By Clint Brownfield
Early the first morning of my trip to Santa Fe, I was having coffee on the balcony of my suite at Hotel Santa Fe (hotelsantafe.com) and noticed some movement during the early morning light. It was a coyote, loping along the sidewalk—crossing the street to the train station. Then, up in the sky, a hawk flew by. Amazing I thought. I don’t see these creatures in my Manhattan neighborhood, even though I live just a block from Central Park.
I guess the coyote and the hawk were just trying to rustle up some breakfast! Exactly what I did, at the lounge on the club level of the Hotel Santa Fe—one of the best places I’ve ever stayed. With its adobe covered walls and spectacular native art collection, Hotel Santa Fe is the perfect place to begin your visit. The only hotel in downtown Santa Fe owned by Native Americans it’s within easy walking distance to the Railyard District and the famed Plaza, just a few blocks away.
EXPLORING THE CITY
The Plaza has long been the central point in Santa Fe, dating back when indigenous peoples began to take up residency. The Palace of the Governors on the Plaza’s northern side was the seat of government for centuries, locally and statewide. A new capitol building, just a few blocks from the Plaza, now serves as the state capital of New Mexico—our 47th state—admitted in 1912. It also has the distinction of being the highest state capital in the nation, with an elevation of 7,100 feet, sitting in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s also the oldest U.S. capital city—founded as a Spanish Colony in 1610.
The sky that Georgia O’Keeffe loved is visible all over Santa Fe, because few buildings are taller than the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, just off the Plaza. Santa Fe also is home to the oldest known church in the U.S., San Miguel Mission. Other vantage points include Museum Hill. Here, at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Museum of International Folk Art, and Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, you can learn about the history of Santa Fe and environs via world-class permanent collections and special exhibitions. They overlook the magnificent Santa Fe Botanical Gardens—14 acres of native plants and trees and ones brought by early settlers to thrive in the semi-arid climate. You can also enjoy a lunch or brunch at Museum Hill Café. Great views and food at budget friendly prices.
Of course, there are plenty of restaurants to whet your appetite. Yes, Santa Fe can compete with any destination—domestically or internationally. A visit to the Santa Fe Farmers Market, open year round, reveals to visitors the abundance of produce available in the Southwest. Vendors must live and produce their wares within a 100-mile radius of the city. Historically, New Mexican cuisine was based on a trinity of beans, squash, and corn. However, once Europeans began to settle in 1500s, wheat and other staples would gradually mix into the daily menu.
An organization called Wander New Mexico offers tours of the restaurants in the Railyard District, where groups of about ten food fans can sample the wares of 3 to 4 restaurants. Stops may include samplings at La Choza where diners can learn about the differences between Mexican and New Mexican cuisine and also sample a margarita (or two). Hands-on classes are offered at the Santa Fe Cooking School just off the plaza where you can choose from some classes to learn how to make dishes from local ingredients, including chilies—the core of lots of New Mexican cuisine. Red chilies, green chilies mixed together are called Christmas, the term invented by a popular waitress at Tia Sophia, just off the Plaza. This local favorite is also credited with the concept called the breakfast burrito in the 1980s.
This fabulous food (and drink) will fortify you for one of Santa Fe’s most fun pastimes—shopping. It’s practically an Olympic sport! Begin on the Plaza at the Palace of the Governors (now a state museum) where each day tribal artists sell their wares. Continuing around the Plaza, you can fortify yourself for more shopping at Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi (rosewoodhotels.com) for an unforgettable meal or stop at perhaps Santa Fe’s most famous hotel, La Fonda on the Plaza (lafondasantafe.com), which has long served as the social hub of the area. An inn of some sort has been on this corner of the Plaza since the 1600s and marks the end of the Santa Fe Trail.
Another must-see in Santa Fe is Canyon Road, where more than 100 fine art galleries and artist studios line the one-mile street. This, along with hundreds of other venues, makes Santa Fe America’s third largest art market—after San Francisco and New York. New on the Santa Fe art scene is perhaps the most exciting new art installation in the world. It is Meow Wolf, located in a converted bowling alley, backed in part by resident/celebrity George R. R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones. The installation is an immersive experience that features the works of 150 artists.
New Yorkers figure prominently into Santa Fe today and its historic past. At well-known restaurants such as Terra Cotta Bistro and Cowgirl BBQ you can visit with the owners—all transplanted New Yorkers. The spectacular newly designed art mecca Site Santa Fe, was designed by Manhattan-based SHoP Architects. The centerpiece of another Santa Fe historic hotel, La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa (laposadadesantafe.com), is the Staab Mansion, which was built in the late 1800s by German immigrants who landed in New York before settling in Santa Fe—just like Georgia O’Keeffe herself. Who knows how she’d feel about her eponymous museum just off the Plaza, which is now one of Santa Fe’s biggest draws, visited by thousands of people each year from all over the world.
Year round you can visit Santa Fe to hike, bike, ski, attend the opera in the summer and mingle with the locals (including the occasional coyote and hawk). All are welcome in Santa Fe.
For more information on Santa Fe, visit santafe.org.