If you want a pure taste of the Southwest, Santa Fe just might be the destination for you. That the town’s legend far exceeds its size suggests its appeal to visitors. In fact, the city’s population of less than 73,000 apparently does not warrant having a major airport; Albuquerque is the closest. Santa Fe is one of the smallest state capitals in the country, and it’s only the fourth largest city in New Mexico.
Santa Fe’s fame comes from its stylish galleries, world-class dining and diverse shopping. It’s also known for its distinctive adobe architecture, a representation of the confluence of Spanish and Native American cultures. Adobe, produced by combining sand, clay, water and fibrous organic matter like sticks or straw, is a durable natural building material for this dry, treeless region.
Santa Fe is a high desert town-7,000-feet high-on a plateau at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The city is filled with vestiges of almost 400 years of Spanish and Mexican rule.
Santa Fe’s Plaza, now a grassy park, has been the city’s political and social nexus since its construction in the early 17th century. During its early days, Spanish officials surrounded it with houses and barracks. The Palace of the Governors, constructed soon after the Plaza was established, still stands on the north side and is the oldest continuously occupied building in the U.S. The Palace first served as the seat of New Spain’s colonial government and then as the home to Mexican and later American territorial governors. Over the years, the Plaza has been the sight of gunfights, political rallies, public markets and other functions.
A style implemented in planning the city was the radiating grid of streets from the central Plaza. While this sounded good in the formulation stage, the end result was a maze of narrow streets and alleyways. Though the outcome frustrates motorists, the proliferation of galleries, shops and restaurants have made the area a tourist’s delight.
The Plaza is a good place to start your Santa Fe tour. The aforementioned Palace of the Governors is well worth a visit, followed just across the street by the Museum of Fine Arts. The Museum, an excellent example of Pueblo Revival architecture and a prototype for Santa Fe’s adobe style, was constructed in 1917. The collection encompasses 20,000 pieces created by artists who put Santa Fe on the map. A few of these famous folks include Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe and Elias Rivera.
The nearby Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the namesake of New Mexico’s best-known painter, is the most-visited art attraction in Santa Fe. Some of the canvases are world-famous, such as Abstraction White and Crimson Weed. The new Awakening Museum, just down Johnson Street, houses the groundbreaking work of French-born Jean-Claude Gaugy. Approximately 8,000 square feet of mahogany panels, originally covering the interior of a gymnasium, glow with Gaugy’s vibrant, colorful paintings, chronicling the Passion of Christ, the State of Grace and the Book of Revelations.
We have hardly scratched the surface of the places to see and things to do on a Santa Fe holiday. The recently-opened New Mexico History Museum contains 96,000 square feet of interactive exhibition space and has been lauded for its creativity. Several other noteworthy options include museums of Spanish Colonial Art or Native American Art, contemporary art galleries in the Railyard District and the Santa Fe Farmers Market. In the evening, you can catch a show at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.