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Santa Fe, founded in 1607, is the capital of the state of New Mexico and its principal tourist destination, renowned for its confluence of scenic beauty, long history (at least by American standards), cultural diversity, and extraordinary concentration of arts, music and fine dining. With an elevation of 7000 feet, it is not only the United States' oldest state capital but its highest, sitting at the foot of the spectacular Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And with a population of about 70,000, it's not the most populous capital, but that's part of its charm. This is not a capital that bustles with politicians but one that bustles with tourists, who flood the narrow streets around the town's plaza in the summer months to take in the beautiful adobe architecture, the unique cultural heritage, and the spectacular art that make Santa Fe one of the world's top travel destinations. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in Santa Fe
Like many towns initiated by the Spanish, Santa Fe has a central square that is a gathering place for all types. For hours of entertainment, pull up a bench and people watch; you'll rapidly gain an appreciation for how the "City Different" nickname applies. Especially nice in the summer evenings as the temperatures drop (although rain may drop as well) and the people come out.
- Santa Fe Southern Railway, 410 S Guadalupe St, ☎ +1 505 989-8600. Offers sightseeing railroad rides from the railroad station in the middle of town, to Lamy to the south (with the Amtrak station). The good news is that there are several departures, some involving food service (check the web site), and the train itself is interesting and colorful. The bad news is that the route that it follows, although advertised by the railway as featuring "the subtle beauty of the high desert," is generally not as scenic as the really scenic high country to the north and east, or simply walking around the downtown area. Fares start at $32 round-trip for adults, with discounts for seniors and children.
Santa Fe has a variety of interesting museums, most in the downtown area and easily reached on foot. Four of the biggest in Santa Fe (the Palace of the Governors, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Museum of International Folk Art, and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture) are sub-units of the Museum of New Mexico, for which you can buy a shared pass for $20 that allows access to all four museums and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art within a four-day period. If you only have time for one, individual passes are available.
The following is a list of museums in the downtown area:
- Palace of the Governors / New Mexico History Museum, 105 E Palace Ave (on Santa Fe Plaza), ☎ +1 505 476-5200. Tu-Th, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM, F 10AM-8PM. The oldest public building in the United States, the Palace of the Governors is a 17th-century building that once served as the main capitol building and now houses an excellent historical museum and shop, with exhibits on the history of the building and a functioning antique print press. Behind the Palace is the New Mexico History Museum, with three floors of exhibits on the history of New Mexico, including numerous artifacts from the prehistory to the present. Local Native American artists sell their work beneath the portal facing the Plaza. $9 adults, youth 16 and under free.
- New Mexico Museum of Art, 107 W Palace Ave (just west of the Palace of the Governors), ☎ +1 505 476-5072. Tu-Th, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM, F 10AM-8PM. Though it has been outflanked by the O'Keeffe Museum to some extent, this museum has a somewhat more diverse, although still New-Mexico-centric, collection. The Museum's St. Francis Auditorium is one of the primary venues in town for concerts, particularly of a classical or folk flavor. $9 adults, youth 16 and under free.
- Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, 217 Johnson St (just north of downtown), ☎ +1 505 946-1000. Sa-Th 10AM-5PM, F 10AM-8PM. Devoted to the 20th-century artist who settled near Abiquiu, a small town north of Santa Fe. Only free after 5pm on the first Friday of every month, and only applies to New Mexico residents. $8.
- Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, 108 Cathedral Place (downtown across the street from St. Francis Cathedral), ☎ +1 505 983-8900, toll-free: +1 888 922-4242. M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. The Institute for American Indian Arts (IAIA) is a long-standing Santa Fe institution that helps to promote the Santa Fe Indian Market (see under "Do"/"Festivals"). Their museum holds a superb collection of contemporary Indian art. Adults $5, students and seniors (62+) $2.50; discounts for New Mexico residents and tribal members.
- SITE Santa Fe, 1606 Paseo De Peralta, ☎ +1 505 989-1199. Th,Sa 10AM-5PM, F 10AM-7PM, Su noon-5PM. A private contemporary arts venue with an ongoing schedule of exhibitions of artists who merit international recognition - this is really cutting edge stuff. $10 adults, $5 students/seniors, free on Fridays and Saturday mornings.
Museum Hill, south of downtown, is home to a collection of art and culture museums in the foothills overlooking Santa Fe. While not within walking distance of downtown, it is accessible via public transportation (Santa Fe Trails Route M, from the plaza area).
- Museum of International Folk Art, 706 Camino Lejo (on Museum Hill), ☎ +1 505 476-1200. Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. Of particular delight in this museum is its massive Girard exhibition, which contains many large, colorful displays of toys, nativity scenes, textiles, model villages, and traditional arts from around the world. The museum also features a superb collection of local Hispanic art as well as a good roster of changing exhibits. Home of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market held in July (see under "Do"/"Festivals"). $9 adults, youth 16 and under free.
- Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, 710 Camino Lejo (on Museum Hill), ☎ +1 505 476-1250. Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. A large museum with American Indian artworks and exhibits on their culture and history, including a rather superb collection of pottery and displays of both historic and contemporary Indian life. $9 adults, youth 16 and under free.
- Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, 750 Camino Lejo (on Museum Hill), ☎ +1 505 982-2226. Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. A small but splendid museum which showcases many Hispano artworks and artifacts from the original Spanish settlers of the area. The museum also sponsors the annual Spanish Market (see under "Do"/"Festivals"). $6.
- Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 704 Camino Lejo (on Museum Hill), ☎ +1 505 982-4636, toll-free: +1 800 607-4636. M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 1PM-5PM. Excellent Native American art collection, with a quaint little gift shop, the Case Trading Post, that sells superb examples of Native arts that reflect the quality of the collection. Frequent special events. Free.
There are also a couple other museums outside the plaza area (but not on Museum Hill) that are very much worth checking out:
- Santa Fe Children's Museum, 1050 Old Pecos Trail (a mile or so south of downtown), ☎ +1 505 989-8359, fax: +1 505 989-7506, e-mail: email@example.com. W-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. Many participatory exhibits and various accessible critters both inside and out; the indoor area holds several construction toy areas and a bubble-making area, while the outdoor area features a garden and greenhouse with plenty of kid's activities available. $8.
- Rancho de los Golondrinas, 334 Los Pinos Rd (well outside the center of town), ☎ +1 505 471-2261, fax: +1 505 471-5623. Jun-Sep W-Su 10AM-4PM. A massive outdoor "living history" museum portraying Spanish colonial days, with reconstructions of a village, farms, orchards, a vineyard, and a large water mill. In May you'll be dodging swarms of bored children on school field trips; visiting in the fall is better. Adult $5, Senior/Teen 13-18/Military $4, Children 5-12 $2.
- There are several photogenic churches in town, most of them open for visits during daylight hours when no church services are in progress (please be respectful and don't attempt flash photography):
- The State Capitol Building, corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta (south of downtown), ☎ +1 505 986-4589. Self-guided tours M-F 7AM-6PM, call for guided tours. One of the country's most unusual and striking state capitol buildings; usually open to visitors during working hours. It's known locally as "the Roundhouse," and even a casual look will tell you why. Free.
- An enormous number of Santa Fe structures are on the National Register of Historic Places. Rather than recapping the whole list here, visit the web site. A good way of sampling the Historic Places is to start at the Plaza (itself one of the designated places) and work your way out. At least 40 places on the Register can be reached conveniently from here.
There are many movie theaters spread around the city, and lots of art houses that play some of the more off-beat and humorous movies.