Although I grew up in Arizona and made numerous road tips around the West, this was my first visit to Santa Fe.

Trying to do it in one day was a bit overwhelming.

The oft-used description of Santa Fe as an "artists' colony" is certainly apt; there are established shops and stores as well as independent artisans who sell their creations from the sidewalk in front of the Palace of the Governors on the town plaza.

Santa Fe Art Museum
True to the area, the overwhelming majority of the art - particularly the pottery and jewelry - is distinctly Southwest in feel. With regard to jewelry, this means heavy pieces of silver and turquoise and large, dangling earrings and bracelets. Very little is delicate or subtle. And there are more stores than anyone could possibly visit in less than a week.

But shopping is not all Santa Fe is about; there are also cultural activities.

New Mexico was the adopted home of the late artist Georgia O'Keeffe, and Santa Fe has a museum of many of her works. When we visited, however, at least half of this smallish facility was given over to a traveling exhibit by Susan Rothenberg and her "Moving in Place" paintings. Considering the $8 per person admission to see O'Keeffe's works, I frankly felt a little cheated.

Surprisingly, many of O'Keeffe's original paintings are fairly small in size - perhaps 11 x 14 inches - so the slightly smaller prints available in the gift shop are not a dramatic departure from the originals. In fact, one might do just about as well to pass on the museum, go directly to the store, and avoid the admission fee.

Elsewhere in town is a museum/store by illustrator Chuck Jones, drawer of Bugs Bunny, Wyle E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, Pepe le Pew, and others. This store features cel art, statutes, and paintings, and is an absolute must-see!

Santa Fe boasts a number of historical museums operating under the banner of "Museum of New Mexico". Two museums are downtown: the New Mexico State Museum/Palace of the Governors and the New Mexico Museum of Art. The other three are on Museum Hill east of downtown: the Museum of Indian Art & Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art, and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. Admission to one is $9 per person, but the truly dedicated can get a four-day pass to all five for $20.

Also on the square is the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. Italian craftsmen played a large part in its construction and the Italian influence is obvious.

Santa Fe has numerous restaurants, with many offering local fare. We had lunch at the Blue Corn Cafe - one of the few restaurants I've found that makes a truly traditional margarita using fresh, real lime juice instead of sweet & sour mix, along with tequila and triple sec. Delicious!

Santa Fe is colorful in some ways but monochromatic in others. City leaders decided long ago that all buildings withing the downtown area must be similar in design and reflect the area's heritage. While preservation is a positive, it gets a little monotonous; a two-edged sword, I suppose.

Downtown Santa Fe offers many hotels for those who want to stay in the midst of the action, and ample public parking lots for those who want to drive in for the day.

If you choose to stay outside downtown, be sure you check out the surrounding area before checking in. Many hotels along Cerillos Road, for example, looked great in the guide book but were far away from the Plaza, and in a dicey area of town besides.

The bottom line: Santa Fe is fun, but allow plenty of time. And if you or a loved one is a shopaholic, bring money.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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