For 400+ years, Santa Fe has improved with age. The nation’s oldest capital city experienced waves of migrations along the three trails that led here—and more recently via the rails, Route 66 and the interstate. Artists, chefs, wellness experts, and other creative dreamers all bring their culture, talents and experience with them and when they meet Santa Fe’s unique blend of Anglo, Spanish and Native Cultures against a backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountains’ majesty and the spectacular sunsets over the Jemez range—nothing short of magic transpires.

The early Native American inhabitants called it “Dancing Ground of The Sun”; while the founding frontiersman at the turn of the 20th century referred to it as “The City Different.” Those nicknames still hold true today, as you’ll see for yourself.

New Mexico Museum of Art

Formerly known as the Museum of Fine Arts, the New Mexico Museum of Art is the oldest art museum in New Mexico and showcases traditional, regional and contemporary artworks. Designed in a traditional pueblo style, the building in which the museum is housed played an important role in the ‘Pueblo Spanish Revival’ style of architecture, for which Santa Fe is well known. Home to a permanent collection of over 20,000 works, the museum features works by Southwestern artists from the historic Taos and Santa Fe colonies, such as the Cinco Pintores collection, and the Taos Society of Artists, as well as new-age contemporary art from around the world.

Contemporary collections include works by Gustave Baumann and Lucy Lippard, as well as well-known American photographer Jane Reeves and some Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. Located within the museum is the St. Francis Auditorium, which hosts a variety of cultural and musical organizations, including the Santa Fe Community Orchestra.

107 West Palace Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, Phone: 505-476-5072

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Named after one of the most compelling artists of the 20th century, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is the only museum in the United States dedicated to the world-renowned female artist. The museum is home to the largest single collection of O’Keeffe’s work in the world – over 1,000 works, including paintings, drawings, and sculptures dating from 1901 to 1984, until the artist began to lose her eyesight.

O’Keeffe’s images are instantly recognizable in their large abstract forms. The museum also displays works of her famous contemporaries, such as Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, as well as by living artists of distinction, and has a world-renowned Museum Research Center that is the only research facility in the world dedicated to the study of the American Modernism movement.

217 Johnson St, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, Phone: 505-946-1000

The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

Founded in 1937 by Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Navajo medicine man, Hastin Klah, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian is devoted to showcasing contemporary and historic Native American art. The museum maintains a variety of important collections relating to the Native American Navajo and other tribes of the Southwest, as well as exhibitions of contemporary and traditional Native American arts, featuring celebrated artists.

The museum has also achieved a reputation for showcasing new and little known artists through vibrant, creative and expressive displays of art works and other Navajo traditions such as beadwork, basketry, weaving and embroidery. Turning 75 this year, the museum is the oldest private, non-profit museum in New Mexico.

704 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505, Phone: 505-982-4636 or Toll Free: 800-607-4636

The Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, NM

Home to the ‘Miraculous Staircase’, the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe is a former Roman Catholic Church, now a privately owned museum and wedding chapel and one of the unique attractions in Santa Fe. Originally known as Our Lady of Light Chapel, the sanctuary was built for the Sisters of Loretto in 1872. Designed by French architect Antoine Mouly, the chapel design was based on the Sainte-Chappelle in Paris and in remarkable contrast to the regular adobe-style churches of the region.

However, the design of the chapel and its beautiful ornate stained glass windows was not to be the major draw card of the chapel – it was the helix-shaped St. Joseph’s Staircase that was to prove to be the chapel’s piéce de résistance. The subject of mystery and legend, the wooden spiral staircase stands 20 feet tall, makes two 360 degree turns and has no center support – a feat of carpentry that was deemed ‘miraculous’. Today, the Loretto Chapel is a privately owned and operated museum, in which weddings can be arranged. There is no fee to view the inside of the chapel but it’s a good idea to call and confirm that it will be open when you plan to go

207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, Phone: 505-982-0092

Meow Wolf

When George R. R. Martin buys a vacant bowling alley in an industrial neighborhood in Santa Fe and leases it out to a 135-member group of artists known for creating elaborate interactive art installations, you can assume that the result will be pretty spectacular. Such is the case with the House of Eternal Return.

The first permanent installation created by the Meow Wolf art collective, House of Eternal Return consists of 20,000 square foot of fully explorable space centered around a full-size reproduction of a two-story Victorian house that harbors a secret. According to the backstory provided to visitors, the house was once inhabited by the Selig family, but then “something happened” that led to the family’s disappearance and apparently warped the nature of time and space.

Visitors are turned loose to piece together the non-linear narrative on their own, rifling through the clothes, furnishings, books, and personal papers of the family members and stumbling through cosmic portals hidden throughout the house (like in the refrigerator, fireplace, or toilet) into strange and engrossing other worlds. House of Eternal Return has a total of 70 distinct interconnected spaces including (but not limited to) enchanted forest tree houses, a tiny Old West ranch powered by hamsters, luminescent caves, space-age corridors, mastodon skeleton xylophones, laser harps, and the study where Grandpa Selig labored to unravel a mind-boggling conspiracy of interdimensional proportions.

The space also includes a music venue called Fancy Town as well as Chimera, a non-profit center that offers classes to children on skills as diverse as sewing, sculpture, and computer programming.  Summer camps, after school programs, and internships are all offered on-site.

Museum of International Folk Art: Girard Wing

Sprawling collection of over 106,000 toys from around the world. Appropriately, when Girard grew up, he became an interior designer and architect so that he could bring to life the kinds of miniatures he had once been fascinated with. He would recreate them, though, in full-scale. Still, Girard never gave up his passion for the small-scale and, on his honeymoon, he filled a car with folk art and toys. Girard particularly loved the toys. “Toys represent a microcosm of man’s world and dreams,” he once said. “They exhibit fantasy, imagination, humor, and love. They are an invaluable record and expression of man’s ingenious unsophisticated imagination.”

Girard would go on to collect some 106,000 objects which he would eventually dedicate to the Museum of International Folk Art. Girard also designed the exhibit “Multiple Visions: A Common Bond” where the collection would be shown.

The exhibit specializes in showcasing dolls and figurines from over 100 nations. The collection, though, is so large that only about 10 percent of it can be put on display at any one time. The full collection includes “toys and dolls, costumes, masks, textiles of all kinds, religious folk art (ex-votos and milagros, nativities, icons) as well as paintings, beadwork, and more,” according to the Museum of International Folk Art’s official website.

De Vargas Street House

As a little plaque on the wall outside the front door tells visitors, the west section of the De Vargas Street House is made of pueblo foundations that date back to the 13th century. The original pueblo that stood on the site belonged to a tribe of Native Americans who vacated the site in the early 1400s leaving the pueblo behind. Eventually the spot was resettled by the Spanish who brought Tlaxcalen warriors in tow. The Indian warriors ended up establishing their own neighborhood that became the El Barrio de Analco, but this settlement too was mostly disbanded during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. After retreating during the fighting, the Spanish eventually returned to the area, and by the end of the 19th century Navajo and Apache tribesmen had moved in as well.

Through all of the turmoil, some remnant of that original pueblo has always remained, making the De Vargas Street House a sort of keystone to the history of Santa Fe. Existing for all of its peoples and cultures.   

Currently there is a craft shop and museum inhabiting the space. Even though it has been refurbished, the old western portion of the building still has the dirt floors, low ceilings, and adobe-style walls that it had hundreds of years ago. It may or may not be the oldest house in America, but it would be hard to find one much more full of history. Alley is one way. Google maps will get you there, but there is also a sign to turn. There are a couple of free parking spaces if they are not already filled.

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