72 Hours in Santa Fe
This storied New Mexico town has captured the imagination of artists and free-thinkers from Georgia O’Keeffe to Cormac McCarthy, thanks to its breathtaking desert scenery, easygoing lifestyle and dazzling big sky beauty. We map out a weekend of art, food, and nature in one of the world’s most inspiring settings.
After dropping your bags at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, sip a heart-starting organic espresso ($2.60 if you bring your own cup) at Café Fresh before exploring the Santa Fe Farmers Market (held Saturdays and Tuesdays year-round), where you can browse top-notch local produce from heirloom tomatoes to organic honey. While in the hip Railyard district, whose centerpiece is a huge antique water tower, check out some of the city’s most impressive contemporary art. David Richard Gallery boasts soaring ceilings and monumental artworks, like the vibrant paintings of historic female nudes and Persian rugs by Brooklyn artist Dee Shapiro, while next door William Siegal specializes in exquisite “Ancient Contemporary” artifacts, from 5,000 year-old Inca textiles to 13th-century American stone pictographs.
All that culture make you work up a thirst? Drop by the always-buzzing Second Street Brewery, a microbrewery where tattooed bartenders pour craft drops like “Boneshaker Bitter” and “6 Fruit Under.” After dark, catch a show at the Jean Cocteau Cinema, a classic arthouse cinema and music venue that fell into disrepair until legendary Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin revived it in 2013.
Head for the hills—in this case, the majestic Sangre de Cristo mountains, on the way to Taos. Here you’ll find some of Santa Fe’s most intriguing artistic communities, including Truchas, a small mountain town scattered with galleries and studios. Visit the Hand Artes, set on a ridge with views of the majestic mesa Cerro Pedrenal, of which Georgia O’Keeffe reportedly once said “I painted it often enough thinking that, if I did so, God would give it to me.” The gallery houses a large array of high-end contemporary art, from the expressionistic paintings of Alvaro Cardona-Hine to gorgeous laminated cherry, ash, and wenge chairs in organic forms by Larry and Nancy Buechley.
Over the road, Montez Gallery is housed in a Spanish Mission church complete with wooden bell tower and contains an impressive collection of retablos (traditional naïve religious paintings on tin or wood) and religious statues including precious wooden carvings from the 1600s. Refuel at the famous Rancho de Cimayo, a 50-year-old institution set in a sprawling adobe home whose exterior is festooned with dried chiles. Take cover on the shady terrace before feasting on house specialties like carne adovada, marinated pork cooked in spicy red chile caribe sauce, and sopapillas, the New Mexico answer to bread—fluffy fried pastries traditionally served with honey.
Afterwards, browse the racks at the Nambe Trading Post, a hybrid gallery-boutique-costume shop located on the High Road to Taos that’s founded by award-winning costume designer Cathy Smith. Keep your eyes peeled—one of her costumes for Dances With Wolves is on display, and be sure not to miss the custom hand-painted teepees out front. Drive back through classic New Mexico landscapes of red earth and intricate hoodoo rock formations towards Santa Fe, then sidle up to the open-air bar at Tesuque Village Market, a tin shed turned hip neighborhood watering hole serving killer margaritas and local cocktails like the “Red’s Not Here,” made with vodka, St-Germain, and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice; sometime local Robert Redford has been known to stop by.
It’s time to hit downtown Santa Fe and the historic Plaza area. You’ll find tourists galore browsing stores filled with the ubiquitous turquoise jewelry and cowboy boots, but we suggest skipping that scene for the lesser-known yet arguably more fulfilling pastime of food truck noshing. Rocque Carnitas, a ramshackle stall situated at the corner of the plaza beneath a rainbow-hued umbrella, is justifiably famous for its carnitas, marinated strips of beef charcoal grilled with onions and peppers and served in a tortilla. Alternatively, El Chile Toreado on Cordova near the St. Francis church makes a mean tacos al pastor. Ask for lashings of green chile—an indispensable Santa Fe condiment.
If you prefer to sit down with your cowboy fare, head to The Shed, a family-owned James Beard-awarded institution serving classic southwest cuisine in a cheerful, bustling space. The house red chili sauce, with its fiery profile and chargrilled flecks of pepper, is worth the visit alone. (Sop it up with the Shed’s famed garlic bread, which came about because the owners didn’t have a wood fire to make sopapillas.) Take in something more cerebral at the Loretto Chapel, whose famous helix spiral staircase is revered in local legend as having been completed by St. Joseph. If you have energy left, admire the collection of paintings at the small but well-curated Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which also contains works by photographer Ansel Adams, before finishing the trip in grand style with a performance at the gorgeous open-air Santa Fe Opera.
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