Missions, museums and Meow Wolf. All are players in the story of 'the city different,' a place that makes its own rules without forgetting its long and storied past. Walking through its adobe neighborhoods, or around the busy plaza that remains its core, there's no denying that Santa Fe has a timeless, earthy soul. Indeed, its artistic inclinations are a principal attraction – there are more quality museums and galleries here than you could see in just one visit.
At over 7000ft above sea level, Santa Fe is also the nation’s highest state capital. Sitting at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo range, it makes a fantastic base for hiking, mountain biking and skiing. Après adventure, you can indulge in chile-smothered local cuisine, buy turquoise and silver directly from Native American jewelers in the Plaza, visit remarkable churches, or simply wander centuries-old, cottonwood-shaded lanes, daydreaming about one day moving here.
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If you've been hankering for a trip to another dimension but have yet to find a portal, the House of Eternal Return by Meow Wolf could be the place for you. The premise here is quite ingenious: visitors get to explore a recreated Victorian house for clues related to the disappearance of a Californian family, following a narrative that leads deeper into fragmented bits of a multiverse (often via secret passages), all of which are unique, interactive art installations.
With 10 beautifully lit galleries in a rambling 20th-century adobe, this museum boasts the world's largest collection of O'Keeffe’s work. She’s best known for her luminous New Mexican landscapes, but the changing exhibitions here range through her entire career, from her early years through to her time at Ghost Ranch. Major museums worldwide own her most famous canvases, so you may not see familiar paintings, but you’re sure to be bowled over by the thick brushwork and transcendent colors on show.
The oldest public building in the US, this low-slung adobe complex began as home to New Mexico’s first Spanish governor in 1610. It was occupied by Pueblo Indians following their revolt in 1680, and after 1846 became the seat of the US Territory’s earliest governors. During research the Palace was undergoing renovations; expect a new look after its scheduled 2020 reopening. The adjoining New Mexico History Museum engagingly tells the story of the state, beginning with the Spanish arrival in the 1500s.
Santa Fe’s most unusual and exhilarating museum centers on the world's largest collection of folk art. Its huge main gallery displays whimsical and mind-blowing objects from more than 100 different countries. Tiny human figures go about their business in fully realized village and city scenes, while dolls, masks, toys and garments spill across the walls. Changing exhibitions in other wings explore vernacular art and culture worldwide.
For more than 400 years, the Plaza has stood at the heart of Santa Fe. Originally it marked the far northern end of the Camino Real from Mexico; later, it was the goal for wagons heading west along the Santa Fe Trail. Today, this grassy square is peopled by tourists wandering from museum to margarita, food vendors, skateboarding kids and street musicians. Beneath the portico of the Palace of the Governors, along its northern side, Native Americans sell jewelry and pottery.
This top-quality museum sets out to trace the origins and history of the various Native American peoples of the entire Southwest, and explain and illuminate their widely differing cultural traditions. Pueblo, Navajo and Apache interviewees describe the contemporary realities each group now faces, while a truly superb collection of ceramics, modern and ancient, is complemented by stimulating temporary displays.
Santa Fe’s French-born bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy – hero of Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop – set about building this cathedral in 1869. Its Romanesque exterior might seem more suited to Europe than the Wild West, but the Hispanic altarpiece inside lends a real New Mexican flavor. A side chapel holds a diminutive Madonna statue that was taken into exile following the Pueblo Revolt, and has been known since the Spaniards’ triumphant return in 1692 as La Conquistadora.
Celebrating the long history of Hispanic culture in New Mexico, this museum places the religious and domestic art of the region in the context of the Spanish colonial experience worldwide. The carved statues and paintings of saints familiar from churches throughout the state are displayed alongside the personal possessions treasured by colonists as reminders of their original homeland.
This little-known research center, specializing in archaeology and anthropology, holds one of the largest collections of Southwestern Native American art in the world – there are some 12,000 pieces here, including works by Maria Martinez and Lucy Lewis. The collections are not usually open to the public; however, you can join tours once or twice a week by reservation only.