Walking 200 year-old streets and dipping into art galleries, traveling to other realities in psychedelic museums, listening to the best operatic voices in the country as thunderstorms loom behind the amphitheater, roaming through groves of aspens: The oldest state capitol in the United States is a VERY interesting place indeed.
Santa Fe is the oldest capitol in the United States because it was proclaimed the capitol of the Provence all the way back in 1610. So it is old and it has seen a lot of history! Walking through downtown Santa Fe you pass along streets and buildings that are several hundred years old. Santa Fe has something to offer year round. Tourist presence seems to be heaviest in summer because of the fabulous music and art scenes, but the other seasons have special traditions that should not be missed either.
The Santa Fe Plaza
The Plaza is the heart of Old Santa Fe. This is where you will find the oldest buildings, from the famously beautiful St. Francis Basilica to some of the renowned hotels on the plaza, such as La Fonda. (As a side note, my favorite hotel to stay at in Santa Fe is Las Palomas.) The picturesque Plaza is wonderful to stroll around, morning and afternoon alike, and offers numerous tempting art galleries and shops. Be sure to stop by the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, grab a breakfast crepe at my favorite French bakery in La Fonda, and rest under the old trees in the middle of the plaza, simply absorbing the historic vibes as the St. Francis church bells toll in the background.
Canyon Road is an old street close to the plaza lined with marvelous art galleries. In the summer on Friday evenings, strolling Canyon Road and going into galleries for wine and art openings is an absolute favorite activity of locals and tourists alike. On Christmas Eve, Canyon Road is lined with luminarias, the super-traditional New Mexican version of Christmas lights. People come from near and far to visit the area, drink mulled wine or hot chocolate, and listen to great music. My favorite thing is to get a decadent treat at Kakawa, a chocolate cafe near the entrance to Canyon Road, and then meander along the street.
Eat New Mexican Food
There are so many fabulous New Mexican-food restaurants in this city. Some of my favorites include Tia Sofia's, Atrisco's, Tomasita's, La Choza, The Shed, and El Parisol.
This may be the hardest place to explain in Santa Fe. It is one of those places you just have to experience for yourself. But hey, I'll give it a shot: It's an arts collective that creates a unique journey and experience through an alternate reality fun house. For me, I kept feeling like I had fallen into one of the stranger Ghibli films.
Ten Thousand Waves
Hidden among the mountains above Santa Fe is a peaceful retreat. This Japanese bathhouse is absolutely gorgeous, merging the simplicity of Japanese style and aesthetics with the wild nature New Mexico. I highly recommend renting a private pool for an hour with friends, but the communal pool is lovely too. I like it so much that I chose this place for my bachelorette-party spa night.
Walk Among the Aspens
There is a plethora of lovely hikes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe. My favorite in spring, summer and fall is to walk among the aspens in one of the groves that blanket these mountains. It is both eerie and beautiful to be surrounded by these white-trunked trees, to hear their leaves rustle like wind chimes. In winter, hit the slopes for some fabulous skiing.
Into the Sangre de Cristos a webbing of trails intersect offering views of stunning vistas, the southernmost peaks of the rockies, and the nice creeks and lakes that gurgle at astonishing altitudes.
If you are looking for a gorgeous, but very challenging Sangre de Cristos day hike, I recommend Nambe Lake.
Special Mention: Santa Fe Opera
I made this a special mention because it is mostly a summer activity. The Santa Fe Opera season is summer only, but they do offer various forms of musical performances in other seasons, so it is best to check their website before you come to New Mexico. This architectural marvel creates a unique opera experience. The open-walled amphitheater lets summer thunderstorms add epic notes to the sounds of the opera. During some shows they open up the back of the stage and use the New Mexico mountains and sunset as the backdrop for a scene. It is absolutely magical. Locals and tourists alike bring cheese and wine for tailgating in the parking lot before shows.