When you walk the streets of downtown Santa Fe, you can almost feel more than 400 years of history following you! Many locations hold the superlative of “oldest—the oldest capital city, oldest house, oldest church, and the oldest public building—and you'll want to experience all of them, in addition to a handful of others that do a beautiful job of telling the Santa Fe story.
THE OLDEST HOUSE
Though no one is certain exactly when the building was constructed, it's commonly accepted that this house on East De Vargas Street is the oldest house in Santa Fe. Tree rings from the vigas in the ceilings suggest cutting dates of 1740–1767. Today, the building serves dual purposes as a gift shop and museum.
SAN MIGUEL CHAPEL
The oldest church in the United States, the San Miguel Chapel, has stood through most of Santa Fe’s long history. Believed to have been built by Tlaxacalan Indians traveling with Don Juan Oñate, the building dates back to the early 1600s. Today, the beautifully ornate yet humble chapel still hosts Sunday Mass and is open to visitors before and between Masses.
SANTA FE PLAZA & PALACE OF THE GOVERNORS
The heart of downtown Santa Fe for nearly 400 years, the historic Plaza remains the meeting place of The City Different, hosting Indian and Spanish markets and other annual events as well as community gatherings, concerts, and more.
Adjacent to the Plaza, you will find the Palace of the Governors. Built by the Spanish as a government building in 1610, the Palace remains the country's oldest continuously occupied public building. Exhibits chronicle the history of Santa Fe as well as New Mexico and the region.
This glorious Gothic-Revival style chapel was completed in 1878 and modeled after King Louis IX's Sainte Chapelle in Paris. The church was built for the Sisters of Loretto, who established a school in Santa Fe in 1853. According to legend, a mysterious carpenter had a role in the building of the chapel's Miraculous Staircase, constructed between 1877 and 1881 with two 360-degree turns and no apparent means of support.
CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Arguably the most historic and recognizable building in Santa Fe, the Gothic architecture is a stark contrast to the adobe buildings making up the surrounding area. Built in 1886 by Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, the first archbishop of the Diocese of Santa Fe. A nearby chapel houses a wooden statue known as Our Lady of Peace, first brought to Santa Fe in 1625, and then returned to the city during Don Diego de Vargas’ re-conquest in 1692.
LA FONDA ON THE PLAZA
One of Santa Fe’s most iconic hotels, the La Fonda on the Plaza sits on the site of the city’s first inn, dating back to at least 1607. The hotel has acted as a trading hub during the peak of the Santa Fe Trail, with trappers, prospectors, gamblers, politicians, and other colorful characters known to roam the hotel’s halls. The property became one of the famed Harvey Houses in 1925. Today, the inn still acts as Santa Fe’s living room, with locals and visitors alike taking in the great architecture, restaurants, live music, and views from the rooftop.
Home to some of Santa Fe’s more colorful history, Burro Alley was once a hangout for gamblers, thieves, and other seedy characters. Named after the firewood salesmen who would haul in loads of wood on their burros, the area today is home to a handful of great restaurants.
PECOS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
The Pecos National Historic Park has long been a hub of historical significance. The site is the original home to the Pecos Pueblo and was abandoned in 1838 after several raids by the neighboring Comanches. The area later gained notoriety when it was site to the Battle of Glorieta Pass, one of the largest and most significant Civil War battles to take place in the American West. Later, Pecos served as a major stagecoach stop along the Santa Fe Trail. Ruts from the trail are still quite visible throughout the park.