I spent five fun days there three years ago during Indian Market Week, and was so inspired by the town that I wrote the following article chock-full of personal recommendations. Go ahead, escape to New Mexico. That’s why God invented airplanes…
For intrepid souls, lovers of music and art, and fans of southwestern cuisine, Santa Fe delivers high style in a friendly and funky environment where sunshine and blue skies reign for 325 days each year. No wonder laid-back celebrities like Julia Roberts, Ali McGraw and Robert Redford have made New Mexico—the land of enchantment—their home.
Within this magical area in the southern Rocky Mountains, you can embrace life by trekking through ancient pueblos, braving the frothy white waters of the Rio Grande, and savoring an extraordinary selection of culinary and cultural delights.
DYNAMIC LOCAL ART SCENE
The city of Santa Fe, one of America’s top art markets, hosts a whopping 300 galleries within a community of 70,000 residents, many of them transplants from cosmopolitan locales such as New York, Los Angeles and Aspen. The town hosts many huge art events annually, but the humdinger of them all, the annual Indian Market Week, draws more than 100,000 tourists each August—and many return again and again.
Once home to iconic watercolorist Georgia O’Keeffe, the Santa Fe area is a haven for artists as well as art aficionados. All year round, collectors scour high-end galleries such as Blue Rain (blueraingallery.com), where they happily pay top dollar for traditional and contemporary Native American artistry.
One of the busiest spots for collectors and browsers is Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery (andreafisherpottery.com) in the historic district of Santa Fe. Fisher, a former curator for the Wheelright Museum of the American Indian, says the trick to investing in old or new pottery is to become educated in the basics and then purchase the pieces that appeal to your heart.
If you crave colorful Boho and ethnic textiles and accessories, hold on to your hat when you walk through the doors of Origins (originssantafe.com), Judy Margolis’s 32-year-old shop. Recognized by Frommer’s, it’s jam-packed with dresses, skirts, shoes, jewelry and accessories.
After all that shopping and collecting, you’ll be ready for fine New Mexican fare which is an art form unto itself.
SEDUCTIVE SANTA FE CUISINE
If you think that Mexican, Tex-Mex and New Mexican fare are all the same, locals will politely remind you that only New Mexican signature dishes rely on the sublime essence of local green and red chile peppers. If you can’t decide which chile you prefer, just ask your waiter for “Christmas” style, and your entree will be festooned in both red and green.
For lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch, don’t miss Santacafe (santacafe.com), run by gregarious Bobby Morean and Judith Ebbinghaus who welcome guests to their 19th-century adobe. Here you can dine in candlelit rooms with corner fireplaces or lounge in the courtyard under grand old trees.
Executive chef Angel Estrada has been praised for his eclectic take on Southwestern cuisine. Try a pomegranate margarita, eggs smothered in red chile sauce, sea bass with polenta, or green-chile mashed potatoes. End your meal with house-made vanilla sorbet and berries, and you won’t mind having to loosen your belt.
For a local favorite with laid-back ambiance, try the Shed (sfshed.com), a hacienda dating back to 1692 and owned by three generations. Sure-fire hits are green chile chicken corn chowder and gazpacho.
Take a one-mile trek up internationally renowned Canyon Road and enjoy more than 100 art galleries on your way to El Farol (elfarolsf.com), a hangout for artists and stray Bohemians for many years, famous for its food and live flamenco music and dancers.
WHERE TO STAY
It’s easy to lose yourself in the charm of the La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa (laposadadesantafe.com), nestled on six landscaped acres. This AAA Four-Diamond resort boasts renovated guest rooms, cozy indoor and outdoor fireplaces and breathtaking mountain vistas. The original structure dates back to the late 1800s with low ceilings, original floors and adobe walls.
Another fine choice is the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi (innoftheanasazi.com), a Mobil four-star, 58-room boutique hotel in historic downtown. Massive hand-carved doors, sculpted stairways and handcrafted furnishings offer Pueblo living with all the modern-day amenities. For a superb meal, you don’t have to travel far–steps away from your room is highly acclaimed Anasazi restaurant.
One of the prettiest spots downtown, at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, is the Inn and Spa at Loretto (innatloretto.com) where you can dine, sleep and partake of luxurious spa treatments. If you’re lucky, you might score a table on the Luminaria patio under the romantically lit cabana. Next door is the Loretto Chapel, a popular destination wedding site and home of a famed staircase that was built in 1878, without nails, by an unknown carpenter. It has been featured in many television shows including Unsolved Mysteries.
IF YOU GO
Fly from the New York area directly to Albuquerque International Sunport, 60 miles from Santa Fe. You can rent a car at the airport, or take Sandia Shuttle Express or the New Mexico Railrunner north to Santa Fe. If you prefer to land in Santa Fe, connect via a non-stop flight from Dallas on American Eagle. Rent a car and you’ll be able to take a day trip to Taos, home to balloon races, hiking, stargazing and even a rodeo. Be sure to pack walking shoes, and be prepared for the altitude: Santa Fe is 7,000 feet above sea level. Drink plenty of water as you spend your days exploring this magical destination within the land of enchantment.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Some of the coolest and kitschiest spots in Santa Fe won’t be found in a travel guide…
Locals will tell you that, on many Friday evenings, there’s a gallery crawl up Canyon Road. It’s a one-mile walk up the hill, so wear comfy shoes as you enjoy paintings, sculpture and, very often, beverages and light fare, courtesy of gallery owners.
After the sun sets, head downtown for an evening of live music at the no-frills but much-fun Evangelos. Sit back, enjoy the ultra-cool vibe and you might even find a spot on the dance floor.
The most intrepid tourists will want to visit Rouge Cat, an alternative club just off the main square with a deejay and late-night dancing in a dimly lit basement.
Located in the middle of town on the Santa Fe Plaza, the Plaza Café has been cooking up a storm since 1905. Take a cue from the locals—grab a stool at the counter and order the blue enchilada breakfast with rice and beans, smothered in New Mexican red chile sauce. You won’t be sorry.
For the truly adventurous, visit the Five and Dime General Store, just off the plaza, and make your way to the tiny snack bar in the back corner. Order a “world-famous” Frito pie and you will be treated to a snack-size bag of Fritos corn chips (slit open horizontally) and filled with from-scratch chili, shredded cheese, onions and a plastic spoon. Those in the know flock to the dime store for this cultish indulgence. Management says these little delicacies were invented back in 1962 when it was a Woolworth store. Today they serve 36,000 Frito pies annually.
INDIAN MARKET WEEK
For the ultimate southwestern adventure, visit Santa Fe in late August for Indian Market Week, the world’s foremost celebration of traditional and contemporary Native American art that showcases more than 1,100 juried artists from 100 U.S. tribes.
Book your accommodations early, because a whopping 100,000 visitors attend each year to browse 14 blocks of tents to learn about the native culture, meet artisans and purchase handmade treasures—baskets, jewelry, pottery, beadwork, paintings, sculpture and more.
“Indian Market simultaneously embraces the past, present and future of Indian arts,” says Dr. Bruce Bernstein, executive director of the nonprofit Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA). “For many visitors, this is a rare opportunity to meet the artists and learn about contemporary Indian arts and cultures. Best of all, when you buy directly from the artist, you support not only the artist but, by default, his or her community.”
One of the hottest collectibles in Santa Fe is gold and silver jewelry. Michael Roanhorse (michaelroanhorse.com) of the Navajo tribe is sought after each year during market week for his wearable sculpture. “I learned the basics of silver and metalsmithing from my father, and the oral history of my people through the generations fuels my artistic pursuits and gives me ideas for each piece I create,” Roanhorse says.
Market week culminates with a Native American clothing contest that showcases fashions created by local designers.
Those in the know will arrive several days before Indian Market Week for SWAIA-sponsored cultural activities.
If you are an avid collector of Indian art, you might want to attend SWAIA’s best-of-show awards luncheon that recognizes the finest Native American works among more than 1,000 pieces submitted.
On the following evening is the annual live auction gala, Indian Market’s most glamorous event that features one-of-a kind works made specifically for the auction. Tickets to the awards luncheon and auction gala sell out early and are available only to SWAIA (swaia.org) members.