Perhaps it’s the thinner air 7,200 feet up, or some more mystical cause, but people slow down when they get to Santa Fe. The slower, gentler vibe is remarkable in a city that annually attracts more than two million visitors. That level of popularity combined with outstanding food, a vibrant arts community and plenty of outdoor activities normally translates to a bustling, near-frenzied pace in other touristy places, but Santa Fe manages to remain a calm, even sedate, environment.
New Mexican cuisine is having a moment, thanks in large part to the popularity of Hatch chiles, or at least the regional variations in the ubiquitous green chile. The emergence of Santa Fe, and even Albuquerque, as food cities was surprising to many, and part of the credit likely needs to go to the popularity of Tex-Mex, a cuisine we are all familiar with as South Texans, and which is similar in some ways to the blending of indigenous Pueblo dishes and Mexican fare that now constitutes New Mexican cuisine.
Where to Stay
Airbnbs have emerged as the lodging of choice, but Santa Fe has beautiful, amenity-rich hotels as well. La Fonda on the Plaza is located just off the city’s famous Plaza, putting you mere feet from many of the destinations the city is known for, including Loretto Chapel with its “miraculous staircase,” a feature that is often attributed to St. Joseph’s work. The hotel features spacious, comfortable rooms, a patio that overlooks the Plaza and dining and drinking on site.
Where to Eat & Drink
Palacio Cafe is a must, especially for breakfast. Chef Damian Munoz’s breakfast burritos are already famous, and it’s easy to understand why. You can get them handheld, but have a seat and get it smothered with red and green sauce, “Christmas style.”
Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen is an institution in Santa Fe, both because it’s been around for more than 70 years and because the food is outstanding. The menu overflows with New Mexican specialties, but start with the green chile meatballs. From there it’s posole or green chile stew, and if you’re really hungry, tamales with green or red sauce. The list of tequilas and mezcals is impressive, and if you’re a day drinker, you’re in the right place.
For dinner, Sazon is a wonder. Chef Fernando Olea’s menu will make you wish you had room for three dinners. The huitlacoche with mini tortillas (Xochimilco) is the place to start, and you can’t leave without trying the specialty of the house, chile en nogada (Cholula) — poblanos, picadillo (lamb, pork, beef), nuts, fruit and walnut sauce. Whatever you thought New Mexican food was, Chef Olea will broaden your definition. He also has a tasting menu option if you want to leave it up to the house.
Where to Play
There’s a good chance you’re here for the art, so Canyon Road has to be high on your list. The city’s official arts district boasts more than 80 galleries, with artists and proprietors often available to talk about their work or the gallery. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a worthwhile stop, too. A combination of history, biography and art, the museum and grounds are a deep dive into O’Keeffe’s life and work, and a stunning cross-section of American Modernism.
Meow Wolf is now the most Instagrammed destination in the Santa Fe area. The immersive art installation facility has inspired multiple similar projects around the U.S. The multimedia installations are clever, psychedelic, inspiring and, judging by countless visitors’ testimony, drivers of our imagination.
Prefer to play outside? The trail to and from Tesuque Peak is 11.5 miles of moderate hiking with scenic views and activities along the route. It’s also dog-friendly, so your best friend can join you on the trek. Rafting the Rio Grande, hiking Dale Ball Trails North and a bike tour of Santa Fe also make for excellent outdoor days.