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Santa Fe Trip Report

Having not been to the Southwest since we moved from Arizona years ago, we decided to revisit Santa Fe Labor Day week.

My first tip: DO fly on the Sunday before Labor Day. We were the only ones in Security that morning, and had a half-empty flight to Dallas to boot—that never happens any more! We picked up a rental car in Albuquerque and drove to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, hoping for an overview of the pueblos and some information about visiting them. This center feels a bit underfunded, but a dim exhibit in the basement illuminates the location, history and crafts of each pueblo. And we scored a mighty tasty lunch at the restaurant, a breakfast Frito chile pie for me and a tofu-stuffed chile relleno for SO, both with red and green chile, naturally. This is more than your typical museum café and I highly recommend it. There is also a nice shop featuring authentic Native crafts. http://www.indianpueblo.org

In Santa Fe, we checked into the Hotel St. Francis, having booked a King room at $145 per night plus $11 for parking. What a gorgeous hotel! It’s old—OK, “historic”—but newly renovated, which means that while some rooms may be small-ish, and all bathrooms are probably small-ish, the décor is fresh and beautiful. It’s Southwestern, but with a nod to the Franciscans in that it is minimalist, clean and cool, but also warm and textural. Our room was plenty spacious, and really did look exactly like the photos on the website. And the windows opened! The loo and tub/shower were in one small room, but the pedestal sink was in the main room. This didn’t bother us at all, but if you think it might bother you, be aware that room layouts vary, and the staff are very willing to show you different rooms if any are available. They also say they will bring you a lamp should you need one, or a chair, or a mirror… they are aware that minimalist décor may not please all guests.

Dinner that night was at La Boca, where we enjoyed the best tapas either one of us had ever had. Little fried peppers, ahi tuna crudo, grilled artichoke with mint, lemon and goat cheese, pot de crème with a hint of orange, and a very refreshing, not sweet, blood orange sangria were all just perfect. Tiny place, great service. http://labocasf.com

The next morning we drove the Turquoise Trail and up to the Sandia Crest, where we stopped short and took the chairlift to the top. This was fun! For $10 per person you get a 30 minute one-way lift to spectacular views of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with pretty forest views along the way and a chance to just sit and breathe that beautiful air. There’s a café at the top, and bike trails so you can bike back down, or walk, or ride the lift.

Back in Santa Fe, we had an afternoon (local, craft) brew or two at Marble Brewing, whose second floor patio has a commanding view of the square. The Double Witte and the Heisenberg’s Dark, a black IPA, were particularly good.

We had dinner that night at The Shed, which remains a solid Santa Fe must, with my favorite red chile of the trip and delightful margaritas. Come hungry, the portions are enormous. http://www.sfshed.com/home.html

We started the next morning at Café Pasqual’s, which we fell in love with on our last trip many moons ago, and lo, there it is, wonderfully unchanged. Breakfast is served until late afternoon, and the huevos rancheros (with green chile or red) are to die for, made with black beans and over easy eggs. http://www.pasquals.com

Then we strolled over to check out the Native American vendors at the Palace of the Governors. This is our hands-down favorite shopping experience in the area, because everything sold is made by the vendor using genuine materials and domestic turquoise only, and most pieces are signed. We love talking to the vendors, and the quality of the items is excellent. Having bought too much, as usual, we peeked into the Cathedral of St. Francis (where the art is redolent of the area’s Spanish Colonial past), and then got in the car to drive the High Road to Taos.

This is my favorite drive of all in the area, for the changing terrain and stunning desert landscapes. I can’t describe it and won’t try, but you must do this drive!

We had dinner that night at The Compound, where the food was perfectly executed, but the bar, bartender and sommelier stood out for fantastic ambiance and service. If I had it to do again I’d have dinner either at the bar or on the patio, although would the sommelier still give me the benefit of his excellent, down-to-earth advice if I’m not in the dining room?? What a dilemma. http://www.compoundrestaurant.com

The next morning we finally made it to Clafoutis, a bakery/café owned by the most charming French woman, featuring utterly perfect French breakfast pastries and every other pastry as well. Magnifique! I command you to go here.

We took our sack of croissants, pain au chocolat and brioche on the road to the Abiquiu Inn, where we met our shuttle for a tour of Georgia O’Keefe’s home. I found this unexpectedly moving, and I highly recommend it. Buy tickets in advance online, shuttle from the Inn only. http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/her-houses.html

After the tour, we drove to Los Alamos, partly for the views and landscapes, and partly to see the famous town. The Bradbury Science Museum is an education unto itself, and features a thought-provoking film about the work that was done there, and its world-changing consequences. http://www.lanl.gov/museum/index.shtml

For dinner, we returned to La Boca for an entirely different but equally satisfying round of tapas. The crema Catalana was memorable. We then repaired to the Secreto bar in the Hotel St. Francis, where the head bartender, Chris, enjoys local acclaim for his concoctions, and justly so. The Smoked Sage Margarita is a treat, as is watching its preparation. And the outdoor patio is great for people-watching.

Here is an interview with mixologist Chris: http://cocktails.about.com/od/professionalbartending/p/chrismilligan_interview.htm

On our last full day in Santa Fe, we had breakfast again at Pasqual’s, then drove out to Fort Marcy Park to see the Zozobra. Now, we had no idea this was even happening during our stay, but the Burning of Zozobra, or Old Man Gloom, kicks off a weekend or more of fiestas. They set fire to a 40+ foot tall marionette whose base has been stuffed with slips of paper on which people write all the doom and gloom they experienced over the last year, or, some throw in divorce papers, mortgage papers, whatever. We didn’t stay for the burning, but he was a sight to see! Here is footage:

We then went over to the Railyard District to check out some galleries, and a fun architectural salvage shop, and pause for a lovely green tea at Station (free refills!), and refreshing pints of (local, craft) bitter and kolsch at Second Street Brewery. http://stationcoffeehouse.com/index.html

We ended the afternoon at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, where we discovered that our tour of her house at Abiquiu really enhanced our appreciation of her art; and at the New Mexico Museum of Art, whose building alone is worth a look.

Having been warned that the hotel was closing its bar and locking its front doors promptly at 9 because of Zozobra crowds, we had an early dinner at 315 Restaurant. We found this to be a serviceable French restaurant that we would love to have at home, but it didn’t quite meet the bar set by either La Boca or The Compound in either execution or service. Still, Bouche was closed for the week, and 315 allowed us to decompress from all that chile sauce! http://www.315santafe.com

Back at the Secreto Bar, we slipped in one last drink each before they closed. This is the kind of bar where you can just describe what you’re in the mood for and lo, it shall appear—really. They have over 30 kinds of bitters, and the bartenders know what to do with them. I had a great Manhattan (with Bulleit and Peychaud’s and a bit of burnt orange peel), and SO another Smoked Sage Margarita.
In the morning, we loaded up on French pastries at Clafoutis for the drive back to the airport, ordered a copy of Georgia O’Keefe and Her Houses from Amazon, and began plotting our return to the Southwest sometime soon…

Thank you to all Fodorites who lent their expert advice!

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