The first time I went to Santa Fe was with my mother and just for the afternoon. I was driving from New England to Southern California to start my glamorous new life, and my mother had come along for the ride. We had stopped to see friends in Colorado Springs and they suggested going to Santa Fe and stopping at the French Pastry Shop. As we were headed south into the desert, we did just that.
The Plaza Hotel fits right Inn
Santa Fe is a rich city in a relatively poor state, a literal melting pot of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo cultures that is evident in the food, the art and especially the architecture. It’s the capital of New Mexico, and the oldest capital city in the country so it has plenty of history and even more historical buildings housing plenty of modern or near modern fun. There are Native American ruins, old adobe buildings, a historic working railroad. It was voted as a Notable city for outstanding food markets in 2013, the top cultural getaway by Travel + Leisure in 2012, the top travel destination in the country by Conde Nast in 2013, and the best city for shopping by 10best.com in 2013.
It has a climate that’s nearly perfect, with temperatures ranging from 30º in December to 70º in July, and though it’s land-locked, it’s definitely not lacking in stuff to do.
In the summer
Santa Fe is part of the high desert and its vistas are simply breathtaking. If you’re up for a short road trip, head about 40 miles southwest to visit the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This place is a wonder, with its cone-shaped rocks formed from volcanic eruptions as recently as 7 million years ago.
And don’t miss the exquisite Santa Fe Opera. It’s internationally known for its productions of both known operas and never before staged operas. It’s generally open from late June/early July through about the third week in August. It’s seating is plush, the acoustics divine, and the performances simply, well, operatic.
In the winter
If it’s winter and you ski, Santa Fe has some of the best skiing in the Southwest. Hit the slopes at Ski Santa Fe, which is less than 10 miles from town, or travel about 90 miles northeast to schuss the famed Taos.
All year long
If you prefer to stay in town you can visit the Loretto Chapel or the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, or both. They rose from the desert in the latter part of the 19th century and both are stunningly out of place amidst the mostly adobe structures that populate today's city.
Since Santa Fe is nestled in the desert, a colorful jewel that invites reflection and relaxation, visit the famous La Posada spa or travel just north of the city to dip into the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, one of the oldest natural health resorts in the country. Over 100,000 gallons of water bubble to the surface each day, heated naturally by a subterranean volcano.
If it’s art you seek, ye shall find plenty. There are more than 250 galleries in just two square miles, including those in the Canyon Road Arts District, the Railyard Arts District and the Downtown Arts and Museum District. There are also 14 museums. You’ll find everything from the Children’s Museum to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. O’Keeffe was one of Santa Fe’s most famous residents. She was born in Wisconsin in 1887, in Sun Prairie, a place that perhaps foreshadowed her future, but by 1929 she was in Santa Fe. She eventually died here, at the age of 98, but her work lives on. The museum is within walking distance of the historic Plaza.
Not to miss
So let’s talk about the Plaza. This is where everything happens. It’s the heart of this city, a square lined with trees and benches, populated with historic monuments, galleries, restaurants, chapels and cathedrals, and nearly all adobe structures. Regardless of whether you visit in the summer or winter or anytime in between, there are markets for art, jewelry and more, and always plenty of metered parking. You’ll also find some of the finest dining you’ve ever experienced, from the historic Mine Shaft Tavern and its roadhouse fare to 315 Restaurant & Wine Bar to la casa sena to the Flying Star Café where kids eat free on Thursdays.
At Christmas time the Plaza glows with the light of a thousand farolitos or luminarias and lights, welcoming all and personifying the spirit of the season.
The second time I went to Santa Fe was with my husband, driving in on a cold, cloudy Christmas Eve, a Christmas program we'd found on the radio setting the mood. It was my first Christmas away from my family in New England and I was feeling blue. We were there to ski, and were staying at a hotel close to the mountain. Renting a house then was nearly unheard of; thankfully it’s a better option today.
That night, we went into town for dinner in a Plaza restaurant. When we came out, the soft lights of Christmas were twinkling and it had started to snow. I fell in love with the city that night. It became one I visit as often as possible, flying into the Santa Fe Municipal Airport or to Albuquerque International Sunport.
But the next I go to Santa Fe, I suspect I’ll drive, traveling Interstate 10 through the desert once again before taking 25 up from Las Cruces. I’ll visit the French Pastry Shop, sip a café au lait, and breathe in the beauty that is Santa Fe. Do you know the way?