Despite its rich and sometimes turbulent past, Santa Fe was slow to grow. Until 20 years ago, it was not a major city by any standard. Since then, the population has grown from around 40,000 to over 60,000. Zoning laws from the 1950s, written by visionary civic leaders, helped the growing city retain the enchanting charm that makes it one of the most fascinating in the country.
Nowhere is this charm more evident than on
On the north side of the Plaza is the
Carrying down melted snow from the 12,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Rio Santa Fe splashes and dances over granite boulders on its way south and west to the Rio Grande. Walled compounds hide historic haciendas along this narrow winding road. Many of the old properties have been converted into galleries like
Greater Santa Fe
Like spokes of a wheel, three major arteries spear their way northward from Interstate 25 toward the Plaza. On the western fringe of the city, Cerrillos Road is Santa Fe's busiest boulevard and boasts the largest concentration of modern hotels and retail outlets in the city.
To the east is Old Pecos Trail. This two-lane route to downtown is void of the high-density commercial zones that line Cerrillos Road, but a sharp eye will spot a number of appealing lodging options, like
Rolling hills carpeted with piñon and juniper bracket the city to the north and create a setting for the world-famous
From the nearby rivers, to the surrounding mountains, and from the pueblos to the ancient heart of the city itself, there are literally hundreds of tour opportunities in Santa Fe. Here are just a few samples of what Santa Fe has to offer.
Santa Fe Plaza
Tour the historic La Fonda Hotel, then explore the vibrant Santa Fe Plaza, where you'll find the massive St. Francis Cathedral. Across the street is the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum. Browse the artwork there, then dine at the Old House Restaurant.
New Mexico Museum of Art
Located in the Plaza is the historic Palace of the Governors, which contains a musem. Beneath its portal, Native American artisans spread their handcrafts out for visitors to buy. Just outside the Plaza are many fabulous restaurants, such as the Palace Restaurant and Saloon and the Ore House on the Plaza.
Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe
Downtown Santa Fe also offers many things to do. Catch a show at the Santa Fe Playhouse, browse the offerings at the Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe, then grab lunch at Cafe Dominic or indulge in something sweet at the French Pastry Shop. Nearby Site Santa Fe focuses on local art by up and coming artists.
Visit the many galleries along Canyon Road, such as Running Ridge Gallery, Thirteen Moons Gallery and Waxlander Gallery. Nearby is the city's oldest restaurant, El Farol and the James A. Little Theater.
Traditional Spanish Market
In the area around the Plaza, you'll find the Traditional Spanish Market and the Sanbusco Market Center, both of which feature handmade products from Native American merchants. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and the San Miguel Mission are also nearby. When you're through admiring the art and architecture, grab a bite at The Pink Adobe.
Self-guided tour opportunities abound in and around Santa Fe, but a number of reputable companies offer well-interpreted walking, or riding tours of the area.
Historic Walks of Santa Fe (+1 505 986 8388/ http://www.historicwalksofsantafe.com/)
Palace of the Governors Historical Walks (+1 505 827 7941/ http://www.palaceofthegovernors.org/index.php )
Santa Fe Detours (+1 505 983 5637/ http://www.sfdetours.com/ )
Bus Tours Rojo Tours ( +1 505 474 8333/ http://www.rojotours.com )
Sandia Shuttle Express ( +1 505 474 5696/ http://www.sandiashuttle.com/ )
Adventure Tours Santa Fe Rafting Company & Outfitters ( +1 800 467 7238/ http://www.santaferafting.com/ )
Southwest Safaris ( +1 800 842 4246 / http://www.southwestsafaris.com/ )
Although the history of Santa Fe is generally well documented, much prior to Spanish settlement and conquest has been overlooked by scholars. Evidence of occupation dates back to 1000 CE, when people from the Pueblos that line the Rio Grande to the south, migrated north and established pit house communities along the small rivers that flowed out of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. One of these waterways was the Santa Fe River. Life here was rich, with fertile farming opportunities to the south and thriving populations of native fauna in the mountains to the north.
The accessible location made this region a crossroads for trade between the Pueblos and the nomadic Plains tribes. The fruits of this trade opportunity are evident at the ruins of Pecos Pueblo, 30 miles to the east, where as many as 2,000 people lived in apartment-like structures. However, this wealth came at a price. Comanche war bands from the east and Apaches from the south made regular raids on the pueblo and its outlying communities. This prompted the construction of a defensive wall around the perimeter of the main building. Most archaeologists agree that the small villages along the Santa Fe River were abandoned for the relative safety of the Pueblos about 150 years before the first Europeans arrived.
The Spaniards were the first to come. Returning to Mexico City from an exploration into the unknown country to the north, Fray Marcos de Niza told a compelling story of a golden city. This story encouraged Francisco Vasquez de Coronado to lead an expedition of more than 1,000 men into the north in 1540. The gold was not there, but Coronado established a winter headquarters at Tiguex, some 50 miles south of the Santa Fe Valley and proclaimed the lands of the American Southwest to be the 'Spanish Kingdom of New Mexico'.
Some 50 years later, Don Juan de Onate was selected to lead the first group of Spanish settlers into New Mexico. The group eventually settled across the Rio Grande from San Juan Pueblo, 25 miles north of Santa Fe. In July of 1598, Onate began exploring Spain's new territory. One reconnaissance party came under attack near Acoma Pueblo and 13 Spanish scouts were killed. Onate returned to Acoma in force the next year and the ensuing battle resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Acoma people and the enslavement of hundreds more. On Onate's orders, a foot was hacked from the legs of 24 Acoma men, as punishment for crimes against the Spanish Crown.
Years of unrest followed and Onate wrote Mexico of his plans to move the provincial capitol from San Juan to the valley of the Santa Fe River. In 1610, Don Pedro de Peralta was sent to expedite the move, but Onate was not to be a part of it. He was returned to Mexico where he stood trial for mistreatment of the native people. Peralta and a group of surveyors laid out the streets of Santa Fe (Holy Faith) and determined the sites for the municipal buildings and the nation's oldest capital city was born. The oldest public building in the United States, the Palace of the Governors still stands on the north side of the Santa Fe Plaza.
For the next seven decades, Spanish missionary work ruled in Northern New Mexico while Franciscan priests established missions and forced Catholicism upon the native people. In 1680, the Pueblo tribes united and revolted against the Spanish, driving the 2,500 settlers back to Mexico. Santa Fe was burned, with the exception of the Palace of the Governors and other key buildings. The native people occupied the city until 1702, when Don Diego de Vargas laid siege to the city and retook it with no bloodshed.
A new policy regarding the treatment of Pueblo people, coupled with frequent raids and battles with Apaches and Navajos, led to a more peaceful coexistence with the northern Pueblo tribes. The city prospered and grew as more and more Spanish settlers moved to the region from Mexico. In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain and Santa Fe became the capital of Nuevo Mejico. This opened up trade with the American country to the east and in September of that same year, William Becknell left Arrow Rock, Missouri with a caravan of goods. One thousand miles and a month and a half later, he arrived in Santa Fe, selling his goods for huge profits. He returned to Missouri the following spring with a load of hides, blankets and Mexican exports, profiting again on the other end. Thus, the Santa Fe Trail was born. As this trade flourished, taxes on imported merchandise funded the operation of the provincial capital.
The trail eventually brought American settlers to the area. This ultimately helped spark the Mexican-American war in 1846. In August of that year, American General Stephen Watts Kearny raised the Stars and Stripes over the city. Two years later, the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, and the lands of Nuevo Mejico became the United States Territory of New Mexico.
Although insignificant in the overall scope of the American Civil War, a locally significant battle was fought between Union forces and the small force of Texas Confederates, who briefly held Santa Fe in 1863. The Texans were defeated at Glorieta Pass, east of the city near the ruins of Pecos Pueblo.
The railroad arrived in 1880, with Santa Fe as the western terminus of the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, and the economy boomed. Around the turn of the century, the railroad began contracting with artists to portray the sweeping beauty of the American West in an effort to attract tourists to ride the rails. Along with the tourists came more artists who often arrived penniless in Santa Fe. The beauty of the landscape and natural light inspired the artists and Santa Fe gradually became a haven for native and transplanted artists.
Tourists flocked to the city from across the world to experience the multi-cultural setting and shop for 'exotic' arts and crafts sold by the Pueblo Indians on the Santa Fe Plaza. In 1926, city residents created the Old Santa Fe Association, and lobbied the local government to take measures to preserve the ambiance of the city. In the 1950s, due in part to these efforts, building codes were enacted to prevent the construction of any buildings that did not reflect the architecture of the Pueblos, or of the Spanish Colonial period. The result is a mystical urban environment and a city now known as 'The City Different.'
Santa Fe provides a wealth of lodging options, with everything from traditional hotels to bed and breakfasts available in the Plaza district, in Greater Santa Fe, and north of the city.
For nearly 400 years, travelers to Santa Fe have ended their journey at the Santa Fe Plaza. When the city was first laid out in 1607, the inn, or la fonda, was built on the Southeast corner of the Plaza. Today, a historic palace of accommodation stands on this same corner.
Built in 1922, La Fonda is a monument to the city's colorful and profound past. Immense adobe walls, some as thick as six feet, support massive wood beams that enfold a historically-rooted ambiance. The only hotel located directly on the Plaza, La Fonda is an extremely popular destination and pre-booking is just about the only way to obtain a room. Directly behind La Fonda sits Hotel Loretto, which is one of the most recognized modern architectural landmarks in the Southwest. Modeled after the complex dwellings of the Pueblo villages, Loretto offers modern rooms that feature Santa Fe's bold traditional style.
Nestled behind the impressive St. Francis Cathedral is La Posada De Santa Fe. Formerly a grand mansion erected by a German immigrant in the 1870s, the building is now an intimate spa and resort. You can still see the rich mahogany and cherry wood interior of the original. A few blocks north of the Plaza is Fort Marcy Hotel and Suites where you can enjoy all-suite luxury at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Greater Santa Fe
If you want to visit Santa Fe, but your budget won't allow for the lavish accommodations of the immediate downtown area, there are dozens of hotels available just a short drive from the Plaza. Santa Fe has a number of options if you are traveling on business. La Quinta Inn Santa Fe is a good option. It offers several two-room suites complete with data ports, and an off-lobby business center that includes a computer, fax, copier and work desk. Courtyard Santa Fe is conveniently located near many restaurants and shops, while the selling point of the Inn of the Turquoise Bear remains its celebrity appeal and historic architecture.
The rolling piñon and juniper-studded hills to the north of Santa Fe create a setting for one of the area's most impressive historical getaways. Built in 1871 as a retreat for Santa Fe's first resident Catholic Bishop, Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa is a nationally recognized full-service spa resort. Guests here enjoy a wide range of activities that range from hiking and fishing to tennis, horseback riding and swimming.
If you want the complete spa treatment after a long day of walking the Plaza, skiing the slopes or hiking in the mountains, Ten Thousand Waves is where you want to be. Clinging to a rocky hill at the base of the soaring Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this Japanese bathhouse is the next best thing to being in Japan. Four lavish suites, known as 'The Houses of the Moon' are available, and guests enjoy hot tubs, aquatic massage and every other type of Japanese body pampering you can think of.
The last ten years have seen a boom in the bed and breakfast market in Santa Fe and entrepreneurs scrambled to fill this niche. The ensuing competition has resulted in some incredible offerings in this specialized market. Located on the grounds of the old Union Army post of Fort Marcy is the Adobe Abode Bed and Breakfast. Formerly officer's quarters, the main house was purchased in 1988 and renovated into the fine bed and breakfast it is today. Six rooms, each with a different theme, all maintain a subtle attachment to Santa Fe style.
An early morning walk to the Plaza from Dancing Ground of the Sun is a magical experience. The shadow of the mountains gradually creeps across the valley floor and the rising sun paints the adobe walls of the ancient city with its golden rays. But it is just as magical to return to these luxurious, individual rooms in the evening for a long soak in the hot tub, or just to sit on your private patio, sip your favorite beverage and watch the world slowly go by.