A plaza is usually defined as a marketplace or public square. However, that fails to convey the importance of plazas in New Mexico. Here, these spaces act as the heart of our towns and cities and as an outdoor living room for their residents. They’re a place to gather to celebrate annual festivals and special occasions, or just to hear live music. During the holidays, strings of lights wrap around trees and farolitos (sometimes called luminarias) line the walls of surrounding buildings. To appreciate this aspect of life in New Mexico, stroll around one of these six plazas.
1. Mesilla Plaza
Mesilla’s plaza is anchored by a gorgeous church (San Albino) that is one of only two basilicas in New Mexico. The first church to stand on this site was constructed in 1857, but the current building dates back to 1908. In 1932, a fixed bandstand was added to the plaza.
This space has been witness to truly historic events. In 1854, there was a formal ceremony on the plaza when Mexico transferred land to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase.
Most events in Mesilla still happen on the Plaza. This includes markets, car shows, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, Fiesta, Dia de los Muertos, and the lighting of the Christmas tree.
2. Santa Fe Plaza
Santa Fe’s plaza was and continues to be a true marketplace. It used to be the northern terminus of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro and, today, Native American traders still sell handcrafted goods from under the portal of Palace of the Governors.
Annual events, such as the Spanish Market and Indian Market, are still held on the Santa Fe Plaza. Locals gather here on July 4th for Pancakes on the Plaza, to hear live music performed in the bandstand during summer months, and to admire the festive glow cast by the lights during the holidays.
3. Las Vegas Plaza
The Plaza Hotel dominates the plaza in Las Vegas. This historic, Victorian edifice is on the National Register of Historic Places and it makes Las Vegas’ plaza truly distinctive.
The plaza itself has a rich history. It was here, in 1846, that General Kearney first claimed the Territory of New Mexico on behalf of the U.S. The plaza was also a popular stop on the Santa Fe Trail.
4. Old Town Plaza
The dramatic San Felipe de Neri Church (pictured) flanks the north side of Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque. As in Santa Fe, travelers and traders along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro congregated here.
Nowadays, you’ll find locals and visitors alike enjoying free programs here, such as the Summertime in Old Town Music Series. There are also several annual events that take place on the plaza. Celebrate the founding of the city in April at Fiestas de Albuquerque or attend Salsa Fiesta, an event dedicated to all types of salsa – the kind you eat and the kind you dance.
5. Don Fernando de Taos Plaza
Taos’ plaza is truly charming. You’d never guess from looking at it that it was designed with defense in mind. In fact, despite its beauty, war has shaped this space. The large cross displayed here is a memorial to the citizens of Taos who perished in World War II on the Bataan Death March. However, the dark aspects of the past don’t dim the festivities of the present. This remains a vibrant place where live music performances and a food festival (Sabor, A Taste of Taos) are held.
6. Socorro Plaza
The greenery of Kittrel Park forms the center of this plaza in Socorro. In addition to the expected bandstand, this particular plaza contains part of the structure that housed the world’s first nuclear weapon.
Most of the time, this plaza feels peaceful. However, during annual events like Socorrofest, (which features food, alcohol, live music, crafts, and a kids’ area), it buzzes with life.
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