Santa Fe, N.M.: High Culture and History


If you are seeking a delightfully unique urban experience, try Santa Fe. It lives up to its billing as “the city different.”

Its distinctive features include an eclectic mixture of Native American, Spanish colonial and contemporary Western cultures, great architecture and an emphasis on art, entertainment and cuisine.

The gorgeous setting at 7,000 feet at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, surrounded by forests, leads to the town cherishing its views and protecting them with a city code that prohibits high-rise buildings in city limits. It also boasts an average of 325 days of sunshine.

The architecture and food in the city are worth a trip in themselves. But there is a lot more, too. Beautiful and historic adobe structures dominate, and the native New Mexico cuisine is flavored by pungent Native American peppers. It is simply delicious and different from Tex-Mex and other Spanish-inspired foods. There are more than 400 restaurants in Santa Fe.

If you are looking for art and entertainment, Santa Fe has what you seek. It is home to more than 250 galleries and abounds with Native American art and jewelry, as well as art from around the world. The city has 20 major museums and many government buildings (including the state capitol) house precious pieces of art. The city also boasts an opera company, dance companies and an orchestra.

The town’s history is amazing, rivalling places like St. Augustine and Boston. The nation’s oldest state capitol, established in 1610, Santa Fe is the site of the Palace of the Governors, the nation’s oldest continuously occupied government building (dating to 1610). The oldest house and church are nearby and the Santa Fe Fiesta dates to 1712.

The best way to take it all in (including some attractions elsewhere in New Mexico) is to buy a New Mexico Culture Pass for only $30. It includes admission to eight museums and seven historic sites.

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Getting There:

Santa Fe can be reached by highway, air or train.

  • By car, Santa Fe is on Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Las Vegas, N.M.
  • By air, the nearest major airport is the Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), 65 miles distant.
  • By train, the nearest Amtrak station is Albuquerque, 63 miles away. The New Mexico Rail Runner Express train connects Santa Fe with the Albuquerque Amtrak station seven days per week.
  • There are no cruise ports near this inland location.

Must-Sees for a Short Trip:

  • The shops and sights at the Santa Fe Plaza, epicenter of downtown
  • The Railyard shops, restaurants and farmers market (Tuesday and Saturday)
  • Canyon Road, the gallery district
  • Museum Hill, home to several good museums

If You Have Several Days, Some of Your Best Options are:

  • A road trip to Taos, another artsy town. There’s spectacular scenery along the way on both the high and low roads.
  • A performance at the Santa Fe Opera, in season
  • A visit to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum
  • A cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking
  • A tour of the New Mexico State Capitol
  • Jewelry shopping (expensive but wide selection of authentic Native American handmade items)

Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way for Santa Fe:  Santa Fe is artsy and you’ll want to look good and fit in. Think resort casual and you will be fine. Wear comfortable shoes.

This Destination at a Glance:

Over 50 Advantage: Great galleries, gourmet restaurants, walkable attractions, opportunities for relaxation and good public transportation

Mobility Level: Moderate with no notable impediments

When to Go: Indian Market in August is popular but crowded. September through November is less crowded and the weather is good.

Where to Stay: The La Fonda on the Plaza Hotel is in the heart of things. The Inn of the Governors is also recommended. There is a good selection of national lodging chains and bed-and-breakfast properties.

Special Travel Interests: Native American art, adobe architecture, history.

Jewish Santa Fe

According to a 2014 survey commissioned by the Jewish Federation of New Mexico in cooperation with Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University,(, the Jewish community in and around Santa Fe is robust.

There are approximately 24,000 Jews in New Mexico. They constitute about 1 percent of the state’s population, including the 4 percent of so-called Crypto Jews who converted to Catholicism but still retain some Jewish traditions and practices from their pre-inquisition Spanish heritage.

The statewide Jewish community has an average age of 55, and just 13 percent were born in New Mexico. Of the transplants, most have been here 20 years or more and plan to stay.

Of those who are from elsewhere, 19 percent are from New York, 14 percent are from California and 6 percent are from Texas.

Both statewide and in Santa Fe, New Mexico Jews are quite educated. Probably because of the presence of so many national labs and research institutes that attracted scientists and researchers during World War II, 58 percent of the state’s Jews have an advanced or professional degree. That compares with 35 percent of the Jewish population nationwide.

The original Jews in New Mexico were Conversos fleeing the Inquisition. In the first half of the 19th century, Jews emigrated there as merchants and trappers. The population has grown since and swelled during and after World War II.

Santa Fe proper has a lively Jewish community that constitutes about a quarter of the state’s Jewish population. Only Albuquerque has a larger concentration of Jews.

Among its Jewish institutions and facilities are the archives of the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society ( — a permanent collection at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives.

Santa Fe boasts a Hadassah chapter, a Jewish Care Program affiliated with the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and at least five organized Jewish congregations. These include Reform Temple Beth Shalom and Congregation Beit Tikva, an Ultra-Reformed congregation; HaMakom, a Conservative congregation with a Renewal focus; an Orthodox congregation, Kol BeRamah; and Chabad of Santa Fe, which also operates a mikveh.

For more information about the New Mexico Jewish Federation or to read the New Mexico Jewish Link newsletter, go to

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Fla.


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