Santa Fe, known as Oga Po’geh (meaning white shell water place) to the Tewa people, has a long history that imbues everything there. Located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, it’s a place that was—and remains—home to Indigenous people for thousands of years, before being declared a region of New Spain, then a territory of independent Mexico, before being “gained” by the United States as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The third highest city in the country, it sits at 7,198 feet above sea level and is a true treasure within the vast, picturesque desert. Everybody has their must-see list—many of which will include The Matador (a classic dive bar with a 67-person capacity) to The Shed (famed for its red chile), the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and Meow Wolf—and while we certainly can attest to those being worthwhile spots to visit, here are our favorite experiences and places in Santa Fe.
Passport to Pueblo Country
There are acres and acres of Indigenous-owned land in New Mexico and many of the pueblos in the state (and Native communities all over) remain strictly closed to visitors, as tribal communities were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Those that are open, like San Ildefonso Pueblo—Pʼohwhogeh Ówîngeh in Tewa (meaning “where the water cuts through”)—have strict mask mandates and anybody looking to visit should be prepared to respect all customs and rules, pandemic-related or not. Passport to Pueblo Country, helmed by Deborah and Elmer Torres (who is a leader at Pʼohwhogeh Ówîngeh) offer pueblo tours and guided hikes, providing visitors with invaluable insight, history and stories. There are day trips to the pueblo (which is a 30-minute drive from Santa Fe) where visitors can tour the plaza, eat traditional feast day dishes and see pottery demonstrations. The hike through Tsankawi (now a section of Bandelier National Monument) is essentially a walk through ancestral homes of the Tewa people. Guides will not only point out petroglyphs, caves, ruins and artifacts but also explain them in detail—from smoke-stained ceilings to broken earthenware. Guests will learn various Tewa terms and names for mountains and flora, find out about kiva ceremonies, and understand why land is much more than just property.
Rosewood Inn Of the Anasazi
Rich with colors, textures and art, Rosewood Inn Of the Anasazi (which underwent some renovations during the pandemic) is a 58-room hotel just meters from the historic Santa Fe Plaza. With all its Southwestern design elements, huge handcrafted doors (some bearing the artisan’s name carved into the timber), traditional wooden viga ceilings and rich textiles, this quiet property doesn’t feel gimmicky; instead it’s intimate and warm. Bright but cozy, every guest room features handcrafted furnishing and a gaslight kiva-style fireplace. Downstairs there are two large lounge areas (which can also be booked for special occasions) that provide space for lounging with a coffee, reading or meeting up with other guests. A spacious dining room leads to a bright bar that, in turn, opens onto the hotel’s sun-drenched patio—the perfect spot for a pre-dinner cocktail. For tequila enthusiasts, there are tasting experiences available, with six selection options including one featuring spirits from different municipalities in Mexico’s tequila-producing region, different aging processes, bar managers’ favorites and more.
Dolina Bakery & Cafe
Since opening in 2017 by Slovakian-born Annamaria O’Brien, Dolina Bakery & Cafe has garnered a well-deserved reputation as the spot to have breakfast or brunch in Santa Fe. The menu includes traditional American classics like waffles and buttermilk fried chicken next to Eastern European dishes like strudel and Orechovník (a poppy seed and nut roll) French toast, schnitzel, lángos (fried flatbread) and more. If you can’t decide, the organic chicken sandwich certainly delivers. Be sure to arrive ready to wait for a table inside, as queues begin forming as soon as the doors open, but outdoor seating is a seat-yourself situation.
SITE Santa Fe
Since opening in 1995, SITE Santa Fe has been more than an art museum; it offer lectures, workshops and performances as well as education and outreach for local schools and organizations. It’s free to enter, and the vast, airy space features several galleries, a cafe and a store. On now until 11 September, Jeffrey Gibson: The Body Electric is a kaleidoscopic, multi-media trip for visitors. The super-talented Choctaw and Cherokee artist Jeffrey Gibson has created a show that’s bold, colorful, salient, playful and potent—with elements drawn from Native American traditions, rave culture and more. It manifests in countless ways from sculpture to beaded works, video and beyond.
A casual contemporary Spanish restaurant and wine bar, La Boca opened back in 2006 helmed by a James Beard Award nominee, chef James Campbell Caruso. With outdoor patio (street-side) seating and a lively indoor atmosphere, the venue also boasts the backyard Taberna, where there’s often live music. The staff’s enthusiasm creates a playful and spirited energy. With an extensive Spanish sherry and wine list, the menu also includes classics like croquetas, pintxos and patatas bravas as well as salads and charcuterie boards.
Ten Thousand Waves
Santa Fe, New Mexico might not be the most predictable place for an onsen, but Ten Thousand Waves—inspired by Japanese hot spring resorts—provides a sublime, leafy retreat in the desert. Founded back in 1981 and opening with eight pools and one massage space, it’s now a large but serene property with private and public pools, massage and skin treatment rooms, lodging and dining. Reserve a private pool and groups of up to four, eight or 10 can enjoy a hot tub, cold plunge pool, sauna and plenty of space to sunbathe. The Grand Bath can host 18 people at a time and features all the same amenities, just in a less private setting—which is even closer to the authentic onsen. Guests can also choose from a number of treatments, from classic shiatsu massage to facials. With the Izanami restaurant just across the carpark from the main house, it’s easy to spend an entire day at Ten Thousand Waves, but be sure to reserve well in advance as spaces fill up quickly.
Hero image, detail of Jeffrey Gibson‘s The Body Electric by Katie Olsen