Lower temperatures make autumn the ideal time to head to the desert, and in Santa Fe, you can soak in a little sunshine while taking in an array of amazing art. From hotels brimming with color to the legions of creative residents, this quaint town has everything an art aficionado could love and so much more.
Dine, drink, wander and sleep among great works as you get to know this New Mexico destination from the painter’s palette.
WHERE TO BROWSE
Opened in 1917, this charming museum is the oldest in the state and the ideal first stop on an art tour of Santa Fe. Through January 5, check out a unique exhibit featuring an early 20th-century painter in “Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcentalist,” a show all about otherworldly things, astrology, the sky and the outer limits of oneself.
If you miss this mesmerizing display, go for the permanent collection that includes a retrospective of Santa Fe artists from 1913 to 1975; Southwestern-inspired paintings by the Taos Society of Artists; and a huge collection of printmaker Gustave Baumann’s works.
Soak up Santa Fe’s weird side with a visit to this psychedelic art collective that has been sucking people in since 2008. The group’s first permanent installation, House of Eternal Return, is an immersive, multi-discipline experience that invites you to travel through a mystery house packed with a mixture of bright colors, imaginary creatures, a space-themed storyline, secret passages and surprises around every turn.
Make sure to get tickets in advance — they are timed and tend to sell out on a regular basis. But the best part is that you can indulge in this world for a couple hours, go out for lunch or dinner, and come back later that day on the same ticket, allowing you to give your senses a break and refuel.
This small and modest museum celebrates the life and work of a not-so-small or modest artist. Georgia O’Keeffe famously came to the area in 1929, where she lived on and off until her death in 1986.
The Santa Fe museum’s 3,000-piece collection is displayed across nine galleries, offering a glimpse into O’Keeffe’s life through personal objects, photography, drawings and paintings. On November 8, the venue debuts three new exhibits: “Seeing Beyond,” a retrospective of her first abstract works; “The Natural World,” a hands-on collection of the objects that inspired her unique style; and “Travels,” a selection of photos showcasing the artist’s inclination toward wanderlust. (Editor’s note: The museum will be closed from November 1 to 7.)
Watch modern masters at work when you peruse the many artist studios that pepper this half-mile stretch of Santa Fe. A paradise for collectors, the boulevard boasts more than 100 galleries and boutiques, showcasing everything from traditional works to abstract-contemporary pieces. The backdrop along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains isn’t too bad, either. As a bonus, on the first Friday of the month (May through October), many of these galleries stay open until 7 p.m. and celebrate the artists with small bites and wine.
SPEND THE NIGHT
Color abounds at this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star property, where you can practically picture artists garnering inspiration in its bright and lively walls.
Linger in the courtyard and take in the lush vegetation and bubbling fountain before heading off to the equally creative and lovely spa. Here, a warm herbal compress and organic botanicals may complement a massage while the artful ceramic tiles add whimsy to a luxurious bath or steam shower.
Each of the 25 rooms is unique, allowing you to be part of New Mexico’s art scene even while you sleep.
Another great option for those who want to stay just outside the adobe confines of Santa Fe is this luxe Four-Star gem. While the property maintains a more stoic exterior, the land surrounding it proves pretty as a picture. A sparkling outdoor pool allows you to float around while watching the artful swirling of New Mexican clouds.
The slight isolation lets you pretend you are staying on O’Keeffe’s famous house on Ghost Ranch — the serenity might even inspire you to pick up a paintbrush. Explore your scenic surroundings in one of the property’s house Mercedes or book a hiking or biking tour around Abiquiu Lake and Cerro Pedernal mesa, both with private trails in Ghost Ranch that the hotel can access.
DINE AROUND TOWN
Santa Fe is almost as serious about food as it is about art, and getting creatively inspired is hungry business. Dining at Rancho Encantado’s signature restaurant proves an excellent decision given the venue’s dedication to New Mexican cuisine. Expect items such as avocado-rubbed bison with stone potatoes, spicy green chile and corn chowder, or chile-roasted chicken.
If you’re visiting Meow Wolf, head to this adjacent Tex-Mex dining room for enchiladas smothered in red and green chile sauces (affectionately called “Christmas style”). Try to grab a seat at the bar during happy hour (3:30 to 6:30 p.m.) to take advantage of the venue’s margarita bar.
Near the Canyon Road galleries, this casual spot greets you with New Mexican warmth and a plate of traditional posole, a rich stew of corn, green chiles and pork or chicken that goes great with piping-hot French fries. Be sure to snag an alfresco seat to soak up the mild fall weather.
Next door to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is this chic gem from Italian chef Cristian Pontiggia. His intricate Italian dishes are as picture-perfect as the paintings in the nearby gallery — seasonal plates like pumpkin gnocchi with sage brown butter or wine- and vegetable-braised lamb shank are (almost) too pretty to eat.
After strolling the New Mexico Museum of Art, dine at this iconic Santa Fe eatery. The local favorite serves organic and sustainable food in the form of mole enchiladas and a BLT with chile-rubbed bacon and roasted green chile. Expect a line at this popular stop. But while you wait you can take in the floor-to-ceiling décor on the walls.