To be honest with you, I didn’t think I was going to like New Mexico. I am a person who actively seeks out water. The closer I am to a beach, the happier I am. I couldn’t imagine liking a place where it’s generally dry and dusty.
Then I got to Santa Fe. My friend Stephanie invited me down for a week to stay with her at her parents’ house. I rented a car in Albuquerque and drove an hour north. I was so concentrated on the road, I didn’t notice my surroundings.
When I got to her parents’ house, I looked out from their patio and I couldn’t believe the beauty in front of me. I saw mountains in the distance, beautiful clouds, and striking colors like turquoise and green against the red-orange ground. I immediately understood why Santa Fe is known as an artists’ community. You don’t have to look far for inspiration.
The desert has a quiet beauty. It’s not like waves crashing against seaside rocks or a river churning between trees in a lush forest. It’s much more straightforward, but at the same time, it has its secrets. It reveals them to you in time, if you’re patient enough to look.
My first few hours in Santa Fe, I met a woman who worked at a store in town. She told me that Santa Fe is a healing place. After spending a week there, I believe her. The peaceful tranquility of the desert seemed to loosen me up everyday, until by the end, I couldn’t feel any more stress knots in my neck and shoulders. More importantly, it quieted my mind.
I also ate extremely well, which didn’t hurt the process. Eating a truly good meal is a transcendent experience. I’m lucky that I had so many of them in New Mexico.
Here are a few of the highlights from my trip. It’s not an exhaustive list; I left some important places out because I didn’t get pictures of the food or the destination. These are the places that made the biggest impression on me. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did:
Dale Ball Trails
There are so many good hikes in Santa Fe, but I chose Dale Ball Trails for a few reasons. First, it got overwhelmingly good reviews online and people said it was fairly easy. Two, the views looked incredible. Three, people also said it was a fairly populated trail, which is good when you’re a woman hiking alone. The reviews weren’t wrong; it was a gorgeous and simple trail that winded around a mountain. I loved seeing the desert flora and fauna. I’d recommend the trail to anyone looking for a good starter hike in Santa Fe.
Downtown Santa Fe
Downtown Santa Fe is very touristy, but it also has cute shops that are fun to peruse. My favorite was The Shop – A Christmas Store, which is pictured above. It was just so random and unexpected that it charmed me instantly. Plus, I love Christmas ornaments, so it was really my ideal shop. The guy at the counter told me the store has been in his family for more than 40 years.
Canyon Road is the place in Santa Fe to go if you’re looking for art, jewelry, or vintage items. You can walk down either side of the street and pop into different shops. There’s art displayed on every corner and sidewalk. I liked browsing the galleries. I had lunch at The Teahouse, which has a beautiful patio that’s fun to sit on when it’s nice outside. Order the egg benedict and choose from a large selection of tea. I got mine iced because it was on the hotter side that day.
I read some good things about Sage Bakehouse before I visited Santa Fe, and they were confirmed when I stopped in for breakfast my first morning. The service at the counter was warm and friendly, and the pastries were delicious. I’d highly recommend the pecan braid (pictured top right). It hits the spot with a cup of coffee.
Meow Wolf really defies description. Picture a modern art gallery, interactive museum, and haunted house rolled into one, and you’ll get somewhere close to this place. At first I hated it because it was crowded and I’m still nervous about COVID/germs, but then I started to stray from the crowd and went at my own pace, and I liked it more. I’ve never been anywhere like it. I heard a man tell his wife that it feels like one long acid trip. Yes, sir.
Kakawa Chocolate House
Kakawa was one my favorite places I visited in Santa Fe. They’re known for their authentic drinking chocolate. I ordered a small cup of the chili drinking chocolate and I was in heaven. It was so rich and delicious, but also light enough where I didn’t feel bogged down like I sometimes do after drinking regular hot chocolate. Two days later I went back and got a large cup, and I got a box of homemade truffles to take back to Jim. Needless to say, we finished that box in a day when I got home.
Dolina Bakery & Cafe
I went to get pastries from Dolina early on in my trip. I didn’t realize it was essentially an Eastern European bakery. When I walked through the door, I saw tons of items in their pastry case that are familiar to me as a Jewish person with Eastern European origins. They had different delicacies from Poland, Hungary, and other countries. I didn’t get to try their sit-down breakfast, but I want to next time I’m in town. Beware of parking, though: It’s really difficult and you will probably have to go in a lot in the back of the bakery. I tried to park in an unmarked spot out front and got yelled at by the dry cleaners next door. Not very sweet of them…but at least I got pastries in the end.
Museum of International Folk Art
I was a little wary of the Museum of International Folk Art because I’m more of an explore-as-you-go type of person when I travel. I like museums, but they’re not always my first choice. However, I’d recommend this museum to anyone. It’s so colorful and thought provoking. There was an exhibit with folk art related to COVID-19 that I really liked. I also loved the room in the back with miniature scenes from different countries and cultures.
Prescott Gallery and Sculpture Garden
I read about Prescott Gallery and Sculpture Garden before I came to Santa Fe, and I knew immediately that I had to visit. It did not disappoint. It’s basically a long, one-story gallery filled with different moving sculptures depicting famous locations, and an outdoor sculpture garden you can walk through and see different sculptures of plants and animals. The people who run the gallery are friendly and gave me a water bottle, probably because I looked hot and dehydrated. I love that kind of personal attention when I travel.
When I was at Meow Wolf, a stranger came up to me when I was eating tacos at the food truck outside and struck up a conversation, and told me about Harry’s Roadhouse. I looked up the menu and decided to go for lunch a few days later. Honestly, it was the best lunch I had in Santa Fe. The stacked turkey enchiladas were divine, and my server was so nice and attentive. It’s one of those places that it perfect for single diners because people are nice and friendly, and you can sit on the patio outside, so you don’t feel like you’re stuck in the middle of a crowded dining room.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Going to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was a must for me during my trip. I also wanted to go see her ranch, but I think it was shut for COVID. Anyway, the museum was amazing and I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Santa Fe. You get to rid about her life and art, and see many of her works including the cloud painting pictured above. I didn’t realize she painted pictures based on her views from airplanes.
Ten Thousand Waves
Ten Thousand Waves was definitely a highlight of my New Mexico trip. My friend Stephanie suggested that we go to the spa and rent a room, pictured above. It was so nice to be able to relax in the hot tub and sauna. I also liked that plunge bath on the far right and the outdoor shower. Then, a couple nights later, we went back to the restaurant there, Izanami, for dinner. Every dish was better than the one before it.
Santa Fe River
Although I’m sure no one would tell you to run to see the Santa Fe River, I would recommend stopping by if you’re in town. It was one of the more unexpected things I found during my trip. No, it’s not the Mississippi, not by a long shot. But it is beautiful in its own way and very peaceful. There’s a walking path along it so you can explore or just side beside it and relax and read.
I celebrate Bastille Day by picking up lunch and a strawberry tart from Clafoutis, arguably the best French bakery in Santa Fe. One of the saleswomen at a shop I went to my first day recommended it, and I’m so glad she did. The strawberry tart was excellent. It reminded me of the days I would stop at the bakery in Paris for lunch.
If you’re looking for farm-to-table fare for dinner, definitely stop at Arable. The restaurant, which is a short drive away from downtown Santa Fe, has delicious dishes crafted with the freshest ingredients. Stephanie and I enjoyed everything, but some of my favorites were the wedge salad with bacon, jalapeño cornbread, and green chile cheese tots.
Madrid is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s a small down about 40 minutes south of downtown Santa Fe. You could miss it if you blinked, but you probably won’t blink because it’s so colorful and unusual. It’s an artists’ haven in the desert, and it has tons of personality. There are so many galleries, eateries, and shops to explore, but I would recommend The Mine Shaft Tavern for lunch (get the green chile burger), Java Junction for coffee and pastries, and Shugarman’s for homemade chocolate.
Don’t forget to check out my Instagram for more recommendations!
wow – i don’t know much about sante fe but it looks beautiful in your pictures!
Thank you! You should definitely visit sometime. It’s so pretty and there’s a lot to see!
Nice writeup! In 1982 I moved to Santa Fe and could not leave ! Today I drive thru Madrid every other day for healing 🎨 Well there is a lot more in NM to explore , I traveled the whole state for 26 years doing Hydrological studies 💙
I need to go back and explore more!
Emily, you really hit the hot spots! We didn’t want to come here either but like you we came on a vacation. Twenty five years later, we’re still here. Boy oh boy, we really know how to ‘vacatIon,’
It’s a great place. I bet you’ll be back.
I bet you’re right!
The Land of Enchantment is truly glorious. Its people, the land, the climate, the food, the varied cultures all come together and create an authentic experience I have yet to find in other places. I am so glad others feel as I do. I live in deep south Texas, but I visit as often as I possibly can. I hope to retire in NM!
I think retiring in NM would be amazing! I also want to visit deep south Texas. I’ve never been. Let me know if you have recommendations!
We have been coming here for 40 years. Moved here this year and are kicking out your tracks. Be sure to see Georgia OKeefe’s home in Abiquiu on your next visit. I’ve done that four times. Then drive up to ghost ranch. All takes half a day. Her home at the ranch is not on a tour but the cliffs and area are some of most spectacular sights to hold in the USA.
Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll definitely do those next time I visit.
When I first moved to NM, I was in shock. Lol I was used to green, trees, hills etc and where I lived was so dry and brown. But you learn to see the beauty of it, but it can take some getting used to if your not used to it.