If you have a weak spot for sunshine, blue skies, silver jewelry, southwestern art and fabulous food, you’ll adore Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The strands of history intertwining here —from Native American to Mexican to Catholic missionary to famous modern-day artists, namely Georgia O’Keefe — have left behind gorgeous collectibles and traditions.
Today art galleries, its newest legacy, stand over 250 strong; in fact, Santa Fe competes with New York and Los Angeles in art commerce.
Throughout the streets surrounding its 400-year old plaza (yes, you read that correctly), you can wander into hundreds of shops and galleries in old adobe buildings and get the feeling you’ve gone back in time.
You’ll be in awe of the surrounding high-desert landscape viewable from street-level, the savory green-chili-infused cuisine and the marvelous sunsets painting the capital city and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains purple. And at 7,200 feet, Santa Fe enjoys a uniquely dry climate and a big-blue sky with sunshine 300 days of the year. It’s a year-round destination with hot summers (but cool evenings) with brief thunderstorms, and winters that can be chilly (and it does snow). There’s really no bad time to visit for shopping, but you may want to time it to some of its famous markets and festivals to get in some serious southwestern shopping.
Best for Jewelry Shopping: In front of the Palace of the Governors on the northern side of the plaza, dozens of Native American craftspeople sell classic southwestern jewelry. On blankets side-by-side, handmade silver necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets, pins and bolo ties with unique patterns and stones are displayed. Because you’re buying directly from the artist, you’re getting a better deal than in the shops.
Best for Art Lovers: Canyon Road’s 80 or so galleries, in adobe buildings standing one after another on this narrow road, require at least a full day. Eye (or invest in, if you can) Navajo blankets, the famous black-on-black pottery of Maria Martinez, wildlife photography and Russian paintings. And tucked in between the galleries are upscale Western-wear shops, cafes and restaurants.
Must-See Museum: The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum holds the largest collection of New Mexico’s most famous artist’s work in the world. Many recognizable paintings hang here that may decorate your own walls — albeit as posters. You can also visit O’Keefe’s residence of nearly 40 years in Abiquiu, north of Santa Fe. Here you can see the iconic landscape that inspired her masterpieces. (Tours of her home and studio require reservations well in advance.)
Day Trips: BandelierNational Monument, Anasazi ruins an hour northwest of Santa Fe, offers a glimpse back to 900 years ago when the ancient civilization populated this high desert. High above in the canyon walls, ancient cliff dwellings remain for you to explore via trails and ladders. Another nearby wonder, Tent Rocks National Monument, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, lets you hike among immense ghost-like volcanic tuffs. Simply by driving on the secondary roads up to Taos or down to Albuquerque is also bound to yield striking landscapes, peculiar shops, and historical sites. You never know what you’ll come across in these parts. Bandelier National Monument, (505-672-3861, ). Tent Rocks National Monument, (505-761-8700).
Best Dining: Cafe Pasquals is a must for breakfast. Go early because the lines are long. For an al fresco lunch under umbrellas and trees, in a charming courtyard, go to Casa Sena. For fine dining in the evening the Coyote Cafe is my number one choice. For more casual but equally delicious food, dine at La Boca, where tapa size dishes allow you to try lots of fabulous food. My husband swears he ate the best mussels he’s ever had – with a delicate cream sauce – of course. Geronimos is another favorite among foodies.
Where to Stay: One of the oldest hotels in the country, La Fonda is situated on the plaza, merely footsteps from the shops, museums, galleries and cafes of downtown. Authentic southwestern décor and antiques fill the grand interior and the Belltower Bar is the best place in town to watch sunset. It’s reasonable for a central location. 100 E San Francisco Street, (505-982-5511, www.lafondasantafe.com). If you want to go upscale, the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi is considered the best in town.