Girl carrying painting in street in Santa Fe

A major aerobic exercise and stress reliever in Santa Fe is shopping for art. Doug Merriam photo.


Shopping for Art

The last time somebody visited Santa Fe and didn’t at least consider buying art was . . . Come to think of it, we’ve never heard of such a thing. Santa Fe is, after all, the third largest art market in the U.S., behind only New York and Los Angeles. So make time for everyone to stroll the galleries. Most people start at Canyon Road. The more than 100 galleries along its three-quarter-mile length range in focus from the Old West to modern Russian masters. For a look at the more avant garde, which is often to say the world of the younger, bolder, art types who can’t yet afford the cost of Canyon Road gallery space, head for the Railyard district, where the David Richard Gallery and Zane Bennett Contemporary, among others, will help bring you up to date. In the Railyard, also drop by SITE Santa Fe a former beer warehouse (recycling at its finest) that’s now a museum dedicated to presenting “the most innovative visual art of our time in new and engaging ways.” Make up your own mind about how well they are succeeding. You’ll find galleries downtown, too, many of them bordering historic Santa Fe Plaza. The most interesting art there, though, may be spread out on blankets beneath the covered portal of the Palace of the Governors (the oldest continuously occupied government building in the U.S.), where local Native American artists and jewelers display their work. You’ll often discover yourself negotiating with the person who made the object you’ve set your heart on, and learning, as we did, that dropping the price is not something that comes natural to them. 

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Although her artistic influence went far beyond that, Georgia O’Keeffe is most often thought of as the woman who painted the Southwest. Much of that work was done in Northern New Mexico, where she spent a large part of her life. Her art is displayed in more than 100 venues around the world, but the largest single collection of it, more than 1,000 pieces, is at the museum in Santa Fe. If that makes you swoon, arrange to have your reception in the museum’s courtyard, which can handle 70 people for a seated dinner or up to 150 for a reception, and includes an after-hours tour of the museum collection.

Santa Fe Farmer’s market

In addition to art, another attraction of the Railyard is the Santa Fe Farmer’s market, where you are guaranteed that anything you buy from the 150 or so vendors was produced by the person selling it to you. You’ll see a lot of the local community here and get a chance to learn something about just about anything grown in New Mexico. Do warn your guests, though, that they will return from a visit to the market with a ristra, or string of drying red chile peppers, that can be up to three feet long. Keep in mind, too, that they will rent out their hall for weddings.


Weddings are a time of promises, including the promise to yourself that you are going to fit into that dress.  Which is why a visit to the Santa Fe wellness center, BODY, may be something you want to put on your schedule. They have yoga and dance studios, and a spa. And you can follow those up with a visit to their vegetarian cafe, by which time you will feel so virtuous that a quick look through the boutique will be something you certainly feel you deserve.

Green River Pottery

You could just go out and buy the usual reception favors. But why not have your guests make their own, at Green River Pottery, where we personally produced a lop-sided coffee mug/pencil holder we are quite proud of. Incredibly diplomatic potter Theo Helmstadter sits you down at a potter’s wheel, instructs you on how to use it, and invariably praises the result. Or, if even his encouragement doesn’t convince you, you can always buy some of the pieces for sale in his shop.

Santa Fe Chocolate Trail

Not everyone will walk for art, but whom do you know who wouldn’t happily take to a chocolate trail? Start out at Todos Santos Chocolates and Confections, on the Plaza, with (and why not begin on a high note?)  chocolate Milagros covered in gold and silver leaf.   At the Chocolate Smith, see if you like their dark chocolate pate. The Food Network did when they stopped by a while ago.  The chocolate lavender is among our favorite specialty fudges at C.G. Higgins. End your march at the Kakawa Chocolate House, where you’ll want plenty of time to debate, and field test, the qualities of European versus Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican Mayan Aztec drinking chocolates.

Hiking with Outspire

If there’s one thing Santa Fe may have more of than art galleries, it’s good places to hike. So if anybody needs to walk off culinary excess it’s useful to know that Outspire is a hiking tour specialist that does custom day trips throughout the area. We strolled along with them to see the petroglyphs at La Cienaguilla, easily accessible on a mesa overlooking the Santa Fe River. But they can arrange just about anything outdoors, with adventures among the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, La Bajada historic area, the Pecos Wilderness, and White Rock Canyon being the most popular. They’ll do special trips, too, such as to the cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, and Chimney Rock at Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch.

Cooking Schools

Wedding or no, who doesn’t have time to visit a cooking school? We have visited two in Santa Fe.  At the Santa Fe School of Cooking chef Michelle Roetzer prepared a meal for us inspired by (who would have imagined) the book A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keefe, and helped us solve the mystery of why our roast chicken always comes out so dry. And at the Santa Fe Culinary Academy,  we fell in love with the posole, a Mexican stew that was apparently a pre-Columbian comfort food, prepared for us by chef Rocky Durham.

The Compound Restaurant

For foodies in your group, a visit to the Compound Restaurant, on Canyon Road, is almost essential. In 2005, owner chef Mark Kiffin was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as “Best Chef in the Southwest,” and his classic dishes (we’ve indulged ourselves with both the organic Scottish salmon and the mustard crusted Berkshire pork tenderloin) are still bringing them in the door. You’ll find a lovely setting, especially in the garden, and prices as high as the Santa Fe altitude. If food is everything to you, and cost hardly matters, talk to them about a wedding event. The garden can accommodate 46 for a seated dinner and up to 75 for a reception. 

Santa Fe Botanical Garden at Museum Hill

Green-thumbs among your guests, or anyone curious about high-desert plant life or just needing to get out for a pleasant walk, might want to visit the Santa Fe Botanical Garden at Museum Hill, which after years of planning opened in 2013. If your horticultural interest runs to the extreme, you can rent part of the 13-acre garden for a reception. You might even see if they’ll let you do a photo session on the bright-red hundred-year-old bridge that was recently trucked to the garden from somewhere else in the state.

Cowgirl BBQ

If you fear your destination wedding schedule of events might seem a bit highbrow to, say, some of the friends you went to college with, bring it down a notch with a meal at Cowgirl BBQ. Because you’re in Santa Fe, this enormously successful local institution can fix you a seared organic tofu fajita, if you want. But far more popular items on the menu include Fritos pie and the catfish platter. The music is pretty good, too.

Ten thousand waves

A spa experience is part of almost every destination wedding couple’s visit to Santa Fe, the dry desert air allowing you to claim that it is almost a necessity. But if you want to do something a little different, there’s Ten Thousand Waves, a spa inspired by Japanese hot springs resorts. A favorite for couples is the private bath. And if you’re in no hurry to leave, they even have their own lodging.

Santa Fe Museums

Let’s be honest. When most people imagine how they will spend their time at a destination wedding it is not visiting museums. But if you need a few contemplative moments (and what soon-to-be-married couple doesn’t?)  Santa Fe’s many outstanding museums are good places to find them. The New Mexico Museum of Art, which has an extensive collection of the Taos Society of Artists, is housed in one of the earliest examples of Pueblo Revival Style architecture. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture  has among its 75,000 artifacts a 151-foot long hunting net made of human hair. The New Mexico History Museum, on the Santa Fe Plaza next to The Palace of the Governors, gives insight to everything New Mexico, from cowboys to atomic scientists.  The Museum of International Folk Art is said to house the largest collection of folk art in the world. 

Tia Sophia’s

If you find yourselves with a little down time and in the mood to argue where the breakfast burrito was invented, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant at 210 W. San Francisco Street is a good place to do it.  No conclusive proof will be forthcoming, but you will no doubt find yourselves caught up in various discussions with locals, probably including a politician or two, who view Tia Sophia’s as a kind of congress, with coffee.

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