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Santa Fe, New Mexico (3 days)

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

Key Points:

  1. Santa Fe is not one of the best travel destinations, but could be a good place for a visit in the USA.

  2. WikiVoyage has the original version of travelling in Santa Fe. But we have rewritten and integrated several articles together to create a better version.

According to Wikipedia, "Santa Fe (Spanish for 'Holy Faith') is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico."

Here we quote the best way to travel in Santa Fe provided by wikiVoyage, a multilingual, web-based project to create a free, complete, up-to-date, and reliable worldwide travel guide. Wikivoyage is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization that also hosts a range of other project such as Wikipedia. Please edit the articles and find author credits at the original wikiVoyage article on Star articles - Santa Fe. Content on wikiVoyage can be shared under a Creative Commons License.

Part 1: Understand.

Santa Fe was once the capital of Spain's, and then Mexico's, territories north of the Rio Grande, but its visible history extends far beyond the arrival of the Spanish; it is thought to have been the site of Puebloan villages that had already been long abandoned by the time the Spanish arrived in 1607. It became the state capital when the territory of New Mexico achieved statehood in 1912.

In the early 20th century, the area attracted a number of artists, such as Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. The region remains important on America's art scene. The arrival of Igor Stravinsky and the founding of the Santa Fe Opera, one of the world's leading opera companies, had a similarly invigorating and enduring influence on the musical community. Many people go to Santa Fe for spiritual gatherings and to practice meditative arts at the many spas and resorts that are in and around Santa Fe.

Santa Fe is rooted in paradoxes. On the one hand, it is one of the United States' oldest cities (by some reckonings the oldest), and many residents can trace their roots and property holdings in town back to the 17th century. On the other hand, it has also been the target of a teeming influx of wealthy immigrants since the mid-1970s that has spurred a great deal of new construction and created inflated prices for real estate—and drastically elevated taxes on old family properties, many of which are owned by families that can't afford the taxes. The tension between new and old, rich and poor, etc., is a persistent undercurrent in the community. These and other factors (not the least of which is a well-deserved reputation as a haven for flamboyant characters) contribute to Santa Fe's uniqueness.

Part 2: Get Around

Outside of the downtown area (consisting roughly of the blocks surrounding the Plaza and the adjacent Railyards district and Canyon Road), a car is definitely your best bet and will be all but necessary for visiting any of the more far-flung attractions (e.g. the Opera, the mountains, any of the nearby pueblos). However, if you're only staying for a couple of days, you can certainly get by without a car with what the small but vibrant downtown has to offer; it is very pedestrian-friendly and walked, often, by many people late into the evening, particularly in summertime when the tourists flood in.

By bus

  • Santa Fe Pickup. The free shuttles serve the main areas of interest for tourists. One route runs in a loop through the downtown area, connecting the Santa Fe train depot, the State Capitol, and the Plaza. This route runs every 10 minutes between 6:30AM-5:30PM on weekdays, 8:30AM-5:30PM on Saturdays, and 10AM-5:30PM on Sundays. The second route runs between the State Capitol, Canyon Road, and Museum Hill every half-hour 10AM-5:30PM daily.

  • Santa Fe Trails, ☏ +1 505 955-2001. Limited, but improving, public transportation is available from the city's bus service. Bus fare is $1, a day pass costs $2, and a 31-day pass costs $20; youth under 18 ride free, half-fare for seniors/disabled. Buy fare or passes from the bus driver (cash only, exact change required). The most useful routes for tourists are #2, which runs along Cerrillos Road between downtown and the Santa Fe Place mall, and Route M, which runs between the Santa Fe train depot, downtown and Museum Hill.

By car

Parking can be a problem during the summer, but look for parking lots (fee) near St. Francis Cathedral, the Convention Center, and between Water and San Francisco Streets west of the Plaza. If in town during any major event (Indian Market, Fiesta, etc.) plan on parking away from downtown and taking a shuttle, e.g. from De Vargas Mall.

The main roads through town are St. Francis Drive (US 84/285) from north to south, Cerrillos Road (NM SR 14) from the downtown area southwest to I-25 and beyond, Old Santa Fe Trail and its offshoot Old Pecos Trail from downtown southeast to I-25, and St. Michaels Drive and Rodeo Road and its offshoots, both connecting Old Pecos Trail and Cerrillos east to west. Most outlying attractions are accessible via one of these roads. The downtown area is a remarkable warren of small roads that you really don't want to drive on; park your car and walk. Streets there tend to wander (Paseo de Peralta, one of the main roads in the downtown area, almost completes a loop) and, even when apparently rectilinear, are not necessarily aligned to true north-south/east-west. Take extra care for pedestrians and cyclists, many streets have sharp turns.

If you're bound for the Santa Fe Opera from Albuquerque or points south, consider taking the Santa Fe Relief Route (NM SR 599), which leaves I-25 south of the Cerrillos Road exit, bypasses most of Santa Fe, and meets US 84/285 just south of the Opera. This can be a good way of getting to lodging and restaurants on the north side of town as well; although it's a few miles out of the way, the much less chaotic driving, particularly around rush hour, provides considerable compensation. Once you get to Santa Fe, consider taking a tour of downtown. Several companies offer open-air tram tours, like Loretto Line Tours (available in the parking lot of the Loretto Chapel). These tours last about 1½ hours and give you a sense of the architecture, culture and history of the downtown area.

Part 3: Itinerary:

Santa Fe has a variety of interesting museums, most in the downtown area and easily reached on foot. Four of the biggest in Santa Fe (the Palace of the Governors, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Museum of International Folk Art, and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture) are sub-units of the Museum of New Mexico, for which you can buy a shared pass for $20 that allows access to all four museums and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art within a four-day period. If you only have time for one, individual passes are available.

Day 1:

Like many towns founded by the Spanish, Santa Fe has a central square, the Plaza, that is a gathering place for all types. For hours of entertainment, pull up a bench and people watch; you'll rapidly gain an appreciation for how the "City Different" nickname applies. Especially nice in the summer evenings as the temperatures drop (although rain may drop as well) and the people come out.

The following is a list of museums in the downtown area:

  • Palace of the Governors / New Mexico History Museum, 105 E Palace Ave (North face of Santa Fe Plaza), ☏ +1 505 476-5200. Daily 10AM-5PM, closed M Nov-Apr (open Fridays 5-7PM May-Oct and first Friday of each month Nov-Apr). The oldest public building in the United States, the Palace of the Governors is a 17th-century building that once served as the main capitol building and now houses an excellent historical museum and shop, with exhibits on the history of the building and a functioning antique print press. Behind the Palace is the New Mexico History Museum, with three floors of exhibits on the history of New Mexico, including numerous artifacts from the prehistory to the present. While the Palace is being renovated (as of 2022), disruptions are minimal most days and exhibits are displaced but available. Local Native American artists sell their work beneath the portal (covered facade) facing the Plaza. They are awarded a spot via an official lottery system. $12 adults, youth 16 and under free.

  • New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 W Palace Ave (just west of the Palace of the Governors), ☏ +1 505 476-5072. Daily 10AM-5PM, closed M Nov-Apr (open Fridays 5-7PM May-Oct and first Friday of each month Nov-Apr). Though it has been outflanked by the O'Keeffe Museum to some extent, this museum has a somewhat more diverse, although still New-Mexico-centric, collection. The Museum's St. Francis Auditorium is one of the primary venues in town for concerts, particularly of a classical or folk flavor. $12 adults, youth 16 and under free.

Day 2:

Museum Hill, south of downtown, is home to a collection of art and culture museums in the foothills overlooking Santa Fe. While not within walking distance of downtown, it is accessible via public transportation (Santa Fe Trails Route M from the plaza area, or Santa Fe Pickup museum shuttle from the state capitol).

  • Museum of International Folk Art, 706 Camino Lejo (on Museum Hill), ☏ +1 505 476-1200. Daily 10AM-5PM May-Oct; closed Mondays Nov-Apr. Of particular delight in this museum is its massive Girard exhibition, which contains many large, colorful displays of toys, nativity scenes, textiles, model villages, and traditional arts from around the world. The museum also features a superb collection of local Hispanic art as well as a good roster of changing exhibits. Home of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market held in July (see under "Do"/"Festivals"). $12 adults, $11 students, youth 16 and under free.

  • Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, 710 Camino Lejo (on Museum Hill), ☏ +1 505 476-1250. Daily 10AM-5PM May-Oct; closed Mondays Nov-Apr. A large museum with American Indian artworks and exhibits on their culture and history, including a rather superb collection of pottery and displays of both historic and contemporary Indian life. $12 adults, $11 students, youth 16 and under free.

  • Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, 750 Camino Lejo (on Museum Hill), ☏+1 505 982-2226. Daily 10AM-5PM May-Oct; closed Mondays Nov-Apr. A small but splendid museum which showcases many Hispano artworks and artifacts from the original Spanish settlers of the area. The museum also sponsors the annual Spanish Market (see under "Do"/"Festivals").$10 adults, under 16 free.

Day 3:

There are several photogenic churches in town, most of them open for visits during daylight hours when no church services are in progress (please be respectful and don't attempt flash photography):

  • St. Francis Cathedral, 213 Cathedral Pl (downtown area), ☏ +1 505 982-5619. One of the "must-see" places in town, with an impressive interior and beautiful art both inside and out. A tip for the photographer: the main façade faces west, so photographing the exterior (including several striking sculptures out front) tends to be most rewarding, atypically for Santa Fe, in the middle of the day, particularly the afternoon. Free; donation.

  • Loretto Chapel, 211 Old Santa Fe Trail, ☏ +1 505 982-0092. M-Sa 9AM-4:30PM, Su 10:30AM-4:30PM. Built in 1878 and modeled after the Gothic Sainte Chapelle in Paris. An intriguing legend - the Miraculous Staircase - is attached below and serves as the highlight on the church. The Loretto is also a popular romantic wedding venue. $3.

  • San Miguel Mission, 401 Old Santa Fe Trail, ☏ +1 505 983-3974. Su 1PM-4:30PM, Summer M-Sa 9AM-4:30PM, Winter M-Sa 10AM-4PM. Thought to be the oldest surviving mission church in the United States, the San Miguel is a rather simple but lovely adobe structure. Behind the mission, along the narrow alleyway, is a small structure whose owners claim it to be the "oldest house in the U.S." built by Europeans; a claim which though inaccurate reflects the long history of the site. $1.

  • Santuario de Guadalupe, 100 Guadalupe (downtown area), ☏ +1 505 988-2027. M-F 9AM-4PM, Sa/Summer 10AM-4PM. A favorite musical venue, the Santuario is an excellent example of Spanish Colonial architecture and contains a superb collection of religious artworks. Free.

  • Scottish Rite Temple, 463 Paseo de Peralta (north of downtown but within walking distance of the Plaza), ☏ +1 505 982-4415 (main), +1 505 980-9304 (to schedule tours). Tours Tu & Th 10AM or 2PM, call to schedule. A startling, bright pink Moorish-style building modeled after the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

  • The State Capitol Building, corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta (south of downtown), ☏+1 505 986-4589. Self-guided tours M-F 7AM-6PM, call for guided tours. One of the country's most unusual and striking state capitol buildings; usually open to visitors during working hours. It's known locally as "the Roundhouse," and even a casual look will tell you why. Free.

Check ChatGPT's answer for alternative itinerary.

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