Santa Fe
New Mexico

San Miguel Chapel in Santa Fe New Mexico
© Mike Leco / USATourist

Built between 1610 and 1626, the San Miguel Mission is the oldest church in the United States. Mass is held every Sunday.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

The City Different

Santa Fe, New Mexico, located sixty miles north of Albuquerque, is a favorite vacation destination in the USA. As the second oldest city in the United States, it offers a unique mix of history, architecture, culture, cuisine, outdoor activities and shopping in a setting that epitomizes the American Southwest.

The oldest capital city in the USA

With 65,000 residents, Santa Fe is New Mexico's third largest city. It was originally settled by Spaniards before1607, and is now the oldest state capital city in the United States. Its original name "La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis", is Spanish for "the Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi".

At 7,000 feet above sea level, the city spans nearly 35 square miles in a valley near the Rio Grande at the southern base of the Rocky Mountains. It is nestled between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and the Jemez Mountains to the west.

Santa Fe can be surprising to first-time visitors who think they will find a hot, dry desert climate all year-round. While the city is blessed with abundant sunshine, winters bring sufficient snowfall to makes it a popular ski destination. Without severe temperature extremes, it offers much to enjoy any time of the year.

Home of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market

The annual Santa Fe Indian Market is held in August. It provides the opportunity to purchase original works of art directly from 1,200 American Indian artists who participate from across the country. With the growing interest in folk art, the city recently launched the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, scheduled for July, with artists from 40 countries exhibiting. Spanish colonial art can be seen and purchased at the Traditional Spanish Market, the oldest and largest exhibition and sale of its kind in the United States, which is also scheduled for July. The smaller Winter Spanish Market is held in December.

A winter wonderland

During winter, Santa Fe often becomes a magical wonderland with snow lightly blanketing the ground while the sun shines in clear blue skies. The air is perfumed with the spicy scent of burning pinon wood. This city is especially delightful at Christmas when it glows with farolitos - paper bags filled with sand and illuminated by candles. They line adobe walls, the roofs of buildings, homes, driveways and sidewalks.

Sunsets and sunrises are beautiful. The images created by the ever-changing patterns of white and sometimes charcoal gray clouds traveling across a backdrop of vivid-blue sky fascinated 20th-century painter Georgia O'Keeffe, who lived much of her life north of Santa Fe.

Arriving and getting settled

Allow time to adjust to Santa Fe's high altitude and take it easy the first day or so. It is especially important to drink plenty of water, and to apply plenty of sunscreen even in winter.

Albuquerque International Sunport Airport, about an hour's drive southwest, is the closest major airport to Santa Fe. Santa Fe's smaller Municipal Airport is served by Great Lakes Aviation with commercial flights from Denver, Colorado. For a short visit of a few days, no car is needed to enjoy the city's major sites. Take a shuttle bus from Santa Fe Municipal or from Albuquerque Sunport Airport, and stay at one of the many glorious hotels or charming bed and breakfast establishments close to the Plaza downtown. Most of the historic sites, restaurants and stores are within an easy walk.

For a longer stay, rent a car and visit some of north central and central New Mexico's nearby attractions.

Historic sites

Santa Fe boasts the United States' oldest public building, church, house and neighborhood. It has 10 major museums and some 200 world-class art galleries, making it an art and history lover's paradise.

Downtown Santa Fe is a National Historic District. At its heart is the Plaza. Bounded by Palace Avenue on the north, Old Santa Fe Trail on the east, San Francisco Street to the south, and Lincoln Avenue on the west. The park like Plaza is the main town square. On its north side is the Palace of the Governors, built in 1610 as Santa Fe's original capitol building and first major structure. The one-story adobe spans the block and is the oldest U.S. public building still in continuous use.

Palace of Governors in Santa Fe New Mexico © Jack Patsons / SFCVB
At the Palace of Governors talented Native American artists and craftspeople sell their original artwork and goods.

The front portal is reserved for Native Americans to sell their traditional and contemporary jewelry, pottery, sand paintings, and other arts and crafts. They are there 360 days a year from 8 a.m. to dusk. The Native American Artisans Program of the Palace of the Governors provides an opportunity for these talented artists and craftspeople to market their original artwork in a venue that assures authenticity for the buyer. The goods displayed and sold by program participants must be made by the seller or by their household members.

East of the Plaza is a turquoise portico with shops, restaurants and courtyards, and the Sena Plaza. At the end of East San Francisco Street, is St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral. South on Old Santa Fe Trail is the Loretto Chapel erected in 1873-1878. Its choir loft staircase which makes two complete 360-degree spiral turns without center or side supports is said to be a "miraculous" architectural achievement. Legend has it that the chapel's small size and choir loft height precluded a conventional staircase. Faced with using a ladder or rebuilding the balcony, the good sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, and a carpenter appeared who constructed the staircase and mysteriously left without payment.

Further south on Old Santa Fe Trail is an area formerly known as Barrio de Analco and part of a National Historic District. Some homes date to the mid-18th century. On the eastern side of Old Santa Fe Trail at 215 East De Vargas Street is the oldest house in the United States, built around 1646. At the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and East de Vargas is San Miguel Mission Church, said to be the country's oldest church structure. The altar was built by Indians from Mexico in 1610, and mass is still celebrated every Sunday. The adobe Santuario de Guadalupe, west of the Plaza was built between 1776 and 1796. It holds a stunning altar painting and is the country's oldest extant shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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A sampling of works by New Mexico's most famous artist can be seen in the small Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson Street, a few blocks west of the Plaza. The Museum of Fine Arts, 107 West Palace Avenue, has a collection focused on 20th century Southwestern American art, while the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, 108 Cathedral Place, is dedicated to contemporary Native American fine art and a showcase for artists from the Institute.

Four museums are clustered on Museum Hill, a few miles southeast of the Plaza above the city, on Camino Lejo off Old Santa Fe Trail:

The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture gives a fascinating opportunity to learn about the culture and history of Southwest Native Americans from their perspective in an exhibition that combines displays ranging from architecture and the arts to language and song with videos in which they tell their own stories. A second permanent exhibit displays nearly 300 pieces of pottery created over 2,000 years by Pueblo Indians.

The Museum of International Folk Art houses the world's largest collection of folk art and is regularly voted Santa Fe's best museum.

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, designed after a Navajo "hooghan," or home, features changing exhibits of contemporary and traditional Native American art. Its Case Trading Post Museum Shop is worth a visit on its own. Outfitted to resemble a turn-of-the-20th-century Navajo reservation trading post, it sells pottery, jewelry and textiles from more than 100 respected artists.

The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art holds the most comprehensive collection of Spanish Colonial art, focusing on works created in New Mexico since colonized by Spain in 1598 and encompassing art from countries that influenced this art from the Middle Ages to today.

Museum Hill can be reached by taking the M line bus from the downtown, with bus fare free on Sunday.

Native American boutique in Santa Fe New Mexico © Mike Leco / USATourist
Santa Fe offers an array of goods to satisfy the most discerning shoppers, with an eclectic mix of unique boutiques, familiar chain stores, shopping malls, and art galleries.


From cowboy and cowgirl boots, buckles, belts and custom-made hats to high-fashion jewelry and collectable works of art, Santa Fe offers an array of goods to satisfy the most discerning shoppers, with an eclectic mix of unique boutiques, familiar chain stores, shopping malls, and art galleries.

Several shops and small indoor malls, including the Plaza Galeria and Santa Fe Arcade, surround the Plaza or are within easy walking distance. Lincoln Avenue, one block north of the Plaza, offers a collection of shops called Lincoln Place. More shops are located on West San Francisco Street. For delightful shopping in a renovated warehouse, visit Sanbusco Market Center, 500 Montezuma Avenue, in the Guadalupe District adjacent to the historic Railyard. Some two dozen shops and restaurants are located at Sanbusco - short for Santa Fe Builders' Supply Company -- in what was once the Railyard Center, a pleasant walk southwest of the Plaza.

Visit Canyon Road, the internationally famous, half-mile collection of one-of-a-kind galleries, shops and restaurants, off the southeastern curve of Paseo de Peralta near East Alameda Street. Lined with historic adobe houses, Canyon Road is a former route used by American Indians to travel from pueblos along the Rio Grande to those in the Pecos region. This is the place to buy original works of art.

South of the city on Cerrillos Road and accessible by bus from the downtown Plaza are three major shopping complexes. Villa Linda Mall at Rodeo Road; Santa Fe Plaza Shopping Center, and the Santa Fe Premium Outlets, with a few dozen stores offering bargain prices.

Taos Pueblo Festival in Taos New Mexico © Jack Patsons / SFCVB
One of North America's oldest continuously inhabited communities, Taos Pueblo has been home to the Taos Pueblo Indians for more than 1,000 years.

Day trips

About 70 miles north of Santa Fe is Taos, a small historical artists' community with art galleries, museums and world-class skiing. Especially noteworthy is Taos Pueblo, with its multi-storied adobe buildings. One of North America's oldest continuously inhabited communities, it has been home to the Taos Pueblo Indians for more than 1,000 years. It is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark. The pueblo is open to visitors except during late winter and early spring.

Bandelier National Monument, west of Santa Fe, has ruins of ancient cliff dwellings. Most of New Mexico's 19 Indian pueblos are within driving distance from the city. Some are open to tourist visits; others are not. Northwest of Santa Fe about 34 miles is Los Alamos, where the first atomic bomb was created. The small village still attracts many scientists from around the world that come to visit the Los Alamos National Laboratories, but there are few attractions for tourists.

New Mexico's largest city, Albuquerque, is worth visiting to see historic Old Town and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The city celebrates its 300th anniversary from April 2005 to April 2006. It hosts the Gathering of Nations Indian Powwow every spring which is the largest Native American cultural festival in the USA.


In the downtown area surrounding the old town district, there are a number of beautiful hotels designed in the Adobe Spanish Colonial style of architecture. For the most part, they are luxury hotels in the above average to expensive price range. There is a much broader selection of hotels along Cerillos Road a few miles south of downtown. You can find hotels in the budget to moderate price range in that area. There are also a few moderately priced hotels near the exits on I-25

Written by: Jean Verlich
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist
Photo Description: Skyline of Santa Fe, New Mexico