Ten Great Things to See and Do Around Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Adobe buildings and chile decor in Santa Fe—C.Helbig

Our plan had been to go to Glacier National Park, Montana, but that was kiboshed by the wildfires. A quickly hatched Plan B took us somewhere completely different—Santa Fe, New Mexico where hiking was replaced by burrito eating and gallery visiting. Santa Fe has long been on my list and it didn’t disappoint.  We were so impressed with its beautiful architecture, rich history, colourful local residents, and interesting places to visit around the area.We even managed to fit in a couple of hikes. Here’s some of the things we enjoyed most during our jam-packed week in Santa Fe.

The architecture/public art

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Fish sculptures outside Santa Fe’s Community Convention Center—C.Helbig

There’s something about Santa Fe’s adobe Pueblo style architecture that I find tremendously appealing—the thick earth tone walls, solid wood beams, and hits of turquoise trim combine to produce a very pleasing aesthetic. This style is rooted in history and protected by municipal laws that govern construction in the historic core of Santa Fe.

From benches, to bus stops, to courtyards, Santa Fe’s public art is on display everywhere. Many of the works totally made me smile, like the school of fish “swimming” through the gravel outside the Community Convention Center.

Local happenings around the historic plaza

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Fiesta de Santa Fe Parade—C.Helbig

The Santa Fe plaza, surrounded by restaurants and shops catering to tourists, also buzzes with local life. While we were there, we saw the Fiesta de Santa Fe Parade, the Santa Fe Pride Parade, the 9/11 memorial tribute, numerous mariachi bands, dancers, and musicians. There’s never a dull moment at the plaza where tourists and locals of all backgrounds and lifestyles gather together for events and everyday life.

Canyon Road galleries

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I want this rock, paper, scissors sculpture—C.Helbig

I wish I’d won the lottery before coming to Santa Fe! Over 100 art galleries line both sides of Canyon Road in the historic centre of Santa Fe. There’s gorgeous paintings, sculpture, jewelry, weaving, and more. Even if you can’t afford any of the beautiful stuff, a walk along the approximately half mile stretch is a feast for the eye.

Museum Hill

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Sculpture Garden at Museum Hill—C.Helbig

If the museums in “downtown” Santa Fe aren’t enough, there are four more museums and a botanical garden a couple of miles away, and, you guessed it…on a hill. We arrived a little late in the day and only had time to visit the Museum of International Folk Art. Its whimsical creations from over 100 different countries are super fun. The outdoor public space around the museums is exqusite. I was particularly taken by the sculpture garden.

Railyard District

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Farmers’ Market at the Railyard District—C.Helbig

My photo of the Railyard District’s Saturday market does not do justice to this fabulous year round event. We hit it during prime season, early September, when all kinds of chilies, tomatoes, root vegetables and squash blossoms are at their peak. Squash blossoms were new to me, and oh my God how delicious…stuffed with cheeses and fried. The market is gigantic with vendors selling clothing, jewelry, baked goods, decor and much more. Its lively vibe is enhanced by some of the best street musicians I’ve ever heard. The Railyard District is a short walk from the Plaza and is also home to gorgeous galleries and shops.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

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Looking down at the tent formations—C.Helbig

A trip to Tent Rocks, about 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, makes a great half-day trip. There are a couple of short hikes that take you through slot canyons and beautiful viewpoints. The rock formations and colours are amazing. We took a ton of photos and I plan to do another post dedicated to this national monument and its remarkable geology.

Bandelier National Monument

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Alcove House in Bandelier National Monument—C.Helbig

A visit to Bandelier National Monument, about an hours drive from Santa Fe, is a trip back in time to when the Ancestral Pueblo people made their homes here from approximately 1150 CE to 1550 CE. Their dwellings, carved into the soft volcanic rock, are clearly visible on the cliff walls. Ladders along the easy Main Loop and Alcove House trails let you get a closeup view (perhaps another post?). The Monument covers a huge area and I’d love to return for more hiking and exploring.

Los Alamos

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As relevant today as during the Manhattan Project

Los Alamos, the birthplace of the first atomic bomb (Manhattan Project), is just a short drive from Bandelier National Monument. We though we could combine the two attractions in one day, but they both proved to be so fascinating we spent the better part of a day in each.

One of the best little museums I’ve ever visited is the Los Alamos Historical Museum. Its thoughtful displays depict the town’s extraordinary history before, during, and after the Manhattan Project. I had no idea that Los Alamos was home to an exclusive boy’s school prior to the Project, or that today, the Los Alamos National Laboratory is one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world. The Historical Museum gave us just the right amount of background to get the most out of The Bradbury Science Museum with its many interactive exhibits about WWII, the Manhattan Project, and research that is happening at The Lab. It also has a room full of brain teasing science puzzles for young and old—I failed miserably!

Taos Pueblo

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Adobe houses at Taos Pueblo—C.Helbig

My favourite part of our quick visit to Taos, about 1 1/4 hour drive from Santa Fe, was visiting the Taos Pueblo. The Pueblo has been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years, and today around 150 Taos Indians still make it their permanent home; many others return periodically for family functions and special events. We were shown around the multi-storied adobe village by our tour guide, a lovely college student, who provided an overview of the culture and history of her people. It’s an incredibly scenic place and interesting experience.

Eating

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Last but not least…the food! Santa Fe has an abundance of restaurants and eateries ranging from gourmet (and crazy expensive) to casual diners and food trucks. Mexican-inspired food is quite novel for us (there’s a big lack of it on Vancouver’s Northshore) so we indulged mightily in burritos, tacos, and chile rellenos. We learned some new terms like “Christmas”, used to request both red and green chile with your meal—delicious, but both pretty spicy for our wimpy palates. Now, it’s time for more hiking and burning off those burritos.

Categories: Places, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Ten Great Things to See and Do Around Santa Fe, New Mexico

  1. All of those look great but I think eating is at the top of my list. Maybe I am just hungry. I grew up about 7 hours from Santa Fe but I’ve never visited! Next time I’m in Oklahoma I’ll have to make a trip. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Good food and/or a change from the usual at home fare is one of the many joys of travel for me. In addition to the food I think you’d enjoy the photo ops in Santa Fe.

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  2. The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks and Bandelier National Monuments are spectacular, Caroline…this is my first look at Santa Fe and I like the colourful, festive vibe of it. xx

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  3. I was wondering how your Glacier Park trip went. You were smart to put it off – The smoke made for strange summer in Montana. It looks like you had a great trip – love those tent rocks!

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    • I was upset we didn’t get to Glacier. As you know I’d been excited about it for months and had plotted all our hikes with that great map you’d suggested. In the end it was the right decision. I looked at the webcams around where we were going to hike and it was dreadful. Next year! The week ended up being completely different but great fun.

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  4. Like us on our recent trip, you had a great combo here of city activities and outdoor adventure. I need to give this whole area another go sometime. I visited once in the midst of my daughter’s tennis tournament, and I bounced from place to place with no real focus and remember very little. Your well-done post is rekindling my interest! The Tent Rocks remind me so much of Cappadocia in Turkey, and I look forward to reading more about your hike there.

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    • I find I need some nature/outdoor activities mixed in with city “fixes” . Santa Fe and area really is remarkable in terms of the many things you can do and see. Initially I thought I might be bored spending 7 full days in one place but it wasn’t nearly enough when you add in all the great day trips from Santa Fe. Tent Rocks reminded me a tad of Bryce Canyon and the formations in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, but now that you mention Cappadocia I totally see it.

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  5. You were just in Santa Fe?! I’ve been here since late August building with Habitat! I’m happy you enjoyed it; I look forward to seeing and doing more while we’re here.

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    • Darn, I should have remembered that! It was such a last minute decision to go and I was feeling quite overwhelmed. Lucky you; it’s such a great spot. Have you been walking on the local Dale Ball trails? It’s nice to have trails so close to town. I bet you’d really like Tent Rocks if you haven’t been there already. Pretty easy hiking but wonderful geology.

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  6. Santa Fe looks like a great trip! I especially like Tent Rocks and Taos Pueblo, what cool sites. I imagine if you don’t have access to much Mexican food, it must have been fun to catch up 🙂

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    • Tent Rocks was so cool and I will be doing another post. It’s probably kind of weird for you to hear that Mexican food is a novelty for us. Many other ethnicities in Vancouver are well represented in their food, but Mexican not so much.

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  7. Anonymous

    Great Post Caroline! Thanks for sharing your “out & abouts” with us all!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mike Hohmann

    Great post, Caroline. You pointed out several things/places I’ve not seen 😉 I like the town plaza too, and a couple blocks out in all directions… restaurants, museums, and tons of great retail, fantastic art and jewelry, and more. Thx. for reminding me… gotta get back soon!

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    • True…a couple of blocks in all directions is great. The jewelry is awesome. We were so busy I barely had time to shop (that’s probably a good thing, especially with our crappy Canadian dollar). Hope you get back soon.

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