Santa Fe natives—not to be mistaken for Santa Fe locals—will tell you that many people start a third life in their beloved hometown. The picturesque, mountainous city, which is sublime during all four seasons, has an unshakable small-town appeal that’s attractive for many who are seeking a permanent or momentary lifestyle change. Beyond the spiritual awakenings—which are sure to happen—Santa Fe boasts an exciting, evolving art scene, world-class hotels, and culinary delights that distinguish the city as one of the best-kept secrets in North America.
The architecture of the historic city stands out as among the most unique in the United States, partly because it doesn’t feel “Anglo” or traditionally American. The adobe structures that dress the city are based on Native American Pueblo dwellings the Spanish settlers discovered when they flocked to Santa Fe during the 1600s, which later evolved into what they’ve become today. Modern-day adobe homes and buildings have a stucco finish, while the Pueblo achieved their organic aesthetic with the help of basic materials: mud, earth, and straw.
To start your Santa Fe experience on the right note, opt for a stay at Hotel Santa Fe. Not only is it the only Native American–owned hotel in the city, it also boasts grand views of the dreamy Sangre de Cristo Mountains—which are perfect for sunset gazing—and a Pueblo-inspired menu filled with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. For an even more quaint, home-away-from-home feel, try the Inn at the Alameda, which is a short walk from historic Canyon Road, where you’ll find an eclectic selection of art galleries and shops. The two-acre compound has the perfect hideaway vibe, and though all rooms are special in their own right, we recommend splurging on one of the spacious casita-esque Santa Fe suites, which include a kiva fireplace and richly coloured Southwestern decor.
Leaving without any western gear would be a huge shame. To avoid any post-trip regrets, make sure to add Nathalie’s at the top of your shopping list. Owned and operated by former French Vogue editor Nathalie Kent, the Canyon Road–located shop is a treasure trove for all fashion lovers—even for those who might steer more minimalist. Browse a curated selection of western shirts, dresses, trousers, skirts, cowboy boots, and more.
Once you’re done giving yourself a splash of the Southwest, head over to the historic Railyard district for a different kind of retail therapy. Equal parts art gallery, retail space, and workshop, Santa Fe Clay is a 11,600-square-foot warehouse that supports and promotes education, and production of the ceramic arts. The unique art centre encourages visitors to shop the collection in the art gallery and invest in a piece of local art. Nearby, you’ll find SITE Santa Fe, an impressive contemporary art museum that aptly showcases the cities progressive spirit. Book a guided tour of “Future Shock”, a large-scale exhibition exploring the impact technology and social change has had on our lives. Bringing together works from 10 world-renowned artists, such as Tom Sachs, Doug Aitken, and Alexis Rockman, the museum felt the popularity of the show warranted an extension until June 2018—and we agree.
After working up an appetite, head over to The Compound for some fine post-shopping grub. Tucked away on Canyon Road, the iconic restaurant, whose mid-century aesthetic includes throws to folk art, makes for an ideal spot to rest your bones after a big morning. Grab a drink at the ultra-chic sunken bar designed by Alexander Girard, otherwise known as the godfather of mid-century design, and enjoy chef Mark Kiffin’s contemporary Mediterranean-meets-Southwestern menu. Our pick? The zesty chicken schnitzel.
Embracing the quirky and off-kilter side of Santa Fe is highly encouraged—and this is where Meow Wolf comes in. Formed as a collective in 2008 by a group of artists working across music, virtual reality, architecture, sculpture, and more, its members set out to create fantasy-driven, immersive, and interactive experiences. In 2016, with the help of Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin—who happens to call Santa Fe his hometown—the company was able to debut their first permanent exhibition, “House of Eternal Return.” Without revealing too much, the exhibit revolves around a mysterious storyline. Guests are invited to explore the multidimensional space and discover all the magic hidden inside the walls, passages, twists, and turns. Needless to say, one visit won’t be enough. Once you become acclimatized to the altitude, it’s time to partake in Santa Fe’s margarita trail. With 31 participating restaurants all competing for your approval, the trail features expertly crafted margaritas made with 100 per cent agave tequila. Highlights along the trail include Anasazi’s Sandia y Pepino, comprised of watermelon juice and fresh cucumber, and The Shed’s Roca Coin, made with Roca Patrón Silver tequila.
Drinking on an empty stomach is certainly not advised. That is precisely why a stop at Sazón for dinner is a must. Combining old-world Mexican fare with a modern spin, Chef Fernando Olea’s menu will be one of the more experimental ones you’ll come across in Santa Fe. The Mexico City–born chef’s approach to food mirrors that of a great composer; you can taste the love concealed in each dish. One of the main features on the menu is mole, an ancient, mysterious delicacy and sauce packed with flavour. If there’s one item that best displays Olea’s culinary chops, it’d be the Sopa de Amor. Pairing ingredients such as chocolate, green chile, and crab, it will definitely smash all the stereotypes that exist about Mexican cuisine.
All great travel experiences either begin or end at a lavish spa. We suggest ending yours on a high note—literally. Nestled in the mountains, Ten Thousand Waves is a serene escape that’s conveniently just minutes away from downtown Santa Fe. Inspired by Japanese hot springs, the spa and resort provides a private and serene atmosphere for guests to relax, revive, and even stay the night. Offering a wide but curated selection of treatments and massages (our favourite is the Ashi Anma foot treatment), the spa’s outdoor bathing experience is pleasant all year long.
Aside from the laid-back luxe lodgings, fine fare, and visual intrigues, the biggest takeaway from Santa Fe is the respect and acknowledgment the city has for its Native American roots, with several celebrations honouring that legacy and drawing big crowds throughout the year. The most popular is the Santa Fe Indian Market, which will celebrate its 97th anniversary in August. The authenticity of Santa Fe’s residents and business owners deserves a mention as well. They’re hospitable and quick to give a history lesson—and that never feels exhausting. They want you to be part of the conversation, treating you less like a guest and more like family.