(CNN) — It’s called the City Different for a reason — Santa Fe, New Mexico’s creative culture and distinctive adobe architecture make it a total standout.
Surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the town was founded way back in 1610. It’s now known for its vibrant art, near-constant sunshine and game-changing cuisine. Here’s our guide to what to do, see and eat in Santa Fe.
Walking through history
Most of downtown Santa Fe’s churches have stood for centuries. The regal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (131 Cathedral Pl., Santa Fe, NM, 8750; +1 505 982-5619) was built between 1860 and 1886 and still holds services today. Fans of author Willa Cather will also recognize it as the setting of her novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”
You can also tour the nearby The Loretto Chapel, built in 1878, and San Miguel Mission, one of the oldest churches in the United States. (207 Old Santa Fe Trl., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 505 982-0092)
In between gawking at the architecture, a walk through Santa Fe’s nearly 400-year-old plaza is the perfect opportunity to take in the creative work of local merchants (San Miguel Chapel, 401 Old Santa Fe Trl., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 505 983-3974)
Taking in local art, ‘Game of Thrones’ style
Unsurprisingly, the Santa Fe Botanical Garden is full of desert plants.
“Game of Thrones” author and Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin had a big hand in funding Meow Wolf: House of Eternal Return. The art installation, built inside a former bowling alley, stands out from the local fine arts scene as an interactive adventure.
Meow Wolf guides visitors through a colorful labyrinth featuring the work of more than 100 artists. This is far from your typical art establishment — pictures of the work are highly encouraged. (Meow Wolf: House of Eternal Return, 1352 Rufina Cir., Santa Fe, NM, 87507; +1 505 395-6369)
Santa Fe has nearly 20 more traditional museum experiences to choose from. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson St., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 (505) 946-1000) offers the largest collection of her work available to the public in one place, and the New Mexico Museum of Art is a cultural haven right off the downtown plaza. (107 West Palace Ave., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 (505) 476-5072)
For an artistic one-stop shop, there’s Museum Hill. The hill is home to four world-class institutions, and the whole thing can be explored within the span of a day. If you don’t have time for all four museums, opt for the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture (710 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM, 87505; +1 (505) 476-1269) and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, which paint a clearer picture of Santa Fe’s historical context. (750 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM, 87505; +1 (505) 982-2226)
Museum Hill’s mountain views are just as mesmerizing as the art, and the nearby Santa Fe Botanical Garden is the ideal spot to unwind afterward. (715 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87505; +1 (505) 471-9103)
Red or green?
Get red, green or both at Tomasita’s.
Santa Fe’s blend of Native American and Spanish heritage makes for a local food culture that’s tough to replicate outside the city limits.
No visitor to Santa Fe will leave without being asked “red or green?” at least once. (Spoiler: they’re referring to chile.) It’s actually the state’s official question.
Whether you favor one type of chile to the other or would rather try both at once (a blend known as Christmas), Tomasita’s is a great place to get a taste of local ingredients in action. (Tomasita’s, 500 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 505 983-5721)
For a slice of history with dinner, there’s Santacafé, which sits in the famed Padre Gallegos house. Built between 1857 and 1862, it once served as the home of controversial priest Jose Manuel Gallegos, who was defrocked in 1852 for his allegedly scandalous behavior. (Santacafé, 231 Washington Ave., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 505 984-1788)
Museum Hill Cafe has some seriously scenic outdoor seating for refueling between museum visits. (Museum Hill Cafe, 710 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM, 87505; +1 505 984-8900)
For a dinner that’s as much about atmosphere as it is the food, La Plazuela at La Fonda On The Plaza is the go-to — while eating, diners can gaze up at the restaurant’s impressive wrought-iron chandelier and colorful windows. (La Plazuela, 100 East San Francisco St., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; 1+ 505 995-2334)
For dessert, there’s Kakawa Chocolate House, which serves up historical drinking chocolate — which is just as delicious as it sounds. (Kakawa Chocolate House, 1050 E. Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 505 982-0388)
In the evening, get a taste of local beverages at the Santa Fe Spirits Tasting Room. (Santa Fe Spirits Tasting Room, 308 Read St., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 505 780-5906)
Where to sleep and recharge
Urban hotels like the Inn and Spa at Loretto don’t miss out on gorgeous sunset views.
Most Santa Fe accommodations stay true to the area’s heritage with lots of Southwestern influence to their architecture and décor.
For a resort experience in the center of the action, there’s La Fonda On The Plaza. La Fonda stands on the site of Santa Fe’s first inn, which was founded by Spanish settlers in 1607. (La Fonda On The Plaza, 100 E. San Francisco St., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 505 982-5511)
The resort is home to so much art and history that it offers guests complimentary docent-guided art tours of the property.
The Inn and Spa at Loretto, beside the chapel of the same name, is the most photographed building in Santa Fe, and it’s easy to see why. This boutique hotel’s spa is top notch for some indulgence on a busy day. (Inn and Spa at Loretto, 211 Old Santa Fe Trl., Santa Fe, NM, 87501; +1 505 988-5531)
Also nearby is the laidback Inn of the Governors, a cozy family-owned inn just a few blocks from the plaza. (Inn of the Governors, 101 West Alameda St., Santa Fe, NM 87501, +1 505 982-4333)
Less than two hours outside of Santa Fe, you can get to know and celebrate Native American history at Taos Pueblo, which reflects on a 1,000-year span of Taos Indian history.
One hundred residents live inside the historic adobe structure, and more than 1,900 Taos Indians still on live on the surrounding land. Residents welcome visitors to join guided tours and get to know the culture.
Taos Pueblo, 120 Veterans Hwy., Taos, NM, 87571; +1 575 758-1028