15 Things that Santa Fe is Known and Famous for

Like a mirage in the desert, Santa Fe is a city of vibrancy, culture, and life among the arid New Mexico landscape.

The oldest capital city in the United States, Santa Fe means “Holy Faith” in Spanish. It was originally called “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís” by the Spanish.

Also known as The City Different, Santa Fe is famous for its historic architecture, its rich Native American culture, and its art. In fact, Santa Fe’s world-famous arts scene draws in tourists who are curious to see what inspired artists such as Georgia O’Keefe.

Skyline of downtown Santa Fe

So what else is Santa Fe known for? And what makes The City Different so…different?

Come with us on a journey to the West as we explore the wonders of Santa Fe, a city that beats to another drum!

1. San Miguel Chapel

San Miguel Chapel

San Miguel Chapel isn’t just any old church—it’s the oldest church in all of the fifty states whose original walls are still standing.

Although much is still unknown about the exact historical origins of this church, historians believe that construction started on the chapel over 400 years ago in 1610.

Unfortunately, much of San Miguel’s written history was lost to a fire in 1680. Fortunately, however, the power of storytelling has persevered and much of what we know about the chapel has been preserved through oral tradition.

While the official name of the chapel is San Miguel, locals affectionately call it “The Oldest Church” as a nod to its venerable age.

2. Meow Wolf Santa Fe

Meow Wolf Santa Fe
Image credit: Jeremy Thompson

Not a cat, not a wolf, Meow Wolf is an immersive and interactive multimedia experience that brings visitors away from the mundane and into a world of creativity.

The Meow Wolf Santa Fe experience can be described best as a psychedelic funhouse for adults and a mind-bending exploration of the limits of reality.

The Meow Wolf story began in 2008 as a mishmash collection of independent artists. However, in 2016, Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin (a proud resident of Santa Fe), funded the opening of Meow Wolf’s first permanent exhibit in Santa Fe.

It has been one of Santa Fe’s most famous attractions ever since.

3. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
 Image credit: Regan Vercruysse

To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.” – Georgia O’Keefe

Georgia O’Keeffe is one of America’s most celebrated artists of the 20th century. Her love for the state of New Mexico was illuminated through her paintings of striking landscapes and delicate flowers.

O’Keeffe is credited as the “Mother of American Modernism” and the museum in Santa Fe was opened in 1997 to honor her legacy. The museum houses over 3,000 of her original paintings and drawings, in addition to a special selection of contemporaries.

4. Museum of International Folk Art

Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe
Image credit: Stephanie

Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art gives voices to contemporary artists from over 100 countries. It houses the largest collection of folk art in the world.

Folk art has a very broad definition and can be anything from a Native American wood carving, a Japanese Yōkai mask, an African clay statue, or even an Inuit fur coat. These items are traditionally handmade and reflect the craftsmanship and culture of the respective maker.

The goal of the museum is to foster an appreciation of folk arts in its visitors and to offer a platform for international folk artists to share their beliefs, visions, and cultural values through their works.

5. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is another testimony of the historic roots of this fantastic city. It was built between 1869 and 1886, on an earlier 1700s era church known as La Parroquia—of which all that remains is a small adobe chapel.

Designed in the Romanesque Revival style, this work of architectural mastery stands out above the Santa Fe skyline. It’s one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.

In addition to being architecturally a work of art, the cathedral is also home to the oldest depiction of the Virgin Mary in all of the U.S.

Pro tip: The best time to visit the cathedral is in the evening when Santa Fe’s golden sun projects a golden cascade of light onto the church. From the inside, you can see the rainbow beams of light glistening through the stained glass.

6. New Mexico Museum of Art

New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico USA

One of four state-run museums in New Mexico, the New Mexico Museum of Art houses over 20,000 works of art from notable artists such as Luis Jimenez, Maria Martinez, and T. C. Cannon.

Built in the Pueblo Revival style, the museum is one of Santa Fe’s best-known examples of the amalgam of Native American and Colonial Spanish architectural styles.

Since its opening in 1917, the New Mexico Museum of Art has served as a meeting place for artists and art lovers alike.

Perhaps making your way through the museum galleries will strike inspiration to create your next piece and to join the ranks of New Mexico’s great artists!

7. Canyon Road

Popular Canyon Road in the downtown district is lined with art galleries and sculpture exhibits along the road
Editorial credit: Fotoluminate LLC / Shutterstock.com

Santa Fe is famous for its numerous art galleries and where better to see them than Canyon Road?

Canyon Road is a street dedicated solely to showing off the arts and culture of Santa Fe and featuring works of local artists. Take a pleasant stroll down this half-mile stretch and appreciate the arts as you enjoy over 80 art galleries.

If something really tickles your fancy, support a local artist by taking home one of their works for you to enjoy forever.

8. Rio Grande

The Rio Grande

The Rio Grande is one of Santa Fe’s well-known natural landmarks and is a sight to behold!

Known as “El Rio Bravo del Norte,” or “The Fierce River of the North”, the Rio Grande makes up much of the border between the United States and Mexico. It’s almost 1,900 miles long.

While swimming in this natural marvel is not advised and in some parts strictly prohibited, the rushing rapids make for world-class rafting and one adventure you’ll never forget.

9. Oldest Capital in the United States

Old wagon in Santa Fe

Settled by Spanish conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta in 1609, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the U.S. and oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi.

Historically, Santa Fe served as a beacon of trade between the Spanish, Native Americans, and other European settlements such as French New Orleans. In the 1800s, trade really took off as caravans coming from Missouri would exchange goods and the town began to flourish.

Eventually, New Mexico achieved statehood in 1912 and Santa Fe was appointed its capital due to its long history of being an important center for trade and business.

Fun fact: At an elevation of 7,000 feet, Santa Fe is also the highest capital city in all the U.S.

10. UNESCO Creative City

Colorful Native American themed pottery found in an outdoor market in Santa Fe, NM

In 2005, Santa Fe made history as the first designated UNESCO Creative City in the United States for its rich creative arts scene.

Think Santa Fe’s arts scene is an exaggeration? In Santa Fe, one in every ten jobs is connected to the arts.

This massive culture of artistic expression has made Santa Fe a hub of trade, exchange, and learning for artists from all over the world in addition to a great stop for tourists.

11. Santa Fe Grande

Red hot chili peppers ristras dried bunch hanging on a traditional building entrance, Santa Fe New Mexico

Some like it hot, some like it not!

Santa Fe is known for having delicious cuisine that is largely inspired by its Mexican and Native American roots.

The Santa Fe Grande chili pepper is prolific in New Mexican cooking and serves as a spicy accomplice to the delicious flavors found in many local dishes.

The Santa Fe Grande makes for a delicious chili sauce or salsa. It can also bring a pop of flavor to any salad or burger.

If you think you can take the heat, we dare you to test your tongue!

12. Santa Fe Margarita Trail

Glass of margarita

Is chili pepper too hot for you? Wash it down with your pick of 45 signature drinks at one of Santa Fe’s hip and trendy bars.

The Margarita Trail was designed to give visitors a true taste of Santa Fe. On the trail, you can try unique drinks such as the Amaya Jalapeno Margarita, Santa Cafe Chipotle Margarita, and the Juliarita Margarita (named after the resident ghost of the establishment).

Before you start, don’t forget to pick up a Margarita passport or download the app and get a stamp for each signature margarita that you try. Collect enough and exchange them for cool prizes that make fantastic souvenirs.

13. Native American Culture

Taos Pueblo in New Mexico

Before Spanish settlers arrived in the 1600s, Santa Fe was inhabited by Tanoan people who lived in Pueblo villages along the Rio Grande.

Today, Santa Fe is known for being home to 23 distinct Native American tribes and 19 authentic Pueblo villages.

Many of the Pueblo villages, such as Tesuque Pueblo, are very welcoming of visitors and are an excellent way to learn more about the language, culture, and traditions of Native Americans.

Throughout the year, a number of festivals and seasonal events are held. Here, you can support contemporary native artists and try many local indigenous foods like flatbread.

Fun fact: 20% of Native Americans in the United States live in the American Southwest.

14. Art Galleries

Art gallery

What is Santa Fe famous for? If it comes down to one thing, it would have to be none other than its vibrant art scene and culture.

Everything from classic Western paintings and cast iron statues, to traditional Native American beadwork and carvings, can be found here in the cultural hub of New Mexico. Everywhere you turn in Santa Fe, you’ll find art galleries both big and small.

One of the best places to see a variety of galleries all at once is the Santa Fe Plaza. Here, pop in and out of galleries to see the works of local artists. An authentic art piece is a perfect way to commemorate your trip and take a piece of Santa Fe home with you.

15. Ski Santa Fe

Skiing in Santa Fe

Although the highlight of Santa Fe is its arts and culture, did you know that Santa Fe also features a prominent ski resort?

With a base elevation of 10,350 feet, Ski Santa Fe offers an unforgettable skiing experience that you’ll never forget! It boasts 86 courses and 7 lifts that are suitable for anyone no matter your level.

Ski Santa Fe’s ski season ranges from mid-November through early April, during which it’s open every day including on Christmas and New Year.

Conclusion

And there you have it! Did we miss anything? Santa Fe offers so much to see and explore that we couldn’t fit it all in one article, but we’d like to hear from you!

If Santa Fe is on your horizon now, check out this next article on what New Mexico is known and famous for.

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