Low-slung, adobe buildings
pervade downtown Santa Fe.
Photo by gettyimages.com/ricardoreitmeyer
Santa Fe's most visited districts — and those with the most restaurants, galleries, and boutiques — cluster downtown, all within walking distance of each other. Travelers can easily spend an entire day wandering each of these areas. Here's the lay of the land.
Spanish settlers built the oldest surviving houses on this mile-long stretch in the 1750s. It was an apropos spot for the early farmers: The modest homes sit on the banks of the Acequia Madre ("mother ditch"), which is still visible today as it brings water from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the city. Artists following their muses to the land of legendary light first moved into the neighborhood in 1915, planting a creative flag for the gallery district that would follow. Now the charming street features more than a hundred boutiques, restaurants, and fine-art galleries that exhibit everything from contemporary sculpture to traditional Western paintings.
Everyone from entrepreneurs to Manhattan Project scientists have arrived in Santa Fe via the rail line terminating at the Santa Fe Depot. The redeveloped 50-acre Railyard now houses the Santa Fe Farmers Market; high-end galleries; restaurants; the 12-screen Violet Crown movie theater; and the Jean Cocteau Cinema, an indie movie house owned by Santa Fe resident and Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin. SITE Santa Fe rims the Railyard where its recently renovated space presents international and contemporary art exhibitions. Plans are underway to transform a 1930s-era brick building at the corner of South Guadalupe Street and Montezuma Avenue into the New Mexico Art Museum's contemporary annex with exhibitions, studios, and a café. Vladem Contemporary is slated to open in 2020.
Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate led the first European settlement of the region in 1598 north of what is now Santa Fe, but Don Pedro de Peralta officially founded the city in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains' foothills in 1607. With a mouthful of a name — La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís, or Santa Fe for short — it's the oldest capital city in the United States. The Palace of the Governors on the Plaza, the oldest continuously used public building in the U.S., which has housed Spanish, Mexican, territorial, and United States' governments, is a keystone exhibition of the New Mexico History Museum. The rambling adobes around the square now overflow with galleries and boutiques. The Plaza remains a center of culture and commerce more than four centuries after its origin. The heart of the city is within easy driving distance of the runs at Ski Santa Fe and hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
What's Next: Southside
Chris Cloud is the marketing creative director for Meow Wolf, a homegrown art collective that's about to take over the world. Its Santa Fe art complex, with the immersive installation The House of Eternal Return, took the City Different by storm, and now that model is set to launch from the city's southside to Denver, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C. Meow Wolf also has a hotel planned for Phoenix.
"Book Mountain is easily the best bookstore in Santa Fe. It's been serving eager readers since 1980, and there is a reason why. Such a gem! You can bring your old books and exchange them for gently used ones. There's something for everyone here."
"Cleopatra's Cafe may not be what you think of when you think of New Mexican cuisine, but this is easily one of the best lunches in town. I stop in for their gyros, falafel, and fries. Real talk. The best fries in Santa Fe, if not Northern New Mexico. The family that owns and runs this spot is very warm and friendly."
"The best happy hour in Santa Fe is at Ranch House. Happening every day from 4 to 6 p.m., there's amazing $5 food specials and some of the best barbecue in region. Plus, their pineapple margaritas are something to write home about. You're welcome."