A cool, chic, artsy vibe? Check. Eclectic people with small-town charm and big-city perspective? Got it. A food and beverage scene that captures tastes from simple to gourmet with flair? You bet. Saying that Santa Fe, New Mexico, has something for everyone is not just chatter after a welcome shot of tequila.
For starters, it is one of the oldest cities in America. Secondly, Santa Fe is easily one of the West’s most picturesque destinations. Like a languid brushstroke that unfolds across a plateau at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe is dotted with adobe dwellings, Baroque churches, stores filled with turquoise jewels and, at its core, more than 200 galleries and museums.
Take a deep breath and inhale the scent of the state’s piñon tree. A journey to Santa Fe provides enrichment and relaxation.
Just a one-hour drive from Albuquerque and situated at a 7,000-foot elevation, Santa Fe is accessible while still giving off a crisp air of exclusivity. The aesthetic of this desert city is everything you might dream up when thinking about this part of the country — earthen buildings in hues of cream and sand juxtaposed against a wispy blue sky.
The action here centers around the historic Plaza, an homage to the city’s Spanish roots where you’ll encounter numerous options for dining, art exploration and shopping.
Right off this convivial meeting point is where you’ll find your cozy Southwestern respite: Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. Designed to resemble traditional dwellings of the local tribes, the 58-room hotel embraces the city’s artistic heritage. Peek into the main-floor library, where you’ll see doors hand-carved with patterns from Aztec blankets and three wood-burning fireplaces, before dropping your bags off in a terracotta- and local-art-filled room that feels more like an elegant Southwestern casita.
Walk a few blocks west and you’ll arrive at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The iconic 20th-century American painter, famous for her New Mexico landscapes and sublime portraits of enlarged flowers, lived in Santa Fe during the last years of her life and maintained a home and studio one hour away in Abiquiú. The 100-plus works on display are an expansive study in Modernism, from her most celebrated to her lesser-known pieces.
In keeping with the artistic theme of the day, tour the 20,000-square-foot House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe’s Midtown Innovation District. No, this isn’t the home of a legendary artist; it’s an immersive art installation. Shaped by technology and fantastic environments by art collective Meow Wolf, the massive display has gained international recognition for its funhouse vibes that make up the spectator part of the exhibition.
Located inside a former bowling alley space owned by Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, it is an experience that you have to see to believe. Open every door, window and drawer in this mysterious Victorian house — whose residents, the Seligs, have disappeared — and be surprised and delighted by the story that unfolds through exploration and discovery. Adults and kids alike are encouraged to play, touch, crawl, climb and investigate every corridor and secret passageway. (Hint: look inside the refrigerator and open the door to another dimension.)
Cap off the evening with a local libation — try a margarita at the tequila table at the Anasazi Bar and Lounge. Sample several types of the agave spirit paired with bites from the Latin-influenced menu of ceviches, empanadas and revueltos (scrambled eggs), proffering local ingredients.
After a tipple or two, head to your guest room and get cozy in front of the gas-lit kiva fireplace or drift off to sleep while counting the intricacies of the traditional vigas and latillas in the ceiling.
Rise and shine with breakfast on the sun-speckled interior patio of La Plazuela restaurant at the historic La Fonda on the Plaza, a hotel sitting just a short walk from Rosewood. Thought to be the oldest location for lodging in the United States, the storied stay’s foundation dates back to 1607.
After a hearty culinary start, explore the impressive details of this landmark building — the current structure was built in 1922 and once was a Harvey House hotel servicing railroad travelers — with free tours of its architecture and art collection. Chandeliers of glass, tin and copper hang and there are notable works of art everywhere — so many that La Fonda has published several books on its interiors and history.
Photo-worthy moments start in the mezzanine overlooking the dining room, with striking, large-scale Native American murals by one-time hotel resident Vladan Stiha. Around every corner, discover hand-painted details of flora and fauna by Ernest Martinez done in a whimsical folk-art style.
The afternoon is all about shopping, and unique offerings can be found in the stores at The Railyard. Antiques, accessories, home decor, local art and the like are all on display in this eclectic only-in-Santa Fe outdoor “mall.” Locals favor The Raven Fine Consignments nearby for vintage and antique furniture.
For dinner, try a Santa Fe original since 1944: The Pink Adobe and its adjacent Dragon Bar. Across from the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States, sits the little adobe home that serves up dishes true to region, including decadent blue corn enchiladas with red or green chile sauce (or try both when you ask for it “Christmas style”) and fire-roasted poblano rellenos with toasted walnuts, creamy cheeses and more chile.
After dinner, unwind the Santa Fe way by taking the 10-minute trip to Ten Thousand Waves spa. The environment is stunningly serene with outdoor tubs set up in the foothills. Modeled after hot springs in Japan, the spa offers varied treatments for the body and the face, as well as the private tub experience that lets you enjoy a simmering soak at around 104 degrees.
Here, you’ll take another long, deep breath and inhale the musky piñons and junipers. This is Santa Fe, where headspace comes with the territory.