The Santa Fe Guide

In so many ways, Santa Fe is like a breath of fresh air. For starters, there’s the air itself—and plenty of places to enjoy it in the hills and gorgeous trails surrounding the city (not to mention Taos, which is just a short drive away). Culturally, it’s also in a league of its own. For more than four hundred years, the city has been a site for the collision of Native American, Spanish, and Anglo-American culture, and its status as a trade hub has given it a completely unique aesthetic and attitude. What gives the city its soul is the fact that those values (visual and otherwise) are so present in every segment of Santa Fe life, from the historical museums and traditional Native American galleries to the restaurants and art projects of the younger set, which have appeared in increasingly large numbers in recent years. The place is small enough that just a few days is enough to plant your feet in most parts of town, making this the ideal long weekend trip. Below, our must-hit spots.

Aspen Vista Trail

Aspen Vista Picnic Ground, Hyde Park Rd., Santa Fe

This easy little out-and-back is a local favorite since it's a relatively easy climb (a little less than four miles total) with a rewarding view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. To find the trailhead, put the Aspen Ski Basin picnic area into your GPS and head into the mountains. It's best in the fall, when the aspens are changing colors. Photos: Sophie Kuller

Canyon Road Galleries

Canyon Rd., Santa Fe | 505.982.1648

Walking along this half-mile stretch of galleries in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is the surest way to take in as much of Santa Fe’s local art scene as possible. Native American art, historical and contemporary Latino art, and international folk art all coexist as part of an array of more than a hundred shops showcasing paintings, sculpture, hand-made jewelry, and pottery. Some of the spots are kitschier than others, but it’s just as much about the scenery as it is about the art: You’ll stroll alongside huge chestnut trees that have shaded the trail since the mid-19th century, along with hidden courtyards and musical fountains.

El Santuario de Chimayo

15 Santuario Dr., Chimayó | 505.351.9961

Welcoming tens of thousands of Catholic pilgrims each year, El Santuario de Chimayo is known as a place of miracles and healing. The church itself was built after a Roman Catholic priest performing penances saw a beam of light burst from a nearby hillside—when he went to investigate, he discovered a buried crucifix. The sweet little adobe structure, decorated in the style of the region, makes a lovely excursion on its own, but most people come here to collect vials of Chimayó’s healing soil, which reportedly cures everything from cancer to infertility to back pain.

Jean Cocteau Cinema

418 Montezuma Ave., Santa Fe | 505.466.5528

Local celebrity George R. R. Martin purchased this 1970s-style movie theater a few years ago, and after renovating and upgrading the place began curating one of the most progressive cultural calendars in the city. The single-screen plays a wonderful selection of avant-garde and indie films, including midnight screenings Friday and Saturday nights, and there's live music on Mondays. It's a major hangout for the city's younger set.

Loretto Chapel

207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe | 505.982.0092

Legend has it that when the Loretto Chapel was first built, the choir above the main space could only be accessed by a rickety ladder, because the tiny church was so tight on space. In hopes of a better solution, the Sisters of the Chapel prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters—a few months later, an unnamed craftsman arrived and built a beautiful spiral staircase, only to leave without giving his name or asking for payment. Today, architects and mechanics consider the staircase to be a structural marvel, as it contains two full rotations with no central support (not to mention that it was built entirely using wooden pegs, with no hammers or glue of any kind). It's just a few blocks off the Plaza, so plan to stop in when you're making your way through town. P.S. The bar at the Loretto Hotel next-door is a great place for a drink after.

Meow Wolf

1352 Rufina Cir, Santa Fe | 505.395.6369

This high-tech, immersive art experience is bankrolled by none other than George R.R. Martin, which really tells you something about the imaginative wonder that lies within. Two years after Martin bought the former Silva Lanes Bowling Alley in 2014, Meow Wolf’s artist collective opened the space’s landmark permanent exhibition: a two-story, 20,000-square-foot Victorian house built to scale, replete with secret passageways, a cave system, and a narrative involving portals to other worlds and a break in the space-time continuum. Equal parts jungle gym, haunted house, and art installation, the exhibit is great for kids (and curious adults, too). The complex also doubles as a performance space, an education center for children, and a makerspace.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

HWY 64, Taos

Only about 10 miles outside of Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (which, as the name suggests, crosses over a section of the Rio Grande River) is one of the tallest bridges in the country. At the time it was first built, locals called it the bridge to nowhere because the state didn't procure the funding to build the road on the other side until after the bridge was completed. The views of the rift valley below the bridge and through the desert are spectacular.

Santa Fe Opera

301 Opera Dr., Santa Fe | 505.986.5900

From this opera company’s stunning open-air theater, you can see the Jemez Mountains to the west, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east, and rolling hills to the south (and amazing visiblity of the night sky once the sun sets). While you could certainly justify going for the views alone, the opera is top-notch: You can catch world-class contemporary and classic works every season.

Taos Ski Valley

116 Sutton Place, Taos Ski Valley | 800.776.1111

Located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains eighteen miles northeast of the town of Taos, the Taos Ski Valley is best known as a ski resort, though there's plenty to keep families busy here in the summer, too. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, you can opt for climbing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, rafting, or llama trekking. (Yes, llama trekking.) You can also stop for a mid-day hot chocolate at the Phoenix Grill, grab a drink at the Martini Tree Bar, or order a meal made from produce handpicked from local Taos farms at Rhoda’s restaurant. While it's a great destination in its own right, Taos makes for a convenient day trip from Santa Fe.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

Pajarito Plateau | 505.331.6259

A volcanic explosion roughly six million years ago gave us this geological marvel: cone-shaped “tent rocks” 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe. The three-mile hike takes you first through an arroyo surrounded by the canyon walls, and a small climb punctuated by juniper trees, before rewarding you with amazing views of the national monument and the surrounding area. Parking is straightforward—there’s a lot at the beginning of the trail ($5) with restrooms and picnic tables.

Tesuque Pueblo

Tesuque Pueblo Rt. 4, Santa Fe | 505.983.2667

This eensy village (the population maxes out at 800) just north of Santa Fe is actually on the National Register of Historic Places, as there's been a pueblo here since 1200 A.D. Now, it's most often cited for its fantastic flea market, which is a great place to pick up inexpensive rugs and turquoise, if you're willing to barter. Just check with your concierge in advance, as the town closes to the public a few days a year. So long as you're making the drive, stop for a some sightseeing around Camel Rock, a camel-shaped rock foundation that's a quirky local attraction.

The Plaza

100 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe | 505.983.7317

Smack in the middle of downtown Santa Fe, this market square is the bustling heart of the city. In 1821, it served as the final destination for wagons completing the 800-mile Old Santa Fe Trail from Independence, Missouri. These days, you can count on the Plaza to be a busy hub of Native American and Spanish markets, annual events, community gatherings, and concerts. You could certainly spend an afternoon exploring the shops, galleries, and restaurants that line the streets—as well shopping for turquoise from the local Native American traders selling handmade jewelry on the sidewalk.