Santa Fe, New Mexico, is unlike any other place in the US. In fact, it hardly feels like you’re in the US at all.
Thanks to heritage council ensuring all buildings are built in the typical adobe fashion, walking the streets of Santa Fe makes you feel as though you’re stepping back in time.
Some complain that the architecture restrictions make the city ‘boring’ because all the buildings look the same. But personally I love the design – I think it makes the city visually impressive – and it’s as though you’re walking around in a village built 1,000 years ago.
Dave and I spent two days there – which definately wasn’t enough – but we got a feel for some of the best things to do there and we’d love to share them with you.
4 things to do in Santa Fe, New Mexico
1. Visit the museums
Santa Fe has some of the best collection of museums we’ve come across in the US.
The New Mexico Museum of Art houses the Dorothy and Herbet Vogel art collection. This couple came from regular backgrounds – Dorothy was a librarian and Herbet was a postal worker – and yet they really loved their art. They collected hundreds of pieces of minimal and conceptual art over the years – realising some artists’ talents before they rose to fame.
They donated the collection ‘Fifty Works for Fifty States’ to the New Mexico Museum of art. Some of it is stunning… but other pieces – like the scribbles on regular pieces of paper – is not much to be desired. I guess I don’t understand some modern art!
The New Mexico Museum of Art is certainly worth a look though, and if you go on a Friday evening it’s free!
Just across the road from the New Mexico Museum of Art is the New Mexico History Museum.
New Mexico has a fascinating history – evidence of humans has been traced back to more than 11,000 years on the land. Over the generations it has been ruled by the Peublo people, the Apachean Indians, the Spanish and the Americans.
The New Mexico History Museum delves into this past and a fascinating exhibit dedicated to the Native American Indians, as well as a floor dedicated to cowboys – past and present.
There’s also a section in the museum dedicated to the building of the first atomic bomb, which happened in New Mexico. Many scientists and engineers lived in New Mexico during this time (mid-1940s) but they had to keep their profession a secret. Finally, in 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated in a remote area of New Mexico. And not long after the bombs in Japan were dropped, ending World War II.
For an even more in-depth insight into Native American Indian culture, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture shouldn’t be missed.
Rather than just tell the history of the Native American Indians, the museum looks at how they live today and how their culture has changed and adapted to modern times.
It also exhibits some art created by the local people over the years. There’s also a small sculpture garden near the front entrance. Much of the artwork is very beautiful and the museum is almost worth a visit just for that.
But my favourite museum of all was the Museum of International Folk Art. I’d never been anywhere quite like it!
The main room is dedicated to minitures from around the world and the curators have put together little cities so you can explore the culture behind these tiny worlds.
Make sure you pick up the guide book upon entry because this explains the story behind each display.
See the below video for an insight into what the International Museum of Folk Art is like.
2. Sip on chocolate at Kawaka Chocolate House
I think I take after my mum in that I love chocolate. We used to hide it from my dad because he would eat it so fast that we believed he wasn’t ‘savouring’ it enough.
I had chocolate cravings in Santa Fe so was excited to discover there’s a cafe devoted to chocolate there – the Kawaka Chocolate House.
They have multiple hot chocolate concoctions to choose from and the best part about it is that you can sample them before you buy. Just to make sure I chose the best, I sampled them all of course!
3. Dine at Jambo Cafe
It’s not just the drinks that are delicious in Santa Fe, the food isn’t bad either. Dave and I had lunch at Jambo Cafe one day – a restaurant cooking up African fare – and were impressed.
Housed in a nondescript shopping complex, there’s a large variety of choice if you’re a vegetarian. I went with the curry-encrusted goat’s cheese salad, served with roasted vegetables, organic field greens and pomegranate vinaigrette.
Dave had the jerk chicken.
The ingredients were super fresh and full of flavour. The restaurant was packed even though it was lunchtime mid-week. Goes to show how popular it is!
4. Shop at the markets
There are numerous farmers’ markets all around the US but what makes Santa Fe’s stand out from the rest is the chile!
Chiles are everywhere. We walked around the Santa Fe Railyard Market and you could smell the tangy aroma of roasted chiles hanging in the air.
But the chiles aren’t just for eating – New Mexicans use them to decorate the front of their houses and as you explore Santa Fe you will see many of these decorations outside the front of the adobe houses.
To get a real taste for the abundance of chile at the markets, watch the short video below.
Across the road from the Railyard Market is the Artisans Market where local artists sell their work. We bought all of our Christmas presents for our families here. All of the work was so unique and we loved the idea of giving one-of-a-kind pieces from our travels in Santa Fe to our parents.
And if I could choose one word to describe Sante Fe, that word would be ‘unique’. I truely haven’t been anywhere like it, and after travelling around North America for six months, it was refreshing to go somewhere completely different to the rest of the country.
Have you been to Santa Fe? What are your recommendations?
What you need to know:
The New Mexico Museum of Art
Cost - It’s free 5 to 8 pm, May through October, and first Friday of the month, November through April. All other times it costs US$6 for New Mexican residents and US$9 for everyone else.
When to go – Opening hours are:
Mondays: Last week of May through second week of October 10am-5pm. It’s closed mid-October through end of May.
How to get there - The address is 107 West Palace Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s located just off the downtown Plaza and there’s paid street parking out the front.
New Mexico History Museum
Cost and hours are the same as the New Mexico Museum of art.
How to get there - The address is 113 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The history museum is just opposite the New Mexico Museum of art and there is also paid street parking outside.
Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art
Cost - US$6 for locals and US$9 for everyone else.
You can also buy two and four day passes to visit a variety of New Mexican museums including these, for US15 and US$20 for non-residents.
When to go – Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. During the summer there are extended hours.
How to get there – The museums are on Museum Hill, which is at 710-708 Camino Lejo, off the Old Santa Fe Trail
Kawaka Chocoalte House
When to go – Hours are Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm and Sunday 12pm-6pm
How to get there - The address is 1050 E. Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, NM 87501 and there’s free parking out the front
When to go – Hours are Monday-Saturday 11am-9pm
How to get there - The address is 2010 Cerrillos Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87505 and there is free parking in the shopping centre parking lot.
Farmer’s Market at the Railyard
When to go – Every Saturday year-round 8am-1pm
How to get there – The market is located at 1607 Paseo de Peralta (at S. Guadalupe St). There is free parking across the street.