Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, has been attracting artists, musicians and writers for long for its rich tapestry of cultural activities, adobe style architecture, jaw-dropping landscapes, “perfect every day of the year” climate and a pocket friendly price tag. Find out why Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the United States, has earned the nickname, “The City Different”.
After visiting Santa Fe recently, I can easily see why renowned American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, fell madly in love with New Mexico, and made it her home. I too fell in love with the land of enchantment.
In late April as I was preparing to land at Santa Fe Airport, the Pilot’s announcement hit me like a ton of bricks—“It is snowing in Santa Fe.” This wasn’t the surprise welcome I was looking for.
Melting hot Arizona to snow swept Santa Fe in a matter of 1 hour 20 minutes? How can weather change 180 degrees?
That was my first “The City Different” moment.
Courtesy of my ignorance, I ended up wearing the most inappropriate clothing—summer-ready for an impromptu winter kiss. It was like not reading the memo and ending up in a fancy dress for a corporate dinner.
Luckily Cynthia, The Marketing Director of Tourism Santa Fe, was there for me. She understood my plight and made me change into winter wear before taking me around the city.
After that awkward moment I didn’t goof up and enjoyed exploring the many facets of Santa Fe, “the City Different”:
1. A HISTORY DIFFERENT
Where tricultural saga predates Columbus’s discovery of America
While exploring the oldest capital city in the United States (407 years), I realised how seamlessly the tricultural traditions (Native American, Spanish and Anglo) have blended in Santa Fe to create a history which is so unique.
I traveled to Taos Pueblo tracing the timelessness of Santa Fe, which predates Columbus's discovery of America by a few thousand years. The arrival of nomadic Paleo-Indians in this region dates to 10,000 BC. The distinctive adobe architecture and Pueblo style for which New Mexico is admired for, was their gift.
And it’s not just the Native Americans who contributed to Santa Fe’s history, in the 16th century Spanish explorers arrived in search of gold. The reminiscent of Old West can still be found, especially in the Downtown Plaza's Palace of the Governors, which was built in 1610, more than 300 years before New Mexico became a state.
Lastly the Anglo settlers started arriving in Santa Fe region around 1750, which was followed by the creation of Santa Fe Trail in 1821. In 1846, the United States claimed possession of New Mexico leading to the Mexican-American war, which eventually U.S. Won. In 1912, New Mexico became the 47th state of the United States.
Often history is written by conquerors but in “the City Different” history was written by a mystery man too. The Loretto Chapel's circular wooden steps were built by an unidentified man who is said to have shown up at the chapel in 1879 with a donkey and a toolbox.
Another historic moment that triggered a shift in Santa Fe’s national and even international recognition was the 1981 Esquire cover article on Santa Fe. The cover showed a young hip New Yorker heading to Santa Fe in a convertible loaded with skis, backpacks and clothes. After this story, all roads led to Santa Fe.
2. ART DIFFERENT
Where art is not a prop but the heart and soul of the city
Santa Fe is a long-established arts haven for all kinds of artists – from eminent makers to upcoming creators. And why wouldn’t creative minds flock to “the City Different “when they are surrounded and inspired by splendid high-desert landscapes, sweeping blue skies, and 325 days of sunshine per year. The result is a thriving culture economy with 250+ art galleries, over 14 unique museums, numerous art markets, a world-class opera house, and more.
Exploring Santa Fe was like walking through a never-ending art gallery. Each neighborhood had its own charm and people were genuinely interested in conversations – more dialogue less selling.
Come in. Don’t be afraid. You don’t have to buy anything. You can spend as much time as you want and ask us anything. We love to talk.
said the owner of the Globe Gallery, Canyon Road, Santa Fe.
As I walked through the mile-long second most iconic street in America, I couldn’t help but get blown away by the cutting-edge, conceptual and contemporary art Galleries. The standout feature for me was seamless integration of the Western, Native American and contemporary art galleries into the historic adobe and territorial-style home architecture.
The Epicenter of Santa Fe is a hub of fine-art activity where thought provoking museums like the New Mexico History Museum, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and world class art galleries hypnotize the visitors. You can’t help but be inspired by the legendary collections.
The 50-acre neighborhood has a thriving art scene with vibrant art galleries, restaurants, Santa Fe Farmers’ Market (one of the most widely recognized farmers’ markets in the United States), brewery, music venues and a movie theatre.
Midtown Innovation District
Further south, the Midtown Innovation District is home to the Meow Wolf, an artist cooperative, and Prescott Studio. The former has partnered with Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin to open a multiuse art complex.
South East of downtown lies museum Hill, renowned for four distinct art institutions - the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Museum of International Folk Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.
Even a person like me (who can’t understand the intricacies of fine art) couldn’t stop falling in love with the beauty of artsy Santa Fe. I was so impressed, I immediately rang my Creative friends to make Santa Fe their next travel destination.
Santa Fe is the first designated UNESCO Creative City for Crafts and Folk Art. And it puts in lot of effort to maintain that tag. It organizes three major annual art markets: the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market; the Traditional Spanish Colonial Market and the Indian Market. One percent of Santa Fe’s hotel tax supports local arts organizations, helping to maintain a flourishing arts community, employ artists and attract tourism. Furthermore, two percent of the cost of city buildings and infrastructure support site-specific public artworks.
It would be safe to say the heart and soul of Santa Fe lies in its culture economy, which has made it the number one choice of Culturephiles.
Santa Fe is all about creativity; from museums, art galleries and artists. The love of art is a driver of economic prosperity here in the City! As one of the top markets in the U.S. for art collectors and enthusiasts, Santa Fe’s art covers a wide range of media and genre of art.
Says Cynthia Dalgado, the Marketing Director of Tourism Santa Fe.
3. FOOD DIFFERENT
Where Christmas is served 365 days
Santa Fe is different even when it comes to food. I am not a foodie but the city made me one. I felt at home in the Chile capital of the world. The chile—spelled with an e, not an i—is a big deal, found on every menu in town and featured in dishes from breakfast to dinner, and even found in deserts! Chiles are more than just an ingredient, they are a way of life.
I was placing an order at the La Fiesta Lounge, La Fonda when my server asked:
Red, green, or Christmas?
That's local parlance for "How do you prefer your chile?" The spicy, capsaicin-rich sauce made from the official state vegetable. Whether you prefer spicy green, mellow red, or "Christmas," a combination of the two, the little-known secret about New Mexico chile is that red and green are one and the same. The difference is how ripe the pepper is when picked.
The authentic New Mexican Cuisine features dozens of varieties of green and red chile, and dishes that creatively use Chile. You can never have a bad meal in Santa Fe, wherever you might eat – from 400+ restaurants to food markets.
I missed on the Farmers Food Market but I really enjoyed my meal at il piatto Farmhouse Kitchen, where everything is freshly sourced from farmers, foragers and ranchers; breads, pastries, pastas and pizzas are made from whole wheat flour and only European styled grass fed butter is used for cooking.
The staff at Inn on the Alameda became my de facto guide – suggesting me the best places to eat and see. (If you are planning to visit Santa Fe, I highly recommend them to stay. (Read the detailed Inn on the Alameda Hotel review).
Thanks to them, I am planning to return during Santa Fe’s Green Chile Cheeseburger, an annual competition held at The Railyard, where local chefs compete for the winning title.
And it isn’t food which is great at Santa Fe. The wine Industry in Mexico is older than California’s. From 1629 till date, the state has come a long way from one winery to more than 42 wineries that produce more than 700,000 gallons of wine annually.
Santa Fe is also renowned for its Margarita Trail. All you need to do to enjoy the trail is to purchase the Santa Fe Margarita Trail Passport for $3 and you are good to experience one of a kind trail – from low-key bars to award winning establishments where bartenders share their drinks and secrets.
Tip: Watch the glorious sunset from the historic Bell Tower at La Fonda on the Plaza while sipping your Margarita
4. SHOPPING DIFFERENT
Where culture and commerce cross roads at historic trading routes
I am not a shopaholic but Santa Fe is a dream come true for retail therapy devotees. Having been the final stop for historic trading routes like the Santa Fe Trail and El Camino Real for centuries, it’s no secret that Santa Fe has been a major shopping hub. Shopping in the family owned-shops at Plaza, Railyard-Guadalupe District and Canyon Road is nothing less than a feast for senses.
Being a silver and turquoise jewelry lover I couldn’t stop myself from buying it from the Native American sellers at the Plaza. Great designs at affordable price. A perfect place to buy souvenirs.
Canyon road is one of the best spots in the world to buy art, fine leather goods, chic home furnishings and avant-garde jewelry. But remember quality comes at a price. I could only afford window shopping.
If you are a fan of cowboy fashion and don’t want to burn a big hole in your wallet, you should head to Kowboyz at Railyard-Guadalupe District for fantastic selection of used cowboy hats, boots and western wear.
5. OUTDOORS DIFFERENT
Where spectacular outdoor adventures are just minutes away
I came to see the history and culture of Santa Fe but fell in love with its great outdoors. Pristine wilderness of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains surrounding the city. And guess what. They are just minutes away from the city center. At over 7000 feet, Santa Fe’s mountain setting makes it an ideal destination for Skiing. No wonder Skiing in Santa Fe is ranked amongst the top 5 Ski destinations in U.S. and Canada as per Conde Nest Traveller.
Santa Fe is Mecca for hikers, skiers, snowshoers, mountain bikers, river rafters, fishing enthusiasts, horseback riders and people who love walking. In winters, you can ski the Rocky Mountains or ice skate in Hyde Memorial State Park. In summers, you can choose to hike or mountain bike or horseback ride in the 325 acres of mountain wilderness while enjoying the spectacular panoramic vistas and fields of wildflowers.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time so I could only explore the ancient cliff dwellings and thousand-year-old Taos Pueblo Up North. The sweeping mountain and cliff views made the journey unforgettable.
So these were my five reasons which make Santa Fe, "the City Different". I am sure you'll have many more.
Santa Fe was love at first sight where I didn't feel like an outsider. Santa Feans were eager to interact and share their city, traditions and secrets. After visiting Santa Fe, I know why it routinely features in travel awards. It is truly “The City Different”. But let me warn you — just like me you may fall in love after just one visit and would want to return again and again.
If this post inspired you to travel soon to Santa Fe soon, don't forget to read Perfect Travel Guide for visiting Santa Fe in the USA.
I was in Santa Fe on invitation of Tourism Santa Fe. All views expressed above are mine and based upon my experience and interactions during my stay at Santa Fe. All pictures are either taken by me or provided by Tourism Santa Fe