When I heard that I was headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a work trip I immediately thought of the desert, sand, adobe homes, heat, and temperate winter weather. I was surprised to find out that, in fact, Santa Fe was covered in a blanket of snow and our weekly highs would be in the 20’s. Surprised and excited, I pulled out my thickest winter coat, furry snow boots, and gloves. As we flew in to Albuquerque, the closest municipal airport to Santa Fe, I was delighted to see the ground covered in white. It seemed as if this was going to be the ideal winter destination. Santa Fe proved to be the perfect spot to enjoy some invigorating and crisp winter weather, view some beautiful historic sights, nosh on delicious “New Mexican” food, indulge in an afternoon at the spa, and find some keepsakes shopping at local art galleries, and at the Indian market.
The trek from the Albuquerque airport to Santa Fe was about an hour drive. We rode through endless picturesque miles of flat brown land, as far as the eye could see. I felt like I was taken back in time, back to the wild wild west. I could imagine covered wagons coming over the horizon, and battles between cowboys and Indians taking place.
As we pulled into Santa Fe, pops of color began to dot the khaki colored scenery. Entering the downtown area, we drove down Canyon Road, a spot know for its multitude of fine art galleries, including sculptures, paintings, metal work, jewelry, and everything in between. I began to notice a pattern on the facades of most homes and art galleries: vivid and colorful turquoise windows and doors, one after another. According to the Native Americans, legend has it that the turquoise windows and doors are designed to keep evil spirits away.
Driving around the city of Santa Fe, I noticed that the rooftops of most homes, churches, and businesses were lined and lit with luminaries. These white paper bags filled with sand and a candle, called “farolitos”, dotted the dark sky and gave a cozy and ambient glow to each building. Farolitos are used during the holiday season in the southwest, specifically the cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. They make a festive touch to each of the structures they adorn.
Santa Fe is a hidden gem, a quaint and lovely destination, filled with rich history, charm, friendly locals, beautiful architecture, and some of the most delicious food I have tasted. The city sits at approximately 7,000 ft above sea level, which makes for a very cold and blustery winter. Winter temps average at a high of around 19, and summer temps average around 85-90. Santa Fe is the state capital of New Mexico, and is the oldest state capital in the US. Founded in 1610 by Spanish colonists. Santa Fe means “holy faith”, and the rich history of Catholic faith is evident in and around the city. The culmination of Spanish, Mexican, and Native American influences all converge here, and there is no other city like it in America.
Santa Fe is known for their “New Mexican” cuisine, a cuisine that is not found anywhere else in the world, which is a fusion of Mexican, Spanish, and Native American foods. The New Mexican fare also includes a question each patron is asked at each meal: “red or green?”. Each dish, from breakfast to dinner, comes with the option of red or green chile salsa, and I opted to try them both, the term coined “Christmas”. So Christmas salsa, it was, served with every dish, from huevos rancheros, to enchiladas, and everything in between.
Our first stop was to a quaint little restaurant called “Cafe Pasqual’s”. Located near the downtown square (referred to as The Plaza), this colorful little corner stop offered me my first taste of New Mexican cuisine. The menu was overwhelmingly full of delicious options, and with the suggestion of my friends, I opted for the Huevos Rancheros with Christmas salsa. I also tasted my friend’s Las Papas Fritas. Both dishes were divine and delicious, and with each bite, I realized what all the fuss about the food here was all about. Full of flavor and spice, the New Mexican dishes were out of this world.
The second meal was had at a little hole in the wall, just north of town, in a pueblo called Tesuque. (pronounced ta-soo-kee). We pulled up, got out of the car, into a gravel parking lot, located (in what seemed to be) the middle-of-nowhere. It was freezing cold, and I looked up to a full moon, and followed the lights inside. The Tesuque Market was warm and inviting, half restaurant, half grocery store, with wood floors, and a kitchen and deli off to the side of the large room. Chili peppers and colorful skeletons decorated the space. We sat down at a large table, and the atmosphere was casual, friendly, and laid back.
We ordered a brick oven pepperoni and green chili pepper pizza, and a round of chicken tortilla soups and margaritas. We chatted, sipped on our ritas (one of the best I’ve ever had), ordered another round, and enjoyed an evening full of delicious food, laughs, and stories.
Several days into our stay, my boss treated me with an afternoon at the 10,000 waves Japanese day spa. Twenty minutes from the center of downtown, a visit to this luxurious spa, restaurant, and resort proved to be the perfect spot to wind down, decompress, and have some “me” time. I was treated to an 80 minute therapeutic massage, which was incredibly relaxing and rejuvenating. The massage was followed by some time in the women’s whirlpool bath and sauna, and afterwards, I walked the spa grounds of 10,000 waves. I gingerly strolled the winding stone paths, dusted in snow, which led through spruce trees to different pockets of the spa, including a selection of several whirlpools, waterfalls, a koi pond, foot spa, and meditation room. The spa experience was heavenly, and made for a perfect afternoon. Upon leaving, I was relaxed, grounded, and rejuvenated, and ready to take on more of Santa Fe.
On our last day, I decided to spend most of my time in and around the Plaza. The Plaza (also known as the town square), was surrounded by quaint shops, art galleries, and on one side, by the Indian Market. I arrived early, just as the local Native Americans were braving the frigid temperatures, and unpacking their goods for the day. Roughly 20-40 vendors set up shop and sit along a single wall on one side of the Plaza. They roll out their handmade crafts, including jewelry, magnets, leather goods, and turquoise. The vendors were incredibly friendly, and were open to bargaining. I bought some of the most gorgeous turquoise earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. The Indian market is one of the best places in town to buy original, handmade items at the best prices.
After the Indian market, I explored other areas of the Plaza, including art galleries, souvenir shops, and a quaint hotel called La Fonda. Across the street from La Fonda, I noticed a beautiful chapel and decided to make a visit. Built in 1887, The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi makes a beautiful addition to the Plaza.. It Contains stained glass windows from France, and the largest statue of the Virgin Mary in the U.S.,
this Catholic parish stands tall and stately, and offered a moment to get in out of the cold, warm up, see some gorgeous architecture, and observe a moment of gratitude and solace in the quiet corridors of the sanctuary.
I was incredibly impressed with the city of Santa Fe. Having traveled extensively throughout the United States, and I found it to be one of the most quaint, historic, and finer cities I have visited. The locals are extremely warm and friendly, the architecture and history are one of a kind, and the vibe is laid back, artsy, and eclectic. I highly recommend Santa Fe as a travel destination, for a winter weekend getaway, or longer, if your schedule allows. If you visit, come ready to treat yourself and take in the rich history, delicious cuisine, and boutique shopping. You will be delighted to check Santa Fe off of your travel bucket list. I hope to be back very soon to enjoy more of this lovely city. Santa Fe, you took my breath away!