Falling in Love with Santa Fe
Bewitching, all-adobe Santa Fe dates back to 1610 and today it’s home to world-class galleries, dining, museums and even opera. It’s a city that makes its own rules, yet never forgets its long and storied past. As the country’s oldest state capital, it’s a place where centuries-old umber adobes are set against a dramatic Sangre de Cristo mountains backdrop. From art to spas, hot green chile to fiery red ristras, everything part of this sage-scented oasis is saturated with creative flair, and you’ll be surprised by how much variety you can pack into a 48-hour itinerary.
Begin at the historic Plaza. Santa Fe’s heartbeat, it dates back to the city’s beginning. Native Americans sell their jewellery and pottery along the wall outside the Palace of the Governors. Arrive early for the best selection. We’d suggest browsing the entire length of the portal (awning) before making a purchase – there is so much variety.
After you’ve found that turquoise bear fetish you’ve been searching for, head inside the Palace of Governors, the most important artefact of the adjoining New Mexico History Museum. Built in 1610 by Spanish officials, it is one of the oldest public buildings in the USA. Today the museum has more than 17,000 historical objects reflecting Santa Fe’s Indian, Spanish, Mexican and American heritage. Next door, the Museum of Fine Arts features a collection on par with heavy-hitters like New York City’s Met and Paris’ Louvre. There are more than 20,000 pieces in the collection, including a great section by regional artists.
You’ll be good and hungry after museum-hopping, and you’ll have your pick of restaurants offering quintessential Santa Fe food, including San Marcos Café, Bobcat Bite, La Choza or Tesuque Village Market. Or, head to The Railyard, which was renovated in 2008 and has become an up-and-coming centre for contemporary arts, with great restaurants and a brewery.
After lunch, you have a choice: head to Santa Fe’s other main museum district, renowned Museum Hill. Our favourite museum in Santa Fe is located here, The Museum of International Folk Art, which houses more than 100,000 objects from more than 100 countries. Or, instead visit the equally incredible Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, where you’ll see Santa Fe sights manifest on canvases created by one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
Now it’s time for some shopping. Head to Santa Fe’s version of Rodeo Drive, Canyon Road, for a little million-dollar painting browsing. Once a footpath used by Pueblo Indians, today more than 90 of Santa Fe’s 250 galleries are found here. From rare Indian antiquities to Santa Fe School masterpieces to wild contemporary work, it’s all for sale
Your afternoon of museums, art, and shopping, can work up an appetite, but you’re in luck. In the heart of the Canyon Road chaos is one of the city’s best dinner joints, El Farol. The ambiance is rustic adobe, the steaks are plump, and the tapas are nothing short of delectable. After eating, it’s time for dancing at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. The famous watering hole boasts Western-style feminist flair, an outside patio and live music after 9pm. Try the unique smoky tasting Mescal margarita on the rocks.
Check into one of Santa Fe’s classiest hotels for two nights. Just steps from the plaza, the Inn & Spa at Loretto offers super spacious rooms done up in modern Southwest style. Have a good-night cocktail at the lobby bar and look up at the ceiling. Each panel is hand-painted.
Don’t sleep in, you’ll want to get to Tia Sophia’s for breakfast. This is the city’s favourite morning eating option, and you’ll find celebs and locals alike stuffing their mouths with delicious green chile-soaked egg, cheese and meat burritos. If the line is too long, you also can’t go wrong with the southwestern breakfast at La Fonda Hotel’s La Plazuela which sits in the hotel’s light-filled centre court.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is your next stop. Visit the small chapel inside, where the oldest Madonna statue in North America is housed. Constructed between 1873 and 1878, the nearby Loretto Chapel is modelled on St Chapelle in Paris and home of the city’s most photographed site – the Miraculous Staircase, a wooden spiral staircase with two complete 360-degree turns and no central or visible support.
Have a fast fuel-up lunch at Del Charro Saloon, which serves pub grub so good even former Gov. Richardson eats it. Then spend the afternoon mountain biking some of the state’s best intermediate single track. You can rent a bike from Mellow Velo Bicycles. Follow Upper Canyon Rd north to the well-signed parking lot at Cerro Gordo Rd and ride the South Dale Ball Trails. It’s a challenging course, but you’ll be rewarded with supreme isolation and outstanding views.
If steep switchbacks aren’t your thing, be sure to visit one of Santa Fe’s many world-class spas for a massage or facial. For the ultimate in relaxation, head to Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-style resort and day spa offering everything from herbal wraps to salt scrubs.
Get back in time for sunset and a margarita at the Belltower Bar at La Fonda Hotel. The family-run, James Beard Award-winning, restaurant, The Shed, has been serving New Mexican fare in an atmospheric 1692 adobe since 1953 and is where to head for dinner. Afterward, cap off your 48 hours in Santa Fe with a Black Dragon margarita inside a 300-year-old adobe building at the Dragon Room Bar. It is a consistent top favourite of locals and Hollywood visitors alike.
***This originally appeared on Lonely Planet’s website as Road Trip: 48 Hours in Santa Fe ***