Why Santa Fe Is a Dream Destination for Art Lovers
About a decade ago, Nunzio DeSantis, the award-winning Dallas-based architect responsible for hotels and resorts such as Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort and Rancho San Lucas, in Los Cabos, was looking for a project in Santa Fe. He grew up near the New Mexico–Texas border in El Paso and had long been attracted to the area’s natural beauty and historic architecture.
In 2014, a more than 100-year-old homestead founded by a French missionary was on the auction block. The property bordering Santa Fe National Forest, which became a resort in the 1920s, was in disarray. DeSantis saw the potential. “It had an equestrian center, a creek running through it, all the ingredients for something spectacular,” he recalls. He bought it with several partners and embarked on a $75 million renovation project to turn it into one of the finest boutique resorts in the country.
Bishop’s Lodge, an Auberge Resorts Collection (from $899 per night), opened in 2021 three miles outside Santa Fe and won an Architectural Digest Great Design Award in 2022. DeSantis’ mission was to maintain the resort’s history and soul without making it feel theme-y. “Understanding hospitality is about understanding the soul of a place,” he says. “When we do something, we have to bring in where we are. If we don’t, we’re not doing our jobs.”
He and his team took great care in protecting historic structures like the adobe chapel circa 1874 on the National Register of Historic Places. They also added new buildings with just as much character as older structures, like a 12-bedroom bunkhouse, ideal for large families and groups, made of reclaimed barn wood with a soaring great room, a two-story stone fireplace and freestanding adobe structures that mimic the land’s contours and conceal luxury suites featuring decor inspired by traditional Navajo dress and the earthy colors of the landscape.
The City of Santa Fe, a UNESCO-protected jewel, has a style all its own. The oldest state capital in the U.S. was established in 1610, but pueblo settlements there date back to the 10th century. June, when temperatures are in the mid-80s and the Santa Fe Opera season begins, kicks off peak season. Visitors can see Native American ruins filled with petroglyphs and centuries-old adobe churches.
While it has respect for the past, Santa Fe — which has more than 250 art galleries — isn’t stuck in it. The artists, designers and chefs who congregate there are opening gallery spaces, boutiques and restaurants that showcase updated takes on Southwest style and cuisine. At Hecho a Mano, a gallery that opened in 2019, owner Frank Rose showcases accessible art forms, including printmaking, ceramics and jewelry by New Mexican and Oaxacan artists. “One of the things that draws me to artists is something that has a tradition but in a way that is relevant to today. It connects it to something larger,” says Rose.
At Hecho a Mano’s sibling gallery, Hecho Gallery, Rose carries the work of many local artists including Blackfoot Nation artist Tarran Last Gun. He specializes in the narrative art form known as ledger art. In the late 19th century when Native Americans didn’t always have access to blank paper, they would paint lodges or battle scenes on accessible items like documents or ledgers. Last Gun’s work features geometric elements in bright colors that still reflect but don’t stereotype Native American culture. Rose says the mix of different cultures — immigrants from Mexico, Indigenous people, Anglo and people who identify as Spanish — makes the Santa Fe art and design scene inspiring.
Heritage by Hand, a lifestyle boutique and brand in the Sena Plaza area of Santa Fe’s historic downtown, celebrates the connection with our neighbor to the south and carries many contemporary design collections from Mexico. “There has always been a link and an ongoing conversation between these regions, and I try to showcase that in the store,” says owner Heidi McKinnon, a museum consultant who helped curate the inaugural exhibitions at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of Freedom and Human Rights in Panama City, Panama.
She says the relationship with Mexico is part of what makes Southwestern style so unique. Visitors can peruse a global mix of items made responsibly by hand from natural, organic and upcycled materials such as handwoven tunics, burnished ceramic candelabras from Veracruz and natural indigo dyed quilts. While Santa Fe is known for its vibrant artist community and museums like the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (the famous artist’s vibrant floral paintings and landscapes are a must-see), two museums are challenging perceptions of New Mexico art and contemporary art in general.
IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts or MoCNA is the country’s only museum for exhibiting and interpreting the most progressive work of contemporary Native artists. The collection includes more than 10,000 contemporary Indigenous artworks created from 1962 to the present day. In Santa Fe’s Railyard District, SITE Santa Fe showcases edgy and topical exhibitions, like Going with the Flow: Art, Actions and Western Waters. The group exhibition, including temporary site-specific artworks exploring the essential role of water in the dry Southwest, goes through July 31.
Just as Santa Fe’s architecture and art has been shaped by Spanish, Native American and Mexican influences, so has its cuisine. The new menu at Terra, the signature restaurant at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, celebrates all three through ingredients like masa sourced from Mexico, New Mexican bison and Spanish octopus. Brightly colored dishes and cocktails, including grilled butterfly branzino with creamy guajillo tomatillo sauce and jicama slaw and a strawberry gimlet with gin, basil and habanero shrub, feel distinctive and fresh.
At the Mexican restaurant Zacátlan, where house-made tortillas come in a rainbow of hues, dishes are equally artful. Chef and owner Eduardo Rodriguez worked his way through Santa Fe’s top fine dining kitchens, including Coyote Cafe and Geronimo, before opening his restaurant in 2020. The fusion food incorporates Mexican and Southwestern influences. Think confit duck legs with huitlacoche succotash and mole poblano and beef short ribs with purple kale and onion rings. Back at Bishop’s Lodge, the cuisine is deeply connected to the region as well: chefs char peppers and vegetables on the grill at SkyFire. At the bar, mixologists specialize in smoky mezcal-laced cocktails that can be sipped slowly next to the Great Meadow or in undefined outdoor areas. Guests are encouraged to experience the dramatic landscape and sparkly light in a way that is organic, unexpected and authentic, like Santa Fe itself.
An Art and Design Lovers Santa Fe Hit List
Glampers will take plenty of Instagram-friendly pics at KitFox 20 minutes from Santa Fe. Chic safari and bell-style tents are surrounded by high desert, and the property’s general store sells locally made items.
Travelers looking for luxury and timeless Southwest style will love the 58-room Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, showcasing handcrafted furnishings and traditional wooden ceilings downtown near Cathedral Park.
The upscale Compound Restaurant — a fixture in Santa Fe fine dining for decades — still draws design-loving locals and visitors for its 1960s redesign by famed textile designer Alexander Girard. New executive chef Weston Ludeke worked with Jean-Georges.
Aesthetes flock to the second floor Opuntia Cafe in the Railyard for the industrial loft-like space with an indoor koi pond, views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the best tea selection in Santa Fe.
Kakawa Chocolates specializes in re-creating original Mesoamerican and colonial chocolate recipes like drinking chocolate elixirs and architectural truffles using local ingredients such as goat cheese and sage.
At Shiprock Santa Fe gallery on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, fifth-generation art dealer Jed Foutz, who was raised in the Navajo Nation, sells a curated collection of historic and contemporary Navajo rugs and blankets, Native American jewelry, Pueblo pottery and sculpture.
The appointment-only shop Santa Fe Vintage is a treasure trove of vintage art and fashion that results in the perfectly unpolished Southwest look like worn-in western boots and 1950s leather-fringe jackets.
A former assistant milliner at the Santa Fe Opera makes custom hats through her company Ramblin Rose Hat Co., but they’re so popular, you have to get on a wait-list.