36 Hours in Santa Fe
An installation by Hasan Elahi at SITE Santa Fe, a contemporary art space.
THE Plaza, the heart of old Santa Fe, hasn’t changed much since the Spanish settled here 400 years ago. But surrounding the Plaza is an increasingly cosmopolitan city. Sure, it’s possible to focus entirely just on the historic center, where Native American handicrafts are for sale on every corner.
But the rest of Santa Fe now offers groovy contemporary art spaces, hot Asian restaurants and a park by a pair of trailblazing architects. Accept that Santa Fe isn’t just tacos and turquoise anymore, and you’ll find yourself loving the New Mexico capital not for what it was, but what it is.
1) PUBLIC SPACE
For a beautifully curated introduction to Santa Fe, visit the New Mexico History Museum (113 Lincoln Avenue; 505-476-5200; nmhistorymuseum.org), which opened in 2009 and includes a gripping display about Los Alamos, where the Manhattan Project was conducted in secret during World War II. A large courtyard with ancient walls and shady trees separates the museum from the Palace of the Governors (palaceofthegovernors.org), the Spanish seat of government in the early 1600s and now a small museum of Colonial and Native American history. The two-museum complex is free on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m.
2) WHITE WALLS AND WINE
You’d have to be crazy to pay for a glass of white wine on Fridays. Canyon Road, which angles up from the center of town, has more than 100 galleries, and there are openings every Friday night. According to canyonroadarts.com, the largest category is contemporary representational (think brightly colored paintings of the desert). Check out Eight Modern (231 Delgado Street; 505-995-0231; eightmodern.net), where you’ll find the geometric scrap-metal constructions of the Santa Fe artist Ted Larsen. The backyard sculpture garden is a great place to marvel at New Mexico’s amazingly clear sky and savor its piñon-infused air before heading to dinner.
3) AHI MOMENT
Martín Rios is a hometown boy made good: Born in Mexico and raised in Santa Fe, he apprenticed at the Eldorado Hotel and the Inn of the Anasazi — two local stalwarts — and made a brief appearance on “Iron Chef” before opening his own place, Restaurant Martín (526 Galisteo Street; 505-820-0919; restaurantmartinsantafe.com), in 2009. The main draw is the food — dishes like ahi tuna tartare ($14) and duck breast with smoked bacon polenta and Marcona almonds ($25) offer hints of the Southwest, with a dash of global aspiration. But the homey décor makes you want to stick around even after finishing the bittersweet chocolate truffle cake ($8).
4) SPICE MARKET
The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market (1607 Paseo de Peralta; 505-983-4098; santafefarmersmarket.com) dates back a half-century, but it stepped up a notch when it moved to a permanent building in 2008. Everything sold here, including dried chilies, yogurt and grass-fed meats, is produced in northern New Mexico. The market is part of a bustling district that includes the new Railyard Park by the architect Frederic Schwartz and the landscape architect Ken Smith, both Manhattanites whose taste is anything but quaint. As you wander around, be on the lookout for the Rail Runner, a gleaming new passenger train scheduled to pull in from Albuquerque at 11:08 a.m.
5) SUSTAINABLE SALADS
Santa Fe residents — as you learned roaming the Farmers’ Market — care where their food comes from. No wonder Vinaigrette (709 Don Cubero Alley; 505-820-9205; vinaigretteonline .com) was an immediate hit when it opened in 2008. The brightly colored cafe has a menu based on organic greens grown in the nearby town of Nambé. Choose a base — Caesar, Cobb and Greek are possibilities (around $10) — then add diver scallops or hibiscus-cured duck confit ($7) for a satisfying meal. Wines by the glass start at a very friendly $6.
6) RIDING THE SPUR
Thanks to Santa Fe’s sometimes depressing sprawl, it’s getting harder and harder to find wide-open spaces. But drive (or bike) to the corner of Galisteo Street and West Rodeo Road, where there’s a small parking lot — then begin pedaling due south, in the direction of Lamy (about 12 miles away). What starts as an asphalt path morphs into a dirt bike trail that swerves around a 19th-century rail spur. There are some pretty steep hills, but they’re short, and the momentum from a downhill is usually enough to handle the next uphill. (If only life were like that!) The scenery is always gorgeous, especially in late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky. Mellow Velo (638 Old Santa Fe Trail; 505-995-8356; mellowvelo.com) rents mountain bikes starting at $35 a day.
7) TAPAS WITH STRANGERS
La Boca (72 West Marcy Street; 505-982-3433; labocasf.com) is one of downtown Santa Fe’s most popular new restaurants — thanks to its contemporary tapas, plus larger dishes like cannelloni filled with crab, scallop and Manchego ($11). You’ll find yourself sharing tips on what to order — and even forkfuls of delicious eats — with strangers.
8) REGGAE FOR ALL AGES
Santa Fe isn’t a night-life town, but Milagro 139 (139 West San Francisco Street; 505-995-0139; milagro139.com) is helping to change that. A building that had housed a coffee shop was recently converted to a restaurant that becomes a club on Friday and Saturday nights. There’s no cover, and the drinks, including a house margarita called Beginner’s Luck ($5), are delicious. A recent visit coincided with performances by Rubixzu, a local band that performed a blend of reggae and Latin hip-hop to a diverse crowd, aged 9 to 90. For a trendier vibe, head to Meow Wolf (1800 Second Street; 505-204-4651; meowwolf.com), an alternative art space, or check its Web site for other parties hosted by Meow Wolf artists.
9) FREE-RANGE PEACOCKS
For a big breakfast and an early start, drive south on Cerrillos Road about 10 miles past the Interstate, until you see a handwritten cardboard sign that reads, “Pine wood stove pellets sold here.” You’ve arrived at the San Marcos Café (3877 State Road 14; 505-471-9298). Dozens of peacocks, turkeys and hens roam the property (which also houses a feed store), providing an Old McDonald-like backdrop for crowd-pleasers like eggs San Marcos, a cheese omelet in a bath of guacamole, beans and salsa ($12).
10) KITSCH TO CONTEMPORARY
If you ever thought that item you found at a roadside stand was one of a kind, Jackalope (2820 Cerrillos Road; 505-471-8539; jackalope.com), a sprawling, indoor-outdoor flea market, will disabuse you of that notion. There are hundreds of everything, including punched-copper switch plates and tote bags that depict Michelle Obama smiling on a swing. If you need to shake off the kitsch, head to SITE Santa Fe (1606 Paseo De Peralta; 505-989-1199; sitesantafe.org), a contemporary art space where the 2010 biennale, focused on moving image technologies in contemporary art, will run from June 20 to Jan. 2, 2011.
11) YOUR OWN ADOBE
It’s difficult to spend time in Santa Fe without thinking about buying a home (or second home) here. So check out Zocalo (Avenida Rincon; 505-986-0667; zocalosantafe.com), a striking development by the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. He is known for crisp geometry and super-bright colors — a welcome sight in this city of browns and terra cottas. Consider it real estate voyeurism, combined with a crash course in contemporary architecture.
IF YOU GO
Santa Fe has a tiny airport, which offers nonstop service to and from Dallas and Los Angeles on American Eagle. Most visitors fly into the larger Albuquerque airport, about an hour south. A recent Web search found round-trip fares from Kennedy Airport on Delta, from about $260 for travel in June. Sadly, the Rail Runner doesn’t run to the Albuquerque airport.
The Hotel St. Francis (210 Don Gaspar Avenue; 505-983-5700; hotelstfrancis.com), billed as the oldest hotel in Santa Fe, completed a top-to-bottom renovation in 2009, and it looks spectacular. Doubles from $120.
The El Rey Inn (1862 Cerrillos Road, 505-982-1931; elreyinnsantafe.com) is a retro-chic 1930s-style motel, with nicely furnished rooms and beautifully landscaped grounds to go along with the kitschy Native American-themed architecture. Doubles from $99.
Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa (30 Buffalo Thunder Trail; 505-455-5555; buffalothunderresort.com) is part of a new casino complex, about 15 minutes north of town. Doubles from $159. Hilton also built a less-expensive Homewood Suites nearby (10 Buffalo Thunder Trail; 505-455-9100), with doubles from $109.