4 days in Santa Fe and Albuquerque
My husband and I just returned from a long weekend here, our first to New Mexico. We enjoyed our visit and fall is a gorgeous time of year to enjoy the area. We left LA at 7:30 am on Saturday, arriving uneventfully by 10:15. Easy shuttle to rental car and off we went; first stop, The Range Café for breakfast. It was terrific and my first taste of New Mexican food. I’m not sure I’ll be able to enjoy the Mexican fare here in LA after falling in love with red and green chili! I had tamales with eggs. I keep trying tamales over the years and have found them lacking. Not here! They were stuffed with ground pork and smothered in chili (I asked for Christmas chili). Perfect! My husband had some enormous breakfast that contained just about everything on the b’fast menu all on top of a biscuit. He does not like spice, so got green chili on the side. I recommend doing this. For me, it just meant extra chili! After the huge breakfast, we left for Santa Fe via the Turquoise Trail.
We could have skipped this drive as it was not too scenic and with all the shopping to be found in Taos, Santa Fe and Albuqureque, we weren’t going to shop here too. We arrived in Santa Fe mid afternoon and easily found our motel, Santa Fe Motel and Inn. They were able to check us in early, room 9, upstairs. What a cute place this is. It felt more like staying at a friends’ home. Very comfy bed, room with a small kitchen. Breakfast is provided, too. The front desk staff were great and helpful. I had a pretty long list of restaurants from trawling this forum and they steered us in the right direction, even calling to make reservations for us. After check-in, we walked to the plaza to explore and visit the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. I bought some nice turquoise from Native Americans in the plaza. We stopped at Albertson’s grocery store for wine and picnic fixings for the next day, returned to the motel for cocktails and a bit of reading before dinner at 8:00 pm at Tomasita's Restaurant, a very, very short walk from the motel.
Dinner was tasty, but I’m not sure I would go back. This restaurant seems to be a local favorite and extremely busy on a Saturday night. Because of that, we did feel a bit like intruders (the room where we were seated had two large parties and then us off in a corner; it was awkward). The wait staff also seemed to know everyone and tended to pass us by without a glance. Aside from this, the margarita was incredibly strong and tasty and our meals were good. I do have to note that I felt the alcohol more than I normally do. Could it have been the altitude?
Sunday was devoted to the high road/low road to and from Taos. In hindsight, I should have picked some day hikes near Santa Fe instead as this was just too much sitting in the car for our taste. My husband is not a shopper, so after a quick look at the plaza, we discovered the Governor Bent museum and Kit Carson museum. Neither were terribly interesting to me, but the very knowledgeable proprietor of the Bent museum was great to listen to.
Dinner that night was at Casa Chimayo in Santa Fe, another short walk from the motel. We really enjoyed our meals here. Started with a plantain mole enchilada (really unique and delicious). My husband had fajitas and I had skirt steak (smothered in chile sauce, thank you!) with my first bowl of posole. It will not be my last bowl! We both enjoyed this restaurant and the staff were friendly and took good care of us.
We slept like logs that night (isn’t that the best recommendation a hotel can have?), had breakfast and loaded up the car. The plan was to go to Tent Rocks then on to Albuquerque. My husband misunderstood and, after consulting the map, instead drove us to Bandelier. We did not want to take the time to do the tram back and forth, instead opting to do a scenic drive with stops along the way. Although it was not what we had in mind (yet another long day of driving), the mountain road (State route 4, I think) was the most beautiful drive. Once you get to the Jimez river area, the mountains, river, and gorgeous fall foliage along it made for a great drive with many picture ops, a picnic along the way and a stop at the Walatowa Visitor Center at the Pueblo of Jemez. A nice visitor center/museum and if you are looking for gift items from New Mexico, a good place for that. I bought some packages of green chili peanut brittle. It is really good!
We arrived at the Hotel Albuquerque, then walked the one block to the plaza. I really liked this area. There were some Native American’s selling their jewelry here and I bought more beautiful turquoise for my daughter. Walked back to the hotel and got cleaned up for dinner at St. Clair Winery and Bistro (a short walk from the hotel). We split the chili macaroni and cheese for an appetizer (very large portion, even to share) and I enjoyed a green chili cheeseburger. My husband had a rib eye steak. Portion sizes are very large here. I liked their wines, which are local, preferring the syrah to the chardonnay. We had an early dinner so we would not miss much of the presidential debate. But, alas, the wine really kicked me and I slept through it!
Tuesday, our final day in New Mexico, we needed to get outdoors away from shopping! On the way to Petroglyph National Monument, we got a quick breakfast at McDonalds and chanced upon a cute park along the Rio Grande. It is right by the entrance to the Bio Park but I believe it’s maintained by the Rotary Club. The area had bike paths and lots of picnic seating. How great to enjoy breakfast of egg mcmuffins and apples under a bright yellow Aspen tree! We walked along the river a bit then drove to the monument to see petroglyphs. Afterward, we went to the Botanical Garden. What a sweet place this was! Even in autumn, it was delightful. I’m a huge fan of botanical gardens and haven’t been to one that hasn’t made me happy. Is there something that goes on here at night? Lots of displays that are wrapped in lights (including a yellow submarine in the pond; too cute!) so it looks like they have night-time activities. From here, we went to a late lunch at Monica's El Portal. Had to have tamales again! They were very good here as well. Time to leave was fast approaching, but we wanted to pop into the American Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town before we left for the airport. We enjoyed this little, quirky museum. Lots of snakes (live), but also some interesting items like a case full of comic books that featured snakes and a display of Steve Erwin momentos, too. There was a film loop of David Attenborough nature programs we enjoyed watching for a while. We then picked up a few small gifts for the folks back home, drove to the airport, returned the car, and had an uneventful trip home.
So, my advice to other first timers: 1. Drives seem to take longer than you expect! If you don’t want to spend too much time in the car, add more days or drop a destination. For us, Santa Fe to Taos to Albuquerque was too much car time in 4 days. If I were to plan it again, I would not have driven the Turquoise Trail or Taos routes. Instead, I’d have found more walks/hikes close to Santa Fe. 2. Be aware that if you aren’t used to the altitude, alcoholic beverages may hit you a bit harder than you think! Drink lots and lots of water and go easy on alcoholic beverages. 3. If you can plan your trip for autumn, I heartily recommend it! Even though the weather was warm, there is that crispness to the air at night and aspen trees should not be missed in their fall colors. I was happy to stop at a roadside stand and get a taste of New Mexico grown apples, too (nothing says fall like a nice, crisp apple). 4. Research the Jimez Mountains area; it is so beautiful.
The people we encountered were lovely and helpful. The food! What can I say; New Mexican is my new favorite (and I really like margaritas on the rocks now). Thanks to all of you forum regulars. I got so much out of trolling the forums for information, and thank you for sharing knowledge of your wonderful part of the country.
Best, Debbie & Mark