Before touching down I can tell you I knew all of two things about Santa Fe: it was in New Mexico and I would definitely be eating Tamales at some point during my 3 day Santa Fe weekend itinerary.
I slowly opened the shade and blinked blindly into the full New Mexico sun. I waited for my eyes to adjust first taking in miles of flat red landscape against the Sandia Mountains jutting from the earth. I had 72 hours in New Mexico and we were about to hit the ground running.
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After my plane touched down in Albuquerque, my stomach rumbled as I traversed my way through the airport reminding me that I couldn’t wait to eat my weight in tamales, but Santa Fe had so much more in store for me. With the perfect Santa Fe weekend itinerary, I was ready to be shown why it was called The City Different.
I spent the first day relaxing and rejuvenating at Sunrise Springs Spa and Resort. I’m a firm believer that every good vacation should be a mixture of relaxation and exploration so kicking off the first 1/3 of my trip at the spa was perfect.
Day two brought a cool and crisp morning in Santa Fe, which is the first thing I learned about the city. It gets a bit chilly in the mornings and evenings – even in late summer. So do as the locals do, dress in layers and carry bottled water everywhere, because, surprisingly, Santa Fe sits at an elevation of 7200 feet above sea level. By the time we reached El Rancho de Las Golondrinas the cold had burned away under the morning sun.
The history of El Rancho de Las Golondrinas is as rich and as varied as the history of New Mexico itself. It began in the late 1600s as a self-sustaining independent enterprise where inhabitants could raise or create everything needed to survive. Due to it’s location along Camino Real, the ranch was known as a paraje. An official rest stop for travelers but also a place to trade supplies and resources.
Although the lands were unable to withstand the test of time in entirety, the main grounds were preserved in the form of an educational museum. Buildings that could be saved were, period pieces were erected and other historic structures were brought to the grounds. It’s a great way to spend the early morning before the sun begins to beat down in the hot afternoon.
Afternoons are made to be spent at Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return. What can I possibly say about Meow Wolf to do it justice? Words seem almost inadequate. In fact, when tasked with finding a single word to describe Meow Wolf I failed. Located in Santa Fe, Meow Wolf is an art collaboration created by over 100 artists – think science fiction novel meets a grown-ups friendly children’s museum.
It’s immersive and interactive, rich in technology, art and play. It’s a place where you can walk through a refrigerator, slide down a dryer shoot and create music along the skeleton of a dinosaur. It’s filled with hidden passageways and mysterious rooms wrapped under the guise of a two-story colonial. In short, it’s a must visit.
After Meow Wolf we took a short ride to Santa Fe School of Cooking for a traditional New Mexican demo and lunch. Finally tamales! Leading our class was Chef Deena Chafetz, a chef for over 30 years, Deena moved to New Mexico because she was fascinated with the cuisine and promptly fell in love with it.
In addition to sharing with us the beauty in Santa Fes bountiful cuisine, she also taught us how to make two different types of Tamales, both of which you can learn to create during a hands-on cooking class. Do it – your stomach will thank you for it.
Tip: when given a choice, opt for Red Chile Chicken Tamales. You can thank me later.
After lunch, it was time for some exercise as we strolled along Canyon Road. Along the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is a half-mile stretch of road cutting through the Historic District of Santa Fe known as Canyon Road. It’s adobe buildings are home to sculptors, painters, media artist, and jewelers whose artwork is displayed in galleries, along narrow streets, throughout gardens and sprinkled through pebbled pathways. It’s the perfect place for an evening stroll, but not too late because as you will quickly learn, most businesses close by 5:00pm in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe has an active evening life where most daytime businesses close early so their inhabitants can enjoy time with friends, like an evening of food and Flamenco at El Farol.
Day three brought yet another brisk morning, perfect for strolling around “The Plaza.” The Plaza, has sat at the heart of downtown Santa Fe for nearly 400 years. It’s a community gathering place and hosts Indian and Spanish markets, a variety of locally owned shops, annual events, community gatherings, concerts and more.
Just steps from my door at La Fonda on the Plaza (the only hotel that can boast it’s ON the Plaza) I didn’t have far to travel for unique finds. A few of my favorite experiences included the Native American Vendor Program, The Patina Gallery, and Fairchild and Co.
On the north side of Santa Fe’s downtown Plaza you will find an adobe building known as the Palace of the Governors. Along its outer wall, you will find a pavilion housing the Native American Vendors Program. Each piece is handmade by the vendor selling it, or a close relative (sibling, spouse, or parent) and the pieces are absolutely beautiful. You will find pottery, wood works, and hand crafted jewelry with prices ranging from around $35-40 into the hundreds.
For beautiful turquoise jewelry, a signature of Santa Fe, I recommend swinging by Fairchild & Co. Their pieces were stunning. They also have a healthy amount of Native American inspired pieces. It’s where I picked up one of my favorite souveniers from the trip, a new charm for my Pandora bracelet.
For a more artistic experience, The Patina Gallery is the place to go. As I strolled along The Plaza streets an amazing necklace caught my eye and drew me inside where I found even more unique treasures. Like this super fun bracelet made of zippers.
After touring museums and shops, it was only a matter of time before we experienced Santa Fe’s nightlife. Our first stop, Santa Fe Spirits. I’m a big fan of “going where the locals go” and as one of Santa Fe’s hidden gems, this is definitely where the locals were.
Owned by local Colin Keegan, the spirits are distilled in-house and designed to capture the essence of Santa Fe. They specialize in serving them to you straight in a tasting experience but aren’t above making a mean mixed drink either.
It’s never good to imbibe on an empty stomach so we hurried over to the rooftop of Coyote Cantina where I proceeded to stuff my face on delicious shrimp skewers and still more tamales. This is also where I had my first ever Aphrodisiac Shot. It’s a passion fruit lemon drop shot topped with vanilla cotton candy. A little tart and a little sweet. A MUST order. Be sure to save room for caramel stuffed churros. Your taste buds will thank you.
Tip: Reservations are a must. This place was packed even on a weeknight.
It was the perfect last meal to wrap up my third day in Santa Fe and left me waiting for the day I could return. As I easily walked the few blocks back to my hotel, I realized I had learned why it was called The City Different. I live in a big city, one of the largest in the US actually, so I know what city life feels like. Santa Fe truly felt different. It’s different because despite being a large city it gave off a distinct hometown feel. Laid out in such a way that it’s easily walkable, yet just a 20-minute drive to desserts, mountains, museums, and spa retreats. It’s a city where I could vacation with my family, with my girlfriends or run away with my husband and everyone would have a good time.
My trip was hosted by Santa Fe Tourism. All opinions are my own.