Managed by Hilton, this expansive, upscale gaming and golfing getaway is the closest full-service resort to Downtown—it's just 15 miles north of the Plaza, just off a busy freeway but with spectacular views of the mountains and Rio Grande Valley. The property offers plenty of leisure amenities: an extensive slate of treatments in the 16,000-square-foot Wo' P'in Spa, access to a pair of championship layouts (27 holes) at the adjacent Towa Golf Resort, a concert venue, and good mix of upscale and casual restaurants and bars.
YOU SHOULD KNOW This is first and foremost a gaming resort. There's an enormous casino, but it's set well away from the lobby and public areas on a separate level, making it easy to ignore if gaming isn't your thing.
Rooms are spacious and airy, all with large windows and some with full balconies taking in the dramatic vistas. Hand-carved wooden furniture, and Native American artwork, blankets, and upholstery create a warm and inviting Southwestern ambience.
Ask for a south-facing room on one of the upper floors for the best views and the most sunlight—these units also have a nice sunset views.
The large bathrooms are typical of an upscale Hilton and feature Peter Thomas Roth bath products, Southwest tile shower/tub combos and floors, and hand-carved wood vanities with natural-stone tops.
The beam ceilings, curving walls, and dazzling Native American pottery and sculptures in the airy, grand lobby reflect the hotel's setting on the Pojoaque Pueblo. There's ample room for lounging in this attractive, contemporary space.
Fans of swimming and sunning will find two of the most impressive resort pools in New Mexico. Outside, beach chairs with umbrellas and a handful of cabanas are set around a pleasingly amorphous-shaped pool with its own pool bar. Indoors, a second pool, along with a large Jacuzzi, is set in a dramatic Ancient Rome–inspired conservatory
Nightly from 9 until 11, the indoor pool is adults-only.
The soothing 16,000-square-foot Wo'P'in Spa offers a full range of treatments, from mocha-mud-coffee scrubs to hot basalt-stone massage. You can also book grooming services, from haircuts to anti-aging manicures, in the AVEDA salon. Private soaking tubs are a great way to decompress after a day of hiking or golfing.
The fitness center at Buffalo Thunder is one of the largest in Santa Fe, with a full range of well-maintained and modern cardio and resistance machines. It's open 24 hours.
Among the handful of dining options, including a buffet, a deli, and a cafe, the stand-out restaurant at Buffalo Thunder is Red Sage, a stylish steak- and seafood-driven restaurant known for such lavish fare as bison tenderloin with red chile demiglace and butter-roasted lobster tail. There's an extensive wine list, too.
The upscale restaurant Red Sage is also a popular spot for craft cocktails, and you'll also find a nice offering of lighter bar snacks, from nachos to duck-confit tacos. Other casual spots for drinking and hobnobbing include intimate Iguana Bar and the Route 66–inspired Turquoise Trail restaurant and lounge, which is open late and is popular with casino patrons, who can also sip cocktails while they place wagers at Thunder Race Book.
Although the resort officially has a Santa Fe address, it's actually located on Pojoaque Pueblo, about a 15- to 20-minute drive north of town. You'll want a car if staying here (parking is free), as public transportation is limited and impractical. The setting has its advantages, though: It's right off the convenient U.S. 84/285 freeway, and it's close to the start of the scenic High Road to Taos and also relatively close to the museums at Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument.
Enjoy hearty, classic Southwestern fare and gorgeous sunset views from the patio of Gabriels (10-minute drive), which is beloved for its table-side guacamole and prodigious margaritas—it's a fun brunch option, too. In the tiny, charming village of Tesuque, El Nido (15-minute drive) serves artfully prepared modern Italian cuisine, including thin-crust pizzas topped with mozzarella, grapes, and caramelized almonds and lemon-caper chicken, in a 1920s adobe building. Flamenco dancing is presented some evenings.
You're best bet for drinks is to head into Santa Fe. One of the first notable spots you'll reach on the drive into town is Fire & Hops (15-minute drive), a trendy gastropub occupying a cozy adobe bungalow and offering an extensive selection of craft beer, plus a nice range of wines and ciders. With a retro-cool vibe and great people-watching, Tiny's Restaurant & Lounge (20-minute drive) is a top draw for live music (country, blues, jazz) and stiff cocktails.
WHY WE LIKE IT
It's all about the activities at this expansive full-service resort, which adjoins two of the top golf courses in northern New Mexico and also boasts an outstanding spa, a bustling casino, and a slew of restaurants. Families appreciate the two large pools, and there's often a concert or festival—from Santa Fe Comic Con to pro boxing matches—at the resort's entertainment venues. It's a great bet if you want to experience Santa Fe's historic charms but prefer to stay at a modern hotel with plenty of diversions to keep you entertained.