Santa Fe staked its claim as a cultural destination in the early 20th century, when artists followed their muses to the then far-flung town. Bold-faced names like Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams have passed through the city; they’re among the many who helped establish it as an art colony. But Native American and Hispanic artists were working far before them. And myriad artists of every stripe having been working since, helping Santa Fe keep its cultural crown. Culture seekers should take at least two days to explore Santa Fe’s slate of distinctive museums and arts organizations, intimate white-table cloth restaurants, and craft cocktail bars.
Day One: Downtown Santa Fe
Fuel up with a classic Provencale omelet at French-country restaurant Clafoutis – and give into the temptation for a flaky croissant on the side. Then, head to the Plaza to browse the New Mexico Museum of Art. Its stacked-Pueblo Revival architecture is a work of art in itself, not to mention the interior collection of luminous landscapes and one-of-a-kind pieces (check out the Native American beaded Converse). Then browse the florals and abstract scenes on the airy Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. For lunch, duck into the pristine Santa Café, where you’re likely to spot a resident move star or author over your grilled trout.
Afternoon calls for browsing the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts where modern masters expand the boundaries of Native American art. Head a few blocks off the Plaza to the Railyards to the newly expanded SITE Santa Fe for mind-bending and interactive art installations.
Ease into the evening with a après-browsing drink at St. Francis Hotel home to both the Secreto Lounge for garden-to-glass cocktails and the Gruet Santa Fe Tasting Room, serving sips of New Mexico’s winery whose méthode champenoise sparkling wine earns international raves.
Day Two: Museum Hill
Art aficionados can’t resist the siren’s call of Museum Hill, but why would you want to with its four world-class museums, including the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. Designer Alexander Girard’s more than 100,000-strong personal collection brings the world to Santa Fe at the Museum of International Folk Art, while the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art shows off its trove of punched-tin, straw applique, and religious paintings and sculpture. The happiest hour of the day calls for a cocktail at Santa Fe Spirits. Opt for a gin-based drink to taste a spirit made with locally foraged juniper berries or a sweet apple brandy if you want to sample fruits from the owner’s own orchard. You made reservations for Spanish tapas at Bouche, right? The French bistro feels like a neighborhood Parisian hangout, with dishes just as authentic.
Evening: All the City’s a Stage
Santa Fe’s performing arts battle mightily (albeit gracefully) for equal footing with the city’s visual arts. If it’s in season, the Santa Fe Opera is a can’t miss for classic and world-premiere performances at its open-air stage just outside town. But the curtain is always rising on shows at the glamorously restored Lensic Performing Arts Center. Everyone from world-renowned violinists to trapeze artists and contemporary dancers take the stage there. Classical music also resounds through the former vaudeville hall during the acclaimed Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and Santa Fe Symphony concerts.
For a dinner and performance one-two-punch, Entreflamenco Restaurant serves Spanish tapas alongside flamenco dance and music performances that are some of the best you’ll find this side of Spain. New Mexico’s flamenco culture also takes the spotlight at the Maria Benitez Cabaret at the Lodge at Santa Fe each summer.
The Santa Fe Bandstand wins locals hearts as a summertime favorite. The free, outdoor concert series has locals dancing to Latin, bluegrass, and rock music June through August.
Where to Stay in Santa Fe if you are interested in culture:
La Posada de Santa Fe has a (ahem) spirited history – a ghost is said to haunt its halls – and a renowned art collection worth perusing. To enjoy other elements of local culture, Hotel Santa Fe is the only Native American–owned hotel within the city limits. Hotel Chimayo somehow blends low-rider culture and the vibe of that town’s famed sanctuary in one relatively affordable package.