantic restaurants that constantly garner international praise for their exciting blending of tastes from around the world. Almost always at the center of these creations is New Mexico chile. Many of the chefs have written their own cookbooks so you can try their art at home. From lavish gourmet feasts to a quick handheld breakfast burrito, Santa Fe can easily accommodate whatever craving you may have.
Of course an entire trip can be spent discovering the made-made beauty of Santa Fe, but its surrounding natural beauty is also well worth exploring. At 7,000 feet, Santa Fe is cradled by aspen-covered mountains that provide a cool respite in the summer. In the fall, the mountains turn a blaze of yellows and reds, providing a striking backdrop for the city against the almost always brilliant blue sky. You can drive into this display by following Hyde Park-Ski Basin Road. Come winter Santa Fe offers some of the most rewarding skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing and cross-country skiing in the nation. Near the end of Canyon Road is the trailhead for the new Dale Bale trail system. Winsor Trail has been called one of the best mountain biking trails in the nation. Anglers, rafters and kayakers enjoy a watery playground on the neaby Río Grande. Santa Fe has several shops that specialize in hiking, biking, skiing, fishing and all other forms of outdoor recreation. These shops are a great place to visit for tips on where to go.
After all of this exploring, treat yourself to any one of Santa Fe's world-class spas, especially if you've never been to one. Luxuriate with any number of massages and treatments, from classic Swedish to Southwestern hot rock treatments. Reflexology, scalp and the latest in spa techniques are also easily found. If it's one thing Santa Fe knows how to do, it's how to melt away stress.
Educated, exercised, well fed and relaxed, the only thing left to do is to get a good night's rest so you can do it all again tomorrow. Santa Fe has a number of attentive hotels to choose from, as well as quaint beds and breakfasts, many in historic homes. In Santa Fe, it's never hard to rest easy.
1501 Paseo De Peralta
1160 Camino Cruz Blanca
537 Cordova Road
101 W. Marcy