Santa Fe, New Mexico holds hands down some of the world’s best art and outdoor adventure in a uniquely western cultural and physical landscape. Especially for anyone within driving distance of Santa Fe, New Mexico, you’d be remiss not to pen this iconic destination onto your spring/summer calendar.
Known for its deep artistic and intersectional roots, this 413-year-old city is famous for incubating creative greats, yes including Georgia O’Keeffe, and inspiring artists and outdoor lovers of all ilks with awe-inducing canyons, national forests, protected Native lands, and monuments at its perimeter. You can feel the ghosts here in the same way you can feel the vortexes in Sedona. It’s sacred, special.
Santa Fe’s historic plaza and downtown please with many walkable streets (try Burro Alley for eateries and art) and easy access to the outdoors — Ski Santa Fe is only 16 miles from downtown, lending it legit ski town status, to many outsiders surprise.
And in line with Santa Fe’s curious motto, “The City Different,” you can’t help but feel the pull of deep historical roots, grounded in Pueblo tradition with Mexican, Spanish, and anglo influence. It was an epicenter of Western expansion. The hanging chiles or “Ristras” on front porches tie back to 1598 when Conquistador Don Juan Onate introduced chiles from Mexico, and the crop was adopted by the ancestral Puebloans. At the same time you can head to the Five & Dime General Store for a Frito Pie, all the cliches are true and not true at the same time.
Whatever your heart desires, Santa Fe keeps evolving with a fiery spirituality, creativity and adventure at its core.
Yes — the margaritas are really good in Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Margarita Trail is a testament to that. The city has put together a custom passport for a total of 45 bars and restaurants. Once you try a bar’s signature Margarita you get a stamp. Better yet, the more stamps you collect the more prizes. After 15 stamps you are inducted into the official Margarita Society. After 5, you earn a T-shirt. If you complete the trail, you earn the elusive VIP Margarita package.
If you fancy a wider variety of libations, attend New Mexico Cocktail Week. The event, which takes place June 2-10, will see Santa Fe bars and restaurants host high-quality cocktail experiences, educational seminars, and signature events about the fine art of mixology.
And for those who want to sling mud and knock back a few, the Tumbleroot Pottery Pub is Santa Fe’s first “Art Bar.” Conceived by the owners of Paseo Pottery and Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery (who are also husband and wife), Tumbleroot Pottery Pub is a new experience where cocktails and clay coexist. The location offers a full bar, tasting room/bottle shop, ceramic gallery and pottery studio in one space. The bar features Tumbleroot’s locally brewed and distilled products served in Paseo Pottery made vessels specifically designed to complement each beverage. Patrons of the pottery pub will be invited to embrace their creative side and get their hands dirty forming their own works of art using communal workshop tables, raw clay, and tools provided.
The dry climate and high desert vistas are one of a kind in Santa Fe. The city’s health-centric, natural mindset and access to the outdoors put visitors at ease. Just this month, a New Soaking Pool and Sun/Moon Deck opened at the Inn of the Five Graces Spa. The sparkling, turquoise waters of the soaking pool provide a refreshing oasis in the midst of Santa Fe’s high-desert landscape, while plush lounge chairs and shaded cabanas invite guests to relax and soak up the sun at this luxury inn. At night, the deck comes alive with the glow of stars in Santa Fe’s dark sky above, creating a romantic and tranquil atmosphere perfect for unwinding after a day of exploring.
Lace your hiking boots and trail running shoes to run, play and camp in the Santa Fe National Forest. Boasting 1.6 million acres of mountains and mesas, the Santa Fe National Forest has activities for every outdoor lover. Car camp or backpack in the Pecos Las Vegas Ranger District, where some of the most backpacking and hiking trails lie, or head over to the Diablo Canyon Recreation Area for some climbing and camping. History buffs will also enjoy the Pecos National Historic Park to see pueblos and a Spanish church from 1717.
A 30-minute drive or bus ride will take you to Ski Santa Fe. The ski area is located in the Santa Fe National Forest and is a small but mighty mountain with advanced, intermediate, and beginner terrain to boot. Plus the blue bus is a public transit option that runs daily to and from the city to the mountain and is free to ride.
Santa Fe’s roots run deep and the city’s traditions will pull you in. On September 1, 2023, Santa Fe will celebrate the 99th Burning of Zozobra. The Burning of Zozobra is one of Santa Fe’s most iconic and beloved traditions. Each year, a 50-foot-tall marionette named Zozobra (Spanish for “the gloomy one”) is constructed and stuffed with the glooms of Santa Feans and visitors. All are welcome to attend, chant “burn him” with the crowd of 70,000, and watch the pageantry as torch bearers and a fire dancer ignite Zozobra’s skirt to send the woes of the past year up in flames.
Visiting Santa Fe also wouldn’t be complete without honoring the state’s arguably most famous artist. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is in its 25th Anniversary Year. The museum, which opened in July 1997, has been sharing the paintings, creative process, and personal effects of Georgia O’Keeffe with visitors to Santa Fe for 25 years. The exhibit Radical Abstraction, running through October 30, 2023, explores many of O’Keeffe’s favorite subjects to paint that she returned to repeatedly over many years. The exhibit brings together abstract paintings from all periods of her career showing themes she returned to and refined over time. Georgia O’Keeffe: Making a Life, on view through March 2024, explores the artist’s identity as a “Maker” in the mid-20th century in rural Northern New Mexico and includes vignettes of her world from handmade clothing, furniture gifted from designer friends Ray and Charles Eames, items purchased on her foreign travels to beloved cooking and garden tools.
There’s no more authentic way to explore Santa Fe’s neighborhoods and culture than to visit in the throngs of summer with long days and cool nights. The plaza bursts with energy, tourists, artisans and events through July and August.
The International Folk Art Market [July 5-9] celebrates traditional artisans who use handmade practices and honor timeless, generational artistic endeavors.
The Traditional Spanish Market [July 29-30] takes place on the legendary Santa Fe plaza — where you can support local Hispanic artists and enjoy live music at this almost 100-year-old event. The Contemporary Hispanic Market will also take place on the plaza at this time and is the world’s largest contemporary Hispanic market.
The 101st Santa Fe Indian Market [August 19-20] will take place on and around the Santa Fe central plaza, with artists from over one-hundred tribal communities in North America and Canada.
Santa Fe is the biggest art market in the U.S. behind only LA and New York City. The art districts are extensive, but a visit to Canyon Road is a must-see and a great start (it hosts over 80 galleries).
The plaza too is home to numerous markets and events throughout the year. Make sure to catch Santa Fe Art Week [July 7-16], which is a great way to explore the city and its creative enclaves. After a long day honing your skills at workshops or attending openings and shows, tag along on a neighborhood gallery stroll in the evening to explore the city and unwind and socialize.
Writers and readers unite at the Santa Fe International Literary Festival [May 19–21] — attend lunches, lectures, and morning meditations from esteemed authors like John Irving and Gillian Flynn.
One of only a few locations to see this massive installation, buck tradition and swing by Meow Wolf. The famed art installations are fully immersive, colorful, and utilize multimedia to its full power. There’s an enthralling installation by contemporary Native American Artist Virgil Ortiz. Virgil Ortiz, of Cochiti Pueblo, is known as one of the most avant-garde artists of his time, fusing his Pueblo culture with sci-fi, fantasy, and apocalyptic themes that yield provocative and futuristic imagery. Ortiz considers it his mission to create global awareness that Pueblo communities are very much alive and vital. Ortiz’s installation titled, Sirens: Secret Passkeys & Portals features a cast of characters from his Revolt 1680/2180 saga—an ongoing project Ortiz has been working on for the past two decades. Revolt 1680/2180 presents a dystopian future 500 years after the Pueblo Revolt in which time-travelers return to the era to aid their ancestors. The installation features an eight-foot resin head embedded with neon, a video installation filmed at the Bisti Badlands in northwestern New Mexico, and an activated light wall.
— Aaron H. Bible is an award-winning writer, photographer, and multimedia producer with three decades of experience working as a journalist and creative director. Follow him at @definitelywild.