Lonely Planet Writer

Happy birthday Santa Fe

santafe1The city of Santa Fe, New Mexico is celebrating its 400th anniversary with the major festivities starting this weekend and continuing into the coming months. In reality, it's quite tricky to date the city precisely, but even working with the conservative date of 1610 when the Spanish settlers officially established the city, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States, and one of the three oldest cities in the country.

The Santa Fe area has attracted an interesting cast of characters throughout its history: conquistadors in search of gold, artists in search of inspiration, and travellers in search of relaxation, chile-laden local cuisine, and the occasional piece of art and turquoise jewelry. Some of these travellers have naturally been Lonely Planet staff and authors, and putting our collective minds together we came up with a list of 10 of our favourite things to do in Santa Fe:

1. Food, food, and food. New Mexican cuisine is one of the most flourishing regional cuisines in the US, and is not to be missed when you're in Santa Fe. Work your way through the red and green chile, the stacked enchiladas, the flaky sopapillas and rich posole. Start the day with a green chile spiced breakfast at Tía Sophia's, and finish the day with red chile sauce the way it's meant to be made at The Shed (the guacamole and the margaritas aren't too shabby either).
2. The Santa Fe Opera. Even those that typically avoid the opera will be captivated by the panoramic views of the desert from the stunning outdoor venue.
3. Georgia O'Keefe Museum. If you think you've seen all there is to see of Georgia O'Keefe's art on greeting cards and calenders, think again. For even more perspective, visit her former house in Abiquiú.
4. Gallery hop along Canyon Road. The classic Santa Fe stroll is still enjoyable even if you can't begin to afford most of the art.
5. Stay in a casita. There are many lodging options in Santa Fe, but one of the most appealing is the wide variety of small personal cottages or "casitas" that locals rent out to travellers. Casitas provide privacy, charm, and many have parking and are conveniently located.
6. Visit the quirky Loretto Chapel. Loretto Chapel's "miraculous staircase" (once featured on TV's Unsolved Mysteries, no less), said to have been built by a mysterious disappearing carpenter, is worth a look. The gift shop may be packed with delightfully schlocky trinkets, but the unique free-standing spiral staircase really is quite enchanting.
7. Admire the architecture. There's something about the colours, textures, and rounded edges of the traditional adobe buildings that fits the surroundings perfectly, contrasts with the desert blue sky, and catches the light. Make sure you've got plenty of film (or space on your memory card), because the architecture is irresistible to even the most modest of shutterbugs.
8. Explore the State Capitol building (The Roundhouse). More than just the seat of government, the Capitol building also has an extensive local art collection that is free to view.
9. Learn to cook New Mexican cuisine at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. If you fall in love with New Mexican cuisine, as many do, why not learn the techniques to make it at home?
10. Santuario de Chimayó. Take a drive through the desert hills to the chapel and pilgrimage site in the village of Chimayó, also the source of some of the most prized chiles in the state.

If you're also a lover of Santa Fe as we are, what are your favourite sights and activities?

[Photo: Santa Fe, by Katie & Ian]