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Under a bright blue desert sky, surrounded by mountains and ancient pueblo villages, Santa Fe's short, earthen-hued adobe buildings huddle around a central plaza. Native and Hispanic Catholic influences blend effortlessly in this small capital city, which was occupied by Pueblo Indians, Spanish colonists and Mexican explorers before a U.S. flag flew atop the plaza. Once a site for bullfights, battles, cattle grazing and promenades, the plaza remains the nucleus of Santa Fe. A block from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and abutting the Palace of the Governors, it's here where festivals are held, where teenagers gossip into the wee hours and where visitors congregate before heading to the art museums, churches, galleries and historic buildings for which the city is known.
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In DepthHaving celebrated its 400th birthday in 2010, you'd think Santa Fe would stop, take a deep breath and rest on that considerable achievement. Not a chance. While this city treats preservation of the past as paramount, there's always something new to discover. You can return a dozen times and still leave with new discoveries and experiences under your belt.
The high desert country that surrounds New Mexico's capital city, however, is timeless. Undulating hills that stretch to the horizon in all directions are a study in shades of buff, beige and brown. The landscape is speckled with clumps of Artemisia tridentate—more commonly known as sagebrush—a hardy shrub with silvery-gray leaves, a pungent fragrance and a tolerance for arid conditions. In the distance, mountains stand like sentinels—the Jemez range to the northwest, the Sangre de Cristos to the northeast. It's an austere but awesome natural setting heightened by remarkably clear air and the intense azure blue of the vast New Mexico sky.
Surely it's a setting that captivated Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate. In 1598 he led the initial effort to colonize the region that was claimed for the Spanish Crown as the province of Santa Fé de Nuevo México. Ten years later the newly appointed Spanish governor, Don Pedro de Peralta, founded a city that was to be the seat of power for all imperial holdings north of the Rio Grande. Peralta lived up to the Spanish penchant for cumbersome titles, naming it La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asis—the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi.
In 1610 Santa Fe became the provincial capital. It's a designation the city has retained ever since, except for a brief period during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 when Indian villages banded together to expel the colonizers. That same year a mission was established to serve as headquarters for a second power in the region: the church. Franciscan fathers fanned out to usher the Indians into the Christian fold; according to a 1617 report, 14,000 souls had been converted. Four hundred years later the sturdy walls of the San Miguel Mission Church are still intact.
Spanish colonists adopted a tried-and-true method of construction for their own churches, government buildings and other structures. The Pueblo Indians used adobe, a mixture of earth, straw and water that was shaped into bricks and dried in the sun. The bricks were stacked and bonded together with more adobe. Pueblo walls were frequently several feet thick, with entry to their dwellings through an opening in the rooftop accessed via ladder. These walls efficiently kept the interiors cool in summer and warm in winter.
Innovations like mud-brick fireplaces and hornos (outdoor ovens) were added. A few buildings from this era survive today. The Oldest House on E. De Vargas Street (across from the San Miguel Mission Church) was built around 1646; although the “oldest” title also is claimed by houses in Connecticut, Florida and Massachusetts, this is the only one made of adobe. Another place to see adobe dwellings in their original state (minus doors and windows that were added later) is at Taos Pueblo.
Question: What's a non-authentic adobe? Answer: Most of the buildings in town. In 1912 a code was passed requiring the use of a style called Spanish Pueblo Revival. It incorporated the defining features of local architecture, which included earth-toned, flat-topped buildings, wood-beamed ceilings (vigas), and door and window frames painted white or turquoise. But the majority of houses and commercial structures in the city have stucco surfaces that mimic adobe, referred to amusingly as “Santa Fake” and faux-dobe (foe-dough-bee).
Authentic adobe or not, Santa Fe still looks like no other place in the country. “The City Different” prides itself on the cultivation of “Santa Fe style.” It's a term that goes beyond decorative details like clay pots, cow skulls, Southwestern blankets and Native American artifacts (there are plenty of those).
Santa Fe style embraces the use of natural materials to enhance the stark natural beauty of the landscape. That's why you'll see, along with the omnipresent adobe, weathered stone walls and picturesque fences made from tree branches lashed together. And everything is suffused with the elusive quality of light that has long attracted painters and photographers, a constant interplay between piercing sun and flickering shadow that's downright mesmerizing.
By Spanish decree the original town was laid out around a central square, bordered on one side by the seat of government (the Palace of the Governors, which looks much the same now as it did 4 centuries ago), and on the other by a church (the present-day Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi). A grid of narrow streets and alleyways radiated out from this central point. Today, of course, these streets are lined with a plethora of shops, restaurants, art galleries and museums, forming a compact downtown core that's best experienced on foot.
A magnet for residents and visitors alike, The Plaza is a meeting place morning, noon and evening. It has tree-shaded green lawns and plenty of benches where you can relax and take in the scene. Street musicians contribute a frequent soundtrack. In summer flower baskets hang from the ornamental wrought-iron lampposts, and during the Christmas holidays walkways and rooftops glow with the soft light from farolitos, small paper bags holding sand and a single lit candle. The Plaza is Santa Fe's heart, a perfect starting point for exploring a city that's different in the most delightful way.
Guided downtown walking tours, led by docents from the New Mexico History Museum, depart from the blue gate at the Palace of the Governors April to October; phone (505) 476-5200. Historic Walks of Santa Fe also offer guided walking tours departing from various hotels; phone (505) 986-8388.
Given all this history and culture, it's no surprise that the city's events calendar is packed. Rodeo de Santa Fe, which takes place in late June, draws big crowds who cheer on hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls competing in barrel racing, bull riding, calf roping and steer wrestling.
The Fiestas de Santa Fe has been observed since 1712. Always taking place the weekend after Labor Day, it features mariachi concerts, an arts and crafts festival at The Plaza, lectures, entertainment and traditional mass services. The festivities culminate with the ritual burning of Zozobra, a 50-foot-tall marionette effigy known as Old Man Gloom, in order to dispel the travails of the previous year (it's advised not to bring young children to this particular event).
Celebrate Santa Fe's culinary side at the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta. Dozens of local restaurants and West Coast wineries participate in this foodie extravaganza. Activities include wine seminars, cooking demos and guest chef tours, which combine a visit to attractions like El Rancho de las Golondrinas or Georgia O'Keeffe's former home in the town of Abiquiu with a chef-prepared gourmet lunch. The Grand Tasting, the fiesta's keynote event, is a delicious treat.
Search out high-quality keepsakes at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market; this July event showcases the work of artists from more than 80 countries. The Traditional Spanish Summer Market in late July celebrates Hispanic heritage through art, music and dance. The Indian Market in late August is Santa Fe's oldest and largest market, celebrating emerging and established artists from some 100 tribes.
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EssentialsHang out at The Plaza (officially Santa Fe Plaza), the heart of the city. People gather at the square morning, noon and night to relax, socialize and browse. Sit on a bench and have your morning coffee before hitting the maze of shops that surround this pretty, peaceful green space.
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Seek out little Sena Plaza, one of the city's hidden delights. A serene, plant-filled courtyard with a burbling fountain, the plaza is surrounded by buildings that were once the center of a 19th-century hacienda and today house shops and restaurants. On a pleasant evening the outdoor patio at La Casa Sena Restaurant is a delightful spot to dine al fresco while listening to live music.
Spend an afternoon wandering in and out of the art galleries along Canyon Road. Not only is this residential neighborhood one of the city's loveliest areas, but many galleries feature public gardens filled with creative sculptures and other works of art. Don't miss the Wiford Gallery's collection of wind sculptures by Utah artist Lyman Whitaker, delicate-looking copper and stainless steel creations that twirl in the slightest breeze.
Have a classic New Mexican breakfast at Tia Sophia's . Locals love this cheerful little restaurant a block from The Plaza. You can't go wrong with green chile huevos rancheros or blue corn cheese enchiladas and a basket of puffy, cinnamon sugar-dusted sopaipillas.
When it's time for lunch, head to Cafe Pasqual's . Named for the folk saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens, this festively decorated eatery bustles all day—and with good reason. Dishes like carne asada, mole enchiladas and an awesome green chile cheeseburger are made to order, expertly spiced and absolutely delicious. If you're suitably inspired by the city's culinary excellence, sign up for a cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, just steps away from the plaza on San Francisco Street.
Attend a summer performance given by the highly regarded Santa Fe Opera. This stunningly modern open-air theater has an ace in the hole: a dramatic natural backdrop courtesy of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
From New Mexican carved wood cupboards (trasteros) to Mexican mayólica (tin-glazed earthenware) to Indonesian shadow puppets, the collections at the Museum of International Folk Art are noteworthy. Don't miss the colorfully creative miniature village scenes by Spanish and Latin American artists.
Visit a nearby pueblo. Ohkay Owingeh , San Ildefonso Pueblo and Tesuque Pueblo all welcome visitors at certain times during the year, and traditional ceremonial dances take place on feast days. Each pueblo has its own rules concerning photography, sketching, videotaping and etiquette; phone ahead for details.
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ShoppingShopping is a favorite way to while away the time in Santa Fe, but where you go depends on your agenda. Downtown is shopping central, with stores and boutiques catering to just about every taste (and disposable income level). Serious art collectors for whom money is no object head for Canyon Road, while the up-and-coming Railyard District offers additional shopping opportunities.
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The Santa Fe Arcade (60 E. San Francisco St. on the south side of The Plaza) is a sleek three-level indoor mall with trendy shops specializing in stylish Western wear, custom-made boots, home accessories and gold and silver jewelry. Malouf on the Plaza specializes in pricey, high-end clothing and accessories: designer fashions, handbags, jewelry and shoes for her; shirts, ties, sportswear and tailored apparel for him.
Art galleries are scattered throughout downtown. POP Gallery (125 Lincoln Ave., next to the New Mexico History Museum) displays photography, jewelry and modern art and sculpture in varied media. Most of the items are expensive, but there are some reasonable deals to be had. D R Fine Art Santa Fe (123 Galisteo St.) sells contemporary Southwest landscape paintings by David Rothermel. Moon Rabbit Toys (112 W. San Francisco St.) stocks toys from all over the world, an eclectic array of stuffed animals, high-quality jigsaw puzzles and the latest must-owns for serious gamers.
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The buildings surrounding Sena Plaza (125 E. Palace Ave. opposite The Plaza) were once part of one big single-family residence, with multiple rooms for family members as well as various tradesmen. The shops here sell pottery, ceramics and touristy gifts. A courtyard (accessible only through two narrow entryways on Palace Avenue) has shade trees, benches, a fountain and an arbor; it's a secluded little spot to relax for a spell.
Few cities in the country offer a better selection of Native American art. Ortega's on the Plaza (101 W. San Francisco St.) carries Navajo weavings, Zuni fetishes, traditional turquoise jewelry, silver-studded belts, pottery and other treasures, along with a beautiful array of beadwork.
For a more personalized shopping experience, wander among the displays of traditional and contemporary jewelry, arts and crafts, pottery, sand paintings and other handmade items sold under the portal (porch) of the Palace of the Governors (105 W. Palace Ave.). Vendors spread their wares on blankets on the sidewalk outside this long adobe building. Although the casual setting might imply that haggling is acceptable, prices are usually fixed (though often a bargain compared with many shops). And it's fun to meet the artists and learn about their work.
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Galleries dealing in contemporary works include Patricia Carlisle Fine Art (554 Canyon Rd.) and the Waxlander Gallery & Sculpture Garden (622 Canyon Rd.). At the Wiford Gallery (403 Canyon Rd.) there's an outdoor garden with Utah artist Lyman Whitaker's contemporary wind sculptures, delicate-looking copper and stainless steel creations that twirl whenever there's a breeze. Western-themed paintings by artists representing the early Taos and Santa Fe schools are displayed at the Nedra Matteucci Galleries (1075 Paseo de Peralta).
The Railyard District (along Guadalupe Street between Paseo de Peralta and Montezuma Avenue) is also worth investigating. Casa Nova (530 S. Guadalupe St.) has a little bit of everything—vibrantly colorful furniture, dinnerware, baskets, wall decorations and handicrafts, mostly created by African artists.
For Southwestern agricultural specialties like locally grown white corn, cactus honey and an incredible variety of heirloom tomatoes and dried chiles, check out the Santa Fe Farmers Market in the Railyard (Guadalupe Street at Paseo de Peralta). The Saturday market sets up 7-1 during the summer months, 8-1 the rest of the year; a Tuesday market is open 7-1 from June through September and 8-1 in May, October and November. Everything from pottery to hand-blown glass can be found at the Railyard Artisan Market, held in the Farmers Market Pavilion building Sundays 10-4, year-round.
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NightlifeGiven Santa Fe's close relationship with the fine arts, it's no surprise that highbrow cultural events top the social calendar. First and foremost is the Santa Fe Opera, where classics like “Madame Butterfly,” contemporary works and world premieres are performed in a state-of-the-art, open-air venue that has the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains as a backdrop. This may be the only opera company in the world that has to compete with a spectacular sunset for the audience's attention. The show actually begins a couple of hours earlier, when opera goers begin arriving with lavish tailgate picnics in tow. Attendees also can take advantage of a preview buffet set up on the landscaped rehearsal grounds.
Some 40 performances are offered in July and August. Single ticket prices range $32-$225, depending on the seating section and performance date, and are nonrefundable. A roof covers all seating areas, but evenings can occasionally be cool, rainy or both. The facility is located 7 miles north of downtown Santa Fe on the west side of US 84/285 (exit 168). The box office is open Mon.-Fri. 9-5 (Mon.-Sat. 9-5 during the season); phone (505) 986-5900 or (800) 280-4654.
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The Pink Adobe (406 Old Santa Fe Tr. across from the San Miguel Mission Church) has been around since 1944, when Rosalea Murphy opened the doors of her restaurant. Locals refer to it as “the Pink,” and the restaurant's Dragon Room Lounge is a popular hangout with the artsy crowd. The ambience is classy: dim lighting, walls decorated with carved wood dragons, and a bar with elm trees growing through the roof. Live music runs to jazz, salsa and flamenco, and the specialty margaritas pack a potent punch. Phone (505) 983-7712.
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Or you could just take a downtown evening stroll. Weather permitting (meaning if it isn't too chilly), The Plaza is a pretty, peaceful spot to relax on a bench, enjoy an ice cream cone and people watch. You may even be treated to an impromptu concert by a couple of jamming musicians.
AttractionsIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
Compact Santa Fe is very easy to navigate on foot, and walking is the most rewarding way to explore what it has to offer. But if you'd prefer to relax and rest your feet while seeing the sights, hop aboard one of the open-air trolleys operated by Loretto Line Tram Tours .
Historic houses of worship are major points of interest in a city that was originally named La Villa Real de Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asis (the Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi). Soaring above the tan, rounded contours of Santa Fe's adobe buildings is the French Romanesque Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi , a dramatic architectural contrast. The church contains notable religious objects, among them one of the oldest Madonna statues in the country and a chalice used by the Roman Catholic archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, who commissioned the church's construction and is buried beneath it.
While the simple adobe walls of the San Miguel Chapel , built in 1610, may seem plain compared to the more ornate cathedral, its interior is absolutely lovely. The three-tiered reredos (altar screen) of carved, painted wood—complete with a statue of St. Michael the archangel—is impressive, as are the ceiling's massive timbered beams (vigas). Also on display at this AAA GEM attraction are deerskin Bible paintings used by the Franciscan fathers in their efforts to introduce Catholicism to the region's Pueblo Indians.
To complete the holy trinity of Santa Fe churches, visit the Cristo Rey Church (Christ the King), one of the largest adobe churches in the country. Designed by local architect John Gaw Meem, it was built by parishioners in 1940. The hand-carved stone reredos is impressive. And don't overlook the Loretto Chapel , with its “miraculous,” free-standing spiral staircase. While overseeing construction of the chapel, the Sisters of Loretto discovered there was no room to build stairs to the choir loft. After the women offered prayers to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpentry, a stranger arrived and built the staircase, which makes two 360-degree turns with no obvious support. Legend maintains that the mysterious carpenter dipped a single piece of wood in kerosene before twisting it into shape and securing it with wooden pegs—and that he departed without collecting payment.
Several museums celebrate Santa Fe's creative side. Paintings at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum spotlight the artist's minimalist style, inspired in large part by the starkly dramatic natural landscapes of northern New Mexico. For Native American art, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian , the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts should all be on your itinerary. Housed in a building that resembles a Navajo hogan, the Wheelwright Museum displays both historic and contemporary art. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture focuses on the history and customs of the Navajo, Apache and Pueblo people, while the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts champions the work of alumni of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA).
Check out art and handicrafts under the portal (porch) of the Palace of the Governors , bordering the west side of The Plaza. Native American artists spread their wares on blankets, and it's interesting to talk to them about their work while browsing. Inside the building—which served as government headquarters under four flags (Spanish, Native American, Mexican and finally, the United States)—is a museum with restored period rooms and historic photos. Itself designed like a plaza, the building's four walls encompass blocks of rooms that open onto an inner courtyard.
After seeing the former house of government you might want to visit the current seat, the New Mexico State Capitol . It's laid out in the shape of the state emblem, the Zia Pueblo sun symbol (a circle with four points radiating outward), and is also referred to as the Round House. The capitol houses the House and Senate chambers as well as The Governor's Gallery, which displays artwork.
From colorful to kitschy, myriad types of folk art—dance masks, paintings, religious objects, costumes and textiles, wooden figures, dolls, toys—are on display at the Museum of International Folk Art , a AAA GEM attraction. The comprehensive collection covers not only Hispanic and contemporary Latino folk art but African, Asian and Middle Eastern examples.
Housed in a pueblo-style structure designed by John Gaw Meem, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art displays regional art dating from the time of the Spanish colonization. You'll see santos (devotional statues carved from wood), retablos (devotional paintings frequently executed on tin), relief carvings, weavings, cast iron and examples of colcha, a type of embroidery stitching developed in New Mexico during the Spanish colonial period.
Georgia O'Keeffe and Gustave Baumann were masters at capturing the natural beauty of the Southwest, and works by these two artists as well as others are on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art , which occupies a pueblo-style building just off The Plaza. Special attention is paid to art created in or about New Mexico, and many paintings depict the state's varied landscapes. Special exhibits often spotlight up-and-coming contemporary artists.
At the restored buildings comprising El Rancho de las Golondrinas , demonstrations re-enact the daily life of early Spanish colonists. Once a respite for weary travelers making the arduous trek along El Camino Real, the royal road connecting Mexico City and Santa Fe, “The Ranch of the Swallows” now contains historical exhibits. Original 18th-century buildings as well as structures relocated from other parts of the state stand on 200 rural acres.
In the mood for a day trip? Three villages are a short drive away, and visiting any one of them will reward you with fascinating insight into Tewa Indian culture and customs, especially if you time your trip to coincide with feast day celebrations.
Inhabited since 1200 A.D., Tesuque Pueblo celebrates the Corn Dance in June and observes the Feast of San Diego in November. Best known for its striking black-on-black pottery, San Ildefonso Pueblo is home to many artists; the pueblo museum and several shops display and sell their work. One of the largest Tewa villages, Ohkay Owingeh stages a number of ceremonial dances, including the Dance of the Matachines on Christmas Day. As an outsider you should show respect during religious ceremonies, and always ask about videotaping or photographing before doing so.
Another day trip is a bit farther afield (a little over an hour from Santa Fe) but well worth the drive if you want to immerse yourself in the kind of high desert beauty that so captivated Georgia O'Keeffe. At Ghost Ranch , near the tiny town of Abiquiu , you can embark on several different hikes; the most popular is the AAA GEM Chimney Rock , a mostly uphill trek to the summit of a sculpted mesa that resembles, well, a chimney. The climb up a snaking, twisting trail is strenuous, but the views at the top are stupendous—a 360-degree panorama of majestic rock formations, craggy mountains on the horizon and, a dizzying distance below, the valley floor of the Piedra Lumbre basin.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
When it comes to down-home New Mexican cuisine, trust the locals—they insist Tia Sophia's serves the real deal. Breakfast specials include a burrito filled with eggs, bacon and hash browns, topped with lots of melted cheese and served “Christmas” style with red and green chile sauce. Their version of huevos rancheros, that old Mexican morning standby, is also tasty. Meals come with sopaipillas, puffy triangles of fried dough best eaten while they're still warm with a dab of butter and drizzled with honey. The staff is efficient and super friendly. A 5-minute walk (if that) from the downtown plaza, Tia Sophia's is often crowded in the morning and you may have to wait for a table, but the cheery atmosphere makes up for it.
The line at Cafe Pasqual's often spills out onto the street, but there's a good reason—the food is definitely worth the wait. It's small (in fact cozy is an understatement), and you may find yourself seated at the big round table in the middle of the floor if the booths are all taken. Breakfast is served until 3 p.m., and smoked trout hash with two poached eggs and tomatillo salsa is a good choice. For lunch or dinner the yummy quinoa burger, made with minced portabellas, sweet potato and zucchini and topped with house-made tomato chutney, will have you forgetting about meat for the moment. The delightful décor focuses on whimsical ceiling decorations and beautiful murals by Mexican-born artist Leovigildo Martinez.
A morning or afternoon spent browsing Santa Fe shops tends to work up an appetite, and The Shed is a popular and convenient place (it's right across from The Plaza) to satisfy those hunger pangs. Family owned and operated, the restaurant occupies nine charmingly decorated rooms behind a brick and flagstone courtyard radiant with roses in summer. Settle into a booth and start with chips and the house-made guacamole. Ingredients in many of the dishes reflect classic New Mexican cuisine: blue corn tortillas, pinto beans and posole, hominy stewed with lean pork, garlic and oregano. Reservations are advised for dinner. Buen provecho!
The same folks who run The Shed also own La Choza , just off busy Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe's Railyard District. It's off the radar for many tourists, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a try. This ranch-style adobe's tile floors, colorful walls and pretty landscape paintings give it a cool, airy feeling. The northern New Mexican cuisine is some of the best in town, particularly puffy, deep-fried sopaipillas that come with your meal (and should be liberally slathered with honey). The blue corn tortilla enchilada plate or a sopaipilla filled with pinto beans and a choice of spicy ground beef or chicken are both hearty entrees, and vegetarian versions are available as well.
When Maria Sena Marquez opened her restaurant in 1952 it was a fraction of its current size. Even after multiple expansions, locals still pound down the doors at Maria's New Mexican Kitchen . Blue corn enchiladas, the quintessential Santa Fe dinner that turns up on menus all over town, are done well here: a choice of lean ground beef or chicken topped with cheese and red or green chile (or both). Another entree is a petite top sirloin steak with a chile relleno and green chile sauce. Maria's margarita list is extensive—more than 100 varieties incorporating Mexican tequila, triple-sec and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. A blender is verboten; the bartenders properly shake each drink. If you don't have reservations, expect to wait.
Canyon Road is famous for its art galleries, but a trio of restaurants on this winding street also attract hungry diners. Geronimo , housed in an original Santa Fe adobe and tastefully decorated with fine art, doesn't look all that different from its gallery neighbors—but the galleries don't have the benefit of a global, seasonally changing menu. From mesquite-grilled Maine lobster tails to Geronimo's signature charbroiled elk tenderloin with Applewood-smoked bacon and a brandied mushroom sauce, this is exquisite fare. Even starters like a bowl of cauliflower bisque burst with flavor. For dessert, the Meyer lemon crepe is delightful. Yes, dinner here is expensive—but take our advice and splurge.
The Compound Restaurant occupies an adobe hacienda complete with a lovely patio and garden. This is not a casual restaurant; service is elegant and formal, but without being over-the-top stuffy. The menu changes with the seasons; in summer, grilled sourdough crostini topped with heirloom tomatoes, basil and burrata cheese is a perfect starter. Pan-roasted chicken breast with porcini mushrooms and sweet corn is a flavorful entrée; vegetarians can opt for wild mushrooms and stone-ground polenta gussied up with black truffle relish and shaved Parmesan. A cherry tart with a yummy chocolate crust will end the meal nicely. Reservations are advised if you want to dine outside.
More rustic than refined is the—surprise!—adobe that houses El Farol Restaurant . It's a fun place for families and groups, since the menu focuses on small plates of Spanish dishes meant to be shared. Try one of the Spanish cheeses like queso de cabra, baked goat cheese served with roasted garlic and Serrano ham. Other choices include ceviche, patatas bravas (roasted potatoes tossed in a blend of olive oil, garlic and chiles) and tortilla Española (potatoes and eggs baked in a flaky crust). If you don't feel like having dinner, hang out at the bar and listen to live music.
Coyote Cafe masterfully blends Southwestern art and cuisine. Contemporary decor, romantic lighting and careful attention to detail all combine to ensure a memorable dining experience. The chef's tasting menu (including a vegetarian version) consists of three courses, each paired with a suggested wine. The outdoor rooftop cantina, open during the summer months, has a more casual menu: ahi tuna tacos, chicken and cheese enchiladas, pulled pork sliders. Desserts are worth the indulgence and favor chocolate, but there's also banana cream pie.
There's more upscale dining at Santacafe . Four candlelit dining rooms with white adobe walls are a simple yet elegant backdrop for artfully prepared food that takes advantage of seasonal produce. Start with shiitake mushroom and cactus spring rolls before moving on to a grilled rib-eye steak or pan-seared Cornish game hen. The power lunch crowd wheels and deals over sherried chicken salad and the green chile burger. When the weather's nice the patio offers great people-watching under the shade of a lovely old cottonwood tree.
At the Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe , tucked away in an industrial district south of downtown, the dining area is an extension of the bakery, where you can watch the bakers in action as they turn out a variety of goodies. Marinated tofu sautéed with chiles, spinach, tomatoes and roasted garlic or the gourmet breakfast burrito served with black beans and cotija cheese are both yummy choices. Be sure to pick up some cranberry pecan scones or banana nut muffins for later.
The Cowgirl Bar and Grill is the best barbeque joint in Santa Fe. The tangy barbecue beef sandwich and tender mesquite-smoked ribs are menu mainstays, and regulars who can take the heat rave about the Wings of Fire appetizer, chicken wings tossed with salsa Diablo and topped with chopped habanero chiles. Wash it all down with a margarita or a microbrew. Frazzled parents will appreciate the Kid Corral play area, where they can drop off rambunctious youngsters before heading off to the tree-shaded patio. Don't leave without taking a peek at the photos and memorabilia on display in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
This town serves up more than just Southwestern cuisine. Within walking distance of The Plaza (it's on Old Santa Fe Trail next to the San Miguel Mission Church), Upper Crust Pizza has been a crowd-pleaser since 1979. You'll find it difficult to resist the enticing aroma of fresh-baked pies wafting out the door. Order one of the specialty pizzas, like marinated chicken breast, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto, or go New Mex with chorizo, shredded cheddar and red chile. You can also build your own pie from an array of fresh ingredients. Locals swear by the stuffed calzones and the meatball sub. Either of the restaurant's two patios are nice spots to relax on a warm summer day.
Old House , tucked into the spacious public area of the massive Eldorado Hotel & Spa , has high ceilings and adobe walls that reflect classic Spanish colonial style. Entrées—dry-aged rib-eye steaks, chicken breast skewers, jumbo scallops—are well prepared, and the green chile mac and cheese side dish is tasty comfort food. Servers are knowledgeable and attentive, and the wine selection is impressive. Prices are high, so prepare to have your wallet dented a bit.
While Santa Fe has plenty of good restaurants to keep visitors occupied, a couple of places are worth a short drive out of town. At Gabriel's (right off US 285/84, about 7 miles north of the Santa Fe Opera), ripe avocados, fresh tomato, onion and cilantro are whipped into fresh guac tableside and served in a volcanic rock bowl along with a basket of warm chips. A margarita made with Gold tequila and freshly squeezed lime juice is the perfect accompaniment. In addition to New Mexican standards, the menu at this roadside restaurant includes Mexican specialties like pollo en mole poblano, the mole sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. If the weather's warm, dine on the cottonwood tree-shaded patio and take in views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Take a leisurely drive past the rolling, sagebrush-speckled hills north of town to the Tesuque Village Market , a fave tourist stop. The ambiance is charmingly ramshackle, and the menu offers no surprises—tortilla soup, green chile stew, huevos rancheros, tamales, jalapeño-spiked mac and cheese, wood-fired pizzas, even Frito pie. But it's all good, and the adjoining market and bakery offers homemade caramel/pecan rolls, local ice creams and cool souvenirs like Day of the Dead T-shirts.
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EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Designated a UNESCO “Creative City,” Santa Fe is a haven for anyone who is creatively inspired, and many events focus on art, culture, music and fine food. They range from poetry readings, Native American art shows and folk art markets to chile and wine celebrations and music festivals that mash up flamenco, jazz and tribal rhythms with soothing New Age sounds, chamber orchestras and desert chorales.
The Art of the Home Tour in early March includes homes from affordable to luxurious, all with interiors featuring artworks for sale from Santa Fe galleries. Proceeds benefit ARTsmart, a program that provides visual art materials and instruction for elementary through high school students.
In late June the rodeo comes to town, as it has every year since 1949. Rodeo de Santa Fe includes barrel racing, individual and team roping, bareback riding, steer wrestling, bull riding—and for kids, the popular Mutton Bustin’ and Calf Scramble events. A carnival midway, concession vendors and a beer garden make sure there's enough entertainment for the whole family.
Also aimed at little tykes is the Spring Festival and Fiber Arts Fair , which takes place in early June at El Rancho de las Golondrinas. “Villagers” in period garb demonstrate what life was like on a Spanish colonial ranch. Kids can see wolves, miniature horses, sheep and greyhounds, eat bizcochitos (a traditional cookie) fresh from a horno (outdoor oven), make their own tortillas and participate in hands-on arts and crafts.
Warm summer weather beckons outdoor festivalgoers. The Northern New Mexico Fine Arts and Crafts Guild Cathedral Park Show sets up camp in Cathedral Park for three shows—in late May, mid-July and late September—all spotlighting the talents of northern New Mexican artisans.
In mid-July, artists from more than 45 countries display their work at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market , which takes place at Museum Hill. Materials are both utilitarian and decorative—everything from paper and cloth to clay and metal. In addition to showcasing artistic versatility, the festivities include educational programs, food and entertainment.
Every August since 1922 the Santa Fe Indian Market has taken place downtown at Santa Fe Plaza. More than 1,000 emerging and established artists from some 100 tribes enter this juried competition. Collectors, gallery owners and professional buyers are among those who gather to appraise the selection of traditional and contemporary artwork. What makes this event special is the opportunity to meet the artists and gain insight into their cultural backgrounds and creative inspirations.
The Fiestas de Santa Fe has been celebrated since 1712. The event commemorates Spanish general Don Diego Vargas’ peaceful reoccupation of the city in 1692 following an Indian revolt 12 years earlier. Always taking place the weekend after Labor Day, it features mariachi concerts, an arts and crafts festival at Santa Fe Plaza, lectures, entertainment and traditional mass services. The festivities culminate with the ritual burning of Zozobra, a 50-foot-tall marionette effigy known as Old Man Gloom, in order to dispel the travails of the previous year (it's advised not to bring young children to this particular event).
Music is as integral to the Santa Fe experience as food and art. The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival takes place from mid-July to mid-August, with performances at the intimate St. Francis Auditorium and the state-of-the-art Lensic Performing Arts Center. The concert calendar includes piano recitals, string quartets and performances of classics by past masters as well as the music of living composers. For ticket information phone (505) 982-1890 or (888) 221-9836, ext. 102.
The festival season at the renowned Santa Fe Opera , founded in 1957, runs from July through August, with presentations of classics as well as new works. A sparkling roster of international opera stars draws thousands of music lovers to the city. Listening to a passionately sung aria while seated in an outdoor adobe amphitheater—with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop—is an experience you'll never forget.
The Santa Fe Desert Chorale Summer Festival features concerts at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi , Loretto Chapel and Cristo Rey Church . The group performs mainly a cappella and is known for both its seamless blend of voices and wide-ranging programming selections that span some nine centuries of music. For program and other information phone (505) 988-2282.
Santa Fe has quite the culinary reputation, and the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta in late September is one of the best ways to partake. Dozens of local restaurants and West Coast wineries participate in this foodie extravaganza. Events include wine seminars, cooking demos and guest chef tours, which combine a visit to attractions like El Rancho de las Golondrinas or Georgia O'Keeffe's former home in the town of Abiquiu with a chef-prepared gourmet lunch. The fiesta's highlight event, the Grand Tasting, is a delicious treat.
The Santa Fe International Film Festival in late October offers narrative feature, documentary, animation, short narrative, short documentary and indigenous films, as well as panels, workshops, youth programs, art exhibitions.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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Pueblo EtiquetteWhen Spanish conquistadors arrived in northern New Mexico in the 1500s, they encountered a vast network of Indian villages dating back centuries. The Spaniards referred to Native Americans as Pueblo Indians, after the Spanish word for town. About 25 pueblos remain today, and many of the people who live on these lands still adhere to traditional ways and speak the Tewa language in addition to Spanish or English.
Greg Weekes / AAA
Primitive-looking yet ingenious devices are scattered throughout the village. Lattice-like drying racks were used for harvested corn, pumpkin, squash and bean crops, and to cure wild game meat for food and animal hides for clothing. Beehive-shaped, outdoor adobe ovens called hornos are still used to bake Indian fry bread.
Greg Weekes / AAA
Taos Pueblo celebrates the San Geronimo Feast Day on Sept. 30 with traditional pole climbing. The Buffalo and Deer Dance is performed on the Jan. 23 feast day at San Ildefonso Pueblo . One of the smallest pueblos, but one with a very rich heritage, is Tesuque Pueblo , where the Corn Dance takes place the first weekend in June and the Feast Day of San Diego is celebrated on Nov. 12.
Nambé Pueblo , about 18 miles north of Santa Fe, sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; the Nambé Falls Ceremonial on July 4, which includes dances and an arts and crafts fair, is a popular event with both pueblo residents and tourists. Some pueblos also hold celebrations on Christmas Day, and most celebrate Día de El Rey (King's Day) on Jan. 6.
Many pueblos are open to the public, and visitors are usually welcome on feast days. It’s advisable to confirm if the pueblo is open on the day you plan to visit; contact the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council at (505) 747-1593, or inquire at Tourism Santa Fe.
Feast day or not, it's important to follow common-sense etiquette. Most pueblos have strict rules regarding photography, filming and even sketching, so ask regarding what type of cameras are allowed and if fees are required. Ignoring these rules could result in the confiscation of your equipment.
Laptops, iPads and cellphones are usually not welcome on pueblo grounds. Refrain from photographing religious sites (chapels or kivas), and always ask if you can photograph tribal members or their personal property before doing so. If you happen to receive an invitation to someone’s home accept graciously, but refrain from offering payment or a tip.
Ceremonial dances are no different than any religious rite. The participants are in a prayerful state, and quiet, respectful behavior is expected. Refrain from loud talking, clapping, dancing along or wandering around during a dance. If photographing dancers, keep a respectful distance during the ceremony and between dances.
You are a guest while on pueblo land; do not enter or peek into a resident’s home unless a sign on the door welcomes visitors. Children should not climb on walls or look into windows. Kivas and cemeteries are generally off limits; also heed all signs that designate restricted access areas. Different pueblos have different rules (for example, wading is forbidden in Red Willow Creek at Taos Pueblo), so make sure you're familiar with them before you set off exploring.
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