Photos by K.D. Leperi
There are few places to travel where you immerse yourself in what seems like a foreign culture and country, but don’t need a passport to get there. Santa Fe, New Mexico is one of those places. It is such a different experience for most Americans that the city even has the tagline of City Different.
Chances are your time may be limited, and so I share the essentials of Santa Fe – what you should have on your list “to see and do” while in this rarefied city of colorful cultures, terracotta adobes and turquoise skies.
For starters, be aware that the city is located on a high desert plateau above 7,000 feet at the southern end of the Rockies. Hydrate well to avoid altitude sickness and if you need something to help get over the edge, check out Santa Fe Oxygen and Healing Bar on San Francisco Street. For those traveling from the Midwest or East Coast where the humidity is higher, the climate is desert dry in this part of the country. Many experienced travelers come prepared by packing extra body lotion, eye drops and even nasal saline spray.
Best to take it easy on your first day and confine your exploring to town square and immediate surroundings. Afterall, it’s a very walkable city. Shop genuine crafted jewelry from the local Native American vendors on the sidewalk in front of the Palace of the Governors. Then explore the New Mexico Museum of Art, Saint Francis Cathedral and the Loretto Chapel – famous for its miraculous circular staircase that bears no nails.
Tour the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, located downtown within easy walking distance of the historic Plaza. The museum claims to have the single largest repository of O’Keeffe’s work in the world. Foodies will enjoy taking a cooking class with lunch at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. The internationally-acclaimed Santa Fe School of Cooking & Market is an expert on all things involving Southwestern cuisine. Questions about green and red chiles? You’ll learn about it here while dining on the delectable tastes afterwards.
Save the afternoon for spa treatments along with soaking pool rejuvenation at Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Style Spa Resort. The idyllic setting in the nearby foothills features the tradition of the Japanese ryokan. Pinons and junipers surround the facility, reminding you that it’s not Japan, but New Mexico.
Make dinner reservations at one of the best restaurants in town, and for that matter, the entire state of New Mexico. Sazon and Chef Oleas are known for fine dining in the style of traditional Mexican cuisine, with Sazon recently receiving the Open Table’s Diner’s Choice award and Best top 10 Restaurant in New Mexico. The small menu receives personal chef attention and features locally sourced products.
Overnight at La Fonda on the Plaza, a 4-Diamond hotel known for its history, authentic New Mexican architecture, handcrafted furniture, colorful décor and original art throughout the property and in the guest rooms. Another great choice is nearby Drury Plaza Hotel, known for its large rooms and super-sized amenities. They are especially accommodating for families. A tad farther is the only resort in town, La Posada de Santa Fe. Conveniently located close to the historic Plaza and Canyon Road, this historic AAA Four Diamond Award-winning resort is known as a showcase for original art, adobe-style casitas, pool and a spa.
Start the day off with breakfast at a favorite local joint. Tia Sophia’s is known for their breakfast burritos prepared in traditional Northern New Mexico style, with affordable prices and a kid-friendly atmosphere.
Indulge the remainder of the morning in nearby Museum Hill (car needed). Check out the Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. For the best restaurant views on the hill, stop by for lunch at the Museum Hill Café.
Then head to Canyon Road for a magical half-mile of artisan galleries and mixed-media art and paintings ranging from traditional to modern. Besides fine art and shopping, many of the best restaurants in town are located here. Geronimo and my favorite new entry, Milad Persian Bistro. Word-of-mouth is spreading fast about this restaurant that specializes in Persian cuisine.
One of the hottest places to visit that has received international acclaim is Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return. This art installation opened in March of 2016 and feels like an Alice in Wonderland trip. You never know what’s up the fireplace, inside the fridge or behind a closet door. Interactive, colorful, and multi-sensational, hidden discoveries constantly challenge the mind. Great for all ages.
Consider checking out the Santa Fe Railyard for great places to eat like Opuntia Café in the Baca Railyard area. If it’s Saturday, visit the vibrant Farmer’s Market open year-round for great deals on local produce, foods and even chilis.
La Plazuela, The Shed, Four Seasons Rancho Encantado’s Terra Restaurant, breakfast at Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen
Festivals all year round
Santa Fe Indian Market, Spanish Market, International Folk Art Market and Santa Fe Opera.
IF YOU GO: