376 Garcia St., Plaza
The coffee and pastries are perfectly good at Downtown Subscription, but people really come here for the atmosphere—the place is always buzzing with locals picking up their morning coffee, reading magazines and books from the huge library on the side wall. That, and the fact that it's downtown and has its own parking lot, which is pretty clutch in this town.
631 Cerrillos Rd., The Railyard
While this casual burger spot is known for its take on New Mexico’s iconic green chile cheeseburger, the shakes here are the real draw. Made from local Taos Cow ice cream, they are in a league of their own—flavors change daily, ranging from standard vanilla and chocolate to lavender and salted caramel. No-fuss, outdoor picnic-style tables and string lights add to the old-school charm. Plus, the burgers are super affordable, priced around just $4.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
217 Johnson St., Plaza
This museum doesn’t require much of a prelude, beyond the simple promise of housing more than 1,000 works by the legendary Georgia O’Keeffe. The museum’s main campus, located just a few blocks away from the downtown Plaza, immerses you in O’Keeffe’s creative process through an exploration of the light and landscape that inspired her. It’s an oasis of 20th-century Modernism, presenting everything from the pioneering American artist’s iconic flowers to her less-well known (but prolific) drawings and oil paintings. And, if you’re up for it, you can set up an appointment to get the museum’s tour of her former home and studio along the Chama River about an hour north of Santa Fe.
Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
108 Cathedral Pl., Plaza
The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is part of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), an entire college with a curriculum focused on contemporary native art—the only like it in the country. The museum is located off-campus in a historic building just off the plaza downtown. There, you'll find exhibitions of new work along with pieces from the National Collection of Contemporary Native Art, a 7500-work collection (every piece in it was created after 1962) that it stewards. The artists here range from nationally recognized to local newcomers; taken together, it's the kind of experience that's completely unique to Santa Fe.
Museum of International Folk Art
706 Camino Lejo, Museum Hill
Founded in 1953 by Florence Dibell Bartlett (a Chicago native who frequently traveled to New Mexico for its unique art and culture), this is one of Santa Fe's largest museums, with a collection of more than 130,000 works. Bartlett donated the funds to build the first building—which still stands today, though the museum has undergone several expansions—right before her death in the early 1950s, citing the belief that different and often-conflicting cultures of the world might understand each other better through art. Though most of the collection lives in storage, visitors can expect to see tens of thousands of works on any given visit, so this is the kind of place where you can choose your own adventure, breezing through to get the gist, or digging in for a day to focus on individual pieces.
1011 Paseo de Peralta, Canyon Road
In a town where a lot of the galleries can be kitschy, Peters Projects offers ambitious exhibitions of contemporary art that would transfer easily to a larger city. Their stable of artists includes several impressive young native artists, and they often have works from more well-known names like Chuck Close, Kiki Smith, and Bruce Conner. Check the calendar for one of their public art talks.
SITE Santa Fe
1606 Paseo de Peralta, The Railyard
The first thing you’ll notice about SITE is its façade: Designed by Los Angeles-based architect Greg Lynn, the structure’s exterior is a work of art in and of itself. The relatively small contemporary art museum (which announced a major expansion to be completed in 2017) houses regional, national, and international exhibitions in the middle of the Railyard Arts district. While SITE offers exhibitions year-round, it was founded in 1995 to organize the first international biennial of contemporary art in the US, bringing a global contemporary art dialogue to the Southwest.
The Center for Contemporary Arts
1050 Old Pecos Trail, State Capitol
With the possible exception of SITE Santa Fe, this is probably the best place in town to catch contemporary art. The curators specialize in experimental and cross-genre exhibitions, with a particularly great schedule of performances and installation art (this, in fact, was the site of the first Meow Wolf exhibitions). Their historic Armory campus, which underwent a major renovation in 2009, also hosts a cinematheque where guests can see everything from mainstream art films like Moonlight to screenings from more avant-garde contemporary artists.
Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian
704 Camino Lejo, Museum Hill
Born out of a partnership between a Navajo singer and a wealthy Boston philanthropist who began documenting Navajo traditions in the wake of forced assimilation and conversion, the Wheelwright Museum hosts exhibitions that celebrate the history of Native American tradition and look towards the future with exhibitions of living artists. Come here for traditional jewelry and weaving, historical and recent photography, and great talks on Native American issues.
Canyon Road Galleries
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.
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