In Santa Fe for a full week, this time with a painting retreat taught by the awesome Tesia Blackburn of San Francisco, a.k.a. the acrylic diva. (Check out her youtube channel here.) It remains my #1 go-to destination in the U.S.. Hands down. I’ve been there when I’m in the mood to celebrate, and when I need quiet time to mourn and recover, as I did after the death of my father in January 2013.
I’ve been here a dozen or so times, but I’m always finding something new. This time my finds included the casual eatery — something of a local institution — The Pantry Restaurant, a few miles from the Plaza on Cerrillos, and brunch at Chez Mamou, a block or two from the Cathedral. I’d been by it a million times and seen people dining on its tiny patio facing Palace Street, but I had no idea what I’d been missing. Also possibly the best bakery in town. Following a sign for a bookstore near the foot of Canyon Road, at the intersection of Acequia Madre (my favorite walking street), I discovered a lovely little shopping center with four interesting retailers: Garcia Street Books (which promises to “surprise, inspire and satisfy” and lives up to it), Downtown Subscription (faboo coffee shop and magazines), La Casa Fina (stunning home decor pieces), and Urbanology, which describes itself as “A hip swanky home decor shop offering Mid Century Modern, Industrial, funky, and bohemian furniture & accessories.” It was closed, so I couldn’t get my swank on. This time.
No hikes this time: ALL of the trails in the Santa Fe National Forest and Hyde Memorial Park were closed to activities because of the idiots that were lighting illegal campfires in extreme drought conditions.
At once contemporary and historically interesting, Santa Fe offers prodigious amounts of art, great shopping, quirky bar scenes, delectable food, my favorite home-away-from-home inn, museums, and stunning landscapes ranging from pink-tinged desert to forested slopes. I could spend a month and never be bored.
Eloisa is located on the lower level of the new-ish Drury Hotel, 228 E. Palace. Chef J. Rivera Sedlar calls it “modern Southwest cuisine,” which is as good a label as any. You’ll find New Mexican flavors, but in better balance than most places. He keeps it light, seasonal and fresh-tasting, so that you can actually discern and relish what’s in front of you, whether you order small or large plates. Hubby and I loved the tiny, flavorful Jicama tacos. The tortillas florales don’t sound exciting — small just-off-the griddle tortillas with edible flours pressed into the batter — but they are so delicious, served this time with a little guacamole, the only guac I’ve ever really liked that’s been served in a restaurant (I’m a guac snob). Our favorite was the squash tamale — a half squash baked and stuffed with the usual spiced pulled pork. Deee-licious, and not greasy, as tamales can be. For dessert, another surprising delight: carmelized brioche with popcorn ice cream, a just-right sized bit of buttery, sweet goodness. Nice wine list, full bar, and knowledgeable servers.
Restaurant Martin, at 526 Gallisteo, is also excellent. Chef Martin Rios calls his approach “progressive American cuisine”: light flavors, perfect seasoning, seasonally fresh, interesting. It’s hard not to like his story, too, having climbed up from dishwasher to the top of the chef food chain in the Southwest. Most “foodies” flock to The Compound, but honestly, I’m usually not in the mood for food that’s too “precious” (sweetbreads and foie gras, anyone?) when I visit Santa Fe so I haven’t tried it yet.
Geronimo, on Canyon Road, remains good, if a little stuffy, with an elegant setting that combines cool with western contemporary.
For my birthday last year, had an delicious dinner at La Casa Sena, outside in their pretty courtyard. Perfect service, too.
If you’re hot, thirsty and hungry while visiting art galleries on Canyon Road, check out Cafe des Artistes, a tiny bistro, run by the charming proprietor Jean-Jacques. Sandwiches made of extremely fresh ingredients, nice wine selection, tasty gelato, and more.
La Boca and its sister restaurant, Taberna, across from the Inn at the Anasazi and behind the Bull Ring, are both outstanding. In fact, I prefer them to any other restaurant we’ve dined at – high or low. If you want the (pleasant) taste surprise of your life, order the bruschetta at La Boca. I’m not going to give it away, but it is an orgasm on a plate, and nothing like what it’s named. So much so that we said we didn’t order it when it arrived at the table. Thank heavens we did! Great wine list (loved the Ramirez Piscina) and service in an intimate setting. Besides the bruschetta, I particularly liked the costillas (pork) and grilled artichokes. Six glasses of wine, a bottle of the Ramirez Piscina (we finally got smart) and all the tapas we four could eat cost $200. Great value.
We always hit The Shed across from the Cathedral, along with most of the rest of the visitors to Santa Fe, and you can’t go wrong with a top shelf silver margarita stirred up by Chris at the bar. But its sister restaurant, La Choza, is a little bit better, AND they have sopapillas, which is a definite plus in my book. But… you do have to drive from the downtown area.
I’m also a fan of Cafe Pasqual’s, which is excellent for breakfast or dinner. And we had a good meal a while back at El Farol, on Canyon Road, which has the added bonus of having a fun live music scene in the bar on many nights.
Check out Chez Mamou for breakfast, lunch and dinner — or just something from their mouth-watering pastry case.
When you need something very casual, food you can pretty much fall into, we like:
- The Plaza Cafe, on (you guessed it) the historic Plaza, second oldest building in Santa Fe
- Rooftop Pizzeria, in a 3 story retail space, mid block… a bit hard to find but worth it
- Blue Corn Cafe and Brewery isn’t much on atmosphere but the food and bar are reliably good
- Mucho Gusto, just behind the Inn on the Alameda, again limited charm but great food
- As mentioned at the top of the post, I can totally see why The Pantry Restaurant has been around since 1948. Had some mighty tasty enchilladas, quesadillas, and sopapillas!!
- Cafe des Artistes, at the foot of Canyon Road
Try the Aztec brownies and Aztec chocolate elixir at Kakawa Chocolate House, 1050 Paseo de Peralto (across from the Gerald Peters Gallery)! You gotta!
Drink? Who me? Well… only in Santa Fe 😉
Cozy, old school bar with fab patio: La Posada (ask about the haunted 3rd floor)
A bit grotty and funky: Dragon Room Lounge at the Pink Adobe
Intimate, friendly and chic: Inn at the Anasazi bar
Quirky local scene (with music): El Farol
Cold, crisp glass of wine in the afternoon: Cafe des Artistes on Canyon Road
Check out Coyote Cafe’s Rooftop Cantina — way fun drinks and venue
Of course you’ll walk the Plaza and peruse the Native American artisans’ silver and turquoise jewelry along the Palace of the Governors (the adobe building is the oldest in Santa Fe). I think they would arrest anyone who didn’t at the city limits.
And double of course you will walk the 1 mile length of Canyon Road and stop at some of its 100+ art galleries as the fancy strikes. Santa Fe sells the most art of any city in the U.S. outside of NYC. Doesn’t matter what kind of art you’re in to (or curious about): contemporary, Western, traditional fine art, funky sculptures and whirligigs, even water fountains. The great thing about the gallery scene here is that they are NOT snobby – you don’t have to be a “collector” to have fun. Favorites of ours: Hunter Kirkland Contemporary, Wilde Meyer Gallery, principally for the work of Melinda K. Hall. This time around I also had the opportunity (by appointment) to visit the studio of Nancy Reyner to learn about her process and see some of her ethereal, luminous works.
Museums: Santa Fe boasts a bunch of museums, but my favorite is the Georgia O’Keeffe. This is truly a spectacular space that has more than 3,000 of her works. As the website says, it is the only museum in the world dedicated to an internationally known female artist. The space is beautiful and contemporary and leads you beautifully through the progression of her work. Second on my list, as mentioned at the top, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. “Here, Now and Always” is an immersive experience that walks the visitor from the beginning, the very beginning — “a time before word, before mountains, before rivers, before people” — through the emergence of these ancient civilizations. A collaboration of Native American elders, artists, scholars, teachers, writers and museum professionals, take time to read the quotes from elders and historians, and watch some of the many videos.
I also continue to be fascinated by the mysterious staircase at the Loretto Chapel; as legend goes, after nuns prayed for a way to reach the second story choir loft, a man with a toolbox appeared and built a staircase that makes two 360-degree turns with no visible means of support. It was built without nails, only wooden pegs. Even if you don’t think St. Joseph himself built the staircase, it’s a thing of beauty.
The whole region surrounding Santa Fe has much to offer, but my favorite daytrip – summer or winter – is to Bandelier National Monument, a park about 1 hour from Santa Fe. Ancient Pueblo people created cave homes here as far back as 10,000 years ago; the site was abandoned by the mid 16th century for reasons unknown. Besides visiting the multi-storied dwellings on the 1.2 mile loop trail, there’s a lovely 3 mile Falls Trail and longer hike down to the Rio Grande.
The Randall Davey Audobon Center and Sanctuary makes for a great little outing. As the website says, “Bounded by thousands of acres of National Forest and Santa Fe River Watershed land, the Center and Sanctuary provides a peaceful sanctuary for plants, animals and our visitors. Ranging from common to rare, approximately 190 species of birds can be found in or over the various ecosystems of this sanctuary.”
Lots of choices! A few picks:
- WearAbouts, 70 W. Marcy Street (next door to La Boca): casual wear merchandised with style and color.
- For expensive, high quality clothing and contemporary jewelry: Santa Fe Dry Goods on the Plaza
- High quality jewelry, innovative contemporary designs: Elysee near the bottom of Canyon Road
- Contemporary art and jewelry, innovative materials: Patina Gallery, 131 West Palace Ave
- Mid-price range fun and funky clothing, picked by someone with a great eye: Heavenly Boutique, 203 West San Francisco
- Back at the Ranch, 209 E. Marcy, for freakishly cool and expensive hand made cowboy boots
- Desert Son of Santa Fe, on Canyon Road, for Western clothing, footwear, handbags, and jewelry. Someone has curated this store well.
- Travel Bug is one of those rare, fantastic independent bookstores; they also sell luggage and travel paraphernalia and offer some interesting classes and speakers. Tons of maps!
- Garcia Street Books, not far from Canyon Road
I can’t – or won’t – go to Santa Fe without indulging in one of its best and most unique features, Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese style spa. Go for one of the wonderful massage treatments and extend the experience by booking a “tubby,” one of the private hot tubs. My favorite scenario is to book a late afternoon massage with onsen-style soaking tub to follow (New Wave!); if it’s winter, I sit back and watch the light fade and the stars emerge.
We also had a great time a few days being regaled by Chef Rocky Durham at the Santa Fe Cooking School. Their schedule varies; we did the Light Southwest Cooking class and I’ve made several of the dishes numerous times, to rave reviews. It’s always worth looking up their schedule when you’re planning at trip to Santa Fe. (They now boast an online market, too. I like their medium New Mexico red chile powder.)
When you’re done eating, drinking, checking out art, visiting museums and shopping, by all means HIKE, or walk, or mountain bike. The natural scene in Santa Fe may be its best.
Check out this post about the Borrego-Bear Wallow-Winsor Triangle Trail and this one about short hikes in Santa Fe itself. However, be sure to check on trail conditions — right now the Santa Fe National Forest is closed to all activities in the region.
I’ve had friends stay in many of Santa Fe’s poshest inns and hotels, but I think the best place in town – the one I have returned to now more than 10 times – is the Inn on the Alameda. It’s perfectly situated, just a short walk from the foot of Canyon Road and the historic downtown Plaza, but what really makes it for me is the service. Yes, the inn offers comfortable Southwestern style rooms, a delicious huge breakfast (included) and complimentary wine and appetizers daily at 4 p.m., but it’s the staff (like Jose at the front desk) who keep me wanting to return. They always have great answers to my questions, go out of their way to greet me, and do whatever they can to facilitate a perfect experience. Sigh. It’s like going home, but better. It’s not cheap, but it’s far from the most expensive accommodation in town – and a far better value.