I don’t typically put up guides to my trips, but since I have been going to Santa Fe on and off for much of my life and have a special connection there (I had a great aunt I would stay with in high school and college and my husband and I were married there 29 years ago in a tiny chapel at Bishop’s Lodge–once an old hotel that was a bit rustic which just re-opened as a very posh Auberge Resort), I feel that I can speak to it in a unique way.
For me, Santa Fe and parts of New Mexico have an almost spiritual, vibrational energy which I have encountered in very few other places (I am not a deeply religious person, but I also know many others feel the same). Perhaps it’s the wide vistas and expanses, or the fact that Native Americans have such a strong connection to the earth, whatever it is, the place both inspires and grounds me. If you are planning to travel there, some notes: Bring close-toed shoes, it’s very dusty; the elevation is 7,000 which means hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (and if you’re like me and have sinus issues I suggest Tylenol before landing and regularly for the first 24 hours); and come with an appetite.
Food: New Mexican food is similar to Tex Mex but unique in the fact that they like to smother everything with local chile sauce–either green (spicy and I mean it) or red (smokier and milder). My favorite meal is chicken enchiladas with blue corn tortillas, Christmas (which is half green/half red chile). In the most traditional restaurants they are served with sopapillas or fried bread. Use the honey on the table for the sopapillas–both help quench the fire in your mouth if you eat too much green chile. The best places for New Mexican food are super casual and full of locals. My favorites are Maria’s (which is supposed to have superb margarita’s though I didn’t have one) and Tomasita’s. They aren’t high on ambiance, but that’s not the point. (The Shed is more touristy and used to be good, but this time was disappointing.)
Save one breakfast for Pasqual’s cafe, which is also mostly New Mexican food (if you’re going on a weekend, get there early). When you just want a good cup a coffee Iconik Coffee Roasters (their Lupe location near the railyard) is the place, though it looks dead when you drive by, trust me, the garden and indoors are usually packed.
For a casual, healthy salad try Vinaigrette (Modern General which is next to and owned by the people of Vinaigrette is another good breakfast place). For a serious dining experience, Geronimo on Canyon Road is worth it–the food which is continental is quite good, the decor is even better. We wanted to go to Paloma’s, which is modern Mexican, but couldn’t get in and frankly, it was a bit too packed for my current comfort level dining in. On that note, the other places felt safe with either outdoor seating or distance between tables.
If you want a bit funky, a good place for a drink is the Tesuque Village Market, which is located in Tesuque…a few miles out of town; it’s worth the ride because the area is a mix of an old, funky artists’ haven and some very beautiful homes. (If I moved to Santa Fe, which I think about every time I go, Tesuque is where you would find me.)
Places to Go: If you can, book a tour of Georgia O’Keeffe’s house in Abiquiu (you absolutely need a car when you’re in Santa Fe). It is really difficult to get in now, but keep trying as times open up. Even if you can’t get in I recommend driving there and then continuing on to Ghost Ranch where she had another house, because the drive between to two places–only about a dozen miles, is spectacular. You can’t visit O’Keeffe’s house at Ghost Ranch (which is quite small anyway), but you can go hike. We did the Kitchen Mesa hike (I’m so-so with heights and made it, though wouldn’t have on my own). The views were phenomenal, the colors of the sky and earth are unlike any other.
For another day trip, drive to the Santuario de Chimayo, an old church known for its healing dirt that people have been making pilgrimages to for 200 years. (I had a friend in need of healing, so I brought back some dirt for them, and still have mine in my dresser from over 30 years ago.) From there you could visit the Taos Pueblo and spend 10 minutes at the adobe St Francis of Assisi church (top image) which O’Keeffe and Steiglitz immortalized. Taos is not my favorite town, though there is a Millicent Rogers museum there which is of interest.
Speaking of museums there are a few in Santa Fe worth visiting including the Georgia O’Keeffe museum (watch the 15 minute intro film, which you have do to on your phone right now, so worth it), the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the International Museum of Folk Art.
I highly recommend a visit to ancient Native America ruins. The closest are at Bandolier National Monument, and for a less crowded spot and a nice relatively easy hike, Tsankawi is on the way to Bandolier (though the ruins are less impressive). If you’re up for a serious adventure (which we did decades ago and again on this trip; it is 3 hours driving each way) head for Chaco Culture National Park, which as the epicenter of Native American culture from 800-1200 AD. The ruins are mind blowing. Note: Pack the car with water, food and gas (because once you get past Abiquiu on the road there is NOTHING until 120 miles in at the Apache Nugget Casino/Rest Stop of a 150 mile trip, also know the last 20 miles of road to Chaco are unpaved). There are also plenty of decent hikes around Santa Fe, we went to the Dale Ball trails a couple of mornings just to get moving, and another spectacular hike south of town, which is more of a commitment is Tent Rocks.
What to do in Santa Fe + Shopping: Besides eating and visiting museums, take a walk up Canyon Road which is full of art galleries (though many are meh), meander the shops on East Palace (walk into The Rainbow Man…it goes on and on and has amazing vintage photos in the back), book a private outdoor hot tub/spa at Ten Thousand Waves (I like to do early evening…we had one with a hot tub, cold plunge pool, outdoor shower, indoor shower, sauna and day beds–heaven), and hunt for Native American jewelry and vintage treasures. My hands-down favorite store is Shiprock, which was closed (!!) the week we were there, and has a spectacular array of everything from Navajo jewelry and rugs to Nakashima furniture.
I have bought a few pieces of Navajo jewelry from Nathalie on Canyon Road and La Boheme up the street had cute Liberty print skirts and bras and other simple clothing designs. Cicada carries on my favorite designers, Nells Nelson, as does Santa Fe Dry Goods though I find their “Santa Fe taste” not mine.
As for vintage, my favorites are Santa Fe Vintage Outpost (they also have a huge warehouse out of town you can visit by appointment), and Kowboyz which is full of good $12 Western shirts (bought one for me and one of my daughters,) and so many vintage cowboy boots (the owner can find you any color your heart desires; a lot of movie costume designers go here). If you want serious boots, it’s Lucchese on the Plaza, which is actually from Texas, that has the most beautifully-crafted boots out there.
Places to Stay: We rented a Bishop’s Lodge villa from Casas de Santa Fe and have rented properties from them before. I like staying a bit out of town so you can watch the spectacular sunsets and see the stars at night.
If you want to splurge, try the new Bishop’s Lodge or farther out of town is the Four Season’s Rancho Encantado where we have stayed a few times (both, however were insanely expensive when we were traveling, but think prices have come down a lot since). In town, Inn at the Anasazi is the nicest option, however, the rooms have no outdoor space. When we took our girls, we stayed a few nights at La Posada which has a pool, plus the rooms are larger with outdoor patios. The hotel lobby etc. is nothing to look at it, but I think I would choose it over Anasazi if I wanted to stay in town.
Happy Trails as they say!
all photos (except Shiprock) by me