Santa Fe: Vacation Guide

By Marianne Schwab | Best Travel Deals Tips Blog

Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico and its fourth largest city, but one of the things that I find the most interesting is that it has the third largest art market in the U.S. next to New York and Los Angeles. It’s easy to see why artists flock to this city as the landscape and town are visually inspiring. The local landscape is also frequently used for movie locations like True Grit and is home to celebrities like Academy Award Winner Shirley MacLaine.

Santa Fe is one of those cities that everyone has heard about and I think in their heart of hearts desires to visit. Just the name conjures up visions of the vast open spaces of the west, a beautifully preserved southwestern town and endless galleries full of artwork, not to mention fine cuisine.

I don’t now about you, but so many times when I travel, I see that modern American culture and architecture has overpowered what used to be a quaint little town, but not in Santa Fe. There was an ordinance passed in 1958 that required all new and rebuilt buildings exhibit a Spanish Territorial or Pueblo style of architecture. I think that this is one way that Santa Fe has been able to maintain a unique charm that you don’t find in most U.S. cities.

I’ve put together a quick visitors guide of highlights for your visit, but be sure to check out the five places you must visit when you go to Santa Fe including the Loretto Chapel, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and Canyon Road plus the oldest house and the oldest church in the United States.

Where to Stay: There are many wonderful hotels to stay in right in Santa Fe which means that you can walk almost anywhere in town you want to go. If you’d like to stay in the quintessential adobe style hotel, then I’d recommend the Inn & Spa at Loretto adjacent to the Loretto Chapel.

Inspired by the early presence of the Franciscan missionaries in New Mexico, the recently renovated Hotel St. Francis is the oldest hotel in Santa Fe and a unique experience located in the center of town. Their 81 guestrooms are furnished with hand-crafted furniture created by Santa Fe artisans and many rooms have the original hardwood floors exposed.

If you like loyalty rewards like I do, Santa Fe also has many national brands and I chose the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza for my business stay during production a few years back. All are great hotels strategically located and you can’t go wrong with choosing these.

Where to Eat: You will not be at a loss for great cuisine in this culinary mecca. My picks during my recent visit included The Cowgirl, El Ferol, The Sleeping Dog, and Max’s. If you’re they’re for breakfast, you may also want to try the legendary Café Pasqual or the Hotel St. Francis restaurant right across the street if the line is too long to get into Cafe Pasqual.

There are plenty of great places to get coffee in Santa Fe, but Starbucks is also a treat. Most of the local restaurants display artwork turning almost every foot of Santa Fe into an endless gallery. The local Starbucks is a very special treat and I was captivated by the paintings of a local artist that were featured on the walls when I went to get a venti latte in November.

Shopping: If you're a shopaholic, you'll love Santa Fe. In addition to all shops and galleries that line Palace Avenue and surrounding streets, don’t miss the local outdoor market at the Palace of the Governors on the north side of Historic Plaza. located on the Plaza. This area is reserved exclusively for American Indian artisans to market their wares. These artisans are licensed by the State of New Mexico, and adhere to a strict set of guidelines from their Indian pueblos. Due to the quality and authenticity of the products, this area is often crowded with shoppers looking for a special piece of the local culture.

Check the Weather: I truly have become a Southern California Gal and although I was prepared for it to be colder in Santa Fe, I hadn’t prepared myself for the bitter cold that overtook the area while I was there Thanksgiving week. Sure, I had a winter coat, hat, ear muffs, and neck scarf, but the 7000 foot elevation meant really low temperatures. The weather was beautiful – just cold. Santa Fe has 325 days of sunshine a year.

About the Elevation: Although I had visited the town in the past, I had forgot about the high elevation in Santa Fe. The first day I was there I had a terrible headache and couldn’t figure it out until my friend, Tony, reminded me that the elevation will play a number on you. So just come prepared and remember to drink plenty of water and bring lip balm. Also if you’re drinking, one drink may feel like two when you first get to town, so drink responsibly especially if you’re driving.

Day Trips from Santa Fe

There are some great day trips that are easy to get to from Santa Fe and make sure you that if you have time, you explore as much as you can in the state of New Mexico.

Taos is located on the high-desert mesa at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the city is rich with art, steeped in history and home to one of the longest-established Native American populations in the US. Taos (which rhymes with "mouse") has just seven thousand residents (including movie star Julia Roberts) and is a delight to visit with its unhurried pace and charm. The town blends Pueblo, Hispanic, and American cultures with museums, galleries, and stores. Its reputation as an artists' colony began at the end of the nineteenth century and generations of artists and writers have discovered Taos ever since. The most famous of all artists was Georgia O'Keeffe, who stayed for a few years at the end of the 1920s but she is most closely associated with Santa Fe, home of the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. If you’re visiting during the winter, the Village of Taos Ski Valley is famous for its slopes and there is a colorful array of surrounding communities including Angel Fire.

Santurio de Chimayo. About 30 minutes north of Santa Fe, lies the tiny community of Chimayó and El Santurio de Chimayo is tucked into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Tens of thousands of pilgrims make their way to this tiny church each year seeking miracles of healing from the church and its little well of sacred red dirt found in a room off to the side of the altar. It is sometimes called the Lourdes of America and visitors bring small bags or vials and take a spoonful of dirt home with them and rub the dirt on the part of the body that needs healing. Those who have been healed often make a second pilgrimage to the Santuario to give thanks, leaving behind their crutches, braces, and prayers of thanks, which fill another side room in the church.

Black Mesa Winery The Black Mesa Winery is located in scenic northern New Mexico’s Velarde Valley on the main highway between Santa Fe and Taos next to the Rio Grande which is how I discovered it a few years ago. They have wide variety of wines all made from grapes from local vineyards, but their trademark is their Black Beauty wine, a chocolate flavored wine that is one of the most unique I’ve ever tasted. Visitors to the winery are also often greeted by one of the winery cats. They also have a white port that is distinctive and memorable.

New Mexico Wine Country is not as famous as California Wine Country but I always enjoy tasting local wines when I travel around the country and around the world. The first grapevines were planted in New Mexico in 1633 in 1800, wine was one of the three top exports of the state. In 1943, the Rio Grande flooded and ruined the wine industry in New Mexico, but that was then. Today, there are over 43 wineries and tasting rooms and 900 acres of grapes.

Your Sante Fe vacation can take a year to save for and only a second to ruin. Before you go, you may want to purchase travel insurance through Travel Guard. Starting at $30.

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