Happy Monday! I've got a busy week ahead as I pack for a warm weather getaway (any guesses where?) but before I go, let's rewind to one of my very first stops from my recent coast-to-coast US road trip: Santa Fe.
Known for it's Pueblo-style architecture and world-class creative arts, Santa Fe has a rich history and timeless soul. This city was voted #5 in the world by Condé Nast Traveler and #4 in the world by Travel + Leisure, so clearly it's made quite the impression on many.
Art-lovers take note: there are way more quality museums here than you could possibly conquer in a single visit (including the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art and the Museum of International Folk Art). But it doesn't stop there-- you'll also find countless (literally countless) art galleries and shops brimming with local hand-made goods like pottery, hand-woven baskets and rugs, turquoise and other precious stone jewelry.
If the arts aren't enough to woo you, don't worry- this town has plenty more to offer. With an incredible natural beauty anyone can appreciate, you'll find skiing, hiking (the most famous being tent rocks) and bike trails galore in and around the area.
More of a history buff? You're in luck, because Santa Fe happens to be the oldest capital city in North America. This means it's seen everything from revolt to invasion to reconquest (and a whole lot more than that).
It's also home to 19 Native American pueblos whose timeless cultures, arts, traditions and beliefs continue to enrich the area today. You can participate in Pueblo Feast Days and Tribal Celebrations for a unique first-hand and authentic experience, or purchase art directly from them every day on the plaza.
And if you're still lacking interest (although, how could you be?) there's also a fantastic food scene and some world-class spas that anyone can enjoy.
Regardless of what piques your interest, Santa Fe is someplace I firmly believe everyone can and will appreciate. While I only spent about 36 hours there, I'm already plotting a return trip to accomplish more of what I couldn't see in my short time. So if you're interested in planning a trip yourself, here's what you simply must see + do.
We arrived to Santa Fe around dinner time and went straight to La Boca for our meal. This cozy eatery offers modern Spanish tapas and was started in 2006 by 8 time James Beard Award Nominee, Chef James Campbell Caruso. It's also been voted as "Restaurant of the Year" in Santa Fe and was given an "Award of Excellence" by the International Wine and Food Society.
From the moment I walked in, La Boca felt like a lively European wine bar (complete with a Spanish guitarist filling the room with music). Our waiter was animated and welcoming and quickly guided us through the menu and wine list. We opted to let him send out his choice items and wine (my favorite way to eat out because it let's the chef flex and you end up trying things you never would order yourself). Our favorite starter that we were served was by far the Alcachofas (grilled artichokes, Spanish goat cheese, orange zest + mint).
Some other dishes we loved? The mussels (aji amarillo fish broth, chorizo rioja + garlic), the Fried Portuguese goat cheese (cherry port mostarda, tarragon mojo verde + crostini) and an incredible seasonal vegetable dish (in this case, carrots + parsnips with a delicious yogurt topping).
While my photos may be a bit dark (I didn't want to disturb my fellow diners in such an intimate setting with a flash), I assure you that every detail from the presentation to the freshness to the collective taste of each dish was carefully thought out and of the highest quality. Then to top it all off, the wine pairings were impeccable and completed the dining experience beautifully.
All in all, I can't say enough great things about La Boca: the ambiance, the service, the food, the wine- all of it. It's is someplace I'd recommend to anyone and I'll definitely return when I'm back in Santa Fe.
SHOP ON THE PLAZA AT PALACE OF THE GOVERNORS
The next morning we went straight to the historic plaza in the heart of Santa Fe to shop from the Native Americans. These vendors are here everyday (they operate on a daily lottery system to secure a position at the plaza) and sell incredibly beautiful art, jewelry and other unique products. While the city of Santa Fe makes an effort to patrol the shops and ensure any advertised Native American products are indeed authentic, the locals will tell you purchasing items here from the Natives themselves is the best way to go.
I found that almost all of the vendors will let you handle the jewelry and try it on if you're interested in purchasing. You'll notice a lot of the products are marked with traditional Native American symbols (which they'll explain the significance and meaning as you express interest). I'd argue you won't find more beautiful turquoise anywhere else in the world (not to mention find any with a better story). Regardless of whether you're actually purchasing anything, it's definitely worth browsing to appreciate the craftsmanship + culture.
For starters, La Plazuela restaurant was built in the 1920s (it used to be an open air patio but they managed to keep the same aesthetic with bright natural lighting, indoor trees and the same fountain). But beyond the beautiful interior and the incredibly rich history, the food is out of this world.
La Pazuela "is simply one of the best restaurants in Santa Fe, offering a fresh take on classic New Mexican cuisine." We tried the Enchiladas del Norte (yellow corn tortillas filled with Mexican cheeses and topped with local Hatch red sauce) and the Fajitas de Santa Fe (marinated chicken and shrimp with bell peppers and sweet Spanish onions- served with corn or flour tortillas). Everything was incredibly delicious and offered a truly unique kind of local flavor you simply can't find anywhere else.
After our lunch, we took a tour of the entire hotel property and learned about the history. I realized I could dedicate an entire blog post to this hotel alone and I still wouldn't be able to fit everything in because there is so much. For starters, La Fonda sits on the site of the town's first inn, established back when the city was founded by Spaniards in 1607 (making it the oldest hotel corner in America). It quickly became the preffered lodging option among everyone from trappers to soldiers to gold seekers to gamblers and even politicians. It's endured milestones from the Civil War to the railroad expansion and New Mexico statehood. Are you seeing why this could be an entire blog post?
Some of my favorite facts though revolve around the property being leased to Fred Harvey, a gentleman renowned for his "Harvey Houses" and "Harvey Girls". If you're unfamiliar with this title (Judy Garland ringing a bell?) The Harvey Girls were a staff of exceptionally well-trained waitresses who were modestly dressed and required to have an education, good moral character, good manners and to be articulate. Harvey paid them good wages as well as room and board. While this may not sound earth-shattering now, this was at a time when the only respectable job-title for women was being a domestic or a school teacher, so it was actually quite a pioneering moment for women in history.
In addition to La Fonda being a Harvey House Hotel, I loved learning about all of the art history and it's influence. I commented on the beautiful Spanish style fireplace in one of the rooms (which made sense to me because I'd learned about Santa Fe's Spanish invasion on the Native Americans, resulting in a blend of both cultures). My tour guide then pointed out that while we may think of it as Spanish, it technically traces back to Arab design (anyone remember my posts on Seville and Granada and how both clearly had lots of Moorish influence? It's all making sense now!) It had never dawned on me how one culture can influence another, and then go on to influence another... America is still such a young country that we often don't pay attention to the deep layers of cultural influence like this, so it truly opened my eyes and sparked my interest.
While I didn't stay at La Fonda this trip, I'd love to in the future now that I know so much about it's significance to the town. Regardless of where you choose to stay in Santa Fe, don't miss the opportunity to visit this historic landmark.
After leaving La Fonda and doing some shopping at the countless shops + galleries in the area, we went to Happy Hour at The Pink Adobe- or "The Pink" as it's affectionately known by the locals. This spot has grown into a local and national landmark and is located in the center of the historic Barrio de Analco (across from the San Miguel Mission- the oldest church in the United States). For over 50 years now, The Pink Adobe has been creating a unique flavor (along with unique décor + personality). We sat in The Dragon Room (which was named one of the top 19 bars in world) for some incredible margaritas and an appetizer. We asked the bartender what he recommended + he said we couldn't leave without trying Clams Lucifer (a Best of Santa Fe Grand Tasting winner made with Manila clams and Mexican tequila in a spice red chile broth that's signature to Santa Fe's local style). It was SPICY (hence the name Lucifer, I suppose) but man it was good.
I highly recommend coming here whilst in Santa Fe. Next time, I'm going to have dinner here as well!
After Happy Hour we went to The Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi: a beautiful luxury hotel in the heart of Santa Fe. I had the pleasure of staying at a Rosewood Hotel in London with my friend Haley and was so excited to see this property after how much the London one blew me away. No surprises, it was also incredible.
While I didn't stay at this location, we did spend our last night having dinner in their beautiful 38-seat dining room. And while the interior was simply stunning, I'd argue the food is even more fantastic.
Executive Chef Edgar Beas' menus "fuse old world techniques with modern, innovative recipes and artful playing." These dishes embrace the Inn's Southwestern and native heritage, while also incorporating the freshest, most seasonal local ingredients.
We loved the Burratta (with young beets, pomegranate, hazelnut + field greens), Roasted Brussels Sprouts (with parsnip, meyer lemon, manchego and kalamata olive) and finally, the Perigolrd Truffle Ravioli (with wild mushrooms, brown butter, maple + sage). Every dish was truly fantastic, paired perfectly with a wine and left us beyond satisfied.
After dinner we browsed the idyllic hotel property and fell in love with the modern yet truly Santa Fe decor. It's not a particularly large hotel by any means (only 58 guest rooms) but that's done so intentionally in order to maintain a sense of intimacy and "at home" hospitality.
Even if you don't stay here, be sure to at least pop in and admire the beautiful design and enjoy some of their delicious food + drink.
While I've already shared some fantastic hotel options in Santa Fe, I can't quit yet! We stayed at Eldorado Hotel & Spa (also in the heart of Santa Fe) which offered us a perfect embodiment of the city. With luxury accommodations and amenities (including a roof-top pool) we loved the stunning interiors and friendly staff that greeted us. Everything about our stay was so easy. We were walking distance to everything (literally didn't use our car once), had access to walking maps and recommendations from the staff and even had free wi-fi that was easy to log into (it's the little things). I was very pleased with everything about our hotel and would definitley stay here again!
All in all, I wish I had way more time than I did to appreciate Santa Fe. I want to come back around Albuquerque's hot air balloon festival, during one of the many summer festivals or at Christmas time when Canyon road shuts down and is illuminated with thousands of farolitos (aka bags with candles inside). There are dozens more restaurants I want to try and museums I want to see... the list just goes on! So my biggest piece of advice if you're interested in all the topics that I am (including the arts, food, nature and local culture) is to give yourself at least 3 days, or you simply won't even put a dent in everything. What else have you done in Santa Fe that I need to add to my list for my next trip? Let me know in the comments below!
Stay tuned for more of my coast-to-coast travel guides coming to the blog shortly! Until then, have a great start to your week, friends!