Santa Fe's historic downtown plaza, once the terminus of the Santa Fe Trail, has been a center of activity in Santa Fe since the city's founding. The plaza area is full of restaurants, shops, art galleries, and museums. Also here is St. Francis Cathedral, a grand structure built in the French Romanesque style, unusual in this city of Spanish-Pueblo architecture. Santa Fe's first Roman Catholic archbishop, Jean Baptiste Lamy, started the cathedral; both the bishop and the building were the inspiration for Willa Cather's novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop. A wooden icon in the cathedral's north chapel is the oldest representation of the Madonna in the United States.
Other historical buildings include Santuario de Guadalupe, the nation's oldest shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe; built in the late 1700s, its adobe walls are three feet thick. Our Lady of Light Chapel, also known as Loretto Chapel, was built between 1873 and 1878 and is the oldest stone masonry building in the city; it is known for its spiral wooden Miraculous Staircase, apparently made without nails or a support beam. San Miguel Mission, one of the oldest mission churches in the nation, was built in 1610 by the Tlaxcala natives, who were servants of Spanish soldiers and missionaries; on display is a bell that was cast in Spain in 1356 and brought to Santa Fe in the early 19th century. The New Mexico State Capitol building, the only round capitol building in the United States, was built in the shape of a Southwestern Indian zia, which represents the circle of life. The Palace of the Governors has been home to 60 Spanish, Mexican, and American governors, among them Lew Wallace, who wrote the novel Ben Hur there during his 1877-1881 tenure. Built in 1610, it became a history museum in 1909.
Canyon Road, just north of the capitol building, was once a Native American trail and defines one of the oldest districts in the city. Just west of Canyon Road is Barrio de Analco, now called East de Vargas Street, among the oldest continuously inhabited streets in the nation; many historic homes are located here. The Cross of the Martyrs, overlooking the city, is a large white cross built in 1920 to commemorate the Franciscans killed by native Pueblos in 1680. The Commemorative Walkway leading to the monument has been the route for various religious processions, particularly in September during Fiesta, the celebration of the return of the Spanish to Santa Fe in 1692.
Santa Fe is surrounded by twelve Pueblo villages, each of which retains its own distinct culture and holds special events relating to its unique traditions; all are located within an hour's drive of the city.
Home of more than 20 music groups, theater companies, and dance groups, Santa Fe supports one of the best and most active arts communities in the country. The famous Santa Fe Opera, which attracts audiences from throughout the world, presents its performances in a partially open-air amphitheater located on a wooded hill north of the city. It is known for its performances of the classics, obscure works by classical composers, and American premiers of modern works. Its eight-week season runs from June to August. The Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performs classical and popular works at the Lensic Performing Arts Center; the center's lavish Lensic Theater, built in 1931 as a film and vaudeville house, received an $8.2 million restoration, which was completed in 2001. The Desert Chorale choral group performs at venues throughout the city and is known for blending Renaissance melodies and avant-garde compositions.
Students at the College of Santa Fe stage their productions in the Greer Garson Theatre. Their season, which runs from October to May, consists of several presentations of four plays. Santa Fe Playhouse, established in the 1920s, performs dramas, avant-garde works, and musical comedy in a historic adobe theater.
The María Benitez Teatro Flamenco performs flamenco music and dance in a summer season at the María Benitez Theatre at the Radisson Hotel. The company is comprised of Benitez, who has been named the best flamenco dancer of her generation by Dance magazine, and flamenco dancers and musicians from throughout the United States and Spain.
Santa Fe is home to several museums specializing in a variety of fields. The Museum of New Mexico, described as the most important modern cultural institution in the state, houses the Palace of Governors, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of Fine Arts, and Museum of International Folk Art. The Palace of the Governors, the nation's oldest continually used building, houses exhibits relating to Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and American frontier history. Its governor offices have been restored and preserved. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture showcases exhibits pertaining to the history and contemporary culture of the Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache peoples, including pottery, basketry, woven fabrics, jewelry, and contemporary crafts. Opened in 1987, its massive collection has been built over the course of nearly 80 years of research and acquisition by the Laboratory of Anthropology. The Museum of Fine Arts, built in 1917, is the oldest art museum in the state; it was built in the style of the mission church at nearby Acoma Pueblo. The museum maintains a collection of more than 20,000 works, with a specialty in regional art from throughout the 20th century to the present. The Museum of International Folk Art, the largest of its kind in the world, has more than 130,000 items of folk art from around the world, including dolls and puppets, masks, textiles, ceramics, furniture, clothing, and Spanish colonial artworks.
The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum houses the largest collection of the artist's work in the world. The museum features revolving exhibits of O'Keeffe's paintings, watercolors, pastels, charcoals, and sculptures, and also hosts exhibitions of works by some of O'Keeffe's contemporaries. The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, housed in a building shaped like a Navajo hogan, features rotating single-subject displays of jewelry, tapestry, pottery, baskets, and paintings crafted by Native Americans throughout the Southwest. The Institute of American Indian Arts Museum focuses on works by students and faculty members; with more than 7,000 works, it is the largest collection of contemporary American Indian art in the world. The Santa Fe Children's Museum was developed to offer hands-on exhibits for the whole family. Santa Fe's newest museum is the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, which presents a variety of Hispanic media—including santos (painted and sculpted images of saints), textiles, tinwork, silverwork, goldwork, ironwork, straw appliqué, ceramics, furniture, and books—dating from the Middle Ages through the present.
Many of Santa Fe's events reflect the cultural diversity of the city. During the Chimayo Pilgrimage, on Good Friday, thousands walk on foot to the Santuario de Chimayo, a small church believed to aid in miracles. The Rodeo de Santa Fe, a popular regional competition, is held in June; the four-night rodeo features entrants from several states competing in such events as bareback bronco riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, and barrel racing. The annual Traditional Spanish Market is held in July; it is the oldest and largest market in the country for Spanish Colonial artists. More than 300 Hispanic artisans offer traditional artforms including santos, textiles, tinwork, furniture, straw appliqué, and metalwork. The market also presents live music, art demonstrations, and regional foods. The Indian Market, held in August, is the country's largest and most prestigious Native American art show. More than 1,000 artisans offer basketry, blankets, jewelry, pottery, woodcarvings, rugs, sandpaintings, and sculptures. Tribal dancing and craft demonstrations are also presented. La Fiesta de Santa Fe in September, which dates to 1712, is the oldest community celebration in the country. Highlights include Spanish dancing, mariachi music, food and craft booths, and parades and ceremonies including a pet parade, a historical/hysterical parade, and a fiesta mass of thanksgiving held at St. Francis Cathedral, followed by a candle-lit procession from the cathedral to the Cross of the Martyrs. The Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta, a five-day event, is also held in September. The Winter Spanish Market, in December, is a smaller version of July's market; some 150 artisans offer their wares.
Drawing on the traditions of three cultures—Native American, Spanish, and Anglo—Christmas celebrations in Santa Fe take on a special flair. As part of the festivities, farolitos— luminaries made of paper bags, sand, and candles—set the town aglow on Christmas Eve. Indian pueblos schedule winter dances, bonfires, and processions in late December and January.
Polo teams sponsored by local merchants compete in Sunday games from June through Labor Day at the Santa Fe Polo Club.
Outdoor activities can be pursued throughout most of the year in Santa Fe. Outdoor enthusiasts can mountain-bike through the area's high-desert terrain, hike in the area's 1,000 miles of national forest trails, golf at one of Santa Fe's three golf courses, or play tennis at one of 48 tennis courts. Within the Santa Fe National Forest are wilderness areas—Pecos, Dome, and San Pedro parks—that are ideal for hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting. Resorts at Ojo Caliente and Jemez Springs furnish bath houses for the enjoyment of the natural hot springs for which northern New Mexico is famous. Skiing is a flourishing sport in Santa Fe. Seven ski areas within a two-hour drive provide facilities for every level of skiing expertise. Ski Santa Fe, a 30-minute drive through the Sangre De Cristo Mountains from Santa Fe, is an especially popular spot. Cross-country skiing areas are also nearby.
Santa Fe has been described as a shopper's "Shangri-La." With hundreds of stores in the downtown area alone, the city offers boutiques and specialty shops, 200 art galleries, and several large shopping centers. Locally designed and crafted items such as clothing, jewelry, pottery, and furniture are featured.
Prime shopping areas include the historic Canyon Road area, home to a large, eclectic mix of small shops and galleries; and the plaza area, which features the greatest concentration of Native American crafts, as well as the Santa Fe Arcade, a three-story shopping center that opened in 2004. The Guadelupe district, a recently redeveloped area close to the rail-yard, features numerous specialty stores and cafes. Located in this area is the Sanbusco Market Center, a remodeled warehouse occupied by unique shops and restaurants. Other Santa Fe shopping highlights include the local treats at the Santa Fe Farmer's Market, and the variety of wares at the Tesuque Flea Market.
A specialty of Santa Fe is northern New Mexico cuisine, which is a mixture of Pueblo Indian, Spanish Colonial, and Anglo frontier cooking. It differs from "Tex-Mex" food in that northern New Mexican cooks use heavy meats for such dishes as carne adovada, or marinated pork. Green chiles, pinto beans, and blue corn tortillas are also used in local dishes. Sopaipillas, deep-fried puff pastries drizzled with honey, are especially popular. Among other dining options are Western-style steak and barbeque, vegetarian cuisine, and Italian, Chinese, Sushi, Thai, Indian, Korean, Mediterranean, French, and Native American restaurants.
Visitor Information: Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, 201 West Marcy, PO Box 909, Santa Fe, NM 87504; telephone (505)955-6200; toll-free (800)777-CITY