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Free Things To Do In Santa Fe, NM

Updated on April 15, 2013

Santa Fe, Home of Southwestern Style Design and Art

Canyon Road provides visitors with a chance to view many works of art
Canyon Road provides visitors with a chance to view many works of art | Source

Santa Fe Overview

Before the Spanish arrived to the Santa Fe area in the 1500s, the region was home to various groups of Pueblo Indians. Many remnants of the Native Americans' former homes still exist in the form of cliff dwellings. These structures can be viewed at places like Bandelier National Monument in the nearby Jemez mountains.

Around 1600 the Spanish created a small city here and named it Santa Fe or "Holy Faith" in English. The Spanish Colonials abandoned the settlement for a few years during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, but re-established the town around 1700, when better aboriginal relations returned.

Santa Fe really took in the early 1800s, when American pioneers arrived from St. Louis by traveling overland on the Santa Fe Trail. The resulting trade between the pioneers, the Spanish and the local Indians has been instrumental in making Santa Fe a major cultural center of the Southwest. Following are some suggestions for free activities while visiting this fascinating state capitol.


Walk a History Trail

Cross on the path up Fort Marcy Hill
Cross on the path up Fort Marcy Hill | Source

Old Fort Marcy

Near the main square of Santa Fe sits a distinctive hill that overlooks the sprawling city of Santa Fe. This is Old Fort Marcy hill, named for the 19th century fort that adorns the top of the hill. Built during the Mexican war by the Americans, the urban hilltop currently serves as scenic overlook. Those with vehicles can drive to the top, but hikers are awarded a free history lesson as they negotiate the lengthy set of stairs and paved walkways that lead to the top. The lesson is courtesy of the city of Santa Fe, who has installed a series of plaques explaining the city's colorful history.

A Santa Fe Cathedral

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is located in downtown Santa Fe near the main plaza
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is located in downtown Santa Fe near the main plaza | Source

Visit A Church, Chapel or Cathedral

One of Santa Fe's most visited sites is the Miraculous Staircase that was constructed inside the Loretto Chapel, not far from the state capitol grounds. This visit will set you back you three dollars, but Santa Fe abounds with large stately churches, which allow daytime visitors. No admission fee is required, but a donation box is always available for those who contribute. Some of more places to visit include the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis, the San Miguel Mission, El Sanctuario de Guadalupe and the Cristo Rey Church. All these religious venues are situated very close to the plaza.

The Santa Fe Plaza

Santa Fe plaza on a quiet summer day
Santa Fe plaza on a quiet summer day | Source

Check Out The Plaza

Whether it be checking out the Christmas lights and luminarias in winter or visiting the extensive outdoor Indian Market in early August, the main plaza in Santa Fe is always worth a visit. On quiet days visitors just stroll around perhaps checking out the Native American artisans underneath the portal of the Governor's Building or maybe walking through the high end galleries and curio shops that abound in the area. At other times the central square can be buzzing with the music of local ensembles or filled with booths of various styles of craftsmen. No matter how you look at it the plaza provides a great opportunity to view splendid examples of Southwestern art.

Canyon Road Sculpture

Two faces displaying a small accumulation of snow, picture taken on Canyon Road
Two faces displaying a small accumulation of snow, picture taken on Canyon Road | Source

Strolling Canyon Road

Canyon Road is a narrow picturesque lane that curves through the north side of Santa Fe. For most of its length the street is lined with a eclectic collection of art galleries. Southwestern, landscape and Native American motifs dominate, but a surprising number of places feature abstract or modernist artworks. An especially apropos time to go here are Friday evenings during the warmer summer months. Not only does get to look at some of the best art in the nation, but live music, wine and food are also available for free consumption.

Santa Fe Museums

New Mexico Museum of Art, side view
New Mexico Museum of Art, side view | Source

Visit An Art Museum

Santa Fe art museums are both numerous and well stocked with high caliber works of art. Unfortunately, entrance to these prized institutions can be rather pricey. However on the flip side most offer at least one time period a month, when admission is free. The prestigious New Mexico Museum of Art opens it doors without charge every Friday night beginning at 5 p.m. On the other hand the Georgia O'Keefe Museum just offers two free hours (5-7 p.m.) on the first Friday of each month. Site Santa Fe, which is located near the railyard,has free hours every weekend on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, while the Wheelwright Museum of Indian Art is always free, though donations are encouraged.

Bus Shelter

Blue bus shelter at the Ohkay casino just north of Espanola
Blue bus shelter at the Ohkay casino just north of Espanola

Ride the Blue Bus

New Mexico has a neat transportation program known as "the Blue Bus". Officially known as the North Central Regional Transit District, this innovative ride system provides free rides from Santa Fe to such locales as Espanola, Chimayo, Chama, Taos and Los Alamos. Buses run several times a day from Santa Fe and include visits to many of the Northern pueblos or casinos that situated north of Santa Fe. Be sure to visit the above website and plan your trip carefully. Occasionally, a return trip may require a ride on a Park & Ride vehicle. This may set your back a few dollars, but still makes a journey a good deal..

Blue Door embedded in an adobe wall

Santa Fe is loaded with charming scenes like the one pictured above. Look around and you will see many.
Santa Fe is loaded with charming scenes like the one pictured above. Look around and you will see many. | Source

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