Even as a small child, I have always had a special place in my heart for Santa Fe. My parents used to take us on vacation every summer, and no matter where we went, it seemed like we somehow went through Santa Fe for a bit of the vacation. When they retired, my parents even bought a tiny garden home in Santa Fe for extended summer trips. Conde Nast Traveler selected Santa Fe as one of the best small cities in the United States for tourism, and I completely agree.
The first thing a visitor notices about Santa Fe is the altitude. At 7,000 feet, it doesn’t take long for the thin air to cause one to take a break and get a drink. Fortunately, there are many tourist-friendly spots where one can sit and rest for a minute. Because of the altitude, the weather is crisp in the summer mornings, and mild during the day.
Every visitor should start with a visit to the Santa Fe Plaza. This historic area has the Palace of the Governors, La Fonda Hotel, and dozens of small retail stores and restaurants. Many of the buildings are historic, with thick wood beams in the ceilings and plaster or adobe walls. On W. San Francisco St. we even found a wall plaque commemorating Billy the Kid, who apparently was as fond of Santa Fe as we are. La Fonda Hotel, in addition to being a nice place to stay (all the older rooms are uniquely decorated, though the new expansion has more standard hotel rooms), has a wonderful enclosed courtyard restaurant with tasty food and potent margaritas. Remember the altitude? That makes the alcohol even more potent, so be careful.
Breakfast at Tia Sophia’s is a must. It is a small Mexican restaurant on W. San Francisco, just a couple of blocks off the Plaza, and has really good food for breakfast and lunch. Getting in can be a challenge, but they have a numbering system where they give you a card with a number written on it, and when they call your number, you are ready to eat. Wonderful people, excellent service, and a great experience.
Another breakfast option is Tecolote (owl in Spanish). They just moved to a larger place on St. Michael’s Dr. and they have a very clean, modern interpretation of Mexican food for breakfast or lunch. Don’t let the strip-mall location fool you – this is a really great place to eat.
If you want to eat where the locals eat, try the Tune-Up Café on Hickox St. Both indoor and patio (front porch) seating, and some tasty tidbits that will knock your socks off. Waffles that float off the plate, fabulous coffee, and much more.
Dinner is another opportunity to explore. We really like La Choza or The Shed for authentic Mexican food, Café Pasquale for more rustic Italian food, and La Casa Sena for incredible food, service, and atmosphere in the outside courtyard dining. The nice thing about Santa Fe is that there is a wealth of fine restaurants at all price points and with different styles of food, so everyone can experiment and find something to their liking.
Beyond restaurants, Santa Fe is loaded with museums and galleries, many featuring historic and contemporary Native American art. Some, like Andrea Fisher Gallery, are right on the Plaza, and others are located on nearby Canyon Road. Lyn A. Fox Fine Pueblo Pottery and Adobe Gallery, as well as Medicine Man Gallery and Robert Nichols are just a few of my favorite places to wander though, visit – and purchase wonderful pieces to take home.
Another place to begin exploring is the museum at the Palace of the Governors. Originally built by the Spanish in 1610, it has served as a government building for many years. Every weekend, Native American artists gather in their appointed spots to show their wares in the Portico of the Palace of the Governors. Many of these artist spots are handed down through the families.
Another amazing landmark on the Plaza is the Saint Francis of Assisi Cathedral, which is about 150 years old. It is built in the French Romanesque style, and has lovingly tended grounds and inspiring interior sculpture.
Nearby is the Loretto Chapel, also about the same age as the Cathedral, but built by the Sisters of Loretto order. In the Chapel is the Miraculous Staircase, with legend attributing it to St. Joseph the Carpenter due to its 360 degree spiral and no nails!
There are so many things to do in Santa Fe that it could take weeks for me to write about all of them. Michael and I have enjoyed our many trips to Santa Fe and will continue to share some of our adventures with you.