Do You Know The Way to Santa Fe?

Words & Photos: Evan Hecox

From where I live in Colorado, I can get in my car and be in Santa Fe in about six hours.

Not bad for a place that looks and feels a lot different from home. I’ve always been attracted to mountains and the desert, and Santa Fe has both. Days are warm, nights are chilly, sunsets are pretty. The old adobe buildings that dominate the landscape make Santa Fe look different than most anywhere else in America. The oldest church in the continental United States is there. All of these things, of course, draw a touristy crowd. Most visitors are older folks walking around in the central downtown area that is lined with some bad art galleries and souvenir shops, which unfortunately can be the only impression some people have of Santa Fe, but, really, there is so much more going on if you know where to go. Here are some of my suggestions for a two or three-day trip.

If you’re already somewhere in the western US, it’s a nice road trip into Santa Fe. If you’re coming from further away, you’ll need to fly into Albuquerque and rent a car for the one hour drive. There are a lot of hotels in the central area of downtown. I like Hotel Santa Fe for its location and value, or Inn of the Five Graces for a more upscale, quiet hideout. If you arrive later in the afternoon, you might be ready for a cocktail, and I recommend heading to La Reina at the El Rey Court Hotel for a drink made with one of their many choices of tequila and mezcal.

For dinner head over to La Choza for some classic New Mexican food. This place is popular and there’s usually a wait for a table, but you can grab a beer from the bar while you wait. They also have a sister restaurant downtown, the Shed, which is the same food with a more touristy crowd. Either is recommended. Santa Fe isn’t really known for nightlife, so just chill at your hotel after dinner and save your energy for the next day.

Heading out for the first full day a great place to start is Dolina Cafe & Bakery, either for a full breakfast or just a good cup of coffee and a fresh pastry from the counter. After some food and caffeine, it’s time for some inspiration and culture, so hop in the car and head up the hill to the Museum of International Folk Art and see the Girard wing, which houses the huge personal collection of Alexander Girard, the famous and influential designer who lived in Santa Fe for many years. If you’re hungry again already, you can continue your Alexander Girard tour by having a sophisticated lunch at the Compound Restaurant, where Girard’s hand-painted lettering still adorns the walls.

If you can handle two museums in one day, I recommend the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum downtown, it’s a fairly small and can be done in less than an hour, and it’s a great look at the original work of one of the world’s most famous artists. While you’re downtown, check out Santa Fe Vintage Outpost for a carefully curated selection of vintage clothing, or else make a reservation to visit their warehouse for an overwhelming selection of high-quality (and expensive) vintage.

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Standard & Strange is a great menswear store that has all the perfect items for a vintage look—but everything is new. Shiprock has an amazing collection of old Navajo rugs for those who can afford to lay a few thousand dollars on their floor. Now, maybe we have a little downtime back at the hotel, and then back out for dinner. The Spanish restaurant La Boca is a great choice for a special meal with some great wine, so we’ll hit that spot and then hit the hay.

Okay, yesterday’s round of activities were a little more expensive and upscale, so today we’ll take it down a little, and maybe just grab a coffee and head out. Opuntia Cafe is a great choice for some lighter, healthier foods and good coffee. After coffee, it’s time for Meow Wolf. You heard me right, Meow Wolf. How can I describe this? It’s a former bowling alley turned into a bizarre, stoner, fun-house for adults (and their kids). Anyway, just go check it out.

Not far from Meow Wolf is one of my favorite book stores, Photo-Eye Books, which specializes in photo art books and has the best selection I’ve ever seen in one place; highly recommended. Then there’s Site Santa Fe, a small art museum in the nearby Railyard District. I’ve been here many times and I always come away inspired by the work they show.

By now we might be ready to relax a bit, and the best place for that is Ten Thousand Waves, the most authentic Japanese-style spa you’re likely to find in the United States. Book ahead for your own private area and enjoy the peace and quiet. After a relaxing soak, enjoy a snack and some tea in the restaurant, which also feels very authentically Japanese. Just before sunset take a short drive out scenic Bishop’s Lodge Road to Tesuque, a little community on the outskirts of Santa Fe. Grab a table at Tesuque Village Market which is both a food market and a restaurant with great, authentic New Mexican cuisine and local beers.

Following these suggestions, you’re probably going to feel like you ate and drank a lot, and did some fairly low-key activities. If you’re more active, there are some great hiking and biking trails and skiing nearby if you’re there in the winter as well. Enjoy Santa Fe!

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