Wild West Travel: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Where Culture and History Paint the Desert
By Reagan Johnson

Santa Fe, New Mexico stands as a testament to both the ancient and the new. It’s a place where centuries-old adobe buildings meet cutting-edge art galleries, and the spirit of the Old West blends seamlessly with the soul of the modern Southwest. Known as the oldest capital city in the United States, Santa Fe is so much more than just a destination; it’s a journey through Native American, Spanish and Anglo cultures that are alive and thriving today. Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo foothills, the city is a treasure trove of historical landmarks, culinary delights, and artistic innovation.

As you wander the narrow, winding streets of Santa Fe, you’re walking the same paths trod by Puebloans, Spanish missionaries, and pioneering settlers. Each corner of the city tells a story, from the ancient Plaza to the majestic Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Santa Fe’s unique blend of architectural styles reflects its diverse cultural heritage, with Pueblo, Territorial and Spanish Revival buildings standing as monuments to its multifaceted past.


Why You Know It: The Heart of the Southwest

A magnet for artists and writers, Santa Fe’s storied past is matched by a colorful present, where art galleries, museums and performance spaces abound. The city’s artistic reputation is anchored by Canyon Road—a magical mile of over 100 galleries and studios showcasing everything from traditional Native American art to contemporary installations.

But of course, to true fans of Westerns, Santa Fe is about even more. The city has served as a stunning backdrop for numerous Westerns, and its enchanting desert landscapes and mountains have made it an ideal location for filmmaking. Notable Westerns filmed here include Silverado (1985) and the remake of True Grit (2010), both of which showcase the area’s scenic beauty and have contributed to its reputation as a heart of the southwest for film enthusiasts​​​​. Beyond those, Cowboys and Aliens (2011) was filmed in and around Santa Fe, blending the Western genre with science fiction elements for an even broader audience.


What It’s Like Today: A Fusion of Past and Present

Modern Santa Fe is a dynamic blend of the ancient and the contemporary. Its historic plazas and age-old buildings are alive with a youthful energy, housing chic boutiques, world-class restaurants and cozy cafes. The city’s culinary scene is a testament to its cultural melting pot, offering everything from authentic New Mexican cuisine to avant-garde dining experiences. Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to explore in the surrounding high desert landscape, with hiking, skiing and biking just moments away from the city center.


Why You Should Go Now: Santa Fe’s Appeal

Santa Fe is a must-visit for those captivated by the spirit of the Old West and the allure of modern adventure. Here are just a few of the reasons you should visit and see it for yourself.

Art and Culture Galore

Dive into Santa Fe’s thriving arts scene with visits to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, and the myriad galleries along Canyon Road. For a more modern take on experiential art, don’t miss the immersive experience of Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, where art collective storytelling and interactive environments converge.

Historical Richness

Explore the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States, and wander around the historic Plaza, the heart of Santa Fe for nearly 400 years. The Palace of the Governors, now part of the New Mexico History Museum, offers a deep dive into the region’s past.

Culinary Delights

Indulge in the flavors of the southwest with dishes like blue corn enchiladas and chiles rellenos. Santa Fe’s culinary scene is renowned for its use of local ingredients, including the famed New Mexico chile.

Outdoor Adventures

The landscapes around Santa Fe offer year-round outdoor activities. In winter, the nearby Ski Santa Fe beckons with its snowy slopes. Warmer months are perfect for hiking the Dale Ball Trails or exploring the Bandelier National Monument’s ancient cliff dwellings.


Saddle Up and Go

Santa Fe, New Mexico, offers its own blend of cultural richness, artistic innovation, and outdoor adventure, making it an essential stop for any Wild West wanderer. Ready to ride off into the Santa Fe sunset yourself?

Getting There

Santa Fe is served by the Santa Fe Regional Airport, with direct flights from major cities. Alternatively, the Albuquerque International Sunport is just an hour’s drive away, offering more flight options.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Santa Fe is during the spring (May to June) and fall (September to October) when the weather is pleasant, and the city is alive with festivals and events. Winter offers excellent skiing opportunities, while summer brings higher temperatures and the chance for afternoon thunderstorms.

Must-Try Foods

No visit to Santa Fe is complete without sampling its signature dishes. Try the local sopapillas with honey, green chile stew, and for dessert, don’t miss out on biscochitos, the official state cookie of New Mexico. Pair your meal with a margarita to fully embrace the flavors of Santa Fe.