In a Santa Fe State of Mind
My time in Santa Fe was spent visiting historical landmarks, enjoying art, and eating incredible food. (The food alone makes New Mexico a vacation destination.) Because Santa Fe has so much for visitors to see and do I’ve broken the city up into categories to make it easier to read and learn about. I hope you are inspired, and your next getaway leads to this incredible spot.
Food, more specifically the Santa Fe chile (with an “e” not an “i”), is what makes Santa Fe’s flavor profile unique. Flavors from the Native American, Spanish, and Mexican cultures all mesh together to make delicious food served by some remarkable people with captivating stories of how they got to where they are now. It really makes the food scene extra special.
The first night I was in town I was lucky enough to go to the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown. If you love a cheeseburger, this is an event you should try to attend. Local chefs from some of the best-known restaurants in town converge on the Santa Fe Railyard to compete for bragging rights of who makes the best green chile cheeseburger—a cheeseburger topped with tangy Santa Fe green chile on a soft white bread bun. That’s the simple version; it’s guaranteed you’ll fine much more complex flavor combinations to knock your socks off. Words of warning: Go hungry.
If you’re one who enjoys cooking or learning about cooking the Santa Fe School of Cooking is a great way to spend an evening. Learn to cook something distinctively Santa Fe and get a little history lesson about how and where the dish came to be. The meal I helped make was simple but fun and straight out of Georgia O’Keeffe’s kitchen. This is something I love to do in every place I visit. I feel it really connects you to the spirit of the destination.
About 45 minutes outside of Santa Fe is a small town called Chimayo, where you’ll find Rancho de Chimayo restaurant. Owned by Florence Jaramillo, or “Mrs. J,” this longstanding restaurant has been a family business for 50 years and continues to be loved by locals and visitors alike. I have to say, the cactus apple lemonade was outstanding and the pozolé was on the mark as was the chile relleno.
Last but not least is the very surprising French restaurant L’Olivier. You might be wondering what a French restaurant is doing in the Southwest, but as New Mexico is a melting pot of European, Native American, and Mexican cultures one could understand the French would send two things: priests to build churches and amazing food to accompany them. L’Olivier is undoubtedly French and the food is mouth wateringly delicious.
The culture of Santa Fe reaches from Europe all the way to the Native Americans who already inhabited the area, and who eventually worked with the Spanish to establish a peaceful and profitable city. This is celebrated every year during the annual Fiesta, which reenacts Don Diego de Vargas’ return to the city to restore peace with the Native Americans. The Fiesta takes place in September, and everyone is invited to be a part of the celebrations.
The New Mexico History Museum is a fascinating look back into the area’s past. Inside, visitors can experience what the European settlers experienced and see how they made a life for themselves. Many of the original founding families are mentioned and talked about. Visitors will also find exhibits about the Native American tribes in the area and how they were able to retain their land and continue their customs into the present day.
Another great place to immerse yourself in Santa Fe’s fascinating culture is Rancho de Las Golondrinas. Talk about walking in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before you! This rancho is an interactive walk through to see what the original settlers experienced on a daily basis. Within the walls of the rancho stands a church, homes, livestock pens, work areas with looms for making fabrics or blankets, and areas where food was stored and prepared. There are docents who dress and act in accordance of the represented time period to give visitors a real understanding of a day in the life of a settler.
For the religious history lover, a visit to the Santuario de Chimayo is in order. Pilgrims come from near and far and enter the church on their knees in prayer for help with their issues or forgiveness of their sins. It is said the crucifix in the church was found in the ground in 1810 and taken away twice, but it mysteriously reappeared in the same spot where it was discovered. Eventually, the man who found the crucifix built a church where he felt God wanted it to stay and where pilgrims could come for spiritual, emotional, and physical healing. The dirt where the crucifix was pulled from is known as “holy dirt” and is taken by visitors and pilgrims for its healing properties.
Art—it isn’t just a noun but a way of life for many Santa Feans. The lifestyle of Santa Fe is focused on local artisans, including Native Americans and Spanish descendants who’ve worked to preserve the artistic traditions of their culture and artists who make the city their home for inspiration.
Visitors can see art everywhere in Santa Fe, but the most concentrated area for art and viewing galleries would be the famed Canyon Road. With more than 100 different galleries and artists everyone is sure to see something that catches their eye or perhaps needs to go home with them. I really enjoyed walking the road and strolling in and out of each gallery while spotting my own artistic inspirations for photography.
The museums alone make for a full day of art loving. I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and, as she was my mother’s favorite artist, I really connected to the pieces and the person. Georgia O’Keeffe was a woman who wasn’t afraid to see the world a little differently than everyone else; she’s an icon of Santa Fe and for good reason. Make sure to visit her museum.
There are so many hotels and spas to make your temporary home while in Santa Fe. I stayed in a couple that I found were very special for very different reasons.
Hotel Chimayo makes you feel at home instantly. Its large front porch with chairs makes you want to sit and watch the world go by, while the interior pulls inspiration from the spiritual town of Chimayo. Its courtyard is beautifully done with hanging chiles and white banisters. The Low ‘n Slow Rider Bar and Lounge in the hotel embraces the lowrider culture and has some unique lowrider artwork and fantastic crafted cocktails.
La Fonda is the oldest standing building in Santa Fe. I have so much to say about this hotel and why it’s somewhere you should check out, but I will keep it short and let you click the link to explore for yourself. Long story short: You’ve got celebrities, cowboys, Fred Harvey, architectural history, and great food all rolled into one hotel. It’s a must stay while in Santa Fe.