WHAT TO DO
Santa Fe is a charming place full of culture, cuisine and art. Founded as a Spanish colony in 1610, it is the oldest state capital in the United States. It is located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico. At over 7000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe is also the nation’s highest state capital. Nicknamed The City Different, this pleasant town is a combination of cultures where tradition meets contemporary. Walking through its adobe neighborhoods or around the busy plaza that remains its core, there's no denying that Santa Fe has a timeless, earthy soul. Indeed, its artistic inclinations are a principal attraction - visit quality museums, impressive galleries, funky boutiques and remarkable churches. Many of the places you will visit are within walking distance from the historic downtown area.
Start your adventure in the center of town in the Plaza. For more than 400 years, the Plaza has stood at the heart of Santa Fe. Originally it marked the far northern end of the Camino Real from Mexico; later, it was the destination for wagons heading west along the Santa Fe Trail. Today, this grassy square is filled with tourists wandering from museum to margarita, food vendors, skateboarding kids and street musicians. Beneath the portico of the Palace of the Governors, along its northern side, Native Americans sell beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry. The Palace of the Governors is the oldest public building in the United States. This adobe complex began as home to New Mexico’s first Spanish governor in 1610. It was occupied by Pueblo Indians following their revolt in 1680, and after 1846 became the seat of the US Territory’s earliest governors. The adjoining New Mexico History Museum engagingly tells the story of the state, beginning with the Spanish arrival in the 1500s. Note: the Palace entrance is located in the History Museum. Next door at 107 West Palace Avenue is the New Mexico Museum of Art. Built in 1917 and a prime early example of Santa Fe’s Pueblo Revival architecture, the New Mexico Museum of Art has spent a century collecting and displaying works by regional artists. A treasure trove of works by the great names who put New Mexico on the cultural map, from the Taos Society of Artists to Georgia O’Keeffe, it’s also a lovely building in which to stroll around, with a cool garden courtyard. Nearby at 217 Johnson Street is the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. With ten beautifully lit galleries in a sprawling 20th century adobe, this museum boasts the world's largest collection of O'Keeffe’s work. She’s best known for her luminous New Mexican landscapes, but the changing exhibitions here range through her entire career - from her early years through to her time at Ghost Ranch (her former home, in the village of Abiquiu, 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe). Note: major museums worldwide own her most famous canvases, so you may not see familiar paintings, but you’re sure to be astonished by the thick brushwork and mystical colors on display.
Located southeast of town at 706 Camino Lejo on Museum Hill is the Museum of International Folk Art. Santa Fe’s most unusual and exhilarating museum centers on the world's largest collection of folk art. Its massive main gallery displays whimsical and mind blowing objects from more than one hundred different countries. Tiny human figures go about their business in fully realized village and city scenes - while dolls, masks, toys and garments spill across the walls. Note: changing exhibitions in other wings explore vernacular art and culture worldwide. Close by at 710 Camino Lejo is the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. This top notch museum sets out to trace the origins and history of the various Native American peoples of the entire Southwest, and explain and illuminate their widely differing cultural traditions. Pueblo, Navajo and Apache natives describe the contemporary realities each group now faces, while a truly superb collection of ceramics, modern and ancient, is complemented by stimulating temporary displays. The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art can be found at 750 Camino Lejo. Celebrating the long history of Hispanic culture in New Mexico, this museum places the religious and domestic art of the region in the context of the Spanish colonial experience worldwide. The carved statues and paintings of saints familiar from churches throughout the state are displayed alongside the personal possessions treasured by colonists as reminders of their original homeland. A short drive away is Santa Fe's most famous attraction - Meow Wolf. Located at 1352 Rufina Circle, this joint is totally rad. If you've been hankering for a trip to another dimension but have yet to find a portal, the House of Eternal Return could be the place for you. The premise here is quite ingenious: visitors get to explore a recreated Victorian house for clues related to the disappearance of a Californian family, following a narrative that leads deeper into fragmented bits of a multiverse (often via secret passages), all of which are unique, interactive art installations. Created by the Santa Fe art collective Meow Wolf in an old bowling alley, the space is large enough that you could spend several hours here - or visits - trying to crack the code to the safe at the top of the stairs, reading every detail of Mom's diary or finding inspiration yourself in the makerspace at the entrance. Weekend nights see live music shows at the heart of this compelling imaginary world. Crowds tend to disperse throughout the large facility, but if you'd like a bit more space to yourself visit during the week. Note: be sure to book your ticket online so you won't have to wait in the standby line.
Looming over the Railyard Arts District at 1606 Paseo de Peralta, the enormous and ever expanding SITE Santa Fe is a nonprofit art gallery dedicated to presenting world class contemporary art to the local community. Besides radical installation pieces and cutting edge multimedia exhibitions, it also hosts wine splashed openings, artist talks, movie screenings and performances of all kinds. Do not miss Blue Rain, found at 544 South Guadalupe Street. This large space in the Railyard is the top gallery in town representing contemporary Native American and regional artists. There are generally several shows on at once, encompassing everything from modern pottery and sculpture to powerful landscapes and portraits. Also here is the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Local produce, much of it heirloom and organic, is on sale at this spacious indoor outdoor market, alongside homemade goodies, delicious food, natural body products, and arts and crafts. From there, make your way to lovely Canyon Road. Located southeast of the Plaza, this magical half mile street has the highest concentration of art galleries in the city, and is a major destination for international collectors, tourists and locals. The Canyon Road galleries showcase a wide array of contemporary, Southwestern, indigenous American, and experimental art, in addition to Taos Masters and Native American pieces. Next, head to Keshi at 227 Don Gaspar Avenue. If you don't have the opportunity to visit the Zuni Pueblo, you'll at least want to visit this exquisite gallery. Specializing in Zuni fetishes (tiny animal sculptures, each with a special meaning or power), it's generally believed that the animal chooses you - not the other way around.
Found at 490 Old Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico’s State Capitol, informally known as the Roundhouse, was laid out in the shape of the state symbol (also the emblem of Zia Pueblo) in 1966. Home to the state legislature, which sits for sixty days in even numbered years and just thirty in odd years, it holds one of the finest art collections in New Mexico. Note: visitors must check in with the information desk first. A short distance away at 401 Old Santa Fe Trail is the San Miguel Mission. Erected from 1610 onwards, by and for the Tlaxcalan Indians who arrived from Mexico with Santa Fe’s first Spanish colonists, this is considered to be the oldest church in the United States. Much of the original building was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, so it was rebuilt with new walls in 1710. Holes in front of the altar reveal the foundations of an ancient pueblo beneath, while the high wooden beams and devotional artwork inside are well worth a peek. From there, head north over the Santa Fe River to the Loretto Chapel at 207 Old Santa Fe Trail. Built in 1873 for the Sisters of Loretto, this tiny Gothic chapel is famous as the site of Saint Joseph's Miraculous Stairway - a spiraling and apparently unsupported wooden staircase added by a mysterious young carpenter who vanished without giving the astonished nuns his name. Not far away at 131 Cathedral Place is the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Santa Fe’s French born bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy - hero of Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop - set about building this cathedral in 1869. Its Romanesque exterior might seem more suited to Europe than the Wild West, but the Hispanic altarpiece inside lends a real New Mexican flavor. A side chapel holds a diminutive Madonna statue that was taken into exile following the Pueblo Revolt, and has been known since the Spaniards’ triumphant return in 1692 as La Conquistadora. Found at 100 South Guadalupe Street is the Santuario de Guadalupe. The oldest shrine in the United States to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico, this adobe church was constructed between 1776 and 1796, though there have been several additions and renovations since then. The Spanish baroque retablo (altar painting) inside was painted in Mexico in 1783, then taken apart and transported up the Camino Real on the backs of mules. Other cultural treasures here include a fine collection of santos (wood carved portraits of saints).
Conclude your tour of Santa Fe with a visit to the spectacular Santa Fe Opera, located seven miles north of town at 301 Opera Drive. Many visitors flock to Santa Fe for the opera alone: the theater is a marvel, with 360 degree views of sandstone wilderness crowned with sunsets and moonrises, while at center stage the world's finest talent performs magnificent masterworks. Gala festivities begin two hours before the curtain rises, when the ritual tailgate party is rendered glamorous in true Santa Fe style right in the parking lot. Prelude Talks, free to all ticket holders, are offered in Stieren Orchestra Hall one and two hours before curtain. Note: if you are unable to attend a performance, tours are offered Monday through Friday, from June to August at 9a.
WHERE TO EAT
The culinary tradition of Santa Fe and northern New Mexico is inspired by its high desert landscapes and unique spirit. But it’s also a dynamic cuisine, perpetually shaped by the area’s migrations of people and flavors. Santa Fe has many great places to eat and enjoy a drink. Start your day at Iconik Coffee Roasters, located at 202 Galisteo Street. One of the city's most established roasters, it is a favorite morning hangout for a solid cup of coffee and a simple breakfast of yogurt, granola and mixed berry compote or the yummy avocado toast. Another spot is Downtown Subscription, found just off Canyon Road at 376 Garcia Street. The coffee shop of choice for Santa Fe's artists and writers - it serves over 30 types of tea, plus espresso, pastries and savory offerings, all complemented by a truly spectacular newsstand and outdoor patio. Nearby at 821 Canyon Road is Teahouse. This relaxed indoor outdoor cafe at the eastern end of the street makes the perfect break while gallery hopping. It has more than 160 teas from all over the world - with scones - plus a full menu of eggy brunch items. Counter Culture Cafe can be found at 930 Baca Street. This hip joint has good food made from scratch (try the cinnamon roll and lemon ricotta pancakes) in addition to coffee and live music. For a dynamite breakfast burrito, head to Palacio Cafe at 209 East Palace Avenue. The breakfast burritos smothered with red and green chile sauces are as soul satisfying as they are famous. Note: breakfast burritos are said to have been invented in Santa Fe. Next, make your way to Dolina Bakery & Cafe at 402 North Guadalupe Street. This airy breakfast and lunch spot is one of the town's best daytime options. The small kitchen serves tasty food in a casual and relaxed atmosphere. The Hungarian goulash, made with locally sourced lamb bone broth, is excellent, and the house made cakes, pies and other pastries are equally impressive. For a to go treat - pick up some of the fresh gingerbread and a jar of lemonade mixed with turmeric, ginger, honey and cayenne.
For lunch, hit La Choza at 905 Alarid Street. Blue corn burritos, a festive interior and an extensive margarita list make this place a perennial favorite among Santa Fe's discerning diners. Of the many New Mexican restaurants in town, this one always seems to be reliably excellent. Also superb is Cafe Pasqual's, found at 121 Don Gaspar Avenue. The food has a definite south of the border flavor and es muy bueno. Start with the famous baked macaroni and cheese then move on to the two mole enchiladas. Tia Sophia's is located at 210 West San Francisco Street. Local artists outnumber tourists at this long standing and always packed Santa Fe favorite. Get the perfectly prepared chile rellenos (stuffed chile peppers), you'll thank me. La Casa Sena can be found at 125 East Palace Avenue. Several downtown restaurants have outdoor seating but this is the prettiest, in the flower filled garden of an old adobe. The New Mexican food’s good too - I destroyed a green chile cheeseburger. Doctor Field Goods can be found in a nondescript shopping center out at 2860 Cerrillos Road. This casual deli caters to the local crowd with a respectable draft beer selection and an eclectic array of food choices. Diners can select between free range buffalo enchiladas, goat tortas with honey habanero sauce, grilled fish tostadas and green chile pulled pork sandwiches, among other delicacies. Note: a bakery is a few doors down. My favorite lunch spot in town is Tomasita's, located at 500 South Guadalupe Street. Sure this raucous Railyard landmark is always packed with tourists and most likely you’ll have to wait, but it’s worth it. Traditional New Mexican dishes include burritos and enchiladas, and there are blue plate specials along with massive margaritas.
For some afternoon delight, head to Clafoutis at 333 Cordova Road. As Oscar Wilde once said, the only way to get rid of temptation is to give in, and that sums up the approach you should take at this super bon French patisserie. Drop by for delectable pastries and a tantalizing selection of crepes. Another splendid place for your sweet tooth indulgence is Kakawa Chocolate House, found at 1050 Paseo de Peralta. Chocolate addicts simply can't miss this loving ode to the sacred bean. This quiet alternative to the coffeehouse provides a wide selection of hot brews inspired by chocolate traditions from around the world. These rich elixirs are based on historic recipes and divided into two categories: European (17th century France) and Mesoamerican (Mayan and Aztec). Bonus: the cafe also sells sublime chocolates (prickly pear mescal), truffles and spicy chile caramels.
For dinner, try The Compound at 653 Canyon Road. A longtime foodie favorite, it features the contemporary American creations of acclaimed chef and owner Mark Kiffin. The ingredients are always fresh and the menu ranges through elegant Southwestern and Mediterranean flavors. I enjoyed the tuna tartare and pan roasted duck breast. For dessert, the macadamia nut tart was scrumptious. Down the street at 724 Canyon Road is the excellent Geronimo. Housed in a 1756 adobe, it is among the finest restaurants in town. Highlights on the short but diverse menu include honey grilled white prawns with fiery sweet chile and peppery elk tenderloin with applewood smoked bacon. The flourless German chocolate cake was wunderbar. La Plazuela is located at 100 East San Francisco Street inside La Fonda on the Plaza. One of Santa Fe’s greatest pleasures is a meal in the Fonda’s central atrium - with its excited bustle, colorful decor and authentic New Mexican food. Here, contemporary dishes share menu space with standards such as enchiladas, fajitas and tamales. For the best tacos in town, make your way to Paloma at 401 South Guadalupe Street. This Mexican inspired kitchen and bar makes its tortillas from local, landrace blue corn that’s hand pressed in house. Be sure to go with the taco trifecta: cauliflower with golden raisin, Spanish olive and sweet pepper almond salsa / smoked brisket with salsa guajillo, pickled onion and poblano rajas / crispy sea bass with cabbage, chipotle mayo and cilantro crema. Note: the bar has an impressive selection of mezcal and tequila. My favorite restaurant in Santa Fe is Sazon, which can be found at 221 Shelby Street. Chef Fernando Olea's signature mole negro is subtle and balanced; the pork belly tacos are divine; and the sweeter than normal chiles en nogada, made with a jalapeno balsamic, offer a new take on a classic. It’s cooking like this that keeps tables at this adobe walled eatery in high demand. Note: reservations are essential.
End your evening in Santa Fe with a drink or two. Santa Fe Spirits is located at 308 Read Street. This local distillery's tasting flight includes an impressive amount of liquor - including shots of Colkegan single malt, Wheeler's gin and Expedition vodka. Leather chairs and exposed rafters make this downtown tasting room an intimate spot for an aperitif. Note: do not leave without trying the Apple brandy, it's handmade in small batches with New Mexico apples. Second Street Brewery at the Railyard is at 1607 Paseo de Peralta. Santa Fe's long running brewery makes a good place for a pint after a long day, serving its own handcrafted English style beers plus a hearty selection of pub grub. At this Railyard location you can kick back on the outdoor patio. Note: the flagship location is at 1814 Second Street while the new Rufina Taproom (2920 Rufina Street) is convenient to Meow Wolf. Another solid spot is the New Mexico Hard Cider Taproom, found at 505 Cerrillos Road. Apple and specialty ciders pair up with green chile bacon hotdogs and a four cheese grilled cheese sandwich at this relaxed taproom. CrowBar is located at 205 West San Francisco Street. A Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) motif and younger crowd make this joint one of the hipper choices in town for a cocktail or three. For a sunset view with your margarita, try the lively Rooftop Cantina perched atop the Coyote Cafe at 132 West Water Street. Finish up at the Dragon Room Bar, found at 406 Old Santa Fe Trail. This three hundred year old adobe remains a popular place among locals. Note: go with the signature Black Dragon margarita.
WHERE TO STAY
Santa Fe offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, located in the heart of downtown at 113 Washington Avenue. Featuring classic adobe design, this stylish hotel is one block from the Plaza and a short stroll from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Blending contemporary decor with traditional details such as Native American textiles, the sleek rooms come with fireplaces, flat screen TVs and free WiFi. Upgraded quarters add hardwood floors and balconies. Amenities include a chic restaurant, a cocktail bar with exposed brick walls and a wine cellar.
A second option is The Inn of the Five Graces, located at 150 East DeVargas Street. This boutique hotel made up of a collection of historic adobe and stone buildings is close to the San Miguel Mission and not far from the galleries on Canyon Road. The lavishly decorated rooms feature antique furnishings and Central Asian fabrics, as well as complimentary WiFi. Ornate suites add fireplaces, patios and up to three bedrooms. There's also a two bedroom house. Other perks include breakfast on the house, a Tibetan inspired spa and a wine bar.
Santa Fe has wonderful culture, excellent museums and fantastic restaurants. It treated me well and I look forward to returning.