Last Updated on October 6, 2022
While visiting Santa Fe I managed to get tickets for the season-opening of the Opera, two seats in the nosebleeds…
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
By Tony Tedeschi
I found there are a lot of things to see in Santa Fe. And things to enjoy.
For example…while visiting I encountered a very pleasant anomaly: an opera set in Spain, with libretto in French, at the open-air opera house at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I managed to get the last two seats, for my wife, Candy, and me to the Santa Fe Opera’s season-opening performance of “Carmen.”
Two seats in the nosebleeds, one row in front of the last row in the mezzanine. But, I was told there is not a bad seat in the house, and that was definitely the case, these two, dead center.
In the front courtyard, before being summoned to the performance, we sipped wine alongside men in tuxedos accompanied by women in evening gowns; men in suits, boots and cowboy hats with women in western regalia – the cultural elite of this part of the country.
I am a habitué of the cultural meccas of America: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, etc. I.e. the big cities, which have a supposed monopoly on artistic experiences. But if Santa Fe, New Mexico is not on your list, then your list is incomplete.
It may seem odd that artists, writers, musicians, movie stars and other cinema elite would choose this place in New Mexico, far from the congested streets of big cities.
But the area’s big sky, dry climate and breathtaking landscape has, nonetheless, been a magnet for decades, even centuries. Those who create their particular art and those who would visit to experience their work find many things to see and experience in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe Plaza
For the past four centuries, the Santa Fe Plaza has been the heart of the city. It’s one of the top things to see in Santa Fe. If you’re visiting Santa Fe you can just about take your chances that something will be going on in the small park defined by the four streets that run at right angles around it. Whether it be an Indian or Spanish market, scheduled concerts or any manner of impromptu musical performances, community gatherings, political face-offs and more you’ll usually find it here.
Permanent establishments in the buildings on the opposite sides of the streets that define the plaza, as well as the streets that radiate from it, sell a great range of products, from tourist tchotchkes to very high-end fashion and jewelry. Much of it is special or one-of-a-kind designs you will not find in even the more expensive department stores around the country.
If boots, belt buckles, vests, neckerchiefs, hats or any other manner of western wear is something you’ve always wanted or simply a matter of succumbing to an impulse buy, you will find it in Santa Fe. If you are prepared to wing it with sidewalk vendors selling jewelry, Indian fashions, pottery, dolls, and souvenirs of many stripes, you will find a block-long row of them beneath the eaves of the Palace of Governors on Palace Avenue, all licensed by the city of Santa Fe.
Just a short walk from the Plaza is the New Mexico Museum of Art. It’s another must thing to see in Santa Fe.
Based on the design of a 300-year-old mission, it was originally built as a gallery in 1917. Today the museum houses an extensive, permanent collection of the work of Southwestern artists.
From its earliest days, the museum encouraged artists to exhibit their work, even attracting them from across the country. The upshot was a blend of Native American, Hispanic, and European-based cultures. It resulted in a unique body of work for locals and anyone visiting Santa Fe to enjoy. New exhibitions that cover a wide representation of works by contemporary artists are always being mounted. There is always a new influx of things to see in Santa Fe.
A short walk from the Museum of Art is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. O’Keeffe all but defined this part of New Mexico in her work. For fans of the prolific artist this museum is a must stop. It contains the largest collection of her art in the world. And given that her paintings, when they come up for sale, invariably command prices in the millions, this museum’s collection is nothing short of staggering.
The museum also includes photographs, displays and narratives that place O’Keeffe into context. For those who have experienced her work just peripherally, or were merely curious, you will leave the museum a fan. O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, New Mexico, about an hour’s drive north, is an extremely enlightening addendum to your visit to the museum.
Located in downtown Santa Fe on Cathedral Place, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts is home to the largest collection of contemporary native art in the world. If you want a bona fide purchase of some of the finest contemporary native art, the museum’s store provides many wonderful examples.
There are other museums and many galleries, the combination of which makes a strong case for the importance and sheer elegance of this western influence on North American art.
Santa Fe Railyard
The Santa Fe Railyard is a magnet for both locals and out-of-towners visiting Santa Fe to come in and browse its stalls and mini-boutiques for clothing, handbags, shoes, jewelry and all manner of other items.
There is also a Farmers’ Market, now open on Tuesdays, in the heart of the Railyard, where you can stock up on fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, cheeses, meats, baked goods, chile, teas, herbs, original crafts, body care products, and much more.
For entertainment, there are film festivals, musical performances at local establishments, open jams, open mics and karaoke. On specified evenings, there is Doggie Happy Hour with reduced prices on drinks and treats for the pooch.
A 10,000 square-foot warehouse, right in the heart of the Railyard District, is the base for Santa Fe Clay, where my wife and I have bought fabulous pieces of pottery over the years. The Ceramic Art Center gallery, at the warehouse, offers everything from one-of-a-kind bowls for your onion dip to incredibly detailed works of art.
You can wander through the studio and watch potter/artists at work. There are also year-round classes and workshops providing an inspirational and creative environment for students ranging from children to adults, from beginners to professionals.
The Summer Workshop Program features nationally recognized artists, offering fascinating insights for prospective ceramicists or those just interested in how it’s all done.
Anyone visiting Santa Fe will find the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau is very helpful in providing advice on the cultural aspects of a visit, including information on the opera, museums, railyard and plaza. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, which was convenient to downtown and also a short hop to roads leading to Abiquiu and the Santa Fe Opera.
If You Go:
Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau
201 W Marcy Avenue
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Tel: (505) 955-6200