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Santa Fe, New Mexico 72-Hour Vacation

The City Different
Discover the Beauty of Santa Fe
By Charlotte Balcomb Lane



Santa Fe lives up to its epithet as “The City Different” with a unique culture infused with Native American, Spanish and Territorial influences. From cuisine to architecture, the city openly displays its multicultural facets and invites newcomers to explore and discover its beauty, including the world-famous red sunsets. Santa Fe is the third largest art market in the United States, following New York and San Francisco, but besides art galleries and natural beauty, the city also offers historical sight-seeing, skiing, world-class shopping and dining to suit the tastes of any traveler.

Santa Fe's setting at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains provides spectacular views in every direction. You can hike, mountain bike or ride the chairlift to the top of Santa Fe Mountain. A stroll up historic Canyon Road, a mecca for artists, offers more than a mile of galleries and dozens of sculpture gardens. Make sure to browse Canyon Road carefully, and take home some original Santa Fe art to remember your trip by.

The best way to reach Santa Fe is to rent a car at the Albuquerque International Sunport and drive north. Santa Fe and Albuquerque are about sixty miles apart, but the numerous Indian Pueblos between them keep the stretch fairly free of development. In every season, the drive—the most direct route is to head north on Interstate 25—offers mind-blowing vistas. If you’re a fan of slots and table games, stop along the way at any of several Indian casinos, including Sandia, the Santa Ana Star and the San Felipe’s Casino Hollywood.

You can also take the road less traveled. North Highway 14 wanders along the east side of the Sandia Mountains, through old coal-mining towns that have become havens for artists, craftspeople and proponents of living off the grid. The route is a National Scenic Byway and, though the drive is less direct than the I-25, it offers plenty of shopping, stretching and sightseeing prospects.

Santa Fe’s south side is the most modern, resembling many other cities in the throes of sprawl and big-box development. Cerrillos Road, the main north-south artery, is where you will find more economical chain hotels and restaurants, plus your fair share of all-American traffic. If you want to stay slightly away from the tourist throngs in town, you might like the Courtyard by Marriott for a comfortable night that won’t break the bank. For more local flavor in this area, consider El Rey Inn, which features one-story casitas surrounded by lush gardens.

The closer you get to the historic Santa Fe Plaza, the quainter and more beautiful the town becomes. However, hotel accommodations on the north side of town will cost more, as they are more luxurious.

Bishop's Lodge

Among the best hotels in Santa Fe is the Inn of the Anasazi, with an elegant Southwestern décor and modernly furnished rooms. For other top-of-the-line experiences in the heart of town, you can choose between Eldorado, the historic La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa or the Hotel St. Francis. Each provides a unique vision of Santa Fe through its art, architecture and style. If you’d prefer deluxe Southwestern accommodations near Santa Fe but not right in the city, try Bishop’s Lodge which boasts 450 acres of grounds, horseback riding and the SháNah Spa and Wellness Center.

The Bishop's Lodge, Father Lamy and Willa Cather

In the mid-17th century, rumors arose about loose conduct among Catholic priests in the American southwest. The French Father Jean Baptiste Lamy was transferred from Cincinnati to Santa Fe to supervise things and to create a provisional diocese know as the vicariate apostolic of New Mexico. Bishop Lamy's journey took him from Ohio to St. Louis, down the Mississippi to New Orleans, onto a boat to Galveston and up the Rio Grande river valley, arriving at his new home a year later! In the 1860s Bishop Lamy purchased for $80 what became his home and is now 420 acres of a family and business retreat known as the Bishop's Lodge. A great source of additional information about the Bishop is Willa Cather's 1927 novel Death Comes for the Archbishop. The book's protagonist, Jean Marie LaTour is based on Father Lamy and his life in New Mexico, where he served as Archbishop from 1851-1888. The novel also captures the vastness of New Mexico's geography with great attention to descriptive detail. A great read for the plane ride to or from Santa Fe!

The granddaddy of all Santa Fe hotels is La Fonda, which anchors one side of the world-famous Santa Fe Plaza, where a fonda, or inn, has stood since 1610. The current incarnation features individually decorated rooms, a lively downstairs bar and a bird’s-eye view of life on the Plaza and St. Francis Cathedral. Across the Plaza from La Fonda is the Palace of the Governors, the oldest government building in the United States, dating back to 1607.

Santa Fe has abundant dining options, up and down the price scale. From traditional northern New Mexican fare, which features red and green chile sauces, corn tortillas, beans and rice, to the latest in contemporary American fine dining, the City Different will not disappoint.

The Plaza

DAY 1

If your arrival brings you up North 14 during breakfast or lunch hours, be sure to stop at the San Marcos Café and Feed Store, just south of Santa Fe. You’ll know you are in the country when you see peacocks roaming the grounds, plus a menagerie of other animalsboth real and sculpted from metal. This working feed store not only does a booming business in hay and ranch hardware but also boasts a wonderful kitchen that will transport you back in time. The menu offers jumbo homemade warm cinnamon rolls, green chile stew, hefty three-egg omelets and wonderful French toast made with homemade bread. If you’re itching for something spicy, try a breakfast burrito stuffed to bursting with scrambled eggs, ham or bacon, cheese and red or green chile sauces. The meal will give you plenty of fuel for a day of exploring as you head north toward the Plaza.

As you do so, remember this traffic tip: Approaching Santa Fe from this direction, you can either take Cerrillos Road west or I-25 north to St. Francis Drive. If you want to slog through traffic or find an inexpensive hotel, choose Cerrillos Road. Otherwise, make a beeline to St. Francis and head directly to the Plaza.

The Plaza has been the heart of Santa Fe for hundreds of years. Today, instead of trappers, campesinos and shepherds, you will find a whole cast of characters defining the modern city: counter-culture teens, well-to-do retirees from Texas and tourists throng the Plaza, keeping it lively. For shopping, you’ll find world-class boutiques specializing in fine leather apparel, Indian jewelry and art.

Palace of the Governors

If you want to jump right into Santa Fe’s culture, start at the Palace of the Governors where you can stroll and shop. This humble one-story building on the north side of the Plaza has flown the flags of Spain, Mexico, the Confederacy and the U.S. Territory. Appropriately, it is now New Mexico's history museum, featuring changing and permanent exhibits as well as a terrific gift shop. Under its shady portal facing the Plaza, Pueblo artisans spread blankets year-round and lay out turquoise-and-silver jewelry, beadwork and other keepsakes that make perfect gifts for loved ones or yourself. Much of the jewelry is finely madeand much less expensive than what you will find in retail stores.

Next, head to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum which celebrates northern New Mexico’s first lady of art. Since 1997, it has displayed more than eighty of O’Keeffe’s works as well as traveling exhibitions highlighting other 19th-century and contemporary artists. If you’re hungry, try the attached O’Keefe Café, which offers a changing seasonal menu of upscale choices for lunch or dinner. For a full experience, try the chef’s tasting menu, which pairs wines with each course.

St. Francis Cathedral

After your meal, visit St. Francis Cathedral, a historic Romanesque church built by the famed 19th-century New Mexican prelate Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. Pay special attention to the statue of the Madonna, called La Conquistadora, which was brought to Santa Fe by the Spanish in 1692.

Another interesting stop nearby is the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Founded in 1937 by Mary Cabot Wheelwright, an East Coast blueblood, it honors the beauty and complexity of Native American weaving, pottery, jewelry and basketry.

Santa Fe is a city made for walking, but by now you might be in the mood to rest your feet and fortify your energy. A trip to Maria’s of Santa Fe, which has been welcoming guests for more than half a century in a house originally built in the 1880s, is in order. The red and green chile sauces are legendary, and so are the margaritas, of which there are a more than a hundred to choose from. The recipes for these can be found in The Great Margarita Book written by owners Al and Laurie Lucero. There’s also a terrific wine list. Whatever you drink, don’t miss the blue corn chicken enchiladas or Maria’s famous shredded carne adovada.

Another amusing watering hole is the San Francisco Street Bar & Grill, which overlooks the plaza from the corner of San Francisco Street and Don Gaspar. It offers a lively menu of seasonal American dishes for lunch or dinner, including crab cake salad on mixed greens with toasted walnuts, or Mexican-style penne pasta with shrimp, garlic and dry-cured olives. The kitchen also prepares a signature soup daily.

For a more upscale meal, make reservations at Geronimo or Santacafé, both award-winning contemporary American restaurants. While the two are hangouts for Santa Fe celebrities, but you don’t have to be famous to be seduced by the food at either restaurant. Try the sea scallops in saffron cream at Santacafé or the elk tenderloin at Geronimo. If you eat at the latter, save some time to have a digestive stroll along Canyon Road, a street filled with galleries, shops and sculpture gardens. Continue to Day 2

MORE SANTA FE INFORMATION

(Updated: 06/14/11 CT)


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