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6 Fun Activities in Santa Fe

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by Amanda I (subscribe)
I'm a freelance travel writer living in Brisbane. Visit my blog at
Published August 20th 2016
The City Difference within the Land of Enchantment
6 Fun Activities in Santa Fe
Santa Fe is the City Different. As its moniker implies, Santa Fe is no ordinary city. This is a city that celebrates its past while evoking charm and desert glamour. Santa Fe combines a unique blend of Anglo, Spanish and Native American cultures with its sprawling mountains, dramatic vistas and vast desert skies.

Quiet in winter and buzzing in summer, any time of year is perfect to soak up the flavour of this distinctive city. Sitting at 7,000 feet above sea level, this enchanting city captures the spirit.

Santa Fe boasts incredible architecture, art galleries, cuisine, shopping and something very special friendly locals!

Santa Fe's Architecture
Santa Fe's Architecture

The Plaza is the heart of Santa Fe. Shops, museums and restaurants built in Santa Fes's striking mud-brick style architecture flank the large grassed square.

Santa Fe - The Plaza
The Plaza

The Palace of Governors, a National Historic Landmark, is located on the north side of the square. Native Americans sit out the front selling their wares 360 days a year. The remarkable collection includes jewellery, sand paintings, pottery and weavings.

Santa Fe
Palace of Governors

Santa Fe is bursting at the seams with activities, and weeks could be spent exploring this amazing city. Here are seven fun activities to add to your itinerary:

Stroll Santa Fe's streets on a walking tour

Earthy hued buildings, coloured like a moose's hide, are everywhere. Bright red chilli ristas are hanging from balconies and sun-bleached cow skulls are attached to the mud-brick walls. I feel like I'm on a Wild West movie set, yet I'm in Santa Fe's historic district.

Santa Fe - sun-bleached cow
Sun-bleached cow skull

Stepped in a rich and colourful history, Santa Fe lends itself to exploration on foot. Tom Gallegos is my walking tour guide. A native of Taos and now living in Santa Fe, Tom is passionate about Santa Fe's history and is full of fascinating trivia. Tom provides two-hour historic walking tours of Santa Fe for $20 per person.

Strolling the timeless streets with Tom was like walking with a friend. Tom met me at my hotel and we began at the Mural of Fiesta de Santa Fe. This mural honours the peaceful reoccupation of New Mexico by Diego De Vargas. Santa Feans still celebrate this Fiesta each September and have been for 301 years.

Santa Fe - Mural of Fiesta de Santa Fe
Mural of Fiesta de Santa Fe

The State Capitol is another destination that celebrates New Mexican art. Approximately $7 million in artwork is housed within its walls. The Capitol Art Collection encompasses a variety of mediums, styles and traditions. More than 600 paintings, drawings and sculptures are located here.

Santa Fe's State Capitol is impressive. Otherwise known as the Roundhouse, the building centres around the Zia sun symbol, inlaid with Travertine marble. This symbol represents and embodies the circle of life and the four directions of the earth, four seasons of the year, four times of the day and four divisions in life. A large skylight sits 60 feet above the floor and represents an Indian basket weave. A child danced around the Zia sun symbol as I viewed the inspiring artwork.

Zia Sun Symbol
Zia Sun Symbol

One of the most photographed pieces is Holly Hughes's, Bison; a sculpture made from everyday household objects such as plastic spoons, umbrellas, paintbrushes, cardboard and film.

Santa Fe - Bison
Bison Sculpture

Tom then led me to the oldest neighbourhood in Santa Fe. Santa Fe was known as the "City of Gold" and Tom believes that the "gold" was the straw from the mud-brick buildings glistening in the sun. Santa Fe's adobe building materials are made from the earth and the vigas, the wooden ceiling beams jutting through the exterior walls, are from the trees.

I could almost feel the ghosts that are rumoured to inhabit some of the old buildings as I walked the narrow streets. Many of the houses date back to the early 1600s and are built on Indian ruins. We also passed the oldest house in the United States.

The San Miguel Mission is situated opposite this house. This is the oldest church in Santa Fe and quite likely, in the United States. Built in 1610, the San Miguel Mission is 200 years older than Santuario de Chimayo. The community bands together every year to re-render this historic building. Built with a blend of Native American and Spanish Colonial architecture, the humble building is full of history. The alter screen dates from 1788, original bear and buffalo hides from the 1620s hang from the walls and the foundations from the Indian dwellings that the church is built on date from the 1300s. These are visible from the floor.

San Miguel Mission
San Miguel Mission

The San Jose Bell is displayed at the entrance. This large bell once hung in the mission's bell tower and is inscribed with the year 1356 (although this date is in doubt). A beautiful deep sound resonated from the bell when I struck it with its hammer.

Santa Fe - San Jose Bell
San Jose Bell

Santa Fe is one of the most expensive cities in the United States and attracts the rich and famous. As we passed a plaza, Tom pointed out a restaurant where the likes of Shirley MacLaine or Robert Redford could be found dining.

Santa Fe is an amazing city. A walking tour is a must to get acquainted with the real Santa Fe.

Create a culinary masterpiece at the Santa Fe School of Cooking

Smoked pork tenderloin with red chilli cider glaze, apple-pinon chutney, corn chowder with green chilli croutons, pumpkin cheesecake and coconut flan with salted caramel are just some of the dishes to tantalise your taste buds at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.

Whether you wish to hone your cooking skills, learn how to create culinary Southwestern masterpieces or simply indulge in scrumptious food, there is a class for everyone.

Santa Fe School of Cooking

Classes include Contemporary Southwestern Cuisine, Cuisines of Mexico, Fajitas, Salsas, Tamales, Tacos, Burritos, Southwestern Barbecue and Foods of Spain.

Southwestern cuisine is a spicy, earthy, colourful blend of American and Mexican food usually based on the original crops grown by the Pueblo people corn, beans and squash.

There are four Traditional New Mexican classes where you can create mouth-watering warm and spicy dishes from traditional ingredients. Five classes are dedicated to contemporary Southwestern fare, melding the region's rich cultural traditions with new ideas.

The Santa Fe School of Cooking also has two classes devoted to Santa Fe's official state vegetable the chilli. The chilli is considered more than just an ingredient. It epitomises the Southwestern lifestyle and is incorporated into most of the meals at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.

Promoting regional flavours, this family owned business offers classes ranging from hands-on meal preparation to demonstrations where guests are invited to relax with a glass of wine and watch the chefs' cook up a storm.

Santa Fe School of Cooking
Demonstration Class

The bonus classes are ideal for those with an adventurous palette as the chefs' create an experimental menu. Dishes may include grapefruit, avocado and jicama salad, turkey with pasta, sour cream and green chilli sauce and sweet potato enchiladas with cajeta.

The pink grapefruit, avocado and jicama salad was delicious. It was served with a spicy sherry vinaigrette. The mustard added some tang and the chilli pecans added extra bite.

Santa Fe School of Cooking
Pink grapefruit, avocado and jicama salad

The turkey was cooked to perfection and served with sour cream, green chilli sauce, Southwestern stuffed tomatoes and wilted kale with apple smoked bacon lardons.

Santa Fe School of Cooking
Turkey with pasta, sour cream and green chilli sauce

The sweet potato enchilada with cajeta dessert was tasty and unique. The rich caramel sauce was delicious.

Santa Fe School of Cooking
Sweet potato enchilada

This Bonus Class formed part of the Entertaining Series.

Food enthusiasts should consider signing up for the Southwest Culinary Boot Camp. This intensive three-day cooking program covers knife skills, cooking techniques, ingredients and the building blocks of Southwestern cuisine. This program runs between November 7-9, 2016.

Santa Fe School of Cooking

The Santa Fe School of Cooking partners with fifteen different restaurants to provide three unforgettable Restaurant Walking Tours. If you love to eat, this is the tour for you!

Taste delectable Spanish tapas at Taberna/La Boca, scrumptious regional Italian cuisine at Il Piatto, delicious tastings at one of New Mexico's highly acclaimed culinary destinations The Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi or eclectic and innovative international cuisine at Galisteo Bistro.

Situated in the heart of historic downtown, the Santa Fe School of Cooking is the ideal destination to experience some of the best Southwestern cuisine.

Explore Canyon Road

Boasting 100 galleries, boutiques and restaurants, Canyon Road is a destination that evokes inspiration.

Canyon Road

Originally an old Indian trail linking the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, Canyon Road evolved from its farming roots into a thriving artist colony and into the fine galleries and studios that exist today. Canyon Road is an enchanting place where art, sculptures and wind wheels spill out of the mud-brick buildings into gardens and onto footpaths.

Canyon Road
Footpath Art

Based on sales, Santa Fe is ranked as the second largest art market in America and this trail has it all water colour, oil and acrylic paintings, drawings, sculptures made from stone, bronze, wood or glass, lithographs, engravings, antiques, jewellery, fine art, photography, pottery, rugs and folk art. Pieces are expressionistic, contemporary, modern and traditional.

Canyon Road
Wind Wheels

Set aside a day to explore this picturesque trail. Marvel at the intricacies of Walt Horton's bear sculptures at the Sage Creek Gallery, Tim Cherry's modern, impressionistic bronze bear and rabbit masterpieces at McLarry Fine Art or Native American culture at Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery which displays Navajo blankets and rugs, Pueblo pottery and Indian baskets.

Canyon Road
Walt Horton's Bear

The designer jewellery shops and boutiques offer a diverse shopping experience. The Shangri-La at Project Tibet is a colourful store that teems with singing bowls, prayer flags and scents. Desert Son of Santa Fe specialises in contemporary bags, boots and belts and the Karen Melfi Collection features inspirational jewellery and natural colour diamonds from select local and national artists.

Indulge at the gourmet restaurants and cafes dotted in between the galleries or treat yourself to a delicious hot chocolate. Kakawa Chocolate House is a short walk from Canyon Road. Their thick, syrupy hot chocolates are based on a Pre-Columbian Mayan and Aztec recipe. Another popular delicacy is their roasted chilli dipped in agave caramel. This is complemented with a house blend of dark chocolate.

Canyon Road is situated four blocks from the Plaza and is an easy walk from the historic district. Another option is the Santa Fe Pick Up. This free shuttle service stops at four locations along Canyon Road.

Visit O'Keefe Country with Santa Fe Walkabouts

"I'd never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly. It's something that's in the air it's different. The sky is different, the wind is different"
Georgia O'Keeffe

Standing under the bright blue cloudless sky with huge white sandstone cliffs towering over me, I connected with Georgia O'Keeffe's words. A single cottonwood tree flourished a few metres away. 50 years ago, O'Keeffe could be found here creating inspirational designs on a seat pulled out from her Model-T car.

Plaza Blanca
Plaza Blanca

This was Plaza Blanca, a landscape cherished and made famous by this iconic artist. I was exploring "O'Keeffe Country" with Deborah from Santa Fe Walkabouts.

Plaza Blanca
Plaza Blanca

Georgia O'Keeffe is a name that is synonymous with New Mexico. O'Keeffe had a celebrated career, spanning almost 60 years. Her New York skylines, enlarged flowers and New Mexico landscapes redefined art.

Deborah came prepared with water, museli bars and a wide brimmed straw hat for me. We strolled under the white cliffs, past tall cactus plants and explored the raw and rugged landscape. The rock formations on my left looked like melted candle wax whereas the tufts on the right reminded me of Cappadocia in Turkey.

These snow-white precipices soon gave way to breathtaking red rock formations as we drove towards Ghost Ranch, where O'Keeffe lived for a number of years. Ghost Ranch is simply stunning.

Ghost Ranch
Ghost Ranch

While O'Keeffe's house is not open to the public, I soaked up the landscape that inspired her creativity. The horizon stretched into affinity as I viewed the multi-coloured canyons, imposing cliffs, crystal clear streams and huge plains. I then spotted the famous multi-coloured flat-topped mountain.

The Pedernal is a prominent feature in many of O'Keeffe's paintings. O'Keeffe once said "God told me that if I painted it enough, I would have it".

The tour also included admission into two of Ghost Ranch's museums the Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology and the Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology.

The Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology was built around an 8-tonne block of plaster encased dinosaur bones. This fossil discovery is still occurring and guests are invited to watch as palaeontologists uncover new bones. Two species of dinosaurs have been discovered on the Ghost Ranch grounds, the Coelophysis, which is the New Mexico State Fossil and the Tawa Hallae, a dinosaur that appeared to have an alligator shaped head on a dinosaur body.

The Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology is full of treasures including spear tips and pottery that have been uncovered from over 12,000 years of habitation at Ghost Ranch.

Our final 'O'Keeffe' destination was Abiquiu. O'Keeffe lived and painted here for many years painting the colour drenched sunsets. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum maintains O'Keeffe's Abiquiu home and studio. Tours are available between March and November.

Santa Fe Walkabouts offers a five-hour Taste of O'Keefe tour for $145 per person for a party of two or $215 for a solo traveller. This tour includes visits to Abiquiu, Plaza Blanca and Ghost Ranch.

Tour to Chimayo with Santa Fe Walkabouts

The village is so quiet. It is February; a chill is in the air and I can smell the sweet aroma from burning pinon. It's hard to believe that in a few months time this peaceful, deserted village will be packed. Each Easter, tens of thousands of people partake in an annual pilgrimage; some walking barefoot, others carrying wooden crosses, to reach El Santuario de Chimayo.

Santuario de Chimayo
Santuario de Chimayo

I am exploring Chimayo; a charming Spanish Land Grant Village nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with Sue Mally, co-owner of Santa Fe Walkabouts. Santa Fe Walkabouts offers customised guided adventures in New Mexico.

Santuario de Chimayo is known as the "Lourdes of America". This church is famed for its "Holy Dirt" and the site is steeped in mystical stories of healing - spiritual, emotional and physical.

This quaint adobe Church has a rich history. In 1810, Bernardo Abeyta, a Chimayo friar, spotted a light beaming from a hillside. Upon investigation, he discovered a crucifix buried in a hole. The crucifix was labeled the crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas and was moved to a church in Santa Cruz. The crucifix was moved three times to this church and each time it had mysteriously found its way back to the hole in which it was originally found.

Santuario de Chimayo was then built on this site and this is the hole in which the "Holy Dirt" is found. The tiny church is made from mud, water and dry straw.

I could feel the sacredness of this church upon entering. The rustic sanctuary houses two brightly painted screens with square cutouts where statues have been placed.

In a small ante-room, known as the "pocito" (well), a red plastic spade was resting in a small hole of reddish-soil. Visitors are free to touch the dirt and fill a container. Alternatively, the holy dirt is available for purchase in the gift shop. The main custom is to rub the dirt over the part of the body in need of healing.

In the prayer room, rows of crutches and braces line the walls, discarded by people who have been miraculously healed.

Don't miss a large room towards the babbling canal. One wall is full of photographs of people who have been healed and there is also a 5 foot by 8 foot sand painting by Shawn Nelson which depicts the Native American version of The Last Supper.


Shawn Nelson's Sand Painting

Located a short distance away is the Santo Nino chapel. Severiano Medina, a prominent member of the small village constructed this private chapel in 1856 to house a papier-mache doll of the Santo Nino that he purchased on a pilgrimage. The chapel was acquired by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 1992 and restored as a Children's Church with modern artwork. In a small room adjacent to the main chapel, rows of children's shoes have been left as offerings for the Holy Child.

Santo Nino
Santo Nino

Upon exiting the church, Carlos Medina cycled by. Mr Medina is known as the "Chilli Man". Chimayo is famed for its piquant red chillis and Sue explained that Mr Medina leads visitors through a chilli tasting ritual half filling a pistachio shell with chilli mix and a pinch of salt. Eaten together with the nut; the intense flavour explodes in your mouth.

For chilli connoisseurs', this is a chilli worth travelling for. The Chimayo Chilli is not grown commercially and seeds are often handed down through the generations. Its shape is unique from straight and skinny to bent and twisted.

Just as chillis are weaved into Chimayo culture, so is the art of weaving and Chimayo is home to several famous weaving families. We visited Centinela Traditional Arts. Owners, Irvin and Lisa Trujillo, have won numerous awards and competitions for their masterpieces. Irvin was eager to demonstrate the art, his hands deftly dancing across the frame.


Santa Fe Walkabouts offers a four-hour Taste of New Mexico tour for $114 per person for a party of two or $164 for a solo traveller. This tour includes visits to the Santuario de Chimayo and Santo Nino Chapel.

Discover Santa Fe's Museums

Immerse yourself in New Mexico's culture at these four fascinating museums.

1. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Georgia O'Keeffe is a name that is synonymous with New Mexico and a trip to Santa Fe would not be complete without a visit to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. This iconic artist's long and prolific career is showcased through the museum's nine galleries. Dedicated to her life and beautiful works depicting American Modernism, the museum houses the world's largest collection of O'Keeffe works. The museum's galleries are constantly changing ensuring there is always something new to see.

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum's collection encompasses 140 oil paintings, almost 700 drawings and hundreds of other works in addition to O'Keeffe's art materials, photographs, letters and documents.

Georgia O'Keefe Museum
Georgia O'Keefe Museum

217 Johnson Street,
Santa Fe, NM, 87501

General Admission $12
Students 18 with ID $10

2. New Mexico Museum of Art

Located just two blocks from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art promotes art produced or related to New Mexico.

New Mexico Museum of Art
New Mexico Museum of Art

An eclectic mix of sculptures, prints, paintings and photographs has stemmed from the gallery's initial "open door" policy. The influences from Native American, Hispanic and European cultures form the basis of this museum's collection.

The building has been designed on the Pueblo Spanish Revival style of architecture. The courtyard, which the museum is constructed around, is filled with sculptures and bright red dried chilli ristras hanging from the ceiling, promoting good health and good luck.

New Mexico Museum of Art

Exhibitions are frequently changing and pieces are rotated regularly. Current exhibitions include Con Carino: Artists Inspired by Lowriders, Assumed Identities: photographs by Anne Noggle and Southwestern Sampler, selections from the museum's permanent collection.

107 W Palace Avenue,
Santa Fe, NM, 87501

General Admission $12

3. New Mexico History Museum

The New Mexico History Museum brings history to life. Conveying the story of New Mexico, this museum includes artifacts spanning the history of New Mexico's indigenous people, Spanish colonisation, the Mexican era and travel and commerce on the iconic Santa Fe Trail.

A fascinating insight into travel and commerce includes a display dedicated to Fred Harvey, owner of the Harvey House chain of restaurants and hotels. Beginning modestly with train depot restaurants in 1876, Mr Harvey's empire expanded along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway route before operating aboard train dining car restaurants. The legendary waitresses, known as the Harvey Girls, could serve an entire train in 30 minutes. Served on fine China and Irish linens, the fare and atmosphere added a touch of class to the "Wild West".

113 Lincoln Avenue,
Santa Fe, NM, 87501

General Admission $12
Free Friday Evenings 5 8pm

4. Palace of the Governors

Located on the north side of the Plaza, The Palace of the Governors is a National Historic Landmark that holds the title of being one of the oldest public buildings in America. Built in 1610 and occupied by New Mexico's first Spanish Governor, it is now a museum housing historical objects from Santa Fe's Indian, Mexican, Spanish and American past. Artifacts include carriages, old wheels, artwork, pottery and even an antique violin.

Palace of the Governors
Palace of the Governors

105 W Palace Ave,
Santa Fe, NM, 87501
Santa Fe, NM, 87501

General Admission $12
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Why? Make the most of your trip to Santa Fe
Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
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