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Travel: Eat, Play, Love: Santa Fe Edition

by Anh-Minh Le

The New Mexico Museum of Art, which was established in 1917, is located just one block from historic Santa Fe Plaza. | Photo courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe.
The New Mexico Museum of Art, which was established in 1917, is located just one block from historic Santa Fe Plaza. | Photo courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe.

No matter what your preferred pastime, the high desert destination is sure to charm.

Santa Fe has a reputation as a city that appeals to travelers of all types, from aesthetes to adventurers, gourmands to spa junkies. Founded in the early 1600s, the oldest U.S. capital — and the highest, at 7,000 feet above sea level — is a confluence of Native American, Spanish and Mexican cultures. It’s a destination with an abundance of art galleries, museums and adobe architecture, where blue skies and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains provide a postcardperfect backdrop for myriad outdoor pursuits.

For years, my husband has been raving about the American Southwest and advocating for an RV trip around the region. While I wasn’t quite ready for that yet, we finally did book a trip to Santa Fe this year. Since I had never been before, I was especially glad to have my friend Lisa Neimeth to lean on for pointers. Although Lisa’s primary residence is in San Francisco, she has been visiting the northern New Mexico area since the mid-1980s and now has homes in Santa Fe and Abiquiu, which are roughly an hour’s drive apart. (She also has a studio in the latter, where she makes beautiful ceramics.)

Founded in the early 1600s, the oldest U.S. capital — and the highest, at 7,000 feet above sea level — is a confluence of cultures.

As I began planning my vacation, Lisa mentioned a newcomer to the Santa Fe hospitality scene: Bishop’s Lodge, operated by Auberge Resorts Collection, opened in July. Since then, hotel guests and locals alike have been flocking to SkyFire for its culinary and cocktail offerings (not to mention its charming patio, complete with a kiva fireplace that beckons on chilly evenings). Conceptualized by celebrated chef Dean Fearing, the restaurant takes a creative and elevated approach to Southwestern cuisine with global touches. Still forthcoming at the resort are Nathalie, the second Santa Fe location of the boutique launched by former French Vogue fashion editor Nathalie Kent; and a wellness center, Turquesa Healing Arts Studio (in-room treatments can currently be arranged).

Among the distinctive amenities at the 317-acre property, which borders Santa Fe National Forest, are its equine stables and trout habitat (that’s right, you can fly-fish on-site). There are miles of private hiking and horseback-riding trails. All of this only five minutes’ drive from downtown, home to historic Santa Fe Plaza. (For those seeking to stay downtown, consider the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi and The Inn of the Five Graces.)

Shiprock Santa Fe features an array of curated items, including Navajo rugs and blankets. | Photo courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe.
Shiprock Santa Fe features an array of curated items, including Navajo rugs and blankets. | Photo courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe.

Going Downtown

During the daytime, Bishop’s Lodge provides complimentary shuttle service to and from the plaza. In the vicinity are some notable museums within walking distance of each other — for example, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art and IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts — as well as a plethora of restaurants and shops. Shiprock Santa Fe features works by Native Americans, from Navajo wool rugs and sterling silver jewelry to contemporary beadwork and historic Hopi katsina figures. Japanese apparel brand Visvim has two U.S. stores, one of which is in Santa Fe. Hunt Modern’s showroom is brimming with vintage furniture and objects, 20th-century European pieces in particular.

While downtown, grab a bite at the Coyote Cafe & Cantina (Southwestern), hybrid cafe and gallery Cafe Pasqual’s (Mexican) or restaurant and wine shop La Casa Sena (Mediterranean). The latter shares a courtyard with some lovely shops, like Heritage by Hand, which carries housewares and accessories, mostly by Latin American makers. Native American artisans can be found every day under the portal of the Palace of the Governors.

A farmers market is held year-round at the Santa Fe Railyard. | Photo courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe.
A farmers market is held year-round at the Santa Fe Railyard. | Photo courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe.

Arts and Crafts

Not far from Santa Fe Plaza is Canyon Road, boasting a high concentration of galleries on a half-mile stretch. (The original Nathalie outpost is on the thoroughfare.) You can further get your art fix in the Railyard Arts District. In addition to galleries and the contemporary art museum SITE Santa Fe, this historic and revitalized part of town has a year-round farmers market, shops and eateries. At lunchtime, enjoy a sopaipilla and frozen margarita at Tomasita’s, next to the train station. In the evening, order a mezcal or tequila flight to go along with the toothsome Mexican-inflected cooking at Paloma.

Over on Museum Hill is another cluster of cultural attractions: Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and Santa Fe Botanical Garden. (Through June 22, as part of the exhibition Capturing the Light: Glass Art Inspired by Nature, the garden’s trails are dotted with glass sculptures.)

If you’re visiting during the summer, make note: The world-renowned Santa Fe Opera performs in a state of- the-art open-air theater situated on a 155-acre campus just 7 miles north of the plaza. And in August, during the Santa Fe Indian Market, hundreds of Indigenous artists fill the downtown streets; the 2022 edition will be its 100th.

At the 31-year-old fine-dining restaurant Geronimo, which occupies a 1756 adobe home, the grilled elk tenderloin is a specialty. | Photo courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe.

Southwestern Specialties

Given Santa Fe’s embarrassment of culinary riches, I relied on Lisa’s recommendations to pare down the list of places to dine. Geronimo, where fusion fare with Southwestern influences is served in a 1756 adobe home, has been delighting guests for 31 years. (The elk tenderloin and green miso sea bass are favorites for good reason.) At Sazón, chef Fernando Olea offers his interpretation of traditional and contemporary Mexican dishes. As mole is a star of the menu, dinner gets underway with a tasting of a half-dozen variations of the sauce. (I ordered the duck with the mole negro, while my husband opted for the sea bass with mole verde.)

On our last night, we headed to Izanami, in part because I was eager to get a glimpse of Ten Thousand Waves and Houses of the Moon, the Japanese-inspired spa and lodging, respectively, on the same grounds as the izakaya. Walking up to Izanami, we encountered a robed gentleman returning to his room after a spa treatment. He told us that he has been staying at Houses of the Moon since the ’90s and wholeheartedly endorsed the property. (I can confirm that the restaurant was indeed wonderful.)

Of course, you can’t talk about the food in Santa Fe without discussing green and red chiles; the combination of the two is aptly called Christmas sauce. New Mexico chiles grow from green to red, typically getting sweeter and more mellow as they ripen. And blue corn, which originated with the Hopi people, is also a menu staple here, even at the donut shop: The unique flavors at the decade-old Whoo’s Donuts include blue corn blueberry lavender and blue corn maple pecan.

The “glowquarium” is among the more than 70 explorable artistic spaces that fill Meow Wolf’s 20,000 square feet. | Photo courtesy of Tourism Santa Fe.

The Surreal World

Despite my recon, I was still unsure what to expect from Meow Wolf, an immersive art installation launched in 2016 (and backed by author and longtime Santa Fe resident George R. R. Martin). Once inside the 20,000-square-foot converted bowling alley, visitors are greeted by a Victorian-style house belonging to the fictional Selig family, whose surreal story unfolds as you make your way through the rooms. Or you can simply wander through the warren of 70-plus spaces, marveling at the otherworldly exhibits, like a glow-in-the-dark walk-through aquarium and a luminescent mastodon skeleton that functions as a gigantic xylophone.

With one spectacle after another — many of which are interactive (hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere) — Meow Wolf is just one of those things that, rather than explained, should be experienced. The same could be said for Santa Fe itself, which certainly lived up to the hype and its nickname as The City Different.


Getting There & Around

From the Bay Area, there are nonstop flights to Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), which is an hour north of Santa Fe by car. Flying commercial to Santa Fe Regional Airport (SAF) requires at least one stop. Either way, a rental car can be handy, especially if you’re planning to visit Abiquiu or Bandelier National Monument.

About 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe, Abiquiu offers lots of outdoor activities. It’s also the location of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Home & Studio, a 5,000-squarefoot compound that the artist made her permanent residence in 1949. Drive a little further west on U.S. Highway 84 and you’ll reach Ghost Ranch, where O’Keeffe once kept a summer house. Today it’s a retreat center with accommodations, workshops, tours and more.

Another great day trip is Bandelier, in Los Alamos, roughly a 45-minute drive from Santa Fe. It’s not just the breathtaking desert landscape that makes this 33,000-acre national park stand out: Once inhabited by the Anasazi, petroglyphs and ancient dwellings abound.

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