In Northern New Mexico lies the state’s capitol, Santa Fe. While it is the second largest city in New Mexico, it is much smaller than its southern neighbor, Albuquerque. However, this does not detract from the variety of fun activities, interesting museums, and good eats that this city has to offer. Of all the places we visited in New Mexico, Santa Fe was by far my favorite.
While staying in Albuquerque (ABQ) for the month of May, we made several trips north to visit Santa Fe. The city is just north of the Jemez Mountains and just south of the Sangre de Cristo range, perfectly situating it in a most beautiful desert valley surrounded by rolling hills and peaks. Each time we made the trip up from ABQ, we were awed by the beautiful sights along the way.
In our three trips to Santa Fe, we discovered a succinct list of activities to try if you find yourself in the area. These are all things we really enjoyed, and we hope you do too.
SANTA FE BREWING CO.
On our very first trip to Santa Fe, we visited the tasting room location for Santa Fe Brewing. We had tried their canned beers sold at local grocery stores, and they were so delicious that we figured a visit was in order while we were local. This brewery has a great beer selection, and we passed an entire afternoon sipping brews and playing pool here with our good friend Abigail, a fellow traveler. While they do not have a restaurant menu, guests are welcome to bring their own food or order out, which we happily did. We recommend you try the nut brown ale should you visit this brewing company.
SANTA FE RAILYARD (and farmers market)
The railyard district of Santa Fe is quite the place to be. Situated beside a historic train track, it is a community hub for fun activities. Various shops include art, local goods, home decor, and much more. There are also many places to eat, grab a beer, or sip coffee, all whilst listening to live music, as there is typically someone performing under the big red water tower. If I was a local, I would come here often to work, read a book, or just relax and enjoy the sunshine.
The railyard is also the site for the weekly farmers market, held each Saturday from 7am until 1pm. In addition to a lovely variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, vendors also sell soaps, lotions, decorations, art, baskets, pastries, coffee, artisan breads, blankets, and many other locally-sourced and produced goods. The market has a beautiful set-up and display, and visiting is a great way to help the local economy, while also stocking up on fresh produce and other goodies.
After our visit to the farmers market, we grabbed brunch at a nearby cafe, which was once featured on the hit Food Network TV show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The Tune-Up Cafe is a cute little joint that is open for three meals a day and serves classic New Mexican food. Their breakfast was delicious and was, of course, served with our choice of green or red sauce. Brendan ordered huevos rancheros, and I ordered a veggie omelette. Both were delicious, and we would highly recommend making a stop at this cute little cafe for a great meal.
Meow Wolf is an art installation which tells the interactive story of a mysterious family. Inter-dimensional travel may be involved. Prior to visiting Santa Fe, we had heard about this mysterious place from several friends, but they were hesitant to give us too much information. You see, it is the kind of place that you want to be surprised by, and knowing too much prior to visiting would spoil the surprise. However, I will mention that there are seventy-two rooms in the “museum,” and each one is colorful, trippy, creative, and incredibly well-done. Meow Wolf is one of those places that you just have to see for yourself, and I highly suggest that you plan a visit there.
SANTA FE PLAZA
Santa Fe Plaza is the historic downtown area of the city. It covers several city blocks and contains so many fun and interesting things to see and do, such as shops, museums, restaurants, and old churches. One could easily spend an entire day (or two) perusing this section of the city. The plaza itself is a park and lies at the center of all the commotion, where many people come to relax and read, drink coffee, and spend time with friends. Surrounding the plaza are the shops and museums, all made of adobe in a classic Southwestern/New Mexican style. We had a lot of fun admiring the architecture alone.
As far as museums go, there is so much to see and learn. In this small square alone lies the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the Museum of Folk International Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the New Mexican Museum of Art, and the New Mexico History Museum. Clearly, Santa Fe possesses a rich art and history scene, which one can learn of at any of the local museums. Each of these is world-renowned and totally worth a visit if you have the time.
My favorite Santa Fe stop was at the historic church buildings. There are three gorgeous churches right near the plaza, each unique from the others and exquisitely constructed. My favorite was the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which was opened in 1887. The entire church is very ornate and fancily constructed. There are also beautiful fountains, statues and gardens surrounding the exterior of the building.
San Miguel Mission is interesting because it is the oldest constructed church in the United States, built in 1628. It is one dollar per person admission, but well worth a quick stop, even if only for the history behind it.
Loretto Chapel is the third church nearby the Plaza, and this one has the most interesting story. The church itself is lovely, but the real mystery revolves around the staircase. Legend tells it that when the church was constructed in 1878, they neglected to build an ascension to the choir loft. Experts told the sisters of the church that a staircase would interrupt the structural integrity of the church and that they would have to use a ladder instead.
The story goes that the nuns began to pray to St. Joseph for wisdom regarding the staircase situation, and, on the tenth day of prayer, a man showed up offering to build a staircase. Several months later, the stairs were completed, and the carpenter disappeared without a trace. The stairs themselves are considered an anomaly, as they contain two 360-degree turns, with no visible structural support. In addition, they were constructed entirely with wooden pegs, instead of nails, and architects today are still perplexed by their continued stability. Many believe that it was St. Joseph himself who built the stairs, but we’ll leave that up for interpretation.
Our final stop made nearby the Plaza was the capitol building. We have made it our mission to stop at each state’s capitol building to learn the history of the state and to see the differences between each of them, which are typically quite interesting. New Mexico’s capitol building has a fairly simple architectural design, with a standard rotunda and four floors to house the various governmental offices, the senate and the house of representatives.
The interesting element of the capitol lies not in its architectural design, but rather in the artwork that lines the hallways and covers the walls. This art ranges in style, from classic to modern to contemporary to abstract, and everything in between. We stopped to admire each piece and couldn’t help but think that it was very “New Mexico” to have so much lovely art in the capitol.
Outside of this list, there are, of course, many other things to do in Santa Fe, but these are the things we ended up doing while in the area. I feel as if these stops gave us a good feel of this city, while also leaving us wanting more and leaving us plenty to return for and do on a later trip. Santa Fe is a vibrant, artsy, and historically-rich city, and we hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.
Do you have a Santa Fe experience you’d like to share? Is there anything we missed? Feel free to drop a comment below.