As New Mexico's capital, Santa Fe is blessed to have four state museums that explore our region's art, history and culture, as well as several others that highlight our passion for art and our Native American and Spanish Colonial heritages. Seventy-five percent of museum visits are by out-of-towners, but locals have some advantages over tourists.

We get designated free days, discounted prices and the opportunity to check out a free seven-day pass to state-owned museums just like a library book.

City buses, which are free for folks younger than 18, can deliver you downtown a block away from the Palace of Governors and into the lap of the Plaza area's museums (the Palace, New Mexico History Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum), or to Museum Hill on Camino Lejo, where you'll find the rest (the Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Santa Fe Botanical Garden).

A good time to visit these museums is during this year's fourth annual Museum Hill Community Day (9 am-5 pm Sunday Sept. 23) when all the museums and the botanical garden are free. Each museum plans special events, including activities hosted by the International Folk Art Alliance and the National Parks Service. Last year, there was even a pig roast.

The Museum of International Folk Art (706 Camino Lejo, 476-1200) hosts the world's largest collection of folk art from around the world. Anyone who likes shiny things will appreciate the most recent exhibit, Beadwork Adorns the World, on display through the beginning of February 2019. The show contemplates how glass beads travel the world before becoming a part of beadwork in an object or garment, and how those beads reflect the artists' and collectors' intentions.

Teri Greeves’ (Kiowa nation) high-heeled canvas sneakers from Beadwork Adorns the World at the Museum of International Folk Art.
Teri Greeves’ (Kiowa nation) high-heeled canvas sneakers from Beadwork Adorns the World at the Museum of International Folk Art.

In the downtown art scene, the New Mexico Museum of Art (107 W Palace Ave., 476-5072) will feature Frederick Hammersley: To Paint Without Thinking, from May 26 through Sept. 29. Hammersley, known as an abstract classicist, lived in New Mexico from 1968 until his death in 2009. This exhibit showcases his notebooks, inventories, sketchbooks and color swatches so you can better understand the process he used to create his geometric paintings.

At the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson St., 946-1000), explore the beautiful skies and landscapes that the artist painted less than an hour from Santa Fe. The Black Place: Georgia O'Keeffe and Michael Namingha will be on view May 4 to Sept. 14 as part of the museum's Contemporary Voices series. Both artists spent time at the Black Place in the Bisti Badlands of northwestern New Mexico, where they were inspired to create art nearly a century apart.

If you're into music, check out the latest exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum's (113 Lincoln Ave., 476-5200) The Land that Enchants Me So: Picturing Popular Songs of New Mexico, on display through Feb. 28, 2019. This display celebrates the era before radio and television, featuring sheet music of popular songs about New Mexico published from the 1840s through 1960.

Beyond the latest exhibit, the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of Governors (105 W Palace Ave., 476-5100), two separate buildings for one admission, contains a trove of information about the beginnings of our city and state. It is powerful to stand in the the country's oldest continuously occupied government building, and think of previous governors who lived there—as well as Native people who resided there during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

My kids liked seeing the framed document of governor signatures from 1610 to 1910, in a time when signatures reflected personality and style. Don't forget to wander through the Palace of Governors' gift shop, where you can find a comprehensive selection of New Mexico books, among other items. You don't pay sales tax, and your money supports the museum. Talk to the cashier, too—on a recent visit, Lolly Martin, who spends her Friday evenings researching historical archives, gushed about the treasures you can discover in all of our museums.

Free days

New Mexico residents can take advantage of free museum days at Santa Fe's four state museums: New Mexico Museum of Art, Museum of International Folk Art, New Mexico History Museum/Palace of Governors, and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture—plus more options at private museums. Bring your ID for proof of residency.

  • First Sunday of the month: state museums plus the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
  • Wednesdays: for people 60 and older at the state museums
  • Fridays: all day at Georgia O’Keefe Museum, plus 5-7 pm on the first Friday of the month from November through April and every Friday between May and October at the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of Governors and the New Mexico Museum of Art

Take the Kids

  • Children 16 and younger get in free to state museums, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
  • Children younger than 18 have free admission at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
  • Children 16 and younger get in free from 4-6:30 pm Thursdays at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum (1050 Old Pecos Trail, 989-8359). Adults must accompany all children. Babies younger than one are always free.

Go Any Day with Everyone

Borrow a seven-day family pass to four Santa Fe museums and 11 other museums and cultural sites across New Mexico at any of the Santa Fe public libraries. The pass grants free entrance for up to six people.

  • Main Library, 145 Washington Ave.,
    955-6781
  • Oliver La Farge Branch, 1730 Llano St.,
    955-4862
  • Southside Branch, 6599 Jaguar Drive,
    955-2820