Kakawa Chocolate House
1050 E. Paseo de Peralta, Plaza
The case at this quintessentially New Mexican chocolate shop is always full of little delights, but they really specialize in drinking chocolate—rich, creamy cups of liquid chocolate. Kakawa describes the drinks as "chocolate elixirs," and serves them in Mesoamerican, European, and contemporary styles, tracing the history of the practice from the Mayans and Aztecs who invented it, to the Europeans who co-opted it, to the present day. Needless to say, this is a must-stop for anyone traveling with kiddos.
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.
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.
Jean Cocteau Cinema
418 Montezuma Ave., Plaza
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.
207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Plaza
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.
100 Old Santa Fe Trail, Plaza
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.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
The Lensic, 211 W. San Francisco St., Plaza
As the name suggests, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) has two home cities, a hybrid business model that allows two small (but highly creative) cities that might not be able to support a full ballet company on their own to experience high-quality contemporary ballet for half the year. They often commission original new works, which means—to both communities' great delight—you never know what's going to be on the calendar. What's more, the company values community outreach and education, offering dance schools in both cities.
The Good Stuff Café Vinyl
401 W. San Francisco St., Plaza
Just off the main drag of the plaza, this tiny little shop has a really well-curated selection of used books and records that can all be purchased for a song. The little espresso machine in the corner is perennially manned by local creatives—a valuable resource if you're on the hunt for events like screenings and gallery openings.
107 W. San Francisco St., Plaza
This sliver of a store shares a space with its next-door neighbors, so the square footage is small, but what's here is great. Specializing in menswear, they carry a great mix of prim cashmere sweaters, tailored dinner jackets, and leather accessories like belts and shoes (plus a few good leather jackets). It gets bonus points for being within striking distance of most hotels, helpful for forgetful packers.