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What Is Santa Fe, New Mexico Known For

Santa Fe is one of the must-see destinations in the American Southwest. If you want adobe houses, mouthwatering cuisine, and unique cultural traditions all blended together, Santa Fe is the New Mexican city for you.


Santa Fe is known for its rich local history, a melting pot of cultural influences, reverence for the arts, and its signature cuisine. You can find one-of-a-kind museums here, as well as buildings that date back to the 1600s and the days of Spanish colonization. 


In the rest of this article, we will dive deeper into Santa Fe’s history, cuisine, and attractions. We will see what makes this Southwestern city so special and how it has won the hearts of visitors from around the world. 


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Historic and Charming Central Plaza

Like many cities that can trace their roots back to Spanish colonization, Santa Fe features a central plaza that is a popular place for residents and visitors. Here you can find a wide selection of boutique shops, local restaurants, eateries, and handmade goods sold by street vendors. 


The classic adobe buildings combined with modern murals make this plaza a delight to wander through. This downtown area is very pedestrian-friendly, and the old, narrow streets are packed with one-of-a-kind stores and Santa Fe whimsy. You can easily spend an afternoon wandering through this district, eating, drinking, shopping, and admiring as much as you like.



Rich Local History

Santa Fe is home to some of the oldest buildings in the continental United States. So much history has happened here, including events from its days as a Spanish colony and as it transitioned into an American city.


There are plenty of museums, churches, and interesting stops for the history lover when visiting Santa Fe.


New Mexico History Museum

Santa Fe is home to the New Mexico History Museum. This institution is a prime destination to learn about the history of Santa Fe and the state of New Mexico. You can see exhibits about aspects of Native American culture as well as browse its library featuring an extensive collection of books exploring different aspects of New Mexican history and culture. 


Here, you can also visit the Palace of the Governors. This adobe building was home to the governing powers of New Mexico, dating back to the Spanish Colonial era. Inside, you can learn more about how the Land of Enchantment has been governed through the last centuries.


There are displays of artifacts and information about the Spanish American War and the New Mexican Civil War. 


Even if you’re not particularly interested in government, you can still enjoy the fact that this building was first erected in the 1600s. The museum also hosts many events to educate visitors, and you can join in one of these for a more immersive experience at the Palace of the Governors. 



Historical Churches

The local churches and cathedrals are also a must-visit for those interested in history and architecture. 


The Loretto Chapel is a significant attraction because of its famed spiral staircase. Known as the Miraculous Stair, this wooden staircase spirals upwards without any central or external supports. The carpenter of this magical staircase remains unknown and adds to the mystery and wonder of this attraction. 


If you’re looking to visit the oldest church in the country, look no further than the San Miguel Mission. Its adobe walls date back to the early 1600s, and it is open today as a tourist attraction. You can visit this church and see all of the preserved artifacts held inside.


If you feel like a short uphill climb, you can also visit Santa Fe’s Cross of the Martyrs. As you hike up, you can stop by the numerous plaques that tell about the history in the region and the state.


Once you reach the top, you can visit the cross itself and learn about the revolt in 1680 for which it stands in honor. Even if you’re not so interested in the history behind the cross, it is still a beautiful spot to take in a Santa Fe sunset. 



Celebration of Arts and Culture

Santa Fe is well-known for its celebration of the arts and its many cultural influences. With its Spanish colonial heritage and close proximity to the Mexican border, this little city has been a melting pot of cultures for centuries.


Nowadays, you can see how all of these influences come together in the city’s many art galleries, studios, and nationally recognized museums.


Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

If you’re looking for a taste of New Mexican art, you have to stop by Santa Fe’s downtown Georgia O’Keeffe museum. Known as the Mother of American Modernism, this museum is dedicated to celebrating her life’s works and paintings. 


At the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, you can learn more about the artist, discovering what she was like as a person. You can also see many of her most famous original paintings and learn more about the thought process and genius behind each piece. 


While O’Keeffe was not originally from Santa Fe, she became enchanted with the city after a visit and later moved to live here permanently. You can see the influence of New Mexico’s desert landscape in her drawings and paintings.


This museum also hosts community events to involve, educate and inspire residents and visitors with the innovative modern work of O’Keeffe. The museum is a perfect place for long-time O’Keeffe fans as well as visitors who have never heard of the influential artist.



Canyon Road Art District

If you’re looking for an up-to-date, varied taste of the Santa Fe art scene, you simply have to stop by Canyon Road. This half-mile strip is Santa Fe’s most lively and modern art district and is home to museums, galleries featuring many different styles of art as well as many artist studios.


As you wander down the street, you can take in the stunning sculptures and pop into any gallery that catches your eye.


It is in this district that you can find Canyon Road Contemporary Art. This cutting-edge contemporary art museum features work from across disciplines and styles. You can see anything from stunning sculptures to modern acrylics to glass art.


This contemporary art museum’s delightful collection is spread throughout a historic house and expands into a back garden. Stopping by this museum is a great way to spend an afternoon when visiting Santa Fe. 


Of course, this district is also ready for you when you get hungry. After a day of exploring the art, indoors and out, you can stop by one of the street’s many eateries for a taste of local Santa Fe cuisine.


It is a delightfully walkable neighborhood and is a common tourist attraction for visitors from all over the country.



Museum of International Folk Art

Another must-see and well-known cultural institution in Santa Fe is the Museum of International Folk Art. This museum opened its doors in 1953 and has become one of the largest collections of international folk art in both the country and the world. The space is divided into four wings, each with a different point of view on folk art and handicrafts.


The pieces in this museum are from all over the world and range from textiles, dolls, and beadwork to masks and costumes. Wandering the halls of this museum is a captivating look into different cultural and religious traditions in a way that is not commonly seen in the mainstream. 


Even for those who can’t make it to Santa Fe, there is still a way to experience this museum and its unique collections. This state-run institution has developed online exhibits that can be viewed from its website all over the world. You can browse by category and enjoy the stunning photographs of the museum’s impressive pieces and collections. 



Meow Wolf

One of the best-known and unique artsy attractions in Santa Fe is Meow Wolf. This eclectic space is inside what was once an old bowling alley and now is a delightfully indescribable attraction for visitors of all ages. Meow Wolf describes itself as a “mind-bending, explorable art experience” that the whole family can enjoy. 


The colorful, neon interactive exhibits play with light, texture, shape, and all kinds of other mind-bending artistic elements. You can plan to spend a few hours wandering and interacting with all of the rooms that this space has to offer to its curious visitors. Get ready for an all-immersive artistic experience when stopping by Meow Wolf. 


For a list of all the things you need to do while in Santa Fe, be sure to check out this Bucket List Guide.



Repurposed and Modern Spaces

Santa Fe does an excellent job repurposing older aspects of the city to better fit in with modern life. One example of this is the Santa Fe Railyard. While you can still take a train from here, it is so much more than the train station that it used to be.


Nowadays, this is a cultural center that hosts art exhibitions, live events, innovative dining experiences, and even its own movie theater. The Railyard is home to plenty of open, green park space to picnic with friends or family and has plenty of in-demand stores if you are looking to spend an afternoon full of shopping. 


The Railyard is also known to put on farmers’ markets, artisans’ markets, live concerts, and other big events. The farmers’ market is the perfect place to shop for fresh produce, while the artisans’ market is the ideal destination to check out handicrafts and other handmade pieces.


You can find unique local breweries, coffee shops, and restaurants at the Railyard as well. The Railyard has become an all-around cool place to meet with friends and spend time hanging out. 


Another place that has taken on a new, modern feel is the Jean Cocteau Cinema. This theater has been showing artistic movies for decades but more recently has been purchased by the famed author George RR Martin. Martin is the author of the Game of Thrones books that have been made into a widely successful HBO series. 


If you stop by the Jean Cocteau Cinema these days, you can catch an independent movie in addition to browsing Games of Thrones merchandise signed by the author himself. You can also enjoy the Game of Thrones-inspired decorations and menu items at the theater’s cafe. 



Cross-Cultural Cuisine

No discussion of Santa Fe is complete without mentioning its mouthwatering local cuisine. With strong Mexican influences and Native American traditions, you can enjoy a tasty mix of cultures right on your plate. 


One of the iconic parts of many traditional Santa Fe meals is a combination of beans and a signature chili sauce. You will often have to choose your preference when it comes to your salsa. 


The options are either red chili, green chili, or “Christmas style.” Christmas style is a serving of each of these tasty, colorful sauces. You may find these ingredients in a stew, on a burrito, or alongside a Native American-influenced fry bread.


There are also a few modern dishes that are distinctly Santa Fe. The most famous of these has to be the Frito Pie. Imagine a small bag of Fritos, sliced open, with fresh beans, chili, and cheese spooned inside. You can find this iconic pie at the Snack Bar of the Five and Dime Store, located in Santa Fe’s main plaza. Grab a spoon and eat this pie right out of the bag. 


While fry bread and beans may come to mind when thinking of the New Mexican melting pot, chocolate should also be included high up on that list.


At the Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, you can taste hot chocolate as it was traditionally enjoyed by the Aztecs and other Meso-American cultures, as well as more modern twists. Every time you grab a meal or snack in Santa Fe, you are catching a glimpse of the region’s cultural influences. 



Final Thoughts

Santa Fe has been capturing the hearts of its visitors for centuries, and today is no different. This charming little city has plenty to offer in art, culture, cuisine, and history. Time will fly by as you wander past adobe houses and admire stunning sculptures. Your taste buds will be surprised and satisfied as you taste the local cuisine. There is truly something for everyone in Santa Fe. 

If you’re planning a trip to Santa Fe be sure to check out this guide on Amazon.