With each visit to Santa Fe, I become more enthralled with the city. On this third visit, there was still so much left to discover in this land of adobe homes, art galore, desert landscapes, and spectacular scenery. Every building and every structure blends perfectly into our beautiful earth. The city is drenched in a rich history that continues to celebrate the strong influences of the Native American and Mexican cultures that are woven into the culinary, music, textile, architectural, and artistic scenes that thrive here. There is a soothing element when in Santa Fe, an instant calming effect upon my soul and spirit. This is one of my favorite cities in the United States and one I hope to continue to revisit and further explore.
In October we spent two weeks in Santa Fe and you can read about our highlights from that visit here. Below I will share with you some additional discoveries and insights on places to visit, dine, and experience when in this magical part of the USA. Please read both posts for a comprehensive list of places to visit while in the area.
La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs
Hundreds of petroglyphs remain intact from the 13th-17th centuries when the Puebloan people inhabited the areas. Experiencing this area is more than satisfying in many ways. Firstly, the scenery is breathtaking. The desert landscape spans for miles until hitting a horizon lined with mountain peaks. Secondly, the hike to the marked rocks is quite adventurous, and not so easy to find. Trekkers are easily deterred by the path, which is comprised of a jungle of rocks that make visitors second guess the very clearly marked white arrow pointing to the right direction all along. Just follow the arrows exactly as they are, despite the tendency to question whether you will be heading in the right direction. If you follow the white arrows they will loyally take you to the top of the cliff, through a steep and unpaved rocky trail to the very top where the petroglyphs will greet you and share their stories. Finally, the most exciting part of this excursion is obviously the connection to the people of the land who left these carved drawings hundreds of years ago and imaging what life was like for them while trying to decipher some of the cryptic imagery. La Cienguilla Petroglyphs are a wonderful escapade to be enjoyed just twenty minutes outside of downtown Santa Fe.
Pecos National Historical Park
Just outside of Santa Fe is a well-preserved national park that tells the story of the 2,000 Puebloan people that once lived in this vast space surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This park holds so much history beyond the Puebloans. The Spaniards tried to conquer the area, ultimately failing when the Puebloans revolted. Many explorers and traders passed through on the Santa Fe Trail and well-known Route 66. This area bursts with a rich past, most notably through the remains of the Pecos Puebloan village. The Pecos National Historical Park offers free access to a clean, easy trail through the ruins with opportunities to interact with the landmarks. We were able to climb down into a Kiva, an underground gathering site, and walk through what remains of a Spanish church built by missionaries. Also, the surrounding landscape is alone worth a visit.
A Drive Down the Turquoise Trail
This historic trail spans through fifty miles of breathtaking scenery and will take you through some surprisingly quirky art colonies in areas that have once been abandoned mining towns. This is at least a half-day trip that you don't want to miss when visiting Santa Fe. We had such a wonderful time discovering the not-so-ghostly towns along the route.
Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid) is a colorfully revived mining town packed with galleries, turquoise jewelry stores, a cafe called Java Junction (with great lattes!), restaurants, small lodges, and loads of character. This town is right smack in the middle of nowhere and certainly deserves more attention. The best part is speaking with the shop owners and locals. Make sure to get to know them and ask them how they arrived in Madrid, each one will have an interesting story to share. I absolutely adore this town and everything about it. (Note: Tinker Town Museum, packed with whimsical wooden western figurines, is approximately a twenty-minute drive outside of Madrid towards Alberquerque).
Shugarman Chocolate, Madrid
You know I am obsessed with local chocolate shops. I waited very patiently for Shugarman's Little Chocolate Shop to open later in the day on a Sunday. They specialize in chocolate turtles and interesting chocolate bark creations, like the margarita salt/lemon/cashew dark chocolate bark that I ordered, which was delicious. The husband and wife team run the shop and bring a lot of character to the experience. Harvey moved from the East Coast upon falling in love with Madrid during a visit in 2012. Anthony Bourdain also visited this shop. Make sure to stop by and see what all the sweet buzz is about for yourself.
Mineshaft Tavern, Madrid
This tavern dates back to 1895 and is one of Madrid's biggest draws. The dining institution has become a mecca not only for bikers but for artists, musicians, and movie stars who visit this historic site, which many folks claim is haunted. Mineshaft Tavern serves a mean Mad Chili burger that absolutely deserves its hype! My favorite part of the meal was chatting with Tina, our server, who lives off the grid in the nearby hills and has the cutest southern drawl.
Connie's Photo Park, Madrid
Connie's Photo Park is run by Connie herself who painted all the fun cutout boards for visitors to enjoy for just a suggested donation of $2 per person. She is another interesting person to speak to. A native of Keywest, Florida, Connie moved to the area thirty years ago and hasn't left since. Ten years ago she purchased two lots and turned them into a bright and cheerful art exhibit that makes people happy. She has big dreams for these lots and I hope to one day return to see her visions manifest.
Cerrillos, on the Turquoise Trail
Cerrillos was once considered the capital of New Mexico and lives to tell the story of its Old West roots. This tiny town is a scene out of a western movie with dirt roads and all. The buildings that line the main street literally look like they haven't been touched since the 1850s during the town's mining peak. This place is of another era and will leave you wondering about the history of its past, and current, dwellers.
Origami in the Garden, on the Turquoise Trail
Unfortunately, this incredible outdoor sculpture garden, packed with Origami inspiration, is closed until 2023. However, you can still pull over to view some of the road-side masterpieces.
Santa Fe has one of the most incredible food scenes in the country. There are a plethora of fantastic options, mostly Mexican-inspired, to be enjoyed at every price point. With each visit, food was always an essential part of our experience in Santa Fe. Here are our favorites from this time around.
La Choza Restaurant
This colorful restaurant is loved by locals. By 5:00 pm, their dinner opening time, there was already a long line of patrons waiting to be seated. La Choza is the sister restaurant of The Shed (which I wrote about in our previous visit) and both deliver fantastic Mexican fare. One of the more creative dishes at La Choza is the green chili clam chowder. This dish is soo good. I also ordered my first sopapilla here and can't believe I have missed this my entire life. The kitchen stuffs the fluffy, crispy dough with beans and cheese and tops it with a spicy Rojo sauce. I devoured this dish even though I was already stuffed with their insanely loaded nachos and the clam chowder. In fact, we made a return visit as I found myself craving more of this fantastic dish. Their margaritas are well balanced too bringing together a perfect meal.
If you ever dream of a brunch that masterfully whips up flautas, chilaquiles, and huevos rancheros in a harmonically authentic way, Zacatlan is your place. From the moment you enter the bright restaurant, you'll be warmed by their thoughtful touches of fresh flowers throughout their space along with their cheerful greetings. Their mole sauce is out of this world with a perfectly deep, rich, and spicy homemade creation. We absolutely loved our experience here.
If you find yourself itching for delicious Spanish tapas then La Boca will satisfy all your cravings. In fact, for those of you who have traveled to Barcelona, you'll feel right back in Barca as this restaurant recreates the most delicious Spanish flavors in their small dishes to be shared by your group. As usual, we couldn't resist ordering a bunch of menu items and seriously devoured every morsel. On our tasting agenda was grilled artichoke with queso de Cabra, cauliflower trio of BBQ harissa, baked in manchego, and fried with aioli, patatas bravas, bruschetta cooked with mushrooms and cream, shrimp tacos with pimento sauce, vegetable paella, and roasted red peppers with queso de Cabra pintxos. The blood orange sangria was a perfect complement to our meal. This place is awesome and left us talking about our meal here for days.
I am obsessed with this bakery and make multiple stops here with each visit to Santa Fe. This French bakery is as close to France as you will get in the USA. Each morning their case is filled with freshly bakes quiches, pastries, and sandwiches. The staff greets you in French and throws around lots of "merci beaucoups" and "comment ca vas". My morning addiction in Santa Fe is a creamy latte paired with a pain au chocolate at Clafoutis. I seriously cannot imagine a better way to start the day.
Coyote Cafe & Rooftop Cantina
I was really excited to check out this cantina that has a cult following but must admit, we were really disappointed with their food. All five of us agreed that we experienced just an overall bad meal here. The reason I am including Coyote Cafe on this list is that it would make a great spot for evening margaritas and delicious nachos. The ambiance is the highlight here delivering a lively atmosphere with graffiti walls, colorful decor, and pumping music. We tried to stop by one evening but it was packed with others who surely were enjoying these great qualities of the restaurant. The rooftop deck is the coveted seating area which offers great sunset views and of people walking by below. Come by for cocktails and a great vibe, but trust me on this, stay away from anything but the nachos.
Terra Restaurant The Four Seasons
The setting at this secluded property is truly an experience in itself. Tucked away in the desert, away from everything but mountain ranges, this Four Seasons property is one of the nicest we have ever visited. Terra Restaurant prepares Traditional American cuisine dishes with a Mexican flare. The cucumber quinoa salad with cherry heirloom tomato, red quinoa, smoked queso fresco, chayote, cilantro, chili-lime vinaigrette, and smoked queso fresco was a delight. The crispy Brussels sprouts, grilled swordfish Ajillo, and build your own pasta dishes were unanimously a hit as well. The highlight was in the dessert finale. The Mexican chocolate mousse is an outstanding, perfectly prepared combination of hazelnut praline pastry cream, black sesame tuile, dark cherry, and Mexican chocolate pop rocks. The chocolate pop rocks is a truly brilliant culinary creation that I, personally, have never seen on a menu before. A meal here should certainly be on your list of masterful dining experiences while in the Santa Fe area.
Well-loved for their decadent chocolate elixirs, Kakawa prepares exquisite chocolate drinks, in six indulgent flavors, and a host of delicious chocolate truffles as well. Their Mexican hot chocolate is so intense, even for me, who always loves a spicy kick. I couldn't decide if I could sip an entire cup of that hot stuff and the barista quickly offered to create a blend of the Mexican chocolate with their house favorite, the contemporary, which created a beautiful result. Their truffles also come in wonderful flavors like milk chocolate lime mezcal, goat cheese and sage, cherry chili, and green chili margarita truffles. Since I had this treasure just a few steps from our rental home I was fortunate enough to get acquainted with their fantastic flavors of chocolate creations. You can also pick up some of their products off their retail shelf to take a piece of this heaven home with you.
The pictures barely capture this gorgeous adobe home in Santa Fe. Every single part of the home is appointed with beautiful southwestern touches and details. The art collection throughout the home adds to the serene ambiance created by the woods and earthen colors that permeate the space. The house is modern, possibly just renovated, yet it maintains a classic adobe decor and we just never wanted to leave. I can't stress enough how perfect this four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath home, with indoor and outdoor fireplaces, and every detail you could ever hope for in a vacation rental, is. You will make wonderful memories here.
We had some other sites on our list that we were unable to get to due to weather conditions or work issues that came up. An afternoon day trip to Chimayo was on our list followed by dinner at Rancho de Chimayo. We also had to cancel a day trip to Taos which is an absolutely stunning city with a spectacularly scenic drive 90 minutes outside of Santa Fe. We have visited Taos before and loved it so much we hoped to catch it a second time during this visit. I highly recommend a drive there taking the high road on the way to Taos and the low road on the way back to Santa Fe. Also, make sure to stop on the Rio Grande Bridge on the way for some breathtaking vistas. Finally, no visit to Taos is complete without a visit to Taos Pueblo Village where natives continue to reside in the traditions of their ancestors who have lived in the area for almost one thousand years.
Santa Fe continues to be one of my favorite cities in the United States. Its art and culinary scene are unmatched. The colors of the city that blend into the desert landscapes are soothing and inspiring. Luckily, it is a hard-to-access city that requires a flight from any large city which keeps it less crowded and one of America's best-kept secrets.