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Santa Fe for First Timers

Oct 13, 2012  Insatiable traveler always looking for drivable weekend trips.
4.5 of 5 stars based on 1 vote

It’s called the City Different. I call it the City Magical. There’s an endless catalog of things to do — far too much for one weekend. So think of this list as an overview designed to give first time visitors a variety of experiences.

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Santa Fe, Embudo
  • Category: Perfect weekend
  • Traveler type: Sightseeing, Shopping, Never been before
  • Appeals to: Couples/romantics, Honeymooners, Singles, Seniors, Active/adventure, Tourists
  • Seasons: Spring, Fall
  • 1. Agave Lounge
    Agave Lounge, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Welcome to Santa Fe! It's a Friday night, what's a tired traveller to do? Walk over to the Agave Lounge to unwind. Divided into to two areas, you have your pick of the cozy side with the roaring fire and couches, or the expansive bar with more table-type seating. Both offer a variety of hot and cold cocktails, and serve a small, carefully curated menu offering dishes like Lobster Sliders, a Mole Poblano Braised Pork Sandwich, and Bacon Wrapped Carmelized Onion Stuffed Shrimp with a Chipotle Maple Drizzle. It's located on San Francisco Street, easily walkable from anywhere in downtown.

    TIP: try to go early enough to take advantage of their very generous happy hour specials.

  • 2. Chapelle Street Casitas
    Chapelle Street Casitas, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Now that you've had dinner, get some rest. You've got an early start tomorrow! Staying in a casita rental -- either a studio or whole house -- is the best way to go in Santa Fe. I like the Chapelle Street Casitas because they are walking distance to the plaza and all of downtown. You simply cannot find a better location.

    TIP: If you prefer hotels, there are three resort-style on/near the plaza: the El Dorado, La Fonda, and the Inn at Loretto. All feature spas, restaurants, and lounges.

  • 3. Clafoutis French Bakery & Restaurant
    Clafoutis French Bakery & Restaurant, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Good morning! Let's go eat like the locals! French bakeries are popular in Santa Fe, and this one is owned by a lovely French woman who clearly learned to cook in her home country. Cafe au lait is a must, then dive into the quiches, croissants, crepes, omelettes and all manner of insanely delicious pastry. I don't often eat carbs, but for Clafoutis I make an exception. It's located on Guadalupe Street, an easy five minute walk from the plaza.

    TIP: Get a goodie-to-go from the bakery case. You'll be hungry after your rafting trip!

  • 4. New Mexico River Adventures - Day Tours
    New Mexico River Adventures - Day Tours, Embudo, New Mexico

    Santa Fe, Taos, and all points in between offer endless outdoor activities. While skiing reigns supreme in the winter, the other seasons are all about the river -- rafting, swimming, or hiking along it. If weather permits, I highly recommend the half-day rafting trip with New Mexico River Adventures known as "The Racecourse". This is a beginner-level experience with fun, easy rapids (mainly class 2), punctuated by long calm stretches where no paddling is required. Perfect for sightseeing! We were lucky to get a guide who was very knowledge about the wildlife in the area, as well as it's silver mining history. Mid-way they provide a light lunch on shore. We had a blast even though it was late in the season and the water was low. If you go in the spring, the water is higher, so be prepared for bigger rapids. The meeting point is a 45-minute drive from downtown Santa Fe.

    TIP: They claim this trip is fine for kids, but I wouldn't take anyone under 15ish, or anyone small. It's too easy to fall out of the boat.

  • 5. The Shed
    The Shed, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    It's already been a long day, and it's only 5:00! Time to experience some of that famous New Mexican chile. Santa Fe is renown for it's food, and the hardest part of visiting is deciding where to eat. Keep it casual tonight by walking over to The Shed. Have a fresh lime margarita while you wait.

    TIP: Order anything involving blue corn & red chile -- you won't be disappointed.

  • 6. The Spa at Loretto
    The Spa at Loretto, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Now that you've had all that fresh air and excellent food, you are no doubt ready to relax, eh? Good thing you booked a session at the Spa at Loretto! From The Shed, turn left and head over to the Inn at Loretto. The spa is located underneath.

    TIP: Try the Milk & Honey Wrap followed by a 50-minute elemental massage.

  • 7. Burro Alley Cafe
    Burro Alley Cafe, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Ready for day two? This morning is all about the plaza and downtown. Start out by walking over to the Burro Alley Cafe. I love the feel of this place, with it's high pressed-tin ceiling and heavy carved wooden chairs. They specialize in breakfast, especially various mexican egg dishes. (Don't bother with lunch or dinner here.). Located on San Francisco Street, just off the plaza.

    TIP: If the wait is longer than you'd like, go across the street to Tia Sophia's. It's cramped and more of a locals place, but the food is just as good. Another good option is the Plaza Cafe, just around the corner on Lincoln Ave.

  • 8. The Plaza
    The Plaza, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Some call it a "touristy area" with distinct disdain. This is unfair. All of Santa Fe is a high end tourist destination, so if you don't want to be around other tourists, don't go there. Second, when talking about this town in particular, "tourist" is not a synonym for cheap or cheesy. It just means lots of shops, galleries and restaurants. Which is an awesome way to spend a day on vacation, yes?

    So: The Plaza itself is a small town style square with a park in the middle. It sits in the heart of downtown, bounded by Lincoln Ave, Palace Ave, San Francisco St, and The Old Santa Fe trail / Washington Ave. In the summer, live musical performances are offered, and on weekends art vendors set up their tables. The various shops in the blocks around it offer far more than the expected "southwest themed" souvenirs, although there are plenty of places offering pottery and tapestries if that's what you're after. Wander around and fall into whichever places interest you. I especially love browsing in the high end stores where the lines blur between furniture and art.

    TIP: Pick up a free Santa Fe Walking Map, which is an invaluable guide to downtown. It's available at restaurants, hotel lobbies, and some stores.

  • 9. Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe
    Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    One of many reasons I love Santa Fe is the inexplicable number of chocolate shops per capita. Chocolate Maven, Senor Murphy's, the new Sweet Art Sweet Shop and a few more all boast fresh, inventive takes on chocolates. Truffles, barks, fudge -- whatever your favorite form of chocolate, you'll find it here.
    TIP: look for chocolates featuring red chile and/or local pinion nuts.

  • 10. New Mexico History Museum
    New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    If shopping isn't your thing, downtown also boasts an impressive museum collection. The history museum, the museum of art, the O'Keeffe museum and the museum of Contemporary Native American Art are all within four blocks of one another.

    TIP: Museum hours change by season. Check before you go.

  • 11. El Farol Restaurant & Lounge
    El Farol, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Having worked up an appetite walking around all morning, hop in a taxi for 5 minutes (stay with me here) and head to El Farol. A taxi? Yes, here is the strategy: it's gallery time! You are about to stroll the world famous Canyon Road, which many a rookie has realized too late is *not level*. So take a taxi to the TOP of the hill, have lovely tapas for lunch on the patio at El Farol, and stroll downhill back toward downtown. People will be mistaking you for a local in no time.

    TIP: Definitely get there early and grab a seat on the patio.

  • 12. Canyon Road
    Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    This afternoon, it's all about the art, baby. A half-mile stretch (downhill, if you're doing it right) filled to bursting on both sides of the street with gallery after gallery after gallery... you get the idea.

    PRO TIP: Don't even try to see them all. There are over 100 galleries on this little stretch of road. Many offer glimpses in the front windows, so if nothing there catches your eye, keep on walking until you see something you like.

    Personally, I like the sculptures, and quirky art with a sense of humor. There is plenty of "serious" art here, too. This is considered a world-class destination, after all, featuring artists from every continent, as well as plenty of locals. Some galleries are also working studios where you can watch the artist do their thing. Fun!

    TIP: Check websites to find special events and exhibitions. I like VistiCanyonRoad.com.

  • 13. Ten Thousand Waves
    Ten Thousand Waves, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Option #1: The weekend is nearly at an end. Wrap up your visit with an evening trip to Ten Thousand Waves, a spa that reguarly makes various Top Ten lists. The evening has a mellower vibe and the spa is in fact less busy, simply because most people don't realize it is open until 10pm. Start with a private outdoor bath (really, it's a jacuzzi-style hot tub); then move indoors for your two treatments: a salt glow followed by a hot oil massage. You'll be incoherent for the rest of the evening, but too happy and relaxed to care.

    TIP: Check the website for specials deals. They also offer coupons on Facebook.

  • 14. Santacafe
    Santacafe, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Option #2: If another spa trip isn't your thing, go out for a fabulous meal instead. Santa Fe boasts an endless list of amazing restaurants. I am doing you a favor here by steering you away from the standard Coyote Cafe, Blue Corn Cafe, and Geronimo recommendations. Those are fine establishments. But everybody goes there. So I've handpicked my three favorites; smaller places where the focus is less on how many people they can cram in, and instead squarely where it should be: on the food.

    I've started with Santacafe: it is located just off the square and features a modern twist on New Mexican cuisine. Most recently, I had the Roasted Poblano Relleno w/ 3 Mushroom Quinoa & Chipotle Cream followed by a seasonal cheesecake. Both were outstanding.

    TIP: Walk into the bar area and check out the mine shaft in the floor.

  • 15. El Meson
    El Meson, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    If you prefer Spanish to New Mexican, chef-owned El Meson is the place for you. Located just a block from Santacafe, the menu features four different kinds of paella, including a vegetarian option. And really -- paella is the reason to come here. But if you must order something else, the tapas are good, too. (Although we prefer El Farol for such things, and that's why you ate there for lunch earlier today.)

    TIP: This place is small. Go early.

  • 16. Luminaria
    Luminaria, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    Your third dinner choice is Luminaria, my personal favorite. It's newer than the others, located in the Inn & Spa at Loretto just off the plaza. While I can't remember everything I had there, I do remember it started with a seafood-based amuse bouche, moved on to a green chile corn bisque to die for, and had two more courses before ending with a wonderfully fun dessert of homemade donut holes served with a trio of chocolate, cajeta, and blueberry sauces.

    The space is thoroughly modern design, all clean lines and minimalist furniture. The menu is wonderfully experimental, taking advantage of seasonal, fresh ingredients.

    TIP: after dinner, wander down the hall to the main lobby lounge/bar for a nightcap. The Loretto features a wonderful fireplace with big leather couches and a splendid list of cocktails. The perfect place to end your weekend in Santa Fe. Enjoy!