If You Love Food, This Southwest Destination Needs To Be Your Next Trip
Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the perfect trips to recharge, rediscover yourself and your relationships, and reengage with the world. We’ll cover shopping stops, great bars, restaurants worth your money, photo opportunities, memorable experiences, and other important details you need before you book.
A long-held travel goal of mine is to visit all 50 states in the U.S. Earlier this year, I crossed off my 39th state ― New Mexico ― with a visit to the capital city of Santa Fe.
Nestled amid picturesque mountain landscapes, “The City Different” as it’s called, boasts a captivating blend of art, history and nature. From the striking adobe architecture to the rich culinary traditions, there’s good reason Santa Fe draws visitors from around the world.
Shortly after my arrival, I knew it would become a repeat destination for me. If you’re looking for charming small-town vibes, warm locals and endless cultural experiences, put Santa Fe on your list. And to help you make your itinerary, I’ve compiled my favorite dishes, attractions and more highlights from the Southwest gem.
Where To Stay
I stayed at Inn of the Governors ― a 50-year-old hotel with traditional southwestern style interiors. The decor, convenient downtown location and signature biscochito cookies and sherry that I received upon arrival were hard to beat.
Being able to walk right into town was a huge plus for my short visit, but there are many incredible hotels outside the center as well. Friends of mine loved El Rey Court, an 86-room adobe roadside motor court along Route 66. Originally built in 1936, it’s now a stylish boutique hotel that just screams to be photographed.
What To Eat
New Mexico has an impressive devotion to all things chile pepper. The official state question is “red or green?” in reference to the two choices of chile sauces offered at many restaurants.
I took full advantage of the food scene, trying as many dishes as I could with green chile sauce, red chile sauce and even the compromise “Christmas style” with both options. Some of my favorites were the enchiladas at La Fonda’s restaurant La Plazuela, which I enjoyed with a sopaipilla on the side, and the green chile burger at Blue Heron.
Other interesting chile-related offerings I encountered included the green chile cilantro corn cakes for brunch at Modern General Feed & Seed and the green chile and red chile caramels at Kakawa Chocolate House. Kakawa also sold unique treats with local flavors like New Mexico lavender, piñon and prickly pear.
Sweets aside, some of the best food I tried in Santa Fe was no doubt from El Chile Toreado. A James Beard Award semi-finalist, this humble food truck had possibly the best breakfast tacos and burritos I’ve ever tried. I regret waiting to go until my last day because I would’ve made multiple return visits had I experienced the magic earlier in my trip.
On the more upscale end of things, I also had a fantastic dinner at Sazón, complete with the signature mole tasting and the dulce sinfonia dessert ― a “surprise” option that the waiter only describes as you take your first bite. My final dinner was at The Compound, a classic fine dining restaurant in the city’s cultural district.
What To Drink
Margaritas are a must when visiting New Mexico, and Santa Fe has its own Margarita Trail that locals and tourists can try to follow ― hopefully responsibly. My favorite might’ve been the one I tried while watching the sunset at The Bell Tower ― a rooftop bar at La Fonda.
When I noticed “green chile wine” on the menu at Blue Heron, I immediately wanted to sample that as well. The color was indeed richly green and the chile flavor definitely came through.
Santa Fe boasts a vibrant coffee culture as well. I loved the lattes and decor at Iconik Lupe, which was converted from a former Catholic school. My breakfast taco was excellent as well.
What To Do
For a city with a population that’s less than 90,000, Santa Fe has a remarkable number of exciting things to do. Visiting the famous Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was high on my list, so I made sure to plan around its sometimes limited seasonal hours. When I return to New Mexico, I hope to take a day trip out to visit the late artist’s home and studio at Ghost Ranch as well.
Back downtown, you can also check out the New Mexico History Museum, New Mexico Museum of Art, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts and SITE Santa Fe ― a dynamic contemporary arts space with ever-changing exhibits. And you don’t want to miss Meow Wolf, the famous immersive art experience that started in Santa Fe in 2008 and has since spread to other cities.
When I got a little museum’ed-out during my trip, I visited Ojo Spa & Resort and spent a few hours exploring the beautiful property and soaking in the thermal pools spread throughout the grounds.
Another unique feature of Santa Fe is the Sky Railway, which takes people on scenic train journeys ― from stargazing trips and sunset serenades to murder mysteries and spooky adventures. And if you visit the city in the right season, you can even go skiing.
Ultimately, the thing I liked best about my Santa Fe trip was just strolling around the downtown area and popping in to check out attractions like the miraculous staircase at Loretto Chapel and “Oldest House” in the city (and possibly, some claim, in the country).
One morning I extended my walk by hiking uphill to the Cross of the Martyrs to take in the views, which I imagine are even more marvelous at sunrise and sunset.
Where To Shop
A visit to Santa Fe would not be complete without at least a quick visit to an art gallery. I spent an afternoon walking up and down Canyon Road, a famous street where people come from around the world to shop for art.
Kay Contemporary Art was a particularly beautiful gallery with an impressive sculpture garden out back. While I didn’t have the budget for most of the paintings and sculptures on display at these businesses, I did pick up a couple of nice prints and postcards.
My other favorite shopping experience was at Los Poblanos, a stunning boutique filled with local products and other adorable items for the home. On a future visit to New Mexico, I’d love to check out the company’s historic inn and organic farm in Albuquerque.
My time in Santa Fe far exceeded my expectations, which were high but limited in scope. Many tourists operate with the misconception that New Mexico will be a hot, dry desert like Arizona, so I’d recommend packing layers and preparing for the conditions at the city’s high elevation. Otherwise, just enjoy yourself as you explore Santa Fe’s rich history, top-notch art scene and amazing cuisine. “The City Different” has something for everyone.