Old Town Santa Fe- A Charming Guide to Downtown & The Plaza

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Old Town Santa Fe

Old Town Santa Fe is a charming historic district located in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is known for its southwestern adobe architecture, vibrant art scene, rich cultural heritage, and delicious cuisine.

As the oldest and highest-elevation capital city in the United States, Santa Fe has a long and fascinating history that is reflected in the architecture and traditions of Old Town.

We came to Santa Fe for my daughter, Morgan, and her now husband, Angel’s wedding in Santa Fe. He is from New Mexico and his family still lives in Santa Fe.

Morgan and Angel love Santa Fe, its culture, traditions, architecture, and landscapes.

They wanted to have their wedding reflect the love they have for each other, and Santa Fe was the perfect backdrop.

Additionally, I have never been to New Mexico so it was a fun experience for all of us. We spent a few days exploring Old Town Santa Fe, and the numerous museums, galleries, and cultural institutions, the historic Plaza, which is the center of Old Town Santa Fe, the beautiful churches, and the local cuisine and endless shopping

Here you will find all things to do in downtown Santa Fe and the interesting history behind it. Be sure to read the tips for recommendations from the locals and what we absolutely loved about Santa Fe that can’t be missed.

Happy Santa Fe Travels!

Santa Fe Locals Suggestion: When I travel to a new destination, I like to ask a random local what a traveler should experiment with when in town. I met a very nice man who had lived in Santa Fe his entire life. He said we must experience and eat at The Shed. The Shed is located a short distance from the Plaza and the food was amazing as was the atmosphere.

Best Time to Visit Santa Fe

best time to visit Santa Fe
Photo Sean Pavone Getty Images

The best time to visit Santa Fe, New Mexico, is during the fall season, from September to November. During this time, the weather is mild, and the city is less crowded than in the summer months.

The fall foliage is also beautiful, and there are several festivals and events, such as the Santa Fe Wine Festival and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Spring, from March to May, is also a good time to visit, with mild temperatures and blooming flowers.

We went in January for my daughter Morgan and her now husband, Angel’s wedding. It was a bit snowy, very cold but we were able to explore Old Town Santa Fe just fine. During winter months, Santa Fe will be less crowded, and with the snow, the landscapes are just stunning.

Springtime can be windy, and there may be occasional snowfall.

Summer, from June to August, can be hot and crowded, but it’s also a great time to enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, and biking.

Santa Fe Travel Tip: Santa Fe has 320+ days of sunshine. Even if it is cold, it’s likely sunny. While it is hot in summer, people assume it’s because of the desert landscape. Summers are hot but not like a typical desert because it is surrounded by the foothills of the Southern Rocky Mountains which produce breezes and winds that have a cooling effect on the valley.

Best Hotels Santa Fe

I had hotel envy while walking downtown Santa Fe. There are some unique and amazing hotels that will make your stay that much more special. The hotels in Santa Fe embody the essence of the culture, the history, and the area of Santa Fe MN for a perfect experience. Many of the best are in and around the Santa Fe Plaza and Old Town.

Here are the recommended and best Santa Fe hotels:

Rosewood Inn of The Anasazi. My daughter stayed here for her wedding, and it is one of the most beautiful hotels. This elegantly modern hotel embraces Pueblo life while capturing the spirit and traditions of Santa Fe. It’s cozy, inviting and will make your trip to historic Santa Fe that much more special. Find rates here.

The Inn & Spa at Loretto is a luxury hotel located in the heart of historic Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each guest room and suite is beautifully decorated with a blend of modern and traditional Southwestern decor. The Inn & Spa at Loretto is conveniently located near many popular attractions in Santa Fe, including right at the Loretta Chapel, Santa Fe NM Plaza, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the Palace of the Governors. Check rates here.

Hotel Chimayo is an adorable boutique hotel located in the heart of historic Old Town Santa Fe, New Mexico. This endearing Santa Fe hotel embraces traditional Southwestern decor and artwork and is conveniently located within a block of many popular attractions in Old Town Santa Fe, including the Santa Fe Plaza, the Palace of the Governors, and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Find rates here.

Best Hotels Santa Fe: Discover the best hotels in Santa Fe for your next vacation. From luxurious resorts to cozy bed and breakfasts, our guide will help you find the perfect accommodation to make your stay unforgettable. Book now and experience the beauty and charm of Santa Fe. Find the guide and insider recommendations HERE.  

History of Old Town Santa Fe

Old Town Santa Fe, also known as the Santa Fe Historic District, is a charming and unique area home to a variety of historic buildings, museums, galleries, and shops.

The history of Old Town Santa Fe dates back to the 16th century when Spanish explorers first arrived in the area.

The city of Santa Fe was founded in 1610, making it the oldest capital city in the United States. Santa Fe was an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail, which was a major trade route between the United States and Mexico.

One of the most notable buildings in Old Town Santa Fe is the Palace of the Governors. The Palace was built in the early 17th century and served as the seat of government for the Spanish colony of New Mexico. Today, it is a museum that showcases the history of the region and the people who lived there and Native artisans sell goods most days.

Hotel St. Francis embodies the authentic spirit of old Santa Fe, with its handcrafted wood furniture by local artisans and a color palette inspired by the days of Santa Fe’s early Franciscan missionaries. As the oldest hotel in Santa Fe, it is located just one block from the historic Santa Fe Plaza, inviting visitors to experience the culture of New Mexico. Find the guide here

Santa Fe Travel Tip: Santa Fe is 7,000 feet above sea level. The views are gorgeous but the oxygen is thin. I suffer from altitude sickness and there are a couple of things that help. 1) Drink tons and tons of water. Your body loses water faster at higher altitudes. If you have a cocktail, it will hit you faster too. 2) Sickness may resolve on its own and can cause headaches, fatigue, or nausea. Check on your little ones because they may not be able to communicate altitude sickness to you. 3) if your belly hurts and bloats, over-the-counter tummy medication helps.

Things to do in Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico is a city steeped in history and culture, with a rich blend of Native American, Spanish, and Anglo-American living history.

Visitors to Santa Fe can explore the city’s rich history and culture by visiting its many museums and historic sites, or dine at over 400 restaurants with award-winning chefs.

Old Town Santa Fe is a vibrant and historic district that is perfect for exploring on foot. The area is filled with unique shops, art galleries, and restaurants that offer a taste of the local culture.

Visitors can easily spend an entire day wandering the streets and discovering the hidden gems of this charming neighborhood. Or partake in plenty of outdoor activities, including hundreds of miles of hiking, skiing, and hot air balloon rides.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Downtown Santa Fe. Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is a stunning Roman Catholic church located in the middle of downtown Santa Fe. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was originally built in 1610 and has been rebuilt and renovated several times over the centuries.

Downtown Santa Fe MN. Inside of Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Santa Fe Historic District.

The current structure was completed in 1886 and features a distinctive blend of Romanesque and Gothic Revival architecture. The Cathedral Basilica is named after St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Santa Fe, and is home to a number of beautiful works of art, including stained glass windows, paintings, and sculptures.

Santa Fe Plaza

Built on the site of Pueblo ruin Pueblo Indians, the area’s original people occupied the downtown and Santa Fe Plaza areas as early as 1050. The Pueblo Indians established communities, and homes, and built settlements near the Santa Fe River.

The Plaza which has been a central gathering place for 412 years, is home to the nation’s oldest standing public building, the Palace of the Governors.

Today, visitors to Santa Fe Plaza can marvel at the Palace, shop along the square, drink coffee in the grassy area in the center of the Plaza, listen to live music, watch indigenous dancing, or attend many festivals, fiestas, or celebrations that take place at the historic Plaza.

Palace of the Governors on Historic Plaza

The Palace of the Governors, Downtown Santa Fe Plaza
S Greg Panosian Getty Images Signature

The Palace of the Governors is a historic adobe building located in the downtown Santa Fe Plaza. The building was originally constructed in 1610 as the seat of government for the Spanish colony of New Mexico and has been in continuous use ever since, making it the oldest public building in the United States.

Today, the Palace of the Governors is where the New Mexico History Museum is housed and showcases the history and culture of New Mexico and the Southwest. Visitors can explore exhibits on topics such as Native American art and history, Spanish colonial history, and the Santa Fe Trail.

New Mexico History Museum also houses a collection of historic artifacts, including Native American pottery and jewelry, Spanish colonial furniture, and antique firearms.

Santa Fe Travel Tip: If you are exploring Santa Fe Plaza, be sure to support Native American artisans and craftsmen who display their handmade wares under the portal of the Palace of the Governors. Here you will find one-of-a-kind goods, and an array of handcrafted items including pottery, textiles, and jewelry made of traditional materials such as turquoise, coral, and silver. The Native American Artisans are at the portal every day from 830am-5 pm.

Santa Fe Plaza Shops

Santa Fe Plaza Shops

Old Town Santa Fe is a shopping paradise for those who love unique and authentic items. With a mix of shops, boutiques, and retailers, you will find some colorful gifts and treasures.

Jewelry lovers will find themselves in heaven with the wide variety of shops selling handmade pieces. These include turquoise, silver, and other precious stones. Many of the Santa Fe Plaza shops also sell pottery and other Native American crafts.

Santa Fe Nm Plaza Shops

For those who enjoy browsing through bookstores, there are several options to choose from. One of the most popular Santa Fe Plaza shops is Collected Works Bookstore, which has been in business for over 40 years. They have an extensive collection of books on Southwest history, art, and culture, as well as fiction and non-fiction.

Boutiques are also a highlight of Old Town Santa Fe. They offer a range of clothing, accessories, and home decor. The boutiques in this area are known for their unique and high-quality items, which are often handmade by local artisans.

Oldest House in Santa Fe

Oldest House in Santa Fe

city of santa fe. Oldest House in Santa Fe

The De Vargas Street House, also known as the “Oldest House in Santa Fe,” is a historic adobe building located in downtown Santa Fe. The house was built in the early 1600s, and is believed to be one of the oldest continuously occupied buildings in the United States.

Today, the De Vargas Street House is a museum that showcases the history and culture of Santa Fe and the Southwest. Visitors can explore exhibits on topics such as Native American art and history, Spanish colonial history, and the Santa Fe Trail.

De Vargas Street House: 215 E. De Vargas St. Santa Fe. NM 87501

Loretto Chapel

Loretto Chapel. Old Town Santa Fe

Loretto Chapel Staircase

Loretto Chapel is a historic phenomenon that is not to be missed during your travels. Not only is this beautiful gem, filled with peace, the legend of the “miraculous staircase” draws curious travelers from all over

The Loretto Chapel staircase, also known as the “Miraculous Staircase,” is a spiral staircase located in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe.

The staircase was built in the late 19th century by a carpenter who was said to come in, completed the staircase, and disappeared. The Loretto Chapel staircase has a very unique design and construction.

Loretto staircase has no visible means of support and is said to have been built without nails or a center support. Legend has it that the staircase was built by St. Joseph himself, in response to the nuns’ prayers for a way to reach the choir loft without taking up too much space in the small chapel.

The Loretto Chapel staircase is a marvel of engineering and craftsmanship and has been the subject of many legends and mysteries over the years. Visitors to the Loretto Chapel can see the staircase for themselves and can learn more about its history and construction through guided tours and exhibits.

Loretto Chapel
207 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

Loretta Chapel. This historic chapel is Santa Fe’s most iconic landmark and is renowned for its stunning spiral staircase, which is said to have been constructed by a mysterious carpenter in the late 1800s. The spiral staircase is a true work of art, with no visible means of support and a design that is both intricate and beautiful. Find the Loretta Chapel blog post HERE.

Canyon Road

Santa Fe Downtown. Canyon Road

Canyon Road is a charming neighborhood in downtown Santa Fe known for its art galleries, shops, and restaurants. Canyon Road has the highest density and diverse galleries, over 100 art galleries, in the nation. There number of restaurants and cafes, offering a range of dining options from casual to upscale.

Visitors to Canyon Road can explore the adobe buidings filled with contemporary to traditional, Western to Native American art styles and mediums, including paintings, sculptures, pottery, and jewelry.

Canyon Road: 634 Canyon Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87501

San Miguel Chapel-Oldest Church

Santa Fe Old Town
Photo Gnagel Getty Images

San Miguel Chapel is a historic church located in Santa Fe Old Town. It is considered to be the oldest church in the United States, having been originally built by Tlaxcala Indians between 1610 and 1628.

San Miguel Chapel is a prime example of Spanish Colonial architecture, with its adobe walls, wooden vigas, and beautiful altar screen. Its has a rich history, having been damaged by fire during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and partially rebuilt in 1710 following the Spanish reconquest of Santa Fe.

Today, San Miguel Chapel is a popular destination for visitors interested in history, architecture, and religion. The church is open to the public for tours and worship services, and is a must-see attraction in downtown Santa Fe.

San Miguel Chapel: 401 Old Santa Fe Trail Santa Fe, NM 87501

Santa Fe Walking Tour

A Santa Fe walking tour is a great way to explore the city’s rich history and culture. There are many different walking tours available, ranging from guided tours led by local experts.

Along the way, you’ll discover the city of Santa Fe’s unique blend of Native American, Spanish influences, and learn about the history and culture that have shaped Santa Fe into the vibrant city it is today.

Recommended Santa Fe walking tours:

  • Ultimate Santa Fe History Walking Tour. Discover the unique history, architecture, and culture of Santa Fe on this highly-rated walking tour. Explore the Santa Fe Plaza area on foot, passing by iconic landmarks such as the Loretto Chapel and Palace of the Governors, as well as hidden gems that are often overlooked by visitors. This tour is a fantastic introduction to downtown Santa Fe attractions, providing an opportunity to learn about the city’s one-of-a-kind history and culture from a local perspective. Find tickets here.
  • E-Bike Adventure Tour through Hidden Santa Fe. Experience a unique and exciting way to explore Santa Fe on a highly-rated e-bike tour that has received rave reviews from travelers. This fun and athletic tour takes you beyond the Santa Fe Plaza, allowing you to cover more ground than you would on a walking tour. The bike’s battery-assisted boost allows you to go farther without breaking a sweat, so you can fully enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. Find tickets here.
  • Santa Fe Food and History Walking Tour. Embark on a half-day walking tour of downtown Santa Fe’s top food and wine venues, led by an informative guide. Sample classic New Mexican flavors and get a taste of new developments in Santa Fe’s food scene as you visit several local eateries. Along the way, you’ll also visit landmarks like the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis, Loretto Chapel, and Palace of the Governors, while your guide shares commentary about the city’s history and the mix of cultures that have shaped its food culture. Find tickets here.

Downtown Santa Fe Museums

New Mexico History Museum. The New Mexico History Museum is a museum located in the Palace of the Governors at the Santa Fe Plaza. New Mexcio History Museum features a variety of exhibits that cover topics such as Native American history, Spanish colonial history, the Santa Fe Trail, and the state’s role in the atomic age. The collection includes artifacts such as pottery, textiles, and photographs, as well as interactive exhibits that allow visitors to explore the history and culture of the region in depth.

New Mexico History Museum: 113 Lincoln Street

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a museum dedicated to the life and work of the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, located in downtown Santa Fe. The collection includes over 3,000 works of art, including paintings, drawings, and sculptures, as well as archival materials such as photographs and letters. The exhibits showcase O’Keeffe’s development as an artist over the course of her long and prolific career, as well as her influence on American art and culture.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum: 217 Johnson St

New Mexico Museum of Art. The New Mexico Museum of Art focuses on the art and culture of New Mexico and the Southwest. The museum has a beautiful collection includes over 20,000 works of art, ranging from traditional Native American pottery and textiles to contemporary art from around the world. The exhibits showcase the rich artistic traditions of the region, including the work of artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Gustave Baumann, and Fritz Scholder.

New Mexico Museum of Art: 107 W Palace Ave

Santa Fe Margarita Trail

Downtown Santa Fe New Mexico

The Santa Fe Margarita Trail is one of the most fun experiences you can have in Santa Fe. This one-of-a-kind experience, which Buzzfeed called the “#1 booze-filled experiences in the US” takes you on a journey around Santa Fe tasting over 40 of the most delicious margaritas in the world. Get your paper passport of download the app here.

Downtown Santa Fe

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