On our road trip from Las Vegas to Boston last fall, we stopped for two days in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As we mentioned in that article, we were quite taken with Santa Fe and with all of the wonderful experiences that we had there.
Traveling to or from Santa Fe through Albuquerque
If you are visiting Santa Fe via road trip, as we did, we highly recommend choosing a route that takes you along the Turquoise Trail. The Turquoise Trail consists of about 50 miles of highway 14 in New Mexico where you will experience gorgeous views and visit the old mining towns of Golden, Madrid, and Cerrillos. Today these towns are full of arts and crafts stores, museums, and restaurants. In Madrid, we visited a number of stores, including our favorite, Carnival Azatlan. Carnival Azatlan displayed a wide variety of fascinating arts and crafts, including some funky furniture we might have picked up if it had fit in our small car. We also visited a number of jewelry stores and attempted to visit Shugarman’s, a famed chocolate store, that was sadly closed on the day we visited. Our chocolate needs would have to wait.
In Cerillos, we walked around a square that felt mere weeks past its mining town days, visited an old church and a lovely artisan shop. We also checked out The Casa Grande Trading Post, Mining Museum, and Petting Zoo, which is quite a multimodal experience.
At the end of the Turquoise Trail, you will find yourself in beautiful downtown Santa Fe. The historic downtown area is rather large, and the architecture is both soothing and quite alien to this life-long East Coast resident. Low-slung adobe buildings line the streets dominated by relaxing earth tones and striking whites. I would happily return to Santa Fe just to re-experience the architecture.
Where to Stay for Two Days in Santa Fe
Once you arrive in Santa Fe, there are a number of great places to stay. There are numerous Airbnbs and hotels in a variety of price ranges. We stayed at the Old Santa Fe Inn, which we can highly recommend. The architecture was historic, the rooms were comfortable, and the location was very convenient for walking around the city. We even had a balcony and an adobe fireplace in our lovely room. The Old Santa Fe Inn also included a lovely hot breakfast each morning with some great food options and fabulous pancakes.
Other nice hotels in Santa Fe include the ElDorado Hotel and Spa, the Lodge at Santa Fe, and La Fonda on the plaza.
Where to Eat in Santa Fe
There are so many great places to eat in Santa Fe, that we couldn’t make it to even a fraction of those that looked interesting.
Henry and the Fish
This is a great little cafe, juice bar, and general lunch spot on San Francisco Street. They specialize in healthy dishes and have fantastic avocado toast. They have both indoor and outdoor dining if you are in the mood for an alfresco meal.
French Pastry Shop and Restaurant
Another excellent lunch option is the French Pastry Shop housed in La Fonda. Here you will find, classic French crepes, classic baguette sandwiches, and even a Croque Monsieur or Madame. With a largely French waitstaff and a classic cafe style, you would be forgiven for thinking that you have been transported directly to Paris.
At Kakawa on Paseo de Peralta, we finally found our chocolate fix. While they offer a wide variety of chocolates, what they are really known for is their hot chocolate, or as they call it, Elixir. When you enter, you will be greeted by a barista who will offer you a taste of three to four different “elixirs” to start. The Kakawa elixirs range from a more traditional hot chocolate to historic European, and MesoAmerican drinking chocolates. If you are in Santa Fe and you like chocolate at all, find Kakawa. It will change your life (and lighten your wallet).
Cafe Pascal’s, specializing in organic Mexican fare, is highly rated and difficult to get into. Unfortunately, it was recommended to us a mere day before our Santa Fe visit (by a pair of sisters we met in Albuquerque). We spent an hour before opening waiting outside hoping to get one of their few “walk-in” tables. And failed. In the future, we will make a reservation well in advance of our visit to Santa Fe. We recommend you do the same.
El Callejon is another excellent Mexican restaurant on Galisteo Street. The ambiance is homey and the service is excellent. They offer some really interesting dishes on the menu, including my favorite, a chicken mole. In a bizarre coincidence, our three nearest dining neighbors at El Callejon were all from the Boston area! One couple had just flown in from Logan, another was on a cross-country road trip like ourselves, and a third was on the way to visit their grandchildren in California. Travel tips and side destinations were freely shared. The coincidence made the meal feel like some sort of Santa Fe Cheers, where everyone knows your name. Or at least where you come from.
The Burger Stand at Burro Alley
If you’re looking for some quick casual food, the Burger Stand at Burro Alley is a strong recommendation. Not only were their creative burger variations excellent, but their beer list was also truly impressive. We were posed with the conundrum of choosing from five or six different IPAs all unknown to us. The bartender was very knowledgeable, however, and was able to make recommendations that fit each of our IPA tastes. The Burger Stand has both indoor and outdoor dining areas. The outdoor tables have heaters nearby, so we were able to comfortably enjoy our burgers outside, even on a relatively nippy night.
Things to Do for Two Days in Santa Fe
Santa Fe Plaza
Santa Fe Plaza is a must-visit on any trip to Santa Fe. The Palace of Governors anchors one end of the plaza. The Palace is the oldest public building in continuous use constructed by European settlers in the continental United States. So its history is a little complicated. Today it serves as home to the Museum of New Mexico. It also shelters a block-long area where registered Native Americans sell their jewelry and crafts. We bought some beautiful rings and earrings here and felt good about supporting still existent indigenous tribes directly.
The area also features a central park, is highly walkable, and contains numerous shops museums, and restaurants.
IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MOCNA)
MOCNA sits mere steps from Santa Fe Plaza and is the country’s only museum for exhibiting, collecting, and interpreting the most progressive work of contemporary Native artists. We found our visit here fascinating. Admission is a mere $10 ($5 if you are a student, senior, or New Mexico resident), and well worth the price. With a largely rotating set of exhibitions, you never know what you will find inside. When we visited, the MOCNA was hosting a fascinating exhibit of art in reaction to the nuclear exploitation of native lands. Art pieces from Pacific Islanders living with the legacy of early nuclear tests, Indigenous Canadians exposed to the effects of uranium mining near their lands, and pieces from 50 other artists around the world were on display. This haunting exhibit runs through July of this year, and we highly recommend it.Santa Fe's historic downtown area is rather large, and the architecture is both soothing and quite alien to this life-long East Coast resident.Click To Tweet
Canyon Road is famous in Santa Fe for its numerous galleries, boutiques, and restaurants all collected in a half-mile roadway. The Road makes for a great afternoon stroll to take in the many sights of the various artists working herein. I will warn you, however, that nothing here is cheap. Canyon Road offers a collection of rather expensive galleries, some of which we did not even feel comfortable walking through for fear of knocking over a $15,000 piece of glassware.
Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf (House of Eternal Return) is a psychedelic fever dream created by artists and perhaps aimed at a demographic younger than our aging selves. The conceit of the place is that someone living in this nice suburban house somehow tripped into a time hole and got lost in a bizarre set of alternate universes. Which you will now wander through. Theoretically, there is a puzzle to be solved in this space, but the execution of the place is more like being trapped in an episode of HR PuffnStuff than working your way through an escape room. Meow Wolf is a bit into the suburbs, and at $40 a ticket admission isn’t cheap. We definitely found it to be a unique experience, but have no need to return.
Artist’s Galleries and Artisan Stores
There are, of course, many small art galleries and artisan stores in Santa Fe. Probably enough to fill a two-day visit if that is the only thing you did. Shops range from Canyon Road high-end to smaller, more reasonably priced craft stores purporting to sell indigenous work (other than the space in Santa Fe Plaza, you never really know).
Overall, we spent a splendid two days in Santa Fe and eagerly look forward to returning soon. Although maybe not to Meow Wolf…
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