Higher than Denver and older than Boston, New Mexico's capital at times feels as if it's from another era. A stroll through the maze of side streets around the central plaza, and Santa Fe feels like the old Spanish-founded frontier city it was; a walk through its plethora of art markets makes you feel transported to a global bazaar.
While most tourism to Santa Fe revolves around the city's rich Spanish and Native American heritage, there's plenty more for people of all stripes: A bustling local art scene, hiking trails galore, and classically unique New Mexican cuisine and margaritas (and, with the thinner air up in Santa Fe, that tequila sure does pack a punch).
Getting Around: Downtown Santa Fe is a walkable city but you might want to rent a car for further day-trips outside of the city center. Parking in the center of downtown can also be a hassle, but becomes significantly easier a few blocks out.
Stay: For a change of pace, we chose to stay in an Airbnb in Ilfeld (a 45-minute drive to Santa Fe). It offered a view of the sunrise from a hill, complete silence, and more stars than you could shake a stick at.
Day 1: Historic Santa Fe + Railyard District
Start your day off with a hearty brunch at Tune-Up Cafe (our write-up here). Serving up a mix of classic New Mexican and Ecuadorian cuisine, the cafe is a lively and local stop that still feels worlds away from the total bustle of the city's central plaza.
After you're suitably full, roll yourself over to the Railyard District a half mile away.
The Santa Fe Railyard is a crowning community achievement for the city. Bought by the city and planned out in consultation with the citizenry, non-profits, and for-profits, the Railyard is a hub of activity.
Along the Railyard is a farmers market, a teen center, a local brewery, and a massive art and craft warehouse. Camped out among the markets are local musicians and vendors selling beautiful doodads.
We even bought ourselves a vintage Turkish rug at an incredible steal (Note from Jen: This took about an hour of convincing, as Jeremy is a stubborn and frugal shopper. He rejected the other 200 items I demanded).
From the Railyard, the Jean Cocteau Cinema & Coffee House is a quick five-minute walk. Purchased and supported by Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin, hence the focus on the fantasy and sci-fi genre, the staff at the cinema are on a first name basis with the writer.
The cinema plays a huge range of classic B-movies and out-there documentaries, including one while we were in town about subterranean giant spiders narrated by fellow author Neil Gaiman (check out the dope locally made massive tarantula on the cinema as marketing).
In addition to the films, the cinema also plays hosts to visiting authors for meet-and-great sessions. Each one leaves behind a number of signed books, which are available for purchase — I am still geeking out over having bought a signed copy of Gaiman's "The Sandman: The Dream Hunters."
If Jean Cocteau doesn't fully sate your thirst for books and drinks, head right on over to Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse. Closer to the plaza than the cinema, the bookstore offers an extremely comfortable place to chill out and people watch.
Also, the vegan chocolate chip cookies there are da best. Seriously, I never expected them to actually be good ... but I could eat infinity of them.
The magic of Santa Fe can fully be experienced wandering the streets of downtown. The mixture of colors, plants, and murals make even aimless exploration a joy; but, while downtown, there are some sure fire hits to see.
The Plaza and the adjacent Palace of the Governors are symbolic of the city. Outside of the palace, overlooking the Plaza, are an assortment of Native American vendors selling all manner of knick-knacks (although generally only for cash, and a little overpriced).
Right around the plaza is also the small but mesmerizing Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. The exhibit will give you the urge to make the trek up to the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, a site that inspired her local work.
Also, for any church or architecture lovers, be sure to check out the impressive Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. And Canyon Road, a little ways outside the plaza, is the perfect stop for art lovers as it features over 100 art studios and galleries.
You hungry yet? You must be pretty hungry, with all that walking. Well, thankfully, Shake Foundation will fix what ails you. Known for its green chile cheeseburgers, Shake Foundation serves up a New Mexican staple at cheap, cheap prices.
Fully nom-erific, the place is like a New Mexican Shake Shack in terms of overall greasy goodness.
After dinner, without a doubt go see Meow Wolf and the House of Eternal Return. Also funded by George R. R. Martin, Meow Wolf is an interactive multi-sensory art exhibit based in a retrofitted bowling alley.
For most of the year, the exhibit is an open-ended exploration through different dimensions and parallel worlds to uncover the mystery of the world you find yourself in. During the time around Halloween, Meow Wolf fully comes alive with the help of local artists and performers. As a viewer, you have free reign to follow a specific character the entire night, or run around trying to piece together the story from all the various entities you may find.
The exhibit is perfect for all ages, with plenty of creeping subtle horror and Lovecraftian mystery hidden in clues for adults, and more child-friendly scares are displayed prominently front and center.
Meow Wolf also doubles as a creative workshop, open to resident artists and amateurs alike.
Day 2: Pecos + Aspen Vista Hike
A little off the beaten path, and about 30 minutes outside of Santa Fe, is Pecos National Historic Park. For anyone interested in Native American history, or just an easy hike in the beautiful wilds outside the city, Pecos is an easy hour long stop.
The park offers a chance to explore ruins! Real, old, cool Native American and Spanish Colonial ruins! That's always pretty dope. You can read more about our experience at Pecos here.
Also outside of Santa Fe is the famous Tesuque Flea Market. A large open air bazaar, the market is a great chance to buy Native American handiwork, classic New Mexican pieces of leatherwork, and also imported world art.
Altogether, the market is a tad underwhelming as the best days seem to be behind it. But, for those who love to haggle and shop, the market does have a strong draw.
Immediately next to the market on the highway is the Santa Fe Opera House. Renowned for being a premier opera location, it also has dope architecture. Unfortunately, we were unable to see it since it's closed on Saturdays and Sundays; but, if your 48 hours in Santa Fe include any other days of the week, it's worth checking out.
You're hungry now, I get that. So, head on over to Cafe Pasqual's. Fully festive with a colorful interior, the cafe emphatically serves flavored cuisine inspired by the culinary traditions of New Mexico, Old Mexico, the Mediterranean, and Asia.
The cafe is dedicated to using seasonal and organic foods, and the service is astounding. While there, be sure to grab a drink; who says you can't have a margarita (or two) with brunch?
We highly recommend ordering MM's Papas Fritas, which is an astounding bowl of home fried potatoes smothered in either red or green chile or tomatillo d'Arbol salsa, mixed with melted jack cheese, sour cream, scallions, corn tortilla, and two eggs any style. Drool.
Following a nice drawn out brunch, head over to Maria's Santa Fe for a follow-up meal and drink, because you're on vacation, come on! Serving homestyle New Mexican cuisine for over 60 years, Maria's is a Santa Fe staple.
Although the food is truly outstanding, where Maria's really shines is the tequila. With over 100 varieties stocked, all being 100% agave, the restaurant does not mess around.
And it shows. The margaritas were easily the best Jen and I ever had. Perfectly balanced in flavor, the margaritas DELIVERED. With so many varieties of liquor and so many styles built on each type of tequila, the drink menu ended up being longer than my attention span. Luckily, the service is also great, providing perfectly aimed recommendations depending on your taste.
After sobering up, drive out of Santa Fe into the Hyde Memorial State Park towards the Aspen Vista Picnic Ground for access to the Aspen Vista hiking trail.
The trail itself is meant to be of moderate length and difficulty, while offering astounding views of the harshly beautiful New Mexican wilderness filtered through the aspen trees.
Unfortunately, Jen and I were caught in a freak hail storm just as we reached the entrance to the trail. And when I say freak, I mean the hail accumulated into at least two inches of icy slush on the road. But damn! Was it cool.
Lesson being, check the weather before you head into the mountains.
Also, my old man warning is to be sure to drive up the mountain slowly. You get mighty high real fast, and the altitude might hit you hard — be prepared for it.
After a hopefully beautiful and peaceful and dry hike, recuperate and enjoy your final night in Santa Fe at Ten Thousand Waves. Built into the mountains outside of the city at the base of Hyde Memorial State Park, Ten Thousand Waves expertly emulates a Japanese bath house.
Built in tiers up the side of a mountain, with an entry path winding through the juniper forests surrounding the resort, you can't help but feel serene. And the experience inside the bathhouse lives up to the presentation.
Private hot tubs, with a cold plunge in an adjoining area, start at $35 per person. We stayed in the Kobuta, a beautiful wooden hot tub surrounded by piñon and juniper.
In addition to private tubs, Ten Thousand Waves offers Japanese robes and slippers, a shared foot spa (which is a perfect intro as you wait for your tub to be readied), a communal bathing area, massages, and a communal meditation room.
Connected to the bathhouse is also a hotel and a sushi restaurant.
All in all, by the time you leave, any potential stress you might have been feeling will have been melted out of you and replaced by sheer tranquility.
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