The most difficult decision about shopping in Santa Fe is where to start. The clusters of stores and the shopping plazas in the downtown area can lure even the most shopping-resistant travelers. The city’s unique shops delight visitors and draw return local business. Often located in former homes, many of the specialty shops downtown and on Canyon Road are built around pleasant courtyards with fountains and well-tended gardens. Of course, like Any Town, U.S.A., Santa Fe also has malls, chain stores, a flea market, and outlets to fill all kinds of shopping needs.
In this chapter we describe Santa Fe’s main shopping areas, followed by a listing of specialty stores. We couldn’t possibly list all of the fine places to shop, but we’ve done our best to include a representative sample. Santa Fe has such an eclectic and plentiful arts-and-crafts market that we’ve included those types of stores in their own chapter, Regional Arts, and in the “Visual Arts” section of our The Arts chapter. Retail businesses can change quickly, so don’t be shy about checking out a shop or boutique that may have opened since this guide was updated.
Cash, credit cards, and traveler’s checks are welcome in most of the area’s specialty shops, malls, plazas, boutiques, and shopping centers. Most shops are open from 9 or 10 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and some are open Sunday afternoons.
Santa Fe is a great place to find items you might not be able to buy at home—locally made crafts, chile-based products, or cookbooks that specialize in the cuisine of the region. The city is an active artistic community, and many shops, including those in museums, carry handmade work at affordable prices.
In addition to its deserved reputation as one of the best cities in the nation to buy fine art, Santa Fe also offers a host of wonderful places to purchase work by American Indian and Hispanic artists. There are many ways to approach this kind of shopping, and they’re all fun.
Some visitors spend time learning as much as they can about such things as traditional Indian jewelry, pottery, kachinas, baskets, and weaving. Others, fascinated by the city’s Spanish heritage, gravitate toward the Hispanic santos, tinwork, and straw inlay. These savvy shoppers try to find out who are the best among the modern practitioners of these indigenous crafts and then search Santa Fe’s shops for their work.
Other shoppers just follow their eyes to bracelets, earrings, bolo ties, pots of all sizes, shapes, and design, and masterful handwoven rugs. They discover a wealth of other American Indian arts and Hispanic treasures.
Whatever method you pick, you’ll find that Santa Fe offers dozens of attractive options. There’s no problem finding beautiful shops that sell first-quality Indian-made items; places to buy traditional Hispanic arts are harder to come by but worth the search.
Among the best places to shop for American Indian items is the Native American Vendors Program beneath the portal of the Palace of the Governors, 107 West Palace Ave., and the shop operated by the Museum of New Mexico Foundation inside—where you may also find some Hispanic art. You can see and buy interesting Indian jewelry, pottery, and weavings as well as a fine selection of books at the shop at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, 710 Camino Lejo. The shops at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, 108 Cathedral Place, and the Wheelwright Museum, 704 Camino Lejo, also offer authentic handmade Indian items. You’ll find Hispanic arts and crafts and other interesting items at the shops at the Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) and at El Rancho de las Golondrinas a few miles out of town in La Cienega. MOIFA expanded its book selections with a lobby and shop renovation several years ago. A percentage of the sales at all these interesting little stores benefits the respective museums. The knowledgeable staff knows about the artists and their works. (See our Attractions and The Arts chapters for more about these museums.)
If your timing is right, you’ll enjoy shopping at Indian Market in August or at the Spanish Market and the International Folk Art Market and the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts and Crafts Show in July (see our Annual Events and Festivals chapter). At any of these shows, you can get an education while you make a purchase. Ask the artists about their work; the more you understand, the more you’ll appreciate these long-standing traditional art forms.
You can see excellent examples of early New Mexican Spanish arts at the Museum of International Folk Art. Indian arts and artifacts are exhibited and explained at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and elsewhere. (See our Attractions chapter.) Scholars have written shelves full of books about Indian arts and crafts—their origins, the interconnectedness of themes and materials, the evolution of certain designs, family heritage in various arts, use of native or commercial materials, innovation in design, and much more. Although less has been written on the traditional Spanish colonial art forms, there are several fine published sources of information available. Our purpose in this chapter is to provide a basic overview of the local artistic styles and forms to help visitors encountering them for the first time.
Long before “cultural tourism” became a catch phrase, the arts and culture drew tourists to Santa Fe. Although the city is best known for its visual arts, as reflected in its nationally recognized museums and some 200 galleries, you’ll also find opera, chamber music of all sorts, and vocal music. You’ll discover theater, both homegrown and imported, and quite a bit of dance, including world-famous flamenco by Juan Siddi Flamenco Theater, in residence at a local hotel all summer. Since 2000, an international film festival has attracted movie fans from throughout the world. Santa Fe has everything from free performances to $100-a-ticket extravaganzas.
The arts here encompass the traditional and the modern. The prehistoric petroglyphs in the Galisteo Basin area and along the rock canyons of the Santa Fe River south of the city reflect the antiquity of Santa Fe’s attraction as an arts center. The descendants of the city’s founding families set the stage for Santa Fe’s development as an art mecca with their indigenous arts—the colcha embroidery, delicate straw inlay, painting, and carving. The Spanish brought the arts of silversmithing, ironsmithing, and weaving to New Mexico. These early Europeans, who used their skills to create religious images and beautiful, practical items for the home and ranch, must have been inspired, as visitors are today, by the pottery and jewelry created at the nearby Indian pueblos.
Santa Fe’s blue skies, incredible light, and diverse landscape began to draw painters and photographers from the east at the start of the 20th century, first to Taos then to Santa Fe. The artists found plenty to inspire them—buildings that seemed to grow from the earth itself, narrow twisting streets, the blue bulk of the mountains and foothills framing the city to the east, and the fiery sunsets against the Jémez Mountains to the west.
Many of the earliest artists came seeking better health. The same sunshine and dry air that made them feel better also captured their eyes and imaginations. Carlos Vierra, for example, came for his health and made Santa Fe his permanent home. Vierra, a painter and photographer, worked with the School of American Archaeology (now the School of Advanced Research) and helped develop a unique style of architecture drawn from Santa Fe’s antiquity and practical use of available materials. Vierra and other artists also pushed for the restoration of historical buildings. He painted some of the murals that you can still see on the walls of St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Before World War I, Sheldon Parsons, Victor Higgins, Gerald Cassidy, William Penhallow Henderson and his poet wife, Alice Corbin Henderson, B. J. O’Nordfeldt, and many more artists came to Santa Fe, enriching the city with their art and energy.
The establishment of the Museum of Fine Arts (now the New Mexico Museum of Art) in 1907 gave Santa Fe artists a boost, helping them financially by making studios available and professionally by displaying their work. The new museum opened with an exhibit of art by Santa Fe and Taos painters. The artists donated paintings to the museum, forming the basis of its now expansive permanent collection. Many of those featured, including Pojoaque potter Maria Martinez who regularly demonstrated her artistry at the museum, are regarded as the most important U.S. artists of their time.
In the 1920s, Will Shuster—best known for creating Zozobra, a giant puppet that is burned as part of the Santa Fe Fiesta—and four other Santa Fe painters moved to adobes off Canyon Road and became known as Los Cinco Pintores (The Five Painters). They spread the glory of Santa Fe’s scenery and people with their art. Even earlier, John Sloan, George Bellows, and Leon Kroll—important names in the rebellious early 20th-century Ashcan School of American art—had visited and painted in Santa Fe. Edward Hopper and Marsden Hartley lived here in the 1920s and 1930s, as did Robert Henri and Andrew Dausburg. Writers “discovered” Santa Fe, too. Mary Austin, Willa Cather, Jack London, H.L. Mencken, Ezra Pound, Witter Brynner, and many others either lived here or were frequent visitors.
The Santa Fe Concert Band, which traces its founding to 1869, is the community’s oldest performing organization still in existence. The all-volunteer band includes amateurs and some retired professional performers who still get a kick out of playing before an audience. The group performs several times a year, usually in public parks or on the Plaza, and all concerts are free. (Call 505-471-4865 for information.) Santa Fe Playhouse, formerly Santa Fe Community Theater, is another long-established amateur company, founded in 1922, just 10 years after statehood. Music One/Santa Fe Concert Association has brought classical music to Santa Fe audiences for more than 70 years.
Santa Fe’s arts community took a step into the national spotlight in 1957, when the Santa Fe Opera staged its first performances. The Santa Fe Opera, with its commitment to nurturing American talent and offering a venue for new works, is a major player in the operatic world and draws opera fans and the curious from throughout the world for its summer season. Composer Igor Stravinsky spent more than 10 summers here, in part because of his affection for the outdoor Santa Fe Opera. (Please see our Close-up in this chapter.) The Opera’s success inspired other performance companies, with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, and Santa Fe Pro Musica adding to Santa Fe’s artistic reputation. María Benítez, one of the nation’s best-known flamenco dancers and choreographers and a New Mexico native, singlehandedly promoted Spanish dance in New Mexico, through her flamenco school and by mentoring visiting dancers from Spain and across the United States. In 2008, she officially retired from offering nightly summerlong Spanish dance performances in Santa Fe at a local hotel in order to focus on teaching. In 2009, another excellent company with ties to Benitez, the Juan Siddi Flamenco Theater, took over summer residence at the Benitez Theater at the Lodge at Santa Fe.
St. Francis Auditorium, an attractive, shoebox-shaped hall, is a popular venue for musical groups. Acoustics are good here, but some audience members may have trouble seeing. The same is true for the beautiful but small Loretto Chapel and the Santuario de Guadalupe, a former church that serves as a museum, art gallery, and performance venue. The beautiful new Santa Fe-style Santa Fe Community Convention Center, which in September 2008 replaced the old Sweeney Center as the city’s main all-purpose public space, can seat large crowds and offers convenient parking. The James A. Little Theater at the New Mexico School for the Deaf is among Santa Fe’s most frequently used venues, in part because it was actually built to be a theater! In recent years the Santa Fe cultural scene has expanded with the addition of the downtown Lensic Performing Arts Center, El Museo Cultural (for Hispanic-related arts events) and SITE Santa Fe and other contemporary art galleries in the new Railyard Park, as well as the Spanish Colonial Arts Museum, located in the existing museum cluster at Museum Hill on Camino Lejo.
New Mexico’s best-known painter, Georgia O’Keeffe, lived in Santa Fe in the years immediately preceding her death in 1986 and is honored with her own museum. O’Keeffe followed a long tradition of artists from the east migrating to Santa Fe, Taos, and nearby communities. Now, by some estimates, more than a thousand artists—some famous, some unknown but hopeful—live in Santa Fe and the surrounding area.
The New Mexico Museum of Art, The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the exhibits at SITE Santa Fe add to the city’s standing as a visual-arts center. The city estimates there are more than 200 art galleries here, making Santa Fe one of the nation’s leading places to buy and sell art. Among the galleries are those that show work by well-known national and international artists, those that look for emerging artists and cutting-edge work, and some that strive to display paintings and drawings that average buyers can afford. From traditional cowboy paintings and sculpture to work by Santa Fe and Taos painters of the 1920s and 1930s to contemporary art and even some avant garde creations—if it calls itself art, you probably can buy it here.
But galleries don’t have a monopoly on art. The long-established Indian Market brings leading American Indian artists and craftspeople from throughout the country to Santa Fe each August. Spanish Market, held in July and December, offers a rare occasion to see work patterned after traditional Spanish colonial arts created with fresh inspiration by living Hispanic artists. Santa Fe’s Plaza hosts a parade of summer arts-and-crafts shows, which make shopping for art—or just looking—accessible to the whole family. (See our Annual Events and Festivals chapter for more information on seasonal art fairs.)
The city of Santa Fe’s mural program has resulted in murals at City Hall, on street corner signal boxes, municipal buses, and even on garbage trucks. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet launched its first season in 2000. Arts of all sorts intermingle as part of the fabric of contemporary Santa Fe. From subtle chamber music to lively bilingual theater, it’s hard to find a weekend without a concert, lecture, film, or recital to entice you. Enjoy!
The following listings offer a look at some Santa Fe arts organizations. For logical use, it is arranged alphabetically. Where possible we’ve given addresses for performance locations.